The Rebirth of the White Pearl and a Grand Hotel Legend by the Sea
Heiligendamm and its Hidden Treasures
Our room with an autumn sea view
Autumn at the Sea
When the leaves turn a lovely hue of yellow red and orange then I know that autumn is on its way. September is my birthday month and because I am a firm believer in celebrating as often and as much as possible (however large or small), I set my sights on a long weekend at the beach. In northern Germany you don’t need to drive far to get to the beach, there’s the North sea as well as the Baltic sea and beautiful resorts such as Sylt, Rügen and Darß. But seeing as it was a birthday, I had three wishes: I hadn’t been there before, it was a grand hotel and directly on the beach. And we didn’t have to search long. The Grand Hotel Heiligendamm.
A Moving Past
Heiligendamm, in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, was founded in 1793 and is the oldest seaside spa in continental Europe. The pretty clusters of resort architecture, mansions and spa buildings at the seafront are reminders of the glory days when this part of the Baltic Sea was one of the playgrounds of Europe's aristocracy. Due to the classicist white buildings lining the beach promenade, the town is also known as the "White Pearl" (German: Weiße Perle) or the "White Town by the Sea" (German: Die weiße Stadt am Meer). A steam railway, known as the "Molli", links Heiligendamm with the neighbouring resorts of Kühlungsborn and Bad Doberan.
Its founder and first guest in 1793 was the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg Friedrich Franz I. He made the resort fashionable. Between 1793 and 1870, Johann Christoph, Heinrich von Seydwitz, Carl Theodor Severin, and Gustav Adolph Demmler created a veritable Gesamtkunstwerk for bathing and lodging. Heiligendamm was always regarded as the most elegant seaside resort in Germany. Nobility from throughout Europe used it as a summer getaway well into the 20th century.
After the Second World War, the buildings of Heiligendamm were used as sanatoria and recovery ward. When Mecklenburg became part of the communist GDR, some of Heiligendamm's famous buildings were demolished and replaced by more utilitarian structures. After the German reunification in 1989/1990, a group of investors bought most of the buildings and undertook a major programme of refurbishment.
The Grand Hotel complex consists of six buildings which were all built as a seaside resort between 1793 and 1870. It is thought to be the first example of resort architecture. It was bought by the Jagdfeld Group in 1996 and carefully restored up until 2013 when the Grand Hotel opened. The main building (Haus Grandhotel) was built in 1814 and reopened on June 1, 2003, after three years of restoration work. The mansion next to the Grand Hotel was reconstructed until 2011. 2006 saw the visit of the United States President, George W. Bush while on a state visit to see German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Stralsund and in June 2007, the Grand Hotel hosted the 33rd summit of G8 leaders. In July 2013, the Grand Hotel Heiligendamm was bought by Hannover-based accountant Paul Morzynski, who intends to carefully extend and reorganise the hotel.
Sunset at The Grand Hotel Heiligendamm
Our Journey Begins
We set out late with Maggie the MGB. I hadn’t done any extra research on the hotel and its surroundings so I was very surprised to see a steam train puffing along the tracks as we waited at the signal light. I felt as though I had just gone back in time 100 years. We were met by our valet man and friendly faces at reception. We had a swift checkin and we could even choose our own morning paper and shoe-shine serivce. Our room was a dream of classic neutral tones and elegance. We opened the door (don't you just love that anticipation) to subdued lighting through milk-glass bathroom doors, lounge music and rose scent in the air. And not forgetting the sumptuous happy birthday cake chocolate cake and beauty products waiting for me. The furniture was stylish and contemporary, an English touch with striped satin chairs and the best part? Two balconies with sea views.
My personalised birthday card
We had arrived just in time for our evening dinner at the Kurhaus Restaurant. A beautiful large room draped in pastel green and chinoiserie wallpaper. Stunning chandeliers crowing the ceiling and comfortable neo classic chairs with pristine white tablecloths. Our 3-course meal was as equally exquisite. An Amuse Geul with quail eggs, filet of char with stewed cucumber and dill potatoes, vanilla mousse with salted caramel ice-cream and cherry compote. Plus live piano music and glasses of pink champagne. We spent our evening at the hotel’s Nelson Bar with the weekend crowd, taking in the piano music, plus requests and being treated to our very own lemon cocktail specially made for the birthday occasion. And at midnight, a stroll on the pier which was lit up with both pier lamps and tiny lanterns from the nighttime fisherman. And so many stars in the sky that we had our own light show.
Fine Dining in the Kurhaus. Cheers!
The following morning we were woken up by the sound of lapping waves and a newspaper at the door. We went for an early morning beach walk. It was quiet and relaxing, hardly a soul about and along the wooded promenade we came across our first lost treasure, the Alexandrine cottage.
