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Rostock: Resurrection of Hanseatic Glory

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Wokrenterstraße

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Rostock’s reputation throughout DDR times, and afterwards, has never been the one of a top tourist destination, rather that of a port town with a glorious past but not much left of it. Reading through a Mecklenburg travel guide and some pages, tips and photos on VT made me notice, however, that there seemed to be more to the city than I thought. Out of sheer curiosity I decided upon a day trip to Rostock during my holiday on the Baltic Sea coast.

After one hour on the bus I arrived at the bus stop behind the train station, facing some renovated but still ugly concrete apartment houses. The map told me the old town was 2 kms away. All right, let’s walk. The morning promised a bright, sunny but hot summer’s day.

Arriving from the south I first reached the rose garden and the park along the town wall and ramparts. Parts of the old moat, deep below a former bulwark, are now a pond in the park. Through a small gate in the wall I got a glimpse of a gothic church and the buildings of a former monastery. However, I followed the path along the wall to Kröpeliner Tor, the oldest of the four preserved gate towers, all built of bricks and 54 m high.

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Bricks are the favourite building material along the coast. The region has no stone quarries and not enough forests to provide enough timbers but large supplies of clay. In the middle ages the countries around the Baltic Sea developed their own version of the gothic style that could be built from bricks. This style became the typical style of the Hansa. The old towns in the federal state of Mecklenburg are full of brick gothic buildings. Rostock used to be one of the leading cities in the Hansa. Pride and wealth of the city show in the townhouses of well-off citizens, in the city hall and most of all in the main parish church, the Church of Our Lady (Marienkirche). In size and ornamentation it was supposed to match the main church of the big rival, Lübeck.

University

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From Kröpeliner Tor it is a short walk through the pedestrian mall to University Square. Again, it’s time to pay respect to a glorious history: Rostock’s university, founded in 1419. It was the first university in the whole of Northern Europe, a centre of humanism that influenced Scandinavia and the Baltic states. In those times it was known as „the Light of the North“.

The main building in Universitätsplatz is, however, much younger. The renaissance style of the facade reminds us of the Ducal Palaces in Wismar and Schwerin but it is a 19th century ‘neo’ which was built in 1867-1870.

The building is open, at least on weekdays, and you can walk in but don’t ask if you may. The main staircase is worth a look and **whispers** there are free public toilets behind the foyer on the ground floor.

Universitätsplatz

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University Square is the liveliest spot in the city. University students and shoppers in Kröpeliner Straße mall pass and take a rest underneath the trees. The „Joy of Life“ fountain in the middle of the square attracts kids and adults.

Rostock’s most popular fountain in the middle of Universitätsplatz was created by two local sculptors, Jo Jastram and Reinhard Dietrich, in the 1980s. The sculptures show groups of humans and animals enjoying themselves in various ways.

Officially it is named the „Joy of Life Fountain“, inofficially it is also known as the „P0rn Fountain“...

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The monument to General von Blücher underneath the trees in front of the old university has a funny history. In 1814 a newspaper in Hamburg reported the city of Rostock’s intention to install a monument dedicated to Gerhard Leberecht von Blücher, the Prussian general who had won the final battles against Napoleon. (Blücher was born in Rostock.) Blücher was flattered and wrote the most polite thank you letter to the magistrate of his hometown. Mayor and aldermen, however, went something like, „Errrrm.... waddya talkin’ ‘bout???“ In order not to lose their faces, they started collecting donations among the local nobility and in the end the monument was indeed put up in 1819. Gottfried Schadow, the famous neoclassical sculptor, created the statue. The verse on the pedestal was written by no one less than Goethe himself...

Kröpeliner Straße

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Rostock’s main shopping street became the DDR’s first pedestrian mall already in the 1960s. The eastern part between Neuer Markt and Universitätsplatz has many renaissance and baroque houses. The oldest building is no. 82, the medieval parsonage of the hospital. Towards Universitätsplatz, the block on the left with the former hotel Rostocker Hof has been turned in an indoor shopping mall with some 40 shops and food places, good to grab a quick bite for a takeaway lunch. Beyond Universitätsplatz the street has mostly modern shop buildings with the usual chain stores.

Neuer Markt and Rostock City Hall

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Proceeding along the pedestrianized Kröpeliner Straße, I reached the New Market Square.Neuer Markt is named „new“ because it was new in the late middle ages when three so far independent quarters united and built a common town hall. The square was surrounded by the beautiful houses of rich patricians before the war, only a few of them have survived along the western side. Behind them the main parish church, the impressive Marienkirche, overlooks the square.

A grocery and household knickknack market takes place in the square in the mornings (not sure if daily). The square is so wide, however, that this market occupies only one corner. Towards Marienkirche you’ll find some street cafes and restaurants.

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A city hall was built in the 13th century after the three independent settlements (Altstadt, Mittelstadt, Neustadt) united and formed the city of Rostock. Rostock joined the Hanse and became one of the wealthiest and most powerful merchant cities around the Baltic Sea in the 14th and 15th century.

