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Lifestyle

How I came to appreciate German beach culture

Summer isn't summer without a trip to the seaside. And with Germany's rough weather patterns, DW's Courtney Tenz explains why her favorite seaside spot is inside the haven of a hardly translatable "Strandkorb."

Maybe it's because I grew up on a lake. Or the summers I'd spent in Florida as a teenager, the ocean within walking distance. But for me, summer isn't really summer unless there's a body of water nearby. Not a shipping channel with a dangerous current, like the Rhine River, but a body of water which I can jump into whenever the mercury in the thermostat pushes skywards.

So I was thrilled to spend my first summer in Germany in Lübeck, a Hanseatic town located near on the Baltic Sea. Although there were no beaches directly in town, on the first sunny summer day, I packed a bathing suit and sunscreen and hopped a rather rickety regional train for a 15-minute ride to the resort district of Travemünde. There, I encountered something I'd never seen before: "Strandkörbe." Loads of them.

These white wicker lounge chairs with high backs, canopies and striped canvas interiors, were totally foreign to me. Though the singular "Strandkorb" translates literally as "beach basket," there isn't a word for them in English that most native speakers could place. After all, these beach baskets don't contain your picnic lunch.

In the gallery below, Courtney Tenz and other DW culture editors share their favorite summer spots. 

As I walked through the soft sand to the water's edge, I wondered why anyone would sit in such a monstrosity. In Florida, where the beach grew so hot you could not walk on the sand in bare feet, people laid out their towels directly on the sand or pulled up a lounge chair beneath an umbrella.

These "Strandkörbe," on the other hand, appeared so unsightly and impractical. Their bulky masses blocked the gorgeous view of the horizon, where the deep blue of the Baltic met the pale blue of the sky above, a study in color contrasts.

A 'Strandkorb' convert

I set my towel on the ground and plopped my bag next to it. Stripping down to my bathing suit, I ran toward the water's edge. Finally, I thought, a swim! I splashed into the waves that rolled slowly on shore and abruptly came to a stop. With the thermostat pushing 40 degrees Celsius (nearly 104 Fahrenheit), I hadn't thought to check on the water temperature: 14. Eek!

G8 leaders in Heiligendamm (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Kneffel)

The "Strandkorb" even became a political symbol at the 2007 G8 summit in the northern German coastal city of Heiligendamm

"Come on in, it's refreshing!" my German friends shouted at me, already in up to their necks. By the time they were finished, swimming and splashing until their lips turned blue, I had made it in up to my knees.

The Germans would call me a "Warmduscher" - literally, a warm showerer. Having spent the hot summer days of my childhood cooling off in bathwater temperatures, I was short on the audacity needed to simply ignore the Baltic's Arctic freeze. Even with the waves only lapping at my feet, my teeth began to chatter.

Then it hit me: the wind. Despite the blazing sun above, I was freezing on the shore.

Read more: 11 German expressions you need for the summer

Read more: From bikini to burkini: The evolution of the bathing suit

Toweling off, my friends suggested getting a "Strandkorb," but I was dead opposed. Why would I spend two euros to contribute to those blights on the landscape? Still, they crawled inside and, eventually, I did, too - and quickly realized their good use.

Inside a "Strandkorb" turned in just the right direction, wind powerful enough to push kitesurfers out to sea goes unnoticed. The sun's intensity is shaded. You get what feels like a private view of the seemingly endless sea stretching to the horizon. A weather-sheltered room with a view, if you will.

Usedom on a cloudy day, from Koserow (DW/C. Tenz)

Usedom on a cloudy day, from Koserow

Although that one summer in Lübeck was a short blip in my decade living in Germany, I've returned to the Baltic regularly. Looking out at its rough waters has a calming effect. I still won't set much more than a foot in the freezing water, but I could sit inside a "Strandkorb" and stare at the sea for hours. And on my last trip there, to the island of Usedom, I did just that.

On the beach in the town of Trassenheide, I whiled away the time with a book, pausing every few pages to look out at the sea, guessing if the nearby island was Rügen, wondering just how far away Sweden could possibly be.

I was so lost inside the tiny "Strandkorb" world that I didn't notice the storm rolling in until after thick raindrops began to pelt the wicker roof. No worries. I tucked the leg rest back inside, pulled out the canopy and rode out the storm.

 

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