Greifswald, Germany church steeple

Last time I arrived in Greifswald, Germany, after nearly 24 hours of travel from California, I questioned if the trip would be worth the hassle.

I had lugged a bulging suitcase and backpack through three flights, a bus ride from the airport to the Berlin train station, three trains with announcements only in German, and a 10-minute walk to the apartment where my lifelong friend was staying while teaching summer school at Greifswald University.

This time—four years later, departing from my new home in North Carolina—I knew I would not be disappointed. Sure enough, I am giddy with joy every minute I am here in this charming, beautiful and easily navigable college town.

Excellent day trips from Greifswald

While it is a worthwhile destination in its own right, Greifswald also is near a variety of other beautiful places, including the gorgeous port city of Stralsund with one cathedral dating back to 1276, the quaint fishing village of Wieck, the spiritually moving abbey ruins in Eldena, and Sassnitz, known for its stunning white cliffs and beech tree forest. Other easy day trips from Greifswald, I’m told, include the coastal towns of Hiddensee and Usedom and the towns of Swinoujscie and Szczecin in Poland, but I haven’t fit those visits into my schedule.

When I visited four years ago, Greifswald already was lovely. Ornate church towers reach for the stars. Shops and cafes along the pedestrian-only main street bustle with activity. A handsome historic city square hosts a twice-weekly fish market and farmers’ market. Locals and visitors dine outside in front of the restaurants that align the square.

The energetic buzz of a university town

Here in Greifswald, you feel the energetic buzz of university students as they bicycle to and from classes and outpace me on foot, like they do on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, where I work. On warm days, the students soak up the sunshine along the quaint boat-lined canal.

Spring arrives a tad late here, so a May vacation provides a spectacle of blossoming trees and flowers and days that are comfortable with a light jacket and a handy umbrella.

During this visit, Greifswald enabled me to enjoy a third spring of the year—the first in February in California, the second in North Carolina in April and the third in Germany in May.

College students as helpful translatorsGreifswald greenway

In this college town of Greifswald, you know you can reach out to a youngish adult with a question in English and receive the answer you need in good-to-excellent English. Older adults, meanwhile, most likely learned Russian instead of English back in the days when this part of eastern Germany was under Soviet control.

Greifswald buildingRenovations abound

What’s different and even better than four years ago is the investment into Greifswald. New paint glistens street after street. Scaffolding abounds for restoration of old churches and buildings. Workers are constructing new buildings along the waterfront and here and there around the central part of town. Multiple cranes share the sky with church towers. New cafes and shops have opened, sporting sophisticated and modern décor.


Occasional Wi-Fi is a treat

Surprising, Wi-Fi is still not pervasive in Greifswald. Because I write stories for UNC-Chapel Hill’s Information Technology Services’ department about how we are filling all Wi-Fi gaps around the campus, I expected Greifswald University to now offer free Wi-Fi to all. But it is nearly impossible for visiting students and others to obtain liberal access. Instead, my Philadelphia professor friend and I were instructed to bring Ethernet cords to use in the apartment, as were my friend’s three visiting students from Philadelphia, for their use in the dorms.

The three Philly students questioned how they would be able to make arrangements with phoneseach other and any new German friends they make without the ability to text and direct message through Facebook. How would they email updates to their families back in the States or post photos to Instagram, they wondered. Some instructors and students here, they learned, don’t even own cell phones. The Philadelphia students and my professor friend and I are thrilled when we occasionally discover an unlocked Wi-Fi signal in a few spots around town. Perhaps unfortunately—at least for those of us trying to eat healthfully—we’ve found ice cream shop along the pedestrian-only commercial strip that provides access to free Wi-Fi.

Greifswald mosaicAnother trip to Greifswald? Count me in!

While I usually prefer to travel to new vacation destinations rather than repeat trips, Greifswald is an exception. Coming to Greifswald, of course, provides me an opportunity to hang out with a very busy lifelong friend while vacationing in Europe. But Greifswald offers more than that. I find myself in the perfect vacation mode this time in that I can fully appreciate what this town and nearby day-trip locations offer. Greifswald feels so comfortable and welcoming because I already know my way around. It is an easy walking town where, as one student told me, you feel at home within days of hoofing it everywhere. Here, too, I at least know what to anticipate when maneuvering through the train system. In this region, German is the only language spoken. A rare few employees of the trains and buses speak English.

Upon this return to Greifswald four years later, I’m filled with wonder and delight in the opportunity to once again visit this enchanting, friendly and picturesque university town.

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