The very name Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has fascinated me since childhood, although I had no clue what it was like. Finally, in summer 2018 I unraveled my life-long phantasies. This is what I learned: Everything is close to the water, in the north it is the Baltic Sea, further south about 2000 lakes, large and small are scattered throughout the wide land. During the train ride from Berlin to Stralsund I passed through places like Altenpretow that sounded so Prussian that my excitement grew by the minute. During my two weeks I explored Stralsund, a former Hanseatic hub, sunny Rügen, Germany largest island, and car-free Hiddensee.
Stralsund – Gateway to Rügen
The historic center of this Hanseatic town is plastered with impressive red-brick Gothic landmarks, like the 13th-century Town Hall. I wandered around Stralsund day and night, marveling at the mélange of beautifully restored houses with steepled roofs, old city walls and its ancient harbor. For centuries this city has witnessed trade-ships arriving and leaving, but also violent struggles like the counterreformation. Such magnificence and remarkable past attract tourists from all parts of Germany especially those on their way to the Rügen Island, like me.
Stralsund – history crash course
Being a history nerd, I joined a historic city walk with a local, on my very first day. Naturally I did not forget the date when Stralsund was founded, 1234, who would? Stralsund was the hub of an once extensive trade route. This is still reflected in its architecture. The goods traded were stored behind the decorative steepled facade of longish warehouses. Smaller buildings were attached to the backwall of the warehouse, those were the living quarters of the traders. Also in the port, large warehouses tell the story of cereal arriving from Mecklenburg or precious commodities like salt from Lübeck, to preserve the herring around Stralsund.
A crucial historic period was the siege through Wallenstein’s troops during the 30 Years War. But Stralsund remained the Protestant stronghold it had been since Luther’s days and the city was spared the Catholic Counter-reformation. What helped to defend the town were its insular location, the strong fortifications and the support of Swedish troops. The price: Swedish rulership for about 200 years.
At the end of the 19th century most of the 3,5km long city wall was torn down, together with the 10 gates. They had become bottlenecks for the traffic in and out of the city. Nowadays only parts of the old city wall and a few gates are left. Picturesque Stralsund has not always looked so picturesque. In World Word II parts of the historic center were destroyed in bomb raids. Photos taken in the 1980s show that even then, some of the houses were in a terrible condition. Only after the „Wende“ renovation of the steepled houses began and this trend picked up speed when the city was granted UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2002.
My extensive walks through old Stralsund always brought me back to its magnificent main square, with Stralsund oldest church St. Nicolai Church and its 13th century City Hall. You are also never far from the water, basically Stralsund is an island. I skipped Stralsund’s pride, the gigantic Oceanium, since €17 seemed too steep to learn about wildlife in northern oceans. A real great experience was the view from the bell tower of Marienkirche – a true pay-off for all the puffing and struggling up the 365 steps.
Lucky me I was in town for at least one day of the “Wallensteintage”. This annual four day event is staged to remind of Wallenstein’s futile attempts to recapture Stralsund. During these four days, Stralsund turns into a party and event zone. The battles against Wallenstein are re-enacted, as well as a 17th century marketplace with artists and fire-eaters. Soldiers in historic uniforms set up camp outside town and historic weaponry is on display. Also locals walk around in historic costumes and love to have their photos taken. A really gory spectacle was a small night-time procession re-enacting how victims of the plague were removed from the town. In 1629 this disease killed a large number of the town people. On my way back to hotel I passed the harbor area where a temporary amusement park was set up. Watching the merry-go-round moving BACKWARDS super-fast and listening to the people screaming made me almost vomit.
I strongly recommend to stay at Haus Wullfcrona in the very city center, with great cozy rooms, an excellent breakfast buffet and a fairly large quiet garden. Since I travelled alone I did not spend lots of money on fancy dinners, but returned to my favorite Hafenkneipe, “Die Fähre”, where I got a bite to eat and had a chance to mingle with people.