The cottage is one of many not yet renovated treasures in Heiligendamm. As we came to discover. The building, directly above the sea and off the western side of the main complex, was built in 1839/40 on behalf of Grand Duke Paul Friedrich by the Mecklenburgian architect Georg Adolf Demmler. Paul Friedrich had the Mediterranean style villa made for his wife, the Grand Duchess and Prussian Princess Alexandrine of Prussia (1803-1892), as a gift. The house had a stone staircase leading to an 80-metre-long jetty.
Exploring this beauty in waiting
A strikingly asymmetrical building with the two unequal octagonal towers dominating the outside and surrounded by verandas to the seafront. The Alexandrine Cottage was excluded from the sale of Heiligendamm in 1873 and also after the November Revolution of 1918 as a summer residence and private property of the Ducal family. Today it belongs to family Morzynsk.
Breakfast was fit for a king at least as we were spoilt for choice. I have never seen such a selection. There was everything you could imagine, from fruit, European cheeses, cold cuts, warm helpings to continental choices and at least 10 different bread varieties and pastries. Plus additional choices of eggs in every way possible, waffles, pancakes and porridge. Even champagne and sea buckthorn juice; a local speciality and high in vitamin c. After breakfast, we braved the gusts and explored the area. We came across what seemed like a treasure, after long-forgotten architectural treasure. Tucked away behind the hotel or on the beachfront where an endless array of beautiful villas in mostly decaying states of undress. Some with clear signs of development in progress, others waiting longingly.
It isn’t clear when or if all the buildings will be fully restored but there is hope and a project in the works. They are being turned into private residences and rental apartments. Four of the villas have been completed and have future occupants, two are available for purchase during the restoration process and 7 are in the planning stages. Which of course could take years, but I was glad to see the style and elegance of these houses back to their former glory and even better with modern conveniences. But houses such as the Alexandrine cottage are not in the project so it’s a question of when the hotel’s owner sees fit to resurrect her. It was a sad feeling looking into her cracked windows and battered exterior and imagine how it must have been when the Grand Duchess would while away the hours on her sea view veranda. I do hope they save her soon.
We managed to tear ourselves away and spent the afternoon at English Teatime. Easily competed with the Savoy. Gold-leaf cakes, sandwiches as fresh and tasty as they ought to be and Earl Grey tea. One minus, the scones were a little flat, but still hand-made. Late afternoon was spent in the spa during regular swimming, sauna and hammam sessions and as usual, were late for dinner due to completely forgetting the time. We had another wonderful dinner, with culinary tips from the waiters and drinks in the quiet Sunday bar which we had nearly to ourselves, followed by a late-night book club meeting in the library researching all the wonderful books from gardening to interiors, children stories to historical antique editions.
You just can't say no to High Teas if you have been brought up in England
Paradise for the avid bookworm
The next morning we had a lie-in and then organised a late checkout. Today we would go on Molli the steam train to Kühlungsborn. An old-school train fan ever since I can remember. I love the old compartments and the Agatha Christie feel in old trains. If I had the choice I would permanently ride-on steam trains. The train station was just as cute and dinky as you would expect, almost Miss-Marple-like. The gleaming red train chugged in and we had a 20-minute ride in wooden compartments and squishy leather seats to the next seaside village Kühlborn. We rolled through hills and woodland with the smell of the coal coming in through the open windows. We arrived and took a stroll along the main street, admiring the picturesque and grand architecture and then back along the promenade, taking in the brisk sea air.
Feeling very nostalgic
There's nothing like a strong sea breeze
Had fun dodging the waves on the pier
Sun, rain, wind and calm. That's the Baltic Sea.
As we made our way along the promenade we happened upon another treasure, waiting to be rediscovered. The Baltic Villa. Standing majestic and proud, despite the graffiti covering her, I was intrigued and wanted to find out more. The architect Alfred Krause built the Villa Baltic from 1910 -1912 in the Neo-Baroque style for the Berlin lawyer and notary Judiciary Wilhelm Hausmann and his wife Margarete. Later on, Margarete Hausmann donated the villa and its park to the Berlin University of Judaism Science. A fate that meant the villa being expropriated and handed over to the Goebbels Foundation in 1938. In 1945, the villa served as a Soviet hospital and after that promised back to the Jewish community of Mecklenburg. In 1949 the villa was owned by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and during the time of the GDR the house became the FDGB’s " Kurt-Bürger- Recuperation Home“. In 1972, a seawater swimming pool was built next to the house and connected to it.
Even the vandalism cannot destroy her beauty
As the years went by, there was no use for the beautiful building, despite changing owners. Structural damage and vandalism were the results. The dilapidated swimming pool was demolished in 2017. But there is hope on the horizon.
This summer 2019 the Villa Baltic was bought by Jan & Berend Aschenbeck. Two brothers with a passion for the resurrection of historical and heritage real estate and are managing directors of their company Aschenbeck & Aschenbeck Project Development GmbH, based in Oldenburg. First measures included its immediate secure closure to prevent further burglaries and vandalism, cellar drainage, sewage pipe repairs and the treatment of dry rot. The area was cleaned of rubbish and rubble and the outside lawns restored into a tidy state. Fragments of the original building fabric and documents were also preserved for historical archives. Now the most important endeavour is to come up with a realistic concept for the use of the Villa Baltic. No easy task seeing as the villa was abandoned many a time due to lack of a good concept.
But I have a good feeling with these two brothers. They are open to various possible uses and have had intensive discussions with Kühlungsborn’s mayor, city representatives and various citizen groups. A solution seems to be on the horizon and we are all invited to participate in Villa Baltic’s rebirth. I will definitely be going to that Party!
Walking back to catch the Molli train, I was feeling melancholic but also hopeful. I had come to such a beautiful part of the world and couldn’t bear to see its history crumbling away like the coast we walked on. But I was grateful that there were people like Jan and Berend and Paul Morzynski, that see the potential in these wonderful architectural treasures that should never be lost or forgotten. Who are we without our history? On arrival at the Heiligendamm station, we came across two final wonders of architecture, just waiting to be loved. On a path of simple wooden benches and friendly fat mushrooms was the woodland chapel. A sorry tale.
The history of the Protestant chapel began in 1793 when Duke Friedrich Franz I and the doctor Prof. Samuel Gottlieb Vogel from Rostock decided to regularly open the annual bathing season at Heiligendamm. Regular hotel guests and protestant church-goers started to complain that there was no church for them in Heiligendamm. On 14 July 1893, Grand Duke Friedrich Franz III donated 10000 Goldmark to the construction of a Protestant chapel The architect for the building plan was Gotthilf Ludwig Möckel.
A lovely little chapel with a difficult past
On 31 July 1904, the chapel was opened. It consists of a three-bay nave and a polygonal sanctuary. Despite its small size of 140 m2, the ribbed room is impressive. On the south side of the chapel, there is an asymmetrical square tower. The red brick building is decorated with plaster facings, moulded and glazed bricks in the style of Mecklenburg village churches. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go inside as the chapel was boarded up and locked.
Sadly the story did not go well with the small forest chapel: During the war years, 1939-45 Heiligendamm was a military hospital. At the beginning of August 1943, the last church service took place in Heiligendamm. It was said, that the sky above the church darkened so much that the worshipers could no longer make out their hymn books. It was not until 5 August 1951 that church, which had been completely robbed, was reopened.
Today, the ‚Verein zur Förderung der Waldkirchen‘ im Ostseebad Heiligendamm e. V. (Association for the Promotion of Forest Churches in the Baltic Resort Heiligendamm) has its work cut out. A general renovation of the chapel, has been planned repeatedly for years. 2005 saw a small step in the removal of the glass partition wall and the reconstruction of the staircase as well as electrical work. Drainage work and the removal of damaged plaster took place in 2008 but further construction and restoration measures are on hold due to lack of funds.
The Hotels' Kindergarten. A lovely house full of wonderful surprises. I would love to move in!
The castle Hohenzollern. Also part of the hotel complex and available for guests. Including a rentable bar.
Our time at Heiligendamm was drawing to a close and we had to get our cases and car ready. We had a farewell tea and cake in the beautiful lobby and then made our way to the carpark. Because the local residents didn’t want an underground carpark, the carpark is a good 5-minute walk away. As we waited at the signal light, who should puff on by, but Molli, sending us off in style and gleaming proudly as she drove on by. It warmed my heart. As I turned the corner into the carpark our last waiting beauty stood before us.
There should always be time for a cake. This time a lemon tarte and the hotel's own specialty, the Friedrich Franz cake in honour of their founder
This neo-Gothic building was built in 1887 as a guesthouse for the hotelier Peters but had only moderate success. After protest from the locals, it was turned into an old people’s home and remained so until World War II. After the war, they were turned into furnished apartments, but when this proved to be too impractical, it was turned back into an elderly residence until 1993. Where it has stood empty ever since. But there are plans to turn it into a conference centre. Here’s hoping.
Majestic and proud, the Fürstenhof
With that hope in my heart, I drove back (in what felt like a hurricane in the motorway in a tiny MGB) to Stade and bookmarked all those beautiful and graceful treasures in my soul and on my computer. I will be watching very closely on their progress and doing my bit. I feel that these reminders of your heritage need out support and love, and not be left to decay, crumble and be robbed of their value. Be it material or universal.
Do you have a lost or forgotten treasure in your street? Let me know and I will include it in my next blog post. A small step is better than no step and in unity, who knows what we could achieve.
Till next time Grand Hotel Heiligendamm
The Rebirth of the White Pearl and a Grand Hotel Legend by the Sea was first published here at www.graceandholmes.com
All images by Bianca Demsa and Christoph Kopowski