The "gateway" to Rügen island is the Hanseatic city of Stralsund, where it is linked to the mainland by road and railway via the Rügen Bridge and Causeway, two routes crossing the two-kilometre-wide Strelasund, a sound of the Baltic Sea.
Rügen has a maximum length of 51.4 km, a maximum width of 42.8 km in the south and an area of 926 km². The coast is characterized by numerous sandy beaches, lagoons and open bays, as well as projecting peninsulas and headlands. In June 2011, UNESCO awarded the status of a World Heritage Site to the Jasmund National Park, famous for its vast stands of beeches and chalk cliffs like King's Chair, the main landmark of Rügen island.
The island of Rügen is part of the district of Vorpommern-Rügen, with its county seat in Stralsund. The towns on Rügen are: Bergen, Sassnitz, Putbus and Garz. In addition, there are the Baltic seaside resorts of Binz, Baabe, Göhren, Sellin and Thiessow.
Rügen is very popular as a tourist destination because of its resort architecture, the diverse landscape and its long, sandy beaches.
Rügen, together with the Danish island of Møn on the far side of Rügen in the Baltic Sea and the area around Dover, England, once belonged to a large chalk plateau, which had been pushed by tectonic movements to the earth's surface. The vast majority of this land mass has disappeared as a result of erosion and faulting, leaving the two islands with their characteristic white chalk cliffs.
The main body of the island, known as Muttland, is surrounded by several peninsulas. To the north lie the peninsulas of Wittow and Jasmund, connected to each other by the Schaabe sandbar and to Muttland by the Schmale Heide, an embankment at Lietzow and the Wittow Ferry. The northern peninsulas are separated from Muttland by several lagoons or bodden, the largest of which are the Großer Jasmunder Bodden and Kleiner Jasmunder Bodden. Major peninsulas in the south are Zudar and Mönchgut which both face the Bay of Greifswald.
Rügen has a total area of 926.4 km2, or 974 km2 if the adjacent small islands are included. The maximum diameter is 51.4 km from north to south, and 42.8 km from east to west. Of an overall 574 km-long coastline, 56 km are sandy Baltic Sea beaches, and 2.8 km sandy bodden beaches. The highest elevations are on the Jasmund peninsula: Piekberg (161 m) and Königsstuhl (117 m).
The northern part of the Bay of Greifswald, the Rügischer Bodden, is a large bay in the south of Rügen island, with the island of Vilm lying just offshore. At the western end of the bay, the peninsula of Zudar runs out to the southernmost point of Rügen (Palmer Ort), at the eastern end the highly indented peninsula of Mönchgut projects into the sea. This peninsula ends in the east at the cape of Nordperd near Göhren and in the south at the cape of Südperd by Thiessow. In the west of the peninsula of Mönchgut a narrow, 5-km-long bar, the Reddevitz Höft, separates the two bays of Having and Hagensche Wiek.
In the north-east of the island of Rügen is formed by the peninsula of Jasmund, which is joined to the heart of the island, Muttland, by the bar of Schmale Heide between Binz-Prora and Sassnitz-Mukran and by a rail and road embankment at Lietzow. The Schmale Heide separates the outer bay of Prorer Wiek from the lagoon of the Kleiner Jasmunder Bodden. On the peninsula of Jasmund are the Piekberg (161 m above sea level (NN)), the highest point on Rügen, and the Königsstuhl, a 118-metre-high chalk cliff in Stubbenkammer, which forms the most striking landmark on the island. Another bar, the Schaabe, links Jasmund to the peninsula of Wittow in the north of Rügen. The Schaabe, in turn, separates the outer bay of Tromper Wiek from the lagoon of the Großer Jasmunder Bodden. The peninsula of Wittow and the long, narrow peninsula of Bug to the west are separated from the main body of Rügen by the Rassower Strom, the Breetzer Bodden and the Breeger Bodden. The Wittow peninsula is adjoined in the north by Cape Arkona. Just under a kilometre to the northwest, located at 54°41' N, is the northernmost point of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Below this cliff (Gellort) on the shoreline is the Siebenschneiderstein - the fourth largest glacial erratic boulder on Rügen.
