When you hear the name Prora, the first thing that comes to mind is the huge building complex that was erected on the beach before the Second World War. The concrete block has now been converted into vacation resorts and museums - and the surrounding area, once used by the military, has been reclaimed by nature piece by piece..

The sun winks through the dense canopy of beech and oak forests, it smells of fresh green. On its south side, a quiet lake glistens, surrounded by reeds and cane. Further back, a vast scrubland begins. There, a herd of mighty water buffaloes feasts on the vegetation; as landscapers weighing tons, they gleefully crush disturbing bushes and small trees, thus ensuring that the heath area does not become overgrown. Insects buzz, a fairy-tale tranquility lies over the landscape, time seems to stand still - yet much was once quite different here.

This is how you get to Binz by train: Plan arrival.

The "Colossus of Prora" originally had 10,000 rooms

We are in Prora on the east coast of the Island Rügenand with these five letters one actually associates anything but a green idyll. Between 1936 and '39, the Nazis built the "Colossus of Prora" in the small woods on the narrow, endlessly long dream beach, eight gigantic, identical concrete blocks, 4.5 kilometers long in total, each with six stories, whose 10,000 rooms were to serve as vacation accommodation. 

Because of the war, the mega-complex was not completed, later it was used for military purposes by the Soviet Army and NVA - and it fell into disrepair. Today, the remaining buildings have been renovated and converted into luxury apartments, a hotel and a museum - an impressive complex. The surrounding former military training area, however, has been reclaimed by nature.

Many rare birds nest around the Schmachter lake

What was once a training ground for soldiers with trenches and tank roads has become a green oasis thanks to the care of DBU Naturerbe GmbH (a subsidiary of Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt). The nature reserve begins virtually directly behind the beautiful center of the famous seaside resort of Binz. There, the approximately 135-hectare, reed-fringed Schmachter See glistens in the sun, where many rare birds nest and forage, and where people linger on comfortable benches. A footbridge leads far into the shimmering green water.

Directly adjacent is the large forest and scrubland area, with ancient beech trees, in whose leaves the Baltic Sea wind rustles and which invite you to forest bathing.

The best view of the green canopy is from the tree-top walk of the Rügen Natural Heritage Center, which is located further northwest - its high wooden observation tower in the shape of an eagle's nest allows a magnificent view far out to the Baltic Sea.

Once flints were an important trade commodity

And Prora has even more natural wonders to offer guests. Locals and insiders like archaeologist Dr. Katrin Staude are happy to guide you there. With her company "Archaeo Tour Rügen", Dr. Staude, a great-great-granddaughter of the great early Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich, offers tours and workshops such as "Experience the Stone Age". Visual lessons are available, for example, in the magical flint fields between Prora and Mukran in the northern part of the Schmale Heide spit. Millions of differently sized, all smoothly polished stones lie there under the sun of Rügen, were hurled here by storm tides in the Bronze Age - a unique, bizarre region. 

Dr. Staude shows her guests how to light fires with the stones, and those who like learn to make arrowheads. Because flints were also used to make axes and knives, they were once considered an important commodity. This is perhaps also a reason why there are more than 50 stone-age burial sites from the Neolithic period (around 3500 B.C.). Such barrows as the "Dead Man" site on the Prora natural heritage site can also be visited. 

How did barrows get their name? Because they are made of heavy boulders and people once believed that only giants could move the mighty stones, Dr. Staude suspects. What is clear is that nature has reclaimed the once maltreated landscape of Prora in recent decades - for the benefit of the people of today.

Cover photo: Green as far as the eye can see - and in the middle of it all is the observation tower of the tree top walk © TMV/Gänsicke

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