Crane watching on Ummanz and beech forests on Rügen are wonderful and attractive activities in autumn. Ummanz and the western part of Rügen furthermore belong to the Western Pomerania Lagoon Area National Park which is also a resting place for thousands of cranes. With a bit of luck you can observe some of these birds. In this blog entry I tell you more about the beech forests and chalk cliffs along the coast of Rügen, my crane watching attempts on Ummanz, and what else you can do there in autumn.
Beech forests and chalk cliffs on Rügen
Rügen is the most populous island in Germany and located in the north at the Baltic Sea in the state Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Rügen is also the island with the largest area in Germany. If you want to enter the island, you have to pass the close-by city Stralsund.
This year I have visited Rügen for the first time in October. As the island is very popular among holidaymakers, I expected to meet fewer tourists in autumn.
And actually, there was another reason why I wanted to visit Rügen and the area around the island between September and November.
I wanted to see common cranes on their annual migration from the north of Europe to the south. As the region around Rügen is a popular resting place for thousands of cranes, I hoped to see some of them.
Well, at the end of this blog entry you will know more.
If you are not that interested in crane watching, Rügen has much more to offer than "just" cranes.
Be it the harbor town Sassnitz or the Baltic Sea spa towns Sellin or Binz, but also the national park Jasmund in the northeast of the island with its white chalk cliffs and its beech forests. With its incredible nature, the Jasmund National Park was even declared as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 2011.
Nevertheless, we stayed in Bergen which is the central main town on Rügen, as we wanted to visit both the island Ummanz in the west and the main attraction points of Rügen in the east.
As we used public transport on Rügen, I will give you especially much information about how to travel around the island without a car. Is that possible?
On our first day on Rügen we chose to hike along the chalk cliffs from Sassnitz to the "Königsstuhl" (English: King’s Chair) - the best-known chalk cliff in the Jasmund National Park on Rügen.
At first, we took the bus from Bergen to Sassnitz. In Sassnitz we walked from the bus station to the harbor. If you follow the tourist information signs, you will reach the harbor in more or less 10 to 15 minutes.
Public transport: Bus number 20 leaves in Bergen (e.g. at the Friedhof) to Serams Wendeplatz. In Serams Wendeplatz you have to change the bus. Bus number 22 drives to Sassnitz. The whole journey takes about one hour and the ticket costs 7 Euros from Bergen to Sassnitz for one person.
If you pass the tourist information and follow the path Strandpromenade, you will find the place Kurplatz.
The Kurplatz was originally a loading site for a chalk-factory owner. In order to cut expenses, he needed a loading site at the seaside. However, when the harbor in Sassnitz was constructed, he didn't need this loading site anymore. Later he sold the site finally to the municipality. In the late 80s the current bandstand - also known as Kurmuschel (seen on the following photography) - was constructed on this site.
If you continue on the path of the Kurplatz, you will see Klein Helgoland on the right.
Klein Helgoland is one of the biggest erratics along Rügen’s shore. Its correct name is Uskan and the name Klein Helgoland is just its centuries-old nickname. It has a size of about 41 cubic meters. Actually, there were more erratics like Klein Helgoland around Sassnitz in the past. However, when the mole was constructed, many of those erratics were blown into smaller pieces to use them as construction materials. By the way, in the 19th century the waters around Klein Helgoland were the men’s bathing area when bathing in the Baltic Sea was still strictly divided between men and woman. Nowadays, Klein Helgoland fascinates many people. It was even accessible via bridges. However, due to storms no bridge could survive over a long time. The last bridge was destroyed in 2002.
Our plan on that day was to hike on the cliff top path (German: "Hochuferweg") to the King’s Chair.
We left the Kurplatz and Klein Helgoland behind us and followed the path to reach a small stone staircase on the left. We climbed up these stairs, turned right and followed the Weddingstraße to the entrance of the cliff top path.
At the entrance area you can choose between two paths. We chose the right path, as we hoped to have spectacular views on to the chalk cliffs and the Baltic Sea.
It was definitely a great choice. I do not have a comparison to the other path, however, I was deeply impressed by the landscapes we saw on this path. The beech forests through which we hiked and the views onto the chalk cliffs and the Baltic Sea on a sunny autumn day, was by far the most amazing time I spent on Rügen.
