Back then – some 50 years ago – Pomerania was still a part of Prussia; its jewel being considered the Baltic island of Rügen. Those who wanted to travel there usually did so by train, on the Stettin – Sassnitz – Trelleborg line, or they went by car. Hereinafter, however, we shall be concerned with a trip on horseback, which lasted all of three days.
By way of preface, it is necessary to mention that the reason why the trip took place at all was not the rider but the horse. She was a white mare named Killa, a Hanover horse by race, destined to exchange the narrow stables of a sugar manufacturing plant near Stettin for the breezy grounds of Spyker Estate on Rügen island, there to be used as a saddle horse.
Setting out with Killa, the rider’s somewhat adventurous clothing gave him a rather unusual appearance. His trousers and boots were of military provenance, while the part above his waistline looked undoubtedly civilian. In addition, he was provided with two saddle bags filled to bursting point, and a field gray coat, folded regulation style. All in all, one might have gained the impression of looking at someone setting out for a larger venture, if not for a journey encompassing the entire province. The rider, thus, had no cause to wonder why people on the fields took note of his passing by and why some – especially women – occasionally also greeted him with a wave of their hands. In most of the villages he passed, he caused crowds of children to gather. But he on his horse was not bothered by this. Rather, he enjoyed the countryside and the beautiful fall weather.
He had not progressed very far when he was torn from his reverie all of a sudden. On a country road something came tearing his way like the tornado preceding a thunderstorm, a white horse and on top of it a blend of red, white, and flowing hair. When it came to a stop immediately in front of him, he realized that she was a young girl on an Arabian stallion, who incidentally didn’t even bother to pause for an introduction: “Are you intending to take that poor mare all the way to the North Pole?”
“Not as far as that, but to the northern part of Rügen.”
“Well, that’s not as far as all that after all; why don’t you come and have a cup of coffee at our house.”
Tempting, he thought, the stallion, the girl, and the prospect of a good cup of coffee, but possibly also her much-surprised parents or even some scandalized aunts. In any event, he attempted to explain to the girl that he was strictly bound to stick to his trip’s schedule. This the girl rider of course failed to appreciate, and she called him an abominable pedant.
Yet, when he remained firm, she accompanied him for part of the way, up to a path to the side of the road which led to her parents’ farm. At the very least, she had by then learned where he was headed – and that seemed sufficient by far to her. She raced home at top speed across the stubble fields; with one arm raised high, it seemed to him.
Somehow this little incident stayed with him, however, and he decided to make inquiries, that night, who she might have been. And so he did during a conversation after dinner. But he was not even able to finish his tale. Very soon, amused laughter erupted all around him, and his host exclaimed: “We all know her hereabouts, that’s the Prittwitz man’s daughter.”
This, of course, didn’t exactly provide any valuable new information at all, but he was careful not to push his inquiry any further; as there was, after all, also such a thing as a guest address book.
The next morning he made an early start, as he wanted to get close to the ferry to Rügen; aiming for a nearby military horse breeding farm. On this day his ride was interrupted only once, by a huge cloud of dust suddenly hanging over the summertime path. He waited to see what was hidden behind it – and lo’n behold, it was a squadron of riders, all on chestnut horses, a picture begging to be painted. Yet, only a few minutes later the cloud of dust was already behind him.
That evening he had to be careful not to miss the path leading to the horse breeding farm through the fields. It turned out not to be difficult to find, however, as in a depression he saw a number of pastures on which foals were grazing. When he entered the path, the foals trotted alongside him, curiously eying the white mare and her rider. Eventually he also met a lonely walker, whom he supposed the farm’s manager. This, the other indeed turned out to be. He jumped off his horse to introduce himself; although arguably this was hardly necessary, since they had been advised of his arrival. Then followed a friendly welcome, a hearty dinner, good Moselle wine, a relaxed atmosphere, deep slumber, the shrill sound of his alarm clock, and off he was for the final leg of his trip.
The way to the ferry was not far. And now, on Rügen island, the landscape was completely different from the mainland’s low country, consisting instead of rolling moraines, woods and fields, pastures and shallow inlets, bays and pointed promontories, water everywhere, and above it all, nature’s stillness.
At around noon he arrived in the district capital of Bergen and gave his mare a rest in the stables of a place calling itself a “hostel and place of unyoking,” while he himself found a seat at the inn, sharing a table with a traveler who turned out to be a brewers’ barley salesman.
His rest over, he then continued northward, first in the direction of Polchow and then to the hills above the Great Bay of Jasmund, on whose slopes lay the Spyker estate. The heights provided a particularly beautiful view of the castle and the estate buildings.
Having finished plowing, the cart drivers were just about to unharness their horses and ride back for the night. When he passed the foreman, the latter called out to him:
“The stallion’s here all right all ok.” – “What stallion?”
“Well, the Arabian stallion, for the mare.”
He couldn’t help but think of the little incident of two days earlier; but surely, this couldn’t be possible?
When he arrived in the courtyard and the echo of his horse’s hooves, having grown somewhat tired, rang back from the building walls, the stable door opened and coachman Franz took over the mare. One glance into her box – and everything was clear. There was the stallion indeed, neighing his welcome to the mare.
From the castle door emerged the estate manager and behind him, a female. Not the manager’s wife, was she? No, in fact, the girl belonging to the Arabian stallion. Perfectly calmly, he approached the pair, and when the manager made to introduce them to each other, he said: “Thank you, we have already met.” Now the manager was suddenly in a hurry to attend to the horse carts.
The rider said to the girl: “You really could have told me this two days ago, you know.”
“Naw,” she replied, “for one thing, you were about as blasé as a stallion yourself – and besides, I don’t talk about stuff like this.”
And with that, she was gone.
During the Cold War years, Rügen Island was locked up behind the Iron Curtain and thus unreachable; but after reunification it soon became a holiday destination once again. Spyker Castle was turned into a hotel, which, almost a century after the ride described in my grandfather’s story, finally made it possible for me to see it with my own eyes:
The photo to the right shows the former stables; presumably the place where Killa, the white Hanover mare, was headed — and eagerly welcomed by the unnamed, equally white Arabian stallion.
On Rügen Island
Rügen’s famous chalk cliffs: Cape Arkona, the island’s most northerly point (left), and the formation known as Königsstuhl (“royal chair”, or simply “throne”) in Jasmund National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Lake Spycker at dusk