Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Weekend (2.24 - 2.25): The German Amber Museum in Ribnitz-Damgarten

Back at the end of February, we went to Rostock again for the weekend, because it was Andrea's birthday.
Also because it's close, Hannes' parents want to see more of us now that we live here, they feed us delicious homemade food and alcohol until we're ready to burst, and their apartment is super cozy. Although this time we had the cozy apartment all to ourselves, be because the 'rents were in the Italian Alps on their annual ski trip (which is a pretty standard thing for Germans).

Taking the train there is usually a very simple, 2 1/2-hour, straight-shot kind of affair, but for a while now, the tracks have been under construction. What's more, they found out that the section of track they're working on is built atop exactly the same kind of soil that recently gave way under a nearby section of the Autobahn and took a big chunk of the road with it, so the construction will continue throughout the year while they work out a solution.

Instead of taking our local train three stops to the main station and then another fairly comfortable regional train to Rostock's main station, we now have to change trains in Lübeck, and again in an inaka (middle-of-nowhere) town called Bad Kleinen, to a gasoline-powered local train that's as tall as a building but has far too few cars and seats to accommodate the inter-city traffic at busy times. 
So, even if we were changing trains in Good Kleinen, it wouldn't really help.

We left on Friday night after Hannes had gotten off work, and I think we got to Nico and Andrea's house around 10:30 that night, as the birthday party was winding down, though that of course didn't stop us from hanging out for several hours and drinking too much. 
I brought a hair fascinator I had made years before and a necklace in a pretty fabric pouch as a gift, which I was all too glad to remember having set aside for her while I was plowing through the storage unit and all my worldly possessions. (Because Hannes is bad about this kind of thing in exactly the stereotypical way you would expect of a man, and never gets birthday cards or gifts for anyone. We did put together some really awesome gifts for his parents while we were living in Tokyo, though, because it's easy to find unique and interesting items there, and because I wouldn't get off his case about it.)

Andrea casually showed us a few of the other nice things she got. 
"And also this. And this," she finished, holding up a car key.
We laughed lightly. She continued holding it.
"Oh fuck, seriously?"
Nico owns a Hyundai dealership and as a result can get great deals, but we were still pretty impressed.

Anyway, it was a nice time, and I talked with the usual female suspects about the hilariously lame softcore erotica novels they've been passing back and forth. The next day we were interested in going to the zoo, or on some other kind of little day outing, but I had a horrible hangover. The first time I woke up it was quite early, and Hannes thought, "Oh, huh, that's unusual, but it's cool that she's awake already," but I was actually rushing to the bathroom to puke.

I think we're just getting old.

Miraculously, though, after sleeping it off a bit longer and then having a bit of starch, caffeine, and headache medicine, I was ready to go out and do something in the afternoon. 
There's a folk village-type place outside Rostock, but because it starts getting dark at 3:30 in the afternoon in winter, they're only open until 4 until April 1st. It was the same story with the zoo, and a number of other places we googled. Not wanting to give up on going out altogether, we ended up saying, "Okay, what the hell," to an amber museum in a nearby town.

The Baltic coast is famous for its amber, and it's everywhere. People used to pluck massive chunks of it from the surf and rocky shore, and I look forward to beachcombing for some of my own like a nerdy middle-aged local once the weather is warmer. I've always liked the stuff, it's cool, and it makes great jewelry. We just wanted to get out of the house and figured, how bad could a wee drive to a quaint town to look at some rocks and stuff be? At least it was something.

Well, I have to say, it was great. We were thoroughly impressed by how modern and interesting the museum was, and it turns out that Ribnitz-Damgarten is a very attractive resort town full of cafés and small private art galleries, not to mention the adorable houses and brick gothic architecture typical of the region.

We parked right next to this big old church and the town's large park, hoping the amber museum was nearby, because it was super windy and absolutely freezing.

My gloveless hands (don't ask me why I keep doing this to myself) went totally numb and claw-shaped while I was taking these.

The church is technically a Klosterkirche, one that used to be a cloister, and - oh.

It uh.
Houses the amber museum. 
All the amber is in there.
We parked at the first available place and wandered over to the nearest building without realising it was exactly where we were going.

"Well, hurry up, open the door!" 

The museum was laid out very attractively, its design clean and modern. 
We were really impressed, having assumed it'd be a pretty mediocre affair. 

Unfortunately I didn't focus clearly on any specific sections of text, but the exhibit above explains how glaciation was a key factor in creating an abundance of amber in this region. 
All around the Baltic are dense forests, and at the same time, the northern coasts of Germany and Poland (as well as the western ones of the Baltic states of course) were roughly the boundary line of the huge glaciers that formed during the last Ice Age, pushing into and covering parts of northern Europe. Because amber is not actually a stone and is very light, it is easily carried along by rivers, streams, tides, and even those glaciers themselves. So, when the glaciers retreated and formed the Baltic Sea, exactly ten thousand million buttloads of amber ended up in there. :D

-Jurassic Park score plays softly in background-

This used to be a typical day's find in this region around a hundred years ago.

