• Germany's news in English

Finding fossils at Germany's tiniest national park

The Local · 3 Sep 2008, 13:06

Published: 03 Sep 2008 13:06 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

A four-hour northbound train ride took us from urban Berlin through sprawling fields of sunflowers, corn and barley, to the shores of the Baltic Sea, where the small island of Rügen nestles just off the coast.

Our quest for hardy outdoor living had brought us to Sassnitz, a quaint 150-year-old fishing port on the most northerly point of Rügen, an island belonging to the German state of Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania. It's the gateway to the Jasmund National Park, the smallest park in Germany at just 30 square kilometres.

Jasmund is most famous for its sheer chalk cliffs, which jut 118 metres above the sea - Europe's highest cliff formations in Germany's tiniest national park. The 10-kilometre stretch of crags, crowned with thick beech forests that date from the 13th century, puckers the shoreline north of Sassnitz. Not bad, for such a wee park.

Each summer a hive of German tourists descends on the area in search of one thing – fossils.

We set out walking along the pebbly beach against a brisk sea breeze, stepping between amateur paleontologists diligently sifting through the salty stones for the six-million-year-old fossils of sea urchins and ancient squid for which the park is known. These fossils, along with 'lucky' pebbles and gnarled beech driftwood are German tourists' most-cherished Rügen souvenirs.

The fossil hunters shack up in Sassnitz's quaint wooden villas. Almost every salt-stained abode boasts blooming flower boxes along the cobbled lanes that lead down the hillside to the rocky shore. Many of the guest houses offer self-catering apartments, equipped with kitchens and spacious enclosed balconies or Wintergarten and panoramic views of the sea. The view from our Wintergarten takes in the cluttered tiled rooftops of the old town below, with balconies full of dining families and airing outerwear. The stormy Baltic Sea, dotted with sailing boats and ferries cruising to Sweden, spreads out to the horizon.

One of the best ways to take in Jasmund's beauty is a nine-kilometre walk along the contours of the rocky beach, or the cliff top walkway 100 metres above the shore. We took the high road and hiked along the cliffs with a gang of outdoorsy Germans through the lush beech forests, tramping up and down wooden steps and walkways, across tree roots and past striking views of the silvery beach below.

The hike's reward is the spectacular Königsstuhl, or 'King's Throne,' the highest cliff in the park, which stands at a majestic 118 metres above sea level. Visitors can catch an alternative view of the Königsstuhl at Victoria Ansicht, a lookout point at the park visitor's centre, which charges an entry fee.

On day two we checked out hundreds of brightly painted fishing boats anchored in the quay of Sassnitz harbour. Among the boats lurks the British submarine HMS Otus, sold to a German entrepreneur five years ago, dressed in black camouflage paint and flying the Union Jack. Inside, the submarine is still equipped with all its cogs and dials, radars and sleeping cots - a fascinating way to spend an hour.

Venturing out into the open water is easy in Sassnitz. Boat trips leave daily from the harbour to give tourists a sea-side view of the Jasmund cliffs and the town. For sea hardy travelers a day trip around the whole island costs €40 and explores all the coast’s nooks and crannies. A one hour trip was more suited to our shaky sea legs, and we were treated to breathtaking views, fresh sea air and sunshine reflecting off the choppy waves.

Back in the old town we came across the local art studio and Trödel (rummage) shop called 'der Laden,' where we found ceramics and an eclectic selection of former East German kitsch, including two rooms stuffed with books. Local islander and potter Hartmut Netschas also creates hand-made bowls and over-sized mugs in a traditional Rügen style for the shop.

Story continues below…

A turn of a corner in the quirky shop revealed a room bursting with orange-labeled 'Sanddorn' products, ranging from tea, to honey to sweets and jam. Sanddorn is a sour berry native to Rügen.

"Every man must eat Sanddorn," bellowed Netschas in a thick east German accent and a serious grin. Locals have enjoyed the health benefits of Sanddorn for centuries, he explained.

Walking through the old town later that evening, we finally found exemplary specimens of the fossils we'd seen others digging for on the beach. Through a thick shop window we saw the marbled stones of the beach encrusted with chalky white lines marking the skeletons of ancient creatures.

“Maybe next time,” we said, eying the elegant tails of ancient squid preserved amid the stone, but content with our lucky beach stones and Sanddorn tea.

Related links:

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Eurowings cabin crew union to strike all day Thursday
Photo: DPA.

UPDATE: A union representing cabin crews on Lufthansa's budget airline Eurowings has announced that strikes will last all day Thursday as ongoing contract negotiations continue to falter.

Hesse hopes to set example by building Iraqi orphanages
Refugee children in northern Iraq. Photo: DPA

The wealthy central German state of Hesse has set aside €1 million to build a school, family homes and an orphanage in northern Iraq, in an effort to help refugees there.

The Local List
10 German clichés that foreigners get very wrong
David Hasselhoff. Photo: DPA

Whether it be efficiency, humourlessness or a love of a certain Baywatch star, there are many cliches stuck in the heads of foreigners about Germany. But how true are they?

Fake Germanwings victim relative convicted in Cologne
A torn piece of metal at the crash site in 2015. Photo: DPA

A German court on Wednesday gave a woman a year's suspended jail sentence for posing as the cousin of a victim in last year's Germanwings plane crash and obtaining compensation offered by the airline.

Couple accused of torturing, murdering women go on trial
The so-called 'house of horrors' in Höxter where the couple allegedly tortured and killed women. Photo: DPA.

A couple accused of luring women to their village home with personal ads started trial on Wednesday over charges that they tortured and killed at least two of their victims.

After July attacks, govt drafts new video surveillance law
Photo: DPA

The Interior Ministry is drafting a law which will enable public spaces to be filmed for surveillance purposes as a reaction to deadly attacks in July, according to a newspaper report.

Merkel: murky internet giants distort perception of reality
Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA.

Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Tuesday for internet giants to make public their closely-guarded algorithms, claiming that they are not giving people diverse enough information.

Pegida leader 'paid court costs with group's money'
Pegida leader Lutz Bachmann. Photo: DPA.

The leader of the anti-Islam movement reportedly used money from Pegida's coffers to pay for two personal court cases, German media reported this week.

Anger as Berlin scraps Turkey concert on Armenia genocide
The Dresden Symphony Orchestra. Photo: DPA

Germany's foreign ministry Tuesday scrapped a planned symphony performance on the Armenian "genocide" in its Istanbul consulate, sparking accusations that it was caving in to Turkish pressure.

Obama to visit Berlin in last presidential trip to Germany
President Barack Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel during a Berlin trip in 2013. Photo: DPA.

The White House announced on Tuesday that US President Barack Obama will be paying one last unexpected visit to the German capital - his last before he leaves office.

10 ways German completely messes up your English
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd