In the afternoon briefly put bare feet in the sand.

Felt unpleasant

The success story of the seaside resort of Travemünde

told by Wolf-Rüdiger Ohlhoff

Allowed, Wolf-Rüdiger Ohlhoff! The retired Travemünde amateur historian is creative and multi-talented when it comes to art and culture. Born on the west coast in Husum, he found fortune in Travemünde after training as a singer and knows more about the glittering history of the historic seaside resort than any other. He worked as a trainee at the end of the 1960s in the elegant Kurhaus Hotel, assisted the management of the legendary Casino Travemünde, was chief reception clerk in the Hansa-Hotel and set up the now famous Passat Choir along the way. His particular pride: he now owns the largest collection of jazz shellac records in the north. Ohlhoff is passionate about telling stories of Travemünde and sometimes makes his appearances as a turn-of-the-century summer visitor in elegant garb with a boater and walking stick. Such as in the ballroom of the Columbia Hotel Casino Travemünde, which was opened a hundred years ago as a “conversation house” for the amusement of spa guests, and is now a five-star luxury hotel offering exclusive wellness services.


International celebrities like Josephine Baker, Sophia Loren, Thomas Mann, Caterina Valente and Gunter Sachs have all beaten a path to Travemünde. Wolf-Rüdiger Ohlhoff knows them all, not personally, but no-one knows more about Travemünde as a meeting place for the rich and famous than the amateur historian from Travemünde. He is a walking encyclopaedia. Everything began in 1802 when the seaside resort of Travemünde was founded and life in the traditional fishing village was truly turned on its head. Sea bathing became fashionable at that time in the better circles, albeit only from a wooden bathing machine or in one of the six bathing pools in the “Warmbadehaus” on the beach. 3,000 visitors came to bathe in the first year alone, bringing money with them; the coastal architecture that is so typical of Travemünde today sprang up quickly.

The queues at the bathing machines and in the Warmbadehaus became ever longer, until finally in 1873 a public swimming facility was constructed on piles in the water. This was an immense boost to bathing operations, as large numbers of visitors could now bathe at the same time in the sea, though separated into male and female areas as before.


Technical progress brought the first steam shipping line to Travemünde in 1824. The side-wheel paddle steamer Princessia Wilhelmine brought visitors weekly across the Baltic Sea from refined Copenhagen to Travemünde. Shipping connections from and to Saint Petersburg, Riga and Reval (Tallinn) quickly followed, which were used by rich Russians to reach the great cities of Europe. Famous Russians who lodged in Travemünde at that time were Ivan Turgenev, Nikolai Gogol and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Travemünde really began to fill up from 1882 onwards, when the first railway came and a couple of years later when cars started to become a common mode of transport. Famous names like Joseph von Eichendorff, Emanuel Geibel, Richard Wagner, Clara Schumann, Edvard Munch and of course Thomas Mann all feature on the list of prominent visitors to the historic seaside resort. Franz Kafka wrote in his diary in July 1914: “In the afternoon briefly put bare feet in the sand. Felt unpleasant”. It was still frowned upon at that time to show bare skin in public.


Wolf Rüdiger Ohlhoff

Gambling was a magical draw for high society and had a decisive impact on Travemünde's reputation as a fashionable seaside resort. In 1833 it was officially approved in the “Kurhaus” – now the five-star AROSA Resort. Gambling was banned under Chancellor Bismarck for forty years and the gaming tables in Travemünde were put away. Gaming operations only reopened in 1949, this time in the “Kursaal” dating from 1914, which is now the Columbia Hotel Casino Travemünde. This helped the resort achieve an incredible comeback in the post-War era as the glamorous “Monte Carlo of the North”. The casino-nightclub “La belle Epoque”, was legendary, creating a furore in the 1950s and 60s with shows featuring international stars. A “no-go zone” of 15 km prevented local citizens of Travemünde from gambling everything away themselves. This was instituted because the town elders were concerned that daily temptation in the nearby casino might drive the locals to speedy ruin.


Whether Ohlhoff has a favourite place in Travemünde? Of course, two even! He loves listening to the Passat Choir live on-board the four-masted barque Passat, and sitting on the bench of the new pier to watch the majestic ships coming and in and going out – just like in olden times. Madness!

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