In July of this year, I took the train up to the Baltic Sea island of Usedom with Joe Baur (from Without A Path). At 4am on our second morning in the seaside resort of Heringsdorf, we met local fishermen Uwe Krüger and his son-in-law Andreas Zerkler, and their 81-year-old skipper, Ewald Helfritz, and went out to catch plaice and flounder with them on the Baltic Sea.
Learning first hand about Usedom’s fishing tradition was as an enjoyable and interesting experience as I’d hoped, however it also turned out to be rather poignant and thought-provoking. We learned that where there had once been 200 small-scale fisheries operating on that relatively small stretch of coast alone, Uwe and his crew are now one of only 200 or so small-scale fisheries in the entire federal state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, of which Usedom island is a part. And in the waters off Ahlbeck, where we spent several hours watching Uwe and Andreas reeling in nets and untangling a disappointingly small catch, they are pretty much the only fishermen left.
The traditional wooden boat on which Uwe explained to me the difference between flounder and plaice (they look almost identical, but plaice have tiny orange spots; flounders have tiny prickles along the base of their dorsal fins), and reminisced about going fishing with his grandfather when he was a small boy will soon be a thing of the past, too. The three boat-makers that once existed along the Ahlbeck coast are all long gone, and no-one is learning their trade.
I’m working on a much larger piece about fishing traditions in northern Germany, but having interviewed Uwe and spent time on the water with him and his crew, Joe and I have put together a short video about him – a small window into a his life, and a dying tradition.
Uwe was incredibly generous with his time, and I’d like to thank both him and Usedom Tourismus GmbH for making our fishing trip possible.
Uwe sells his catch at his two beachside restaurants, both of which are listed in my guide to where to eat on Usedom. To help you navigate the menu, I’ve also a guide to what to eat. And Joe has added Usedom to his list of off the beaten path destinations in Germany.