The northwestern and western sides of Rügen are also highly indented, but a little flatter. Offshore are the larger islands of Hiddensee and Ummanz as well as the smaller islands Öhe Liebitz and Heuwiese. Sand removal and deposition by the Baltic Sea has to be constantly countered by dredging operations to the north and south of Hiddensee, otherwise Hiddensee would merge with Rügen within a few years. Rügen is dotted with many glacial erratic boulders, of which the 22 largest belong to legally-protected geotopes (see also:Erratics on and around Rügen).
The heartland of Rügen is gently rolling, and the area is characterized primarily by agriculture. East of the town of Bergen auf Rügen the land climbs to 90 m above NN (at Rugard where there is an observation tower) and to 107 m above NN in the southeastern hill country of the Granitz. The soil on Rügen is very fertile and productive, particularly in Wittow, the granary of the island. There are major coal-producing regions.
Two German national parks are situated on Rügen: the Western Pomerania Lagoon Area National Park, in the west (including Hiddensee), and the Jasmund National Park, a smaller park including the famous chalk cliffs (Königsstuhl). There is also a nature reserve, the Southeast Rügen Biosphere Reserve, consisting of the peninsulas in the southeast.
The climate is in the temperate zone. The winters are not particularly cold, with mean temperatures in January and February of 0.0 °C (32.0 °F); and summers are mild and temperate, with a mean temperature in August of 16.3 °C (61.3 °F). There is an average rainfall of 520–560 millimetres (20–22 in) and approximately 1800–1870 hours of sunshine annually.
Administratively, Rügen is part of the district Vorpommern-Rügen. Its subdivisions are the Ämter Bergen auf Rügen (municipalities Bergen auf Rügen, Buschvitz, Garz, Gustow, Lietzow, Parchtitz, Patzig, Poseritz, Ralswiek, Rappin, Sehlen and Thesenvitz), West-Rügen (municipalities Altefähr, Dreschvitz, Gingst, Hiddensee, Kluis, Neuenkirchen, Rambin, Samtens, Schaprode, Trent and Ummanz), Nord-Rügen (municipalities Altenkirchen, Breege, Dranske, Glowe, Lohme, Putgarten, Sagard, Wiek) and Mönchgut-Granitz (municipalities Baabe, Göhren, Lancken-Granitz, Middelhagen, Sellin, Thiessow and Zirkow) and the Amt-free municipalities of Binz, Putbus and Sassnitz. Overall, there are 45 municipalities on Rügen, four of which have town status (Bergen, Garz, Putbus and Sassnitz).
Discoveries in the bodden indicate that there has been settlement here since the Stone Age. All over Rügen there are numerous stone monuments, such as megalithic tombs and altar stones that have survived to the present day. By the 1st century, the inhabitants of Rügen were part of the East Germanic tribe of Rugii, who roughly occupied the region that was later to become Western Pomerania and who gave the island its name. The Rugii may have originated from Scandinavia or evolved from autochthonous tribes. In the Migration Period, many Rugii moved south and founded an empire in Pannonia.
From the 7th century the West Slavic Rani (or Rujani) built an empire on Rügen and the neighbouring coast between Recknitz and Ryck. It decidedly affected the history of the Baltic Sea area and the surrounding Obodritic (in the west) and Liutician (in the south) occupied mainland for the next few centuries. Many traces of their life can be found today.
The basis of their great military strength was a combination of the Ranian navy and a favourable location. Denmark, which was at that time very successful in Britain and Scandinavia, was neither able to match with its Ranian rivals in the Baltic Sea region nor to protect its coastline from Ranian armies until well into the 12th century. Meanwhile, the Ranians built numerous castles and temples in the Barth-Jasmund-Gristow triangle.
The temple hill of Jaromarsburg, at the northern tip of Rügen and dedicated to the god Svetovid, was significant well beyond the boundaries of the Ranian empire. After the fall of Radgosc it became the chief shrine for the pagan northwestern Slavs. The administrative centre of the empire was Charenza (possibly identical with the present Garz or Venz hillfort). The main trading centre of the empire was Ralswiek at the southernmost point of the Großer Jasmunder Bodden.
