Heiligendamm: A Beauty by the Sea


As is frequently the case, the spirit of a new era is ushered in by initiative of one committed individual. When it comes to the history of German spa-ing, it is said to have been a progressive physician by the name of Samuel Gottlieb Vogel, who had triggered off the lasting success story of sea-side health treatments. The healing effects of a coastal climate and the invigorating properties of salty seawater on skins in desperate need of airing, were promoted by him. And, in order to corroborate his cause, Vogel convinced nobility to act as prominent supporters and forerunners, making Heiligendamm with its tideless shores the premier German spa resort and Friedrich Franz I of Mecklenburg-Schwerin the first-ever guest to use it. That was back in 1793.

Zeitgeist wellness

It those days, bathing in the higher circles was less a matter of boisterously splashing into the floods than one to carefully dip a hesitant toe into mostly chilly waters. Moreover, one must bear in mind that shedding one’s clothes in public was deeply inappropriate. After a brave dunking, full-body swimwear drenched from neck to ankle unfavourably amplified the first shock of a frigid sensation. Yet: a new trend was born which, luckily, developed into a thriving pastime accessible for almost everyone. Spending leisure time by the sea became increasingly fashionable – and still is.


A bathing cart served as changing cabin and to safeguard modesty by shielding male and female swimmers from each other’s curious views. Chastely ladies especially stepped gracefully into the sea directly from aboard a so-called „Badekarren“ which was placed into the narrow waters close to the shore. The exhibition at the Stadt- und Bädermuseum (spa museum) in Bad Doberan tells the story on how the spa tradition developed. This image is by their courtesy and was taken by director ©Silvana Rieck.

Heiligendamm Kurhaus und Kurhauswiese

Between1793 and 1870, architects Johann Christoph Heinrich von Seydwitz, Carl Theodor Severin and Gustav Adolph Demmler created a truly unique neo-classical ensemble of spa and residential buildings.

Heiligendamm: Like a Phoenix from the ashes

From the very beginning, Heiligendamm attracted European nobility such as the Russian Tsar family, socialites and well-to-do customers, who had the coveted spa spot on their bucket list. The elegant appearance of „The White Town by the Sea“ reliably drew distinguished clientele, until converted into a sanatorium during WWII perforce. After the wall fell and Germany reunified at the end of the 1990s, investors acquired the run-down ensemble, had it refurbished to detail and back to former glory and reopened it as a spa hotel retreat in 2003. The stunning complex has experienced some rocky patches since, changed ownership and management and today once again represents the embodiment of a sophisticated retreat for the discerning cosmopolitan guest.

G8 summit 2007_Family photo

World leaders united in a custom-made „Strandkorb“ (usually two-seater wicker beach chairs typical of northern Germany):
In 2007, Heiligendamm was the venue chosen for the G8 summit. Image ©German Government.

Heiligendamm with its 300 regular residents is located in Mecklenburg Western Pomerania (dubbed MeckPomm or MV by Germans ) and one of the districts the small town Bad Doberan (approx. 12,000 inhabitants) consists of. The next larger city is Rostock, MV’s capital Schwerin.
As the saying goes, Heiligendamm’s name („Holy Dam“) was minted in the middle ages: the prayers sent to heaven by local monks during heavy floods were answered and – miraculously – a protective dam emerged to break the power of feral waters.
Bad Doberan Molli steam train

Huffing, puffing and jingling along: Molli, the historic steam train, takes its passengers from Bad Doberan directly to their destination at Heiligendamm.  Foto Molli: ©Nobert Kaiser – a creative commons image

All images depicting the Heiligendamm ensemble by courtesy of ©Grandhotel Heiligendamm.