And, this is actually really cool: there's a tooth test!

Diving helmets are also abundant in this region. I think I've easily seen half a dozen or so in passing at such places as this, along the northeast coast of Germany.

Oooh, these greenish glassy ones are pretty..

Yet another interesting factoid: how dramatically the word for "amber" varies!

This carved amber signet, found in Greifswald, dates back to 1259 
and belonged to an Englishwoman called Ada of Bernham.

All of the windows inside the multi-story amber museum (which, remember, 
is inside the old cloister) are absolutely picturesque and charming, too.

This large wall panel is a re-creation of those that covered not only the walls but even the ceiling of the Amber Room, a priceless German treasure that was gifted to Russia and sadly disappeared forever during the War. It must have been a godly feeling standing in a whole room of this, like basking in soft illuminated gold.

The detail, too, is very impressive and fine. Thinking of European castles I've visited and how every single nook, cranny, corner, accessory, and fixture of every room is usually this detailed, I can't even imagine how dazzling it would be if all of that were also golden.

You can read more about it in this Smithsonian article.
(And they even mention instantly associating amber with Jurassic Park in the first sentence lol) 

Aaaand then we take it one step too far, realising that we're reaching the limits of the human imagination when we ask ourselves what we haven't done with this stuff yet lol

This hunting lodge-esque room was pretty epic..

..and in it were some beautiful 19th century Slavic wedding accessories from the region, ornate and heavily-beaded, full of fine stones including more amber.

Amazing, right? It's like a suit of armour topped with an elaborate Christmas cake.

Extremely ornately-carved ivory and amber pipes, too?!

Bada bah bah bah, I'm really not loving it.
I thought the lobster was too far, but with McAmber we've really reached a stopping point.

And I'm wrong again.
Cartoonish bug orchestra.

Continuing on, there is also a room of antique and vintage crocodile, alligator, and snakeskin bags, shoes, coats, and other clothing and accessories (???). Horrifyingly, many still have little feet and faces attached. What the fuck kind of sadistic thoughts do rich people even have?

In another very abrupt change of scenery but one that's more on track with what you'd expect from yet another very old German church, we reached the final part of the museum, which is actually the cloister itself. The third floor is the only access point, so that you can only walk across the wooden floor into the cavernous, drafty space and look down into the rest of the preserved building.

The cloister was built in 1325, 12th - 15th century churches being par for the course in these parts.

From the viewing platform you can see the altar, pews, massive pipe organ, and whatever other standard stuff you might expect. It's kind of like temples in Japan: with a few very impressive exceptions, if you've seen one, you've seen them all.

But that doesn't stop me from being super impressed that these boxy Baltic brick gothic churches all have stuff hanging on the wall that's nearly a thousand years old, hah.

And this one even added a super modern touch that I really love in this space, 
but would kind of hate in any other museum.

There was also a random glass skywalk to the adjacent building - I'm assuming another very old component of the cloister - which was off limits. But that didn't stop us from enjoying it.

After that oddly satisfying amber museum experience, we walked through the town to take a look at the water, which is a Bodden, or something like a lagoon, separated from the Baltic.

The museum-housing-half of the cloister viewed from down the street

Random fairytale vine house

Saaler Bodden, complete with somewhat creepy sculptures

The other obligatory giant chunk of a church - because you can't have just one! - 
in the plaza in the center of town.

I really loved the sculpture in front of it, which depicts people in bronze on a gentle incline that represents the beach, including a man sifting or skimming for amber with a special net. It's only been here since 2007 and was sculpted by Thomas Jastram.

... Aaaand it's coffee and cake time again! 
Except that I had hot chocolate, with its own plate and doily.

And a slice of warm apple cake that came with ice cream. Yes, I was bad. Again. ><
Hannes had his childhood favourite, Russischer Zupfkuchen - it's sort of like cheesecake, but made with sour cream, not very sweet, chocolate-marbled, and a little dry.

Rostock also has a gate like this, one that used to mark the entry point to the town in medieval times. The opening is that size so that people could drive cows, horses, and carts through it.

Unsurprisingly, seeing as how it was absolutely freaking freezing that day, we woke up to a landscape generously dusted with white powder the following morning, when it was time to take the train back to Hamburg. (Little did I know at the time that this would continue for another month!) Between the lowkey but still heavy-drinking birthday party and the surprisingly cool amber museum, it was a really nice winter weekend.

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