In 1168, the Danish king, Valdemar I, and his army commander and advisor, Bishop Absalon of Roskilde destroyed the Svetovid temple in the hillfort at Cape Arkona, ending both the territorial and religious autonomy of the Rani; their former monarchs became Danish princes of Rügen. The Rani prince Jaromar I (died 1218) was a vassal of the Danish king and Christianized the island's inhabitants. In 1184, the Pomeranians, whose rule had previously extended as far as the land of Gützkow and to Demmin and thus made them the immediate neighbours of the now Danish Principality of Rugia, were commissioned by their overlord, the Holy Roman Emperor, to seize Rügen for the empire, but were defeated in the Bay of Greifswald.
Under Danish rule the Principality of Rugia changed its character. Danish monasteries were established (e.g. Bergen Abbey in 1193 and Hilda Abbey, today Eldena Abbey, in 1199). German colonists were introduced into the land and soon they became the largest and most culturally influential group within the population. The Slavic cultural element disappeared, mostly due to the lack of their own Slavic church structures, so that the Rani were absorbed in the period that followed into the now German-influenced people of Rügen. In addition to the colonization of the country and the building of new monasteries and churches, towns were also re-established. In 1234 the Rügen Prince Wizlaw I founded the town of Stralsund and granted Greifswald market rights in 1241. The power of the towns grew rapidly, forcing Rügen's rulers to make concessions—for example, the prince's castle at Barth was slighted and Schadegast, the princely "twin" of the municipally-controlled Stralsund, was ousted in favour of the latter.
In 1304 a storm surge, known as the All Saints' Flood, devastated the island and flooded the peninsula between Mönchgut and Ruden.
After the death of the last Slav prince, Wizlaw III, in 1325, the principality was acquired by Pomerania-Wolgast as a consequence of the 1321 inheritance agreement (Erbverbrüderung), and from 1368/72-1451 was part of the estate of a branch line, the House of Barth. This state of affairs, together with the disputes over the Danish throne that occurred at that time, led to the Rügen wars of succession. After they had played out, the former principality went in 1354 to Pomerania-Wolgast and thus became part of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1478, Pomerania-Wolgast and Pomerania-Stettin were united and, 170 years later, the combined state went to Sweden in 1648 as a result of the Treaty of Westphalia (see Swedish Pomerania). Rügen was part of Swedish Pomerania from 1648 to 1815. Under Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden the town of Gustavia was constructed on the Mönchgut peninsula, but was abandoned during the Napoleonic Wars. In the years 1678 and 1715, Rügen was briefly wrested from the Swedes by the Elector of Brandenburg, Frederick William and by the King in Prussia, Frederick William I. For example, a Brandenburg-Danish army landed on the island as part of the invasion of Rügen in 1678. After the Treaty of Saint-Germain in 1679 the island passed from Danish to Swedish ownership again. At the time of Napoleonic Wars, Rügen was held by the French from 1807–1813. In the Treaty of Kiel of 1814, it was transferred initially from Sweden to Denmark and then fell to Prussia, along with New Western Pomerania (Neuvorpommern), thanks to the Vienna Convention of 1815. In 1818 the island became part of the administrative district of Stralsund and thus belonged to the Prussian Province of Pomerania.
In 1816 the first bathing resort was founded at Putbus. Later more resorts were established, and Rügen remained the most famous holiday resort of Germany until World War II.
The Nazis added a large resort: Prora, planned by the Strength through Joy organisation, which aimed to occupy people's free time. However, Prora was never completed.
In 1936 the first bridge connecting Rügen with the mainland was constructed (Rügendamm), replacing the former ferry shuttles.
The operation commanded by Wolfram von Richthofen that bombed the town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, was named after the island. An Abwehr Signals intelligence Operation during the same conflict was titled Operation Bodden after the strait separating Rügen from the German mainland.
In the aftermath of World War II, East German and Soviet authorities exiled landholders from the mainland to the island.
After the Second World War Rügen became part of the state of Mecklenburg within the German Democratic Republic (GDR). In 1952 the island became part of the district of Rostock.
