I spent the last few days in Germany with Paul Scraton, editor of the place-writing journal Elsewhere . Paul has written a book, Ghosts on the Shore, about Germany's Baltic coast, that will be appearing next year. It seemed appropriate to go out to the Baltic coast with him to see some of the places explored in the book in the flesh.
We traveled for four hours north from Berlin, through fields full of common cranes and roe deer, but hardly any human beings, before reaching our destination Prora. The aim was then to walk from here along the coast to the tourist town of Binz.
Prora was the destination for one very simple reason – it is the site of a titanic never-used holiday camp built by the Nazi party in the 1930s, as part of their 'strength through joy' programme. It then became barracks for the East German army, and now, perhaps most disturbingly of all, is being redeveloped into luxury holiday condominiums.
It seems unnecessary to say that this is a weird, unsettling place.
We wandered through old crumbling buildings, past stalls selling sausages in the rain and a pokey museum dedicated to the East German army, then onto vigorous construction work turning complicated history into profit, and spying new 'Private' signs and holiday homes clearly already in use. Then through the patch of trees writhing in the wind and onto the Baltic sea itself.
It was an unusual day. Crashing waves and howling winds, apparently very uncharacteristic of the place. A few hardy souls like ourselves watching the waves.
We walked the stretch between Prora and Binz. For a while there was only the two of us, photographing a flooded beach, stacked deckchairs, the odd ephemera of the coastline. Then Binz began to materialise, with odd unexplained sculptures that looked like gods of this place, cagouled German tourists and eventually places to eat, drink and sleep.
The weather worsened. But drinking in an off-season German seaside resort as waves batter a coast with a melancholy and conflicted history brings with it its own specific pleasures.
The next morning, the storm had made front page news.