At the beginning of the path we had the forest almost for ourselves.
Fresh air from the Baltic Sea.
And the beauty of all the beeches around me just made me feel so... happy.
I was blown away by this place on earth.
I really enjoyed being surrounded by so many trees, and simultaneously, I had the ocean to the right. I did not see the Baltic Sea all the time on the path, but I could listen to it.
On this path I also learned more about beech forests in Europe.
During the last ice age the common beech (Fagus sylvatica) vanished from most parts of Europe. However, during the last 4.000 years the common beech has expanded once again its natural range from the southeast of Europe to the northeast. This northward expansion of these ancient beech forests continues up to the present day.
However, did you know that most parts of Europe would be now covered by beeches if there would be no human influence?
Nowadays, ancient beech forests are rare, but they are very important as they provide a habitat for more than 10.000 animal, plant and fungal species. Therefore, they need all the protection they can get. Today, 78 areas with beech forests distributed in 12 countries in Europe are awarded as a World Heritage Side by the UNESCO.
Interesting: In Germany there are five important beech forests protected by the UNESCO: the beech forests in the Jasmund National Park and the Serrahn in the Müritz National Park in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, but also beech forests in the Grumsiner Forst in Brandenburg, the Hainich National Park in Thuringia, and in the Kellerwald-Edersee in Hesse.
It is impossible to walk through these beech forests with out awe-inspiring eyes. At times we got a glimpse of the Baltic Sea and the path underneath along the chalk cliffs on a rocky beach.
To be honest, I would have missed the incredible nature of the beech forests and the spectacular views onto the chalk cliffs from above if we would have walked on the rocky beach. Sometimes we had to take care of the roots on our path in order not to fall over. And sometimes we had to walk up and down. But in general, the hike was easy to walk.
At some sections along the cliff top path we had to climb stairs.
Along the path it is also impossible to get lost. You will find your path to the King’s Chairs.
I would choose the cliff top path again.
Did you know? National parks are important to protect nature. In Germany there are 16 national parks. In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania there are the Jasmund National Park, the Müritz National Park, and the Western Pomerania Lagoon Area National Park.
At the beginning of the path there are not so many possibilities to get nice views of the chalk cliffs, which are besides the beech forests another attraction point for many visitors.
The chalk cliffs are like the beech forests unique. Weathering processes and freeze-thaw weathering in winter keeps the cliffs looking bright white. These processes are also responsible for the steep slopes, which determine the image of the landscapes.
If you walk along the path, you will encounter trees that hang over these cliffs.
I encountered for the first time the term "slope forest".
Forests like the one on the cliff top path are also known as slope forests, as during the course of ecological succession tree and shrub species establish on less steep sections up to the cliff.
As we were so lucky with the weather, we had wonderful views onto the forests that have established. Especially in autumn it is wonderful. And as it was so sunny we could even see the Baltic Sea in its most beautiful colors, as aborted chalk colors the Baltic Sea turquoise.
As impressive it was to have such spectacular views, at the same time it was also a little bit scary to be so close to the cliffs. Natural processes like coastal dynamics and forest regeneration, falling branches, landslides or falling rocks can be potential hazards on the cliff top path. It is important to hike with caution and as a visitor you have to be aware of these potential threats. It is also important to stay on the signposted trails and keep a safe distance from the edge of the cliff.
Tip: On a bad weather day you can visit the King's Chair National Park Center instead of hiking on the cliff top path. We did not visit the center, but in this center you will find an interactive exhibition, a multivision cinema and lots of information about beech forests, chalk cliffs or the Baltic Sea. I would not recommend to do both on one day. Please visit the official website to get more information.
Due to natural processes, the chalk cliffs are in a constant transformation. An impressive rock fall occurred in February 2005 at the Wissower Klinken when more than 50.000 cubic meters of rock collapsed overnight onto the beach. The Wissower Klinken were a distinctive landmark, which now does not resemble the formerly countless photographed postcard scene anymore.
Therefore, you have to be aware of all these natural processes and you have to be very cautious where you hike on the cliff top path.