The island was the focal point of Project Rose (Action Rose) by the GDR government designed to nationalize hotels, taxis and service companies on 10 February 1953. The occasion was supposed to have been a visit by Walter Ulbricht to the island of Rügen, during which he had been annoyed by the many surviving private hotels and guest houses. Many of the hotel owners were convicted by kangaroo courts under the pretext of having been engaged in economic crime or as agents working for the West. Their property was then confiscated and they were sent to prison. Many of the owners and small businessmen were incarcerated in Bützow prison. The hotels were supposed to have been expropriated by the Free German Trade Union Federation (FDGB). In fact, they were used as accommodation for the barracks-based "people's police" (Kasernierte Volkspolizei or CPI). As a result of the confiscation of hotels, tourism on Rügen in 1953 came almost to a complete standstill for a time.
In the following nearly four decades, the island became one of the main tourist areas in the GDR. The FDGB played a dominant role in tourist accommodation. In 1963 the FDGB had 7,519 holiday places, the Reisebüro der DDR 2,906 places and a further 5,025 were available for businesses and organizations. In addition, there were 12,245 places for children in summer camps and another 20,800 places for campers. The plots were located mainly near the beaches. Increased holiday capacity was not however generated until the 1970s and 1980s.
In 1990, Rügen became part of the new state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and, together with the neighbouring islands of Hiddensee and Ummanz, formed the district of Rügen. Since the 2011 Mecklenburg-Vorpommern district reforms Rügen has been part of Vorpommern-Rügen.
In 2007 a second bridge, the Rügen Bridge (Rügenbrücke), was built to replace the first one built in 1936.
Rügen has now surpassed Sylt as the most popular German island again.
Rügen is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Germany. The island receives about one quarter of all overnight stays in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Most visitors come to Rügen between April and October, the peak season being from June to August, but its quiet atmosphere in winter is also appreciated.
The first bathing facility on Rügen opened in 1794 at the mineral-rich spring in Sagard. In 1818, the Putbus village of Lauterbach became Rügen's first seaside resort. In the 1860s Sassnitz became a seaside resort, followed by Binz in the 1880s. During World War II Prora was constructed as a mass tourist resort but it was never finished.
Today the most popular seaside resorts are the Schaabe beaches between Altenkirchen and Juliusruh including Drewoldke, Glowe and Breege, and the eastern beaches between Sassnitz and Göhren including Neu Mukran, Prora, Binz, Sellin and Baabe. The latter are accessible via an historic narrow gauge railway employing steam locomotives, called the Rügensche Bäderbahn. Tourist destinations, other than seaside resorts, include Cape Arkona, the wood-covered Stubbenkammer hills on Jasmund with interesting chalk cliff formations, the wood-covered Granitz hills with their Jagdschloß or hunting lodge, the classicist buildings of Putbus and the inland villages of Bergen auf Rügen, Ralswiek and Gingst.
The island offers a huge variety of different beach and shore areas. Rügen is often visited by windsurfers and kitesurfers and offers more than fifteen different locations for surfing. The most popular locations are Dranske, Rosengarten, Wiek, Suhrendorf and Neu Mukran.
On the peninsula of Jasmund is the Jasmund National Park, which consists of the beech forest of Stubnitz, including the famous chalk cliffs of Rügen. On the Königsstuhl itself is the Königsstuhl National Park Centre, which has a multivision cinema and audio-guide exhibitions with information about the national park in several languages.
The railway network consists of the electrified standard gauge stretch of the Deutsche Bahn Stralsund (Rügendamm)-Bergen-Sassnitz line (timetable route (KBS) 195), Lietzow-Binz (KBS 197), the non-electrified routes Bergen-Putbus-Lauterbach Mole of the PRESS (KBS 198) and the narrow gauge stretch (750 mm (2 ft 5 1⁄2 in)) of the Rügen Resort Railway (Rasender Roland): Lauterbach Mole-Putbus-Binz-Sellin-Göhren (KBS 199).
In addition to regional trains, there are also Intercity services from Binz via Bergen and Stralsund to Berlin, Hamburg Frankfurt, Stuttgart and the Ruhr. Night train services to Munich, Basle and the Ruhr area were deleted from the timetable on 9 December 2007, despite massive protests from the local hotel industry.
