Cold north wind

Ferry on the crossing between Denmark and GermanyWhen we left the hotel on our last morning in Copenhagen, the front desk clerk said “Stay safe!” We thought it was an odd way to say farewell, but figured it might be a cultural thing; perhaps Danes are particularly safety conscious.

Leaving the restaurant after bunch, our server also urged us to be safe. This time, my husband asked what she meant by it.

Turns out a massive storm (known as Cyclone Bodil in Denmark and Xaver elsewhere in Northern Europe) was on its way to Copenhagen. Not knowing Danish, we had missed the memo.

The rain and wind picked up throughout Thursday and we spent most of our last day in Copenhagen inside. By early evening, the storm had arrived in window-shaking, traffic-light-toppling force. From what we were able to glean from Danish-speaking news coverage, it was expected to pass within 12 hours, but had shut down transport throughout Northern Europe – airports, bridges, ferries, and trains were all closed. We crossed our fingers that we’d be able to travel back to Berlin the next day by train and ferry.

By Friday morning, the worst of the storm had passed through Denmark leaving minimal damage. Other areas hadn’t been so lucky and we’d heard that there were no trains running in Northern Europe – increasing the degree of difficulty getting from Copenhagen to Berlin. We headed to Copenhagen’s central station around midday, expecting the worst and thinking that we’d be in Copenhagen for another night.

The train was running… but only to Rødby (the ferry terminal at the Danish border) not all the way to Hamburg. The ferry that carries the train across the Baltic Sea between Denmark (Rødby) and Germany (Puttgarden) wasn’t running. (Yes, that’s right – the train goes on the ferry! There are tracks right next to the buses, trucks, and cars.)

The lovely Danish rail staff (including a spokesman who had been all over the TV coverage and had probably been up all night) advised us that the ferry was anticipated to run that afternoon and suggested getting on the train to Rødby. Over the two hour trip from Copenhagen to Rødby, the conductor updated us regularly that the ferries were not running… but that they still might.

Map of the Danish/German ferry crossingAt Nykøbing (the last station before the ferry) the conductor indicated that the ferry to Puttgarden, Germany was not yet running. The train we were on would continue to Rødby to collect stranded passengers before returning to Copenhagen or we could disembark at Nykøbing and return to Copenhagen on an earlier train. We elected to stay on the train to the Danish border and 20 minutes later a cheer erupted from our fellow passengers as the conductor unexpectedly announced that the ferry was running and we could sail as walk-ons.

The train passengers rushed onto the ferry, where we were obviously not expected, and we cast off shortly after.

The sailing was rough with lots of rolling waves and people clinging to handrails. It’s regularly a 45 minute crossing, but when we reached the German side the ferry was unable to dock and we spent at least an hour waiting for a berth. When we finally docked in Puttgarden, high winds made it unsafe to lower the gangway, so foot passengers waited until all vehicle traffic was off and then walked off from the car deck.

Getting onto German soil was not the end of the day’s travel challenges.

Xaver was still going strong in Northern Germany and there was no way to get from the isle of Fehmarn (where Puttgarden is) to the German mainland. Trains weren’t running and the only bridge off the island was closed due to two wind-related accidents.

Puttgarden is a tiny village that exists almost exclusively because of the ferry terminal. There’s one large hotel and a number of vacation lodges that are mostly only open in the summer. We hurried to the hotel from the ferry after learning that there were no buses or trains off the island on Friday night, only to find it completely booked.

Much wandering followed, while being buffeted by high winds that we worried might lift our 7kg dog entirely off the ground! We made it to another hotel, just in time to see the last room keys they had handed over to other people.

Thanks to the assistance of a kindly taxi driver, we travelled it to the larger village of Burg auf Fehmarn (not all that large at 6000 residents!) and, after striking out with another four packed hotels, we found a room for the night. Burg is quite picturesque, but mostly a summer town and was obviously not prepared to accommodate hundreds of travellers stuck on the island!

We slept well on Friday night (although would have preferred to be sleeping in Berlin!) and awoke to clearer skies. Our dog was thrilled with all the fallen sticks and continued gusts of wind as we walked her on Saturday morning and found the Burg train station. We were less than thrilled that the station was tiny and that there was no one to ask questions of, just a ticket vending machine.

The Deutsche Bahn website was inconclusive about whether trains were running from Burg to Hamburg and then on to Berlin (the Hamburg/Berlin line had been closed the day before) but there was a midday train leaving Burg that looked promising.

We got on that midday train. Five trains later (local rail from Burg to Lübeck, commuter rail from Lübeck to Hamburg, the ICE from Hamburg to Berlin, and then both S-Bahn and U-Bahn trains in Berlin) and many silent cheers as each rail connection worked out, we arrived back at our flat in Kreuzberg.

We survived Xaver, learnt how helpful Danish people are (and how good their English is!), managed to navigate small-town Northern Germany, and got to see parts of the country we likely wouldn’t have otherwise. But it was more adventure (and a lot more wind!) than we had anticipated and I’d certainly like to avoid cyclone-force gales on future trips!

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