By the way, there is also a UNESCO world heritage station close to the Wissower Klinken. The station is about 1,5 km from Sassnitz. At this site you will find more information for hikers, but there is also an exhibition. As we have not been there, please check the website of the Jasmund National Park to get more information.
Important: Be aware that the chalk coast is most dangerous after a storm or after freezing temperatures, but also after a heavy rainfall or after floods. Follow the rules of the national park and don’t cross barriers or ignore any prohibitions. It is for your own safety.
The more we got closer to the King’s Chair, the more people we encountered on the path. The King’s Chair is another - probably the most impressive one - chalk cliff towering 118 meters above the waterline.
The King’s Chair is an attraction point for many visitors of Rügen. From a distance you can see people on the observation platform. I actually found it kind of scary to see people on this chalk cliff considering all the information I got along the path. And apparently, there are plans to build another observation platform due to rock failures...
Nevertheless, the beech forests together with the chalk cliffs and the King’s Chair are beautiful.
In total, we walked from Sassnitz to the Königsstuhl about 10 kilometers. The chalk cliff path is part of the theme hiking trail The Chalk Path where you can learn more about Rügen’s multi-talent - chalk. On this trail you learn more about, e.g., its history and use. Given the incredible nature on the cliff top path, I’m sure it is worth to walk the whole theme path.
Public transport: There is a bus stop at the King’s Chair. We took bus number 19 to Hagen. In Hagen we changed the bus. We drove with bus number 23 from Hagen back to Sassnitz. We paid 2,10 Euros for one journey per person. The journey took about 15 minutes. In Sassnitz we took again bus number 23 to Serams Wendeplatz and from there to Bergen. We did not have to change the bus in Serams Wendeplatz. Again we paid 7 Euros per ticket.
A canopy pathway in the middle of beech forests
We had one very special encounter with a common beech on Rügen when we visited the canopy pathway close to Prora.
Unfortunately, on that day we were not so lucky with the weather. It was drizzling the whole day. As we used public transport and as it was not that easy to find the canopy pathway by foot, we arrived already wet at the canopy pathway. But we entered anyway - as did many other visitors.
With waterproof clothes it is also a wonderful experience to look closely at the common beech within the canopy pathway.
On our way up we were more or less protected from the rain. But on the top the rainy and cold weather made us feel a little bit uncomfortably. But anyway, the view was spectacular. It was very foggy and we could not see far, but again, Rügen showed us one of its most beautiful sides.
We walked a round on the top of the canopy pathway to get a view onto Rügen’s nature from all sides.
On a sunny and warm day it must be incredible here.
Nevertheless, as it was so cold we did not remain for such a long time on the top. After the canopy pathway, we warmed up a little bit in the associated shop before we headed off to our next place on that day: Sellin.
Public transport: We took bus number 20 from Bergen (bus stop Friedhof) to Serams Wendeplatz. At Serams Wendeplatz we had to change the bus. With bus number 22 we drove to Prora (bus stop Strandweg). Bus number 27 leaves at the bus stop Strandweg and stops at the Baumwipfelpfad. We paid 4,30 Euros for one ticket from Bergen to the Baumwipfelpfad.
Sellin on Rügen
Most people visit Sellin most probably because of its pier (German: "Seebrücke"). We saw Sellin only on a rainy, foggy, and cold day - but I can understand that Sellin is a popular place among holidaymakers.
The place around the pier is very attractive. The architecture is distinctive and the town appeared to me as rather small and quiet, but beautiful anyway.
However, as we have just visited the pier and the street that leads to the pier in Sellin, I cannot tell you so much about this town. As it was already afternoon when we arrived in Sellin, we could not see so much. I definitely recommend visiting Selling for longer than just an afternoon on a rainy day.
Public transport: At the canopy pathway we walked to the bus stop Südstraße in Prora. We drove with bus number 22 to Serams Wendeplatz and from there with bus number 20 to Sellin. We paid 3,20 Euros per person and the journey took about half an hour.