The bus service on Rügen is operated by the Rügener Personennahverkehr. Since 1996 it has been continuously expanded, and has developed an integral clock-face schedule. There is a service between all major towns and municipalities on the island at least every two hours, sometimes more frequently during peak season. Throughout the year, buses now run at least every hour on the routes between Sassnitz-Binz-Bergen, Schaprode–Bergen–Klein Zicker, Bergen/Sassnitz-Altenkirchen-Wiek-Dranske and the Altenkirchen-Putgarten near Cape Arkona. In addition, the bus service is well-linked with the railway, especially in Bergen, but also at other railway stations.
Until October 2007, individual traffic from the mainland to the island of Rügen was mainly route along the two-lane Rügendamm causeway, running between Stralsund and Altefähr over the sound of Strelasund.
The cornerstone for a second crossing over the Strelasund was laid on 31 August 2004. This bridge, the Rügen Bridge, running parallel to the Rügendamm, has a length of about 4.1 kilometres and a vertical clearance for ships of 42 metres, and was on opened on 20 October 2007. In order to relieve the town of Stralsund, a ring road has been built in the last few years, coming from the southwest. The B 96 federal road between Stralsund and Greifswald is also connected via an access road to the A 20 motorway. The B 96 runs from Stralsund via Bergen to Sassnitz. Here a new route with bypasses is planned (the "New B 96").
The main tourist attractions of Cape Arkona, the Königsstuhl and the Granitz hunting lodge are, however, car-free in order to protect the countryside, as is the island of Hiddensee which belongs to Vorpommern-Rügen district. All these destinations can be reached using public transport, without needing a car.
Rügen has a signposted network of cycle paths. The condition and signing of this network varies considerably from one place to another, from very good in the seaside resorts to poor in the area between Garz and Zudar. There is a circular cycle path around the whole island. During the summer season there is the option on some routes to carry bicycles on the buses. This is always possible on the railways.
Two car ferries belonging to the Weiße Flotte operate every half-an-hour between the Zudar peninsula on Rügen and Stahlbrode on the mainland, halfway between Stralsund and Greifswald.
Another Weiße Flotte car ferry, the Wittow Ferry runs from the heartland of Rügen (Muttland) to Wittow.
A ferry sails from Sassnitz ferry port in Mukran to the Danish island of Bornholm, to Swedish Trelleborg, to Klaipeda in the Baltic states, to Baltijsk and to St. Petersburg.
The island of Hiddensee, which also belongs to the county of Vorpommern-Rügen, is connected by a regular ferry service from Schaprode to Rügen, and is increasingly integrated into the clock-schedule timetable on the main island. In addition, there is a regular ship service from Stralsund, Wiek and Breege to Hiddensee. Tourist services include ferry connections from Lauterbach to Gager, and between Sassnitz, Binz, Sellin and Göhren. There are also round-trips mainly from Sassnitz, but also from Lohme, to the Königsstuhl. Pleasure steamers also ply between the resorts and Peenemünde on Usedom, where there is a connection to the Usedom Railway (UBB).
Sassnitz–Neu Mukran is the international ferry terminal on Rügen, with ferry services to
Sassnitz-Mukran is the largest railway ferry terminal in Germany and the only one in Europe where different tracks allow switching from standard gauge to broad gauge.
Local passenger ferries connect the piers of Sassnitz, Binz, Sellin and Göhren with the adjacent islands of Hiddensee, Vilm and Greifswalder Oie. Passenger and car ferries connect Rügen's centre of Muttland, to both Wittow in Rügen's north via the Wittow Ferry and to the mainland via the Glewitz Ferry (Glewitzer Fähre) between Stahlbrode near Greifswald and Glewitz on Rügen's Zudar peninsula.
Rügen Airport is located about 8 km from Bergen. After the Wende, the first sightseeing flights over the island were offered on the former agricultural airfield. In May 1993, the first tarmac runway was inaugurated. Since then, charter flights to Berlin, Hamburg and other cities in Europe have been available.
The Baltic Sea Airport Stralsund also offers flights to and from the region of Western Pomerania. The larger Rostock–Laage Airport offers regular international destinations.