Henkenhagen, today Ustronie Morskie, was located in Kreis Kolberg-Körlin and situated on the Baltic Sea (Ostsee). There is a beautiful beach by the sea, an amusement park, and plenty of places to shop and sightsee. The main parish church goes by Podwyższenia Krzyża Świętego, or “Exaltation of the Holy Cross” in English, and was built in 1885 and reconstructed between 1983 and 1986. Today, it is also in affiliation with the church in the neighboring village of Rützow.

The beach stretches far across, fine sand easy getting caught softly between one’s toes. The water is cool and mildly salty. Old wooden sea breakers quell the powerful waves fueled by the winds. Seagulls occasionally hover overhead as if flown like a kite. Walking on the southern side of the two main streets near the promenade lead to more modernly built villas. A charming train tours through the village on intervals.

Much of it brings to mind images from my childhood, recalling simpler times when life in America was more relaxed in the early 90s. In fact, most of the culture in Poland reminds me of what life in the U.S. was like prior to big corporations moving into smaller towns, more modern facades and paint jobs in strip malls, and weather patterns of a forgotten season in Minnesota. While some things felt so familiar, others still felt very German in their integrity. Then again, I might just be reminiscing.

The shopping center of the village became more active the longer we were there. There were numerous places to pick out souvenirs and several places of interest to eat. I gorged myself on ice cream the entire walk.

Some of the older buildings from German times still had their friezes over the windows. The one below appears to be a great fragment of the Art Nouveau era.

Other buildings along this stretch varied in their appearances. Some stayed with more of the Art Nouveau style of elaborate decorations. Others were more clearly built in the Victorian style, specifically with Edwardian influences. Others, still, touted traditional German architecture for the time period with hipped and gabled jerkinhead roofs.

In one of the shopping streets, I found an example of how the walls were build. The posters describe the smoke houses that were typical for Henkenhagen’s origins as a fishing colony.

The promenade by the beach leads to a restaurant and bistro by the sea. Henkenhagen shares many of the same qualities as the larger city of Kolberg with the exception that the village is smaller and much less busy.

I first learned of Henkenhagen when researching my great-great uncle. It was an important place for truly understanding a significant part of my family’s history. It was the place where my uncle had an illegal conversation against the Treachery Act of 1934 concerning quite a number of political topics at the time. This conversation took place at Reinhold Braeger’s Gasthaus zu den Linden, pictured below. I spent a majority of time in the town looking for the building, had finally given up, and was pleasantly surprised when I saw it just past the cemetery. Without having any idea what the Gasthaus looked like, it became quickly apparent by the eroded lettering above the entrance. In any case, this building is mentioned as the place where my uncle spoke against the Nazi party over dinner in various ways following the 1938 assassination of a German diplomat. One must be aware that this was a private conversation, not a public gesture. Shortly after, he was reported for his crimes against the party and jailed for several months. While his sentencing was to include time served, at the end of his sentence he was transported to Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp on the outskirts of Berlin in Oranienburg, where he would stay for the next six years, surviving by the grace of God. This, however, is a story for another time.

It should also be mentioned that the cemetery bears very little sign of former German graves. A memorial at the entrance. “In remembrance and memorial of the dead and victims of the war of the community.” A few tombstones had familiar names to the area, but it is unknown whether these were people allowed to stay after the war or if they were resettled there.

And a traveler really works up an appetite adventuring all day. There is a restaurant very near to the church that I highly recommend called Kabaczek. The food is slightly on the more expensive side. However, that’s not saying much as it is still extraordinarily reasonable given the exchange rate, not to mention that the food quality is fantastic. The restaurant lives up to the village’s history as a fishing village–I recommend ordering the fish.

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