Crane watching on Ummanz
The island of Ummanz is located off the west coast of the island of Rügen and about 20 kilometers far away from Bergen. Ummanz is part of the Western Pomerania Lagoon Area National Park and comprises an area of about 20 square kilometers. Less than 250 inhabitants live on the island.
We visited the island of Ummanz on the day of our arrival hoping to spot either some cranes from far away searching for food on corn fields or in the evening flying in to their roosting sites where they sleep.
Unfortunately, I have to say that we did not spot any crane at all on that day on the island of Ummanz.
After entering the island of Ummanz we passed Waase and continued to Tankow where we saw a little bird observation platform.
Maybe we would have seen cranes, if we would have waited until the evening. We did not wait, as we arrived by bike which was afterwards not the best choice. The roads between Bergen and Ummanz are too busy. We didn’t want to risk anything driving back in the dark from Ummanz to Bergen. Even with good lights I wouldn’t have wanted to drive on these busy roads. Unfortunately, we could not find any bicycle path. That means, in Bergen we saw a bicycle path, but this path was already mostly overgrown with grass...
Nevertheless, we enjoyed some nice views onto the landscapes in Ummanz.
If you are interested in observing common cranes on Ummanz or Rügen, I guess, the best choice is to book a tour. However, if you want to participate in a tour, I recommend to adjust your arrival and departure times on the timetable of the tour companies, as there is no company that offers a crane watching tour every day.
As we haven’t participated in any tour, I can not share with you here my experiences. But if you are interested in a tour, there is one company that offers crane watching tours leaving in Breege. The company‘s name is Reederei Kipp which also organizes bus transfers. Another company leaves in Schaprode. This company’s name is Reederei Hiddensee.
Question: If you have participated in one of these tours, I would be more than happy to know more about your experiences with these crane watching tours. Please leave a comment in the comment area below. This information would be also useful for those readers that search for more information about crane watching tours on Rügen.
How to get to Rügen
As there are good bus connections from Berlin to Rügen, we took the bus. We traveled with the bus company Flixbus. The journey took about 4 hours and we paid 15,99 Euros for a one-way ticket per person. As we continued with our journey in Stralsund in order to observe cranes at the lake Günzer See, we did not buy a return ticket from Rügen to Berlin.
The bus company stops in different places on Rügen. Buses stop in Bergen, Sellin, Binz, Göhren, and Baabe.
In Bergen Flixbus stops in the street Ringstraße / B196, 18528 Bergen, Rügen.
There is also a train station (Bergen auf Rügen, 18528 Bergen auf Rügen) with good connections to, e.g., Stralsund.
Where to stay in Rügen
Public transport and cycling
In general, I was very surprised that it is so difficult to get around by bike on Rügen and Ummanz. At least, if you stay in Bergen, I would not recommend to rent a bike to get from one place to the other, as you have to share the roads with many cars. Maybe because it was autumn, but I saw more people in cars than walking around in the town of Bergen. That was actually one point I didn’t like very much on Rügen.
Nevertheless, there are apparently bicycle paths in the more touristic areas in the southeast of Rügen connecting towns like Sellin or Binz. Probably it is easier to get around by bike in this area of the island. However, the bicycle paths I saw didn’t appear that attractive. First of all, the bicycle paths were either just next to a busy road and as it seems not continuous. And secondly, the landscapes between Bergen and the other towns are not that attractive to venture a busy road and/or driving along a bicycle path next to a busy road.
However, public transportation on Rügen is really very good. At least you can get to the most touristic points in the southeast of the island. But note that there is no bus connection to Ummanz (at least on the day of our visit). If you want to visit Ummanz, the best choice is (unfortunately in my opinion) a car.
Due to all these busy roads, I guess, that most people very probably get around by car on Rügen.
More information and resources
Official website of the Jasmund National Park (only in German)
Official website of the King's Chair on Rügen
UNESCO World Heritage station on Rügen (only in German)
Information about the canopy pathway on Rügen (only in German)
Blog article about beech forests on North Star Chronicles
More about crane watching on Rügen (only in German)
More about cranes on Ummanz (only in German)
Have you ever been on Rügen or Ummanz? What was your favorite place? Did you see the impressive beech forests or common cranes? I'm looking forward to read about your experiences in the comment area.