I’m not sure how my parents chose the beach that ultimately became the beach we visited every summer, and then every other summer, and then one last time. I think it was advertised in a catalogue or maybe as part of a vacation package at a wholesale store. Whatever it was, we loved our family beach holidays, which started as soon as we got into the car and began the sixteen-hour or so adventure of reading, license plate spotting, occasional bickering, and listening to Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion after dark. Throughout my childhood, the ocean was my happy place.
Until last week, it had been a while since I’d spent a holiday at the ocean, several years since the order of events upon arrival followed a familiar pattern: Unload the car, have something to eat, buy groceries, walk on the beach. It was my first trip to Warnemünde on the Ostsee, or Baltic Sea, where I was thrilled to have been invited, and my heart felt almost like I’d been there before.
Warnemünde is a fishing town with an active port and a popular destination for tourists and cruise ships. A port means boats and lighthouses, both of which remind me warmly of my years working on boats and never fail to capture my attention.
The water was warmer than I’d expected though still a shock each time we waded carefully in, laughing, slipping on rocks, getting tangled in seaweed, playing. The ocean was surprisingly flat even on windy days, and the beach rockier than usual, I was told. We tasted salt on our lips, dried off under the sun and wind, watched the seagulls marching along the sand. And when the sun went down, we walked quietly and in awe.
On the Ostsee, I learned, much of the beach emerges from the forest and this was completely new to me. We found a cozy spot, watched the approaching rainclouds, and walked calmly back in the storm that followed.
In the bright sunshine of my last day, we rented bikes and followed a path through the forest and along the coastline. We passed farms and little towns, stopped to eat and drink overlooking the ocean, and went swimming in the warmest water yet. We searched unsuccessfully for Hühnergotter, stones with a small hole through them that are supposed to bring good luck. The sound of the ocean was soothing and I nearly fell asleep on the sand.
The world is a beautiful place and I was lucky to be somewhere new to me, lucky to share it with people who have such fond memories of being there. The world is a beautiful place and to be part of it is a gift. I am glad to know this – every day.