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The old town hall is a medieval building. Its gothic façade is crowned by seven little spires. However, the 18th century was not much into medieval architecture. Mayor and city council decided to have their old-fashioned seat redecorated and a ‘modern’, that is: baroque, architecture attached to the front. The new baroque façade, painted pink and white, does not hide completely what is behind. Underneath the baroque arcades the medieval portals and some frescoes are visible. From the back, the town hall reveals more of its medieval origins.

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The post office on the corner is a post-war building. An inscription underneath the porticus deserves to be classified as protected cultural heritage because of its original DDR language...

It tells that the old post office was destroyed by “Anglo-American bombs” and a new building has been erected by “the efforts of the working population”.

Nikolai and Petri Quarters – Old Rostock Restored

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Rostock has been heavily hit by air raids in World War II, being an important sea port and the seat of aircraft industry. Large parts of the old town have been destroyed. The entire eastern third of the old town was neglected on purpose and left to decay in DDR times. The socialist regime had no interest in restoring the traces of a culture of “capitalist merchants”. This must have been one of the worst-looking old town quarters in the whole of East Germany after 40 years of socialism.

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Since the reunification, however, things have changed. Now, more than 20 years after the reunification, most hsotorical houses that survived the war and four decades of neglect, and there are many, have been carefully restored. The gaps have been filled with matching modern houses.

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The church of St Nikolai, which had also been heavily damaged in World War II, has been rebuilt as a centre for church activities. The attic above the nave has been turned into apartments. How does it feel to live in the roof of a gothic church? The view from the balconies must be amazing.^

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Nowadays the quarters around the old parish churches of St Nikolai and St Petri may well be considered the most attractive parts of the city. Some brick gothic houses with their characteristic stepped gables still exist. Next to them we find the renaissance and baroque versions of the stepped gable theme.

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The closer you get to the port, the more old storage buildings with cranes in their gables you’ll see. If you ever visit Rostock, do not miss the area behind the old town as most visitors seem to do, according to the emptiness and quietness of the streets. Zigzag through the cobblestone lanes; keep your eyes open and your camera ready. I had no idea what to expect when I came and this quarter was a big, big surprise.

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Petrikirche - Church of St Peter

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The medieval brick gothic basilica of St Peter, Rostock’s oldest parish church, was heavily damaged by World War II. In DDR times it was left in a miserable state. The rebuilding was only finished in 1994 with the addition of the tall pointed spire. The church is standing on a hill with a steep descent down to the river Warnow and looks most imposing when approaching the city from the east.

From the top floor of Petri steeple you can enjoy the view of the whole town and the river Warnow over to the harbour. There is no open platform but you look out through the window holes which are closed with wire. Photographers, look for the rectangular holes in some wire nets, there is one on each side of the steeple.

Entrance fee for the steeple was 2 €. If you feel like some exercise you can climb the stairs. However, you don’t have to. There is a modern lift which was installed a few years ago when the spire had been rebuilt. You can go up by lift without a single stair, the steeple is accessible for disabled visitors. The wooden platform inside the top is completely flat and wide enough to manoeuvre a wheelchair.

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Views from St Peter's steeple

Harbour Promenade along the Warnow

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The river bank by the old town, harbour area in former times, has been turned into a promenade. Some of the old storage buildings, like the one built in 1935 at the end of Grubenstraße, still serve their original purpose while others have been turned into a business, shopping and living complex. The marina has long-term rental spaces as well as space for overnight visitors. A bit further west the harbour cruise boats to Warnemünde depart.

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The historical crane is a remake of 1997. It was rebuilt according to 18th century plans to recall Rostock’s history as a trade port of the Hansa. The crane is driven by two men in a pair of big running wheels: the rope rolls around the axis of the wheels and so the hook with the cargo is lifted. The rebuilt crane is fully functional. In 1999 a reconstructed Swedish sailing ship visited Rostock on her maiden voyage and was unloaded and loaded by the crane.

If you like smoked fish, follow the smell to the restaurant ship close to the crane with the oven in the bow.

Hafenviertel

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From the landing of the harbour cruise boats I returned into the old town. The so-called Harbour Quarter mostly consists of DDR Plattenbauten, concrete buildings made from pre-fabricated pieces, like in all socialist cities. Here, however, the local style has been adopted and even the Plattenbauten have received a façade design in bricks and white plaster according to historical models.

Among them a few really old buildings have survived, half-timbered storage houses with cranes in their gables. One street, Wokrenterstraße, even has an entire row of old facades from medieval to baroque, restored of course.

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Hausbaumhaus, and an old storage building

Wokrenterstraße, the street in the photo at the top, is the one street in the harbour quarter that has preserved, or better re-acquired, its pre-war appearance with a row of gabled houses.

This is what old Rostock must once have looked like.

The oldest among them is the so-called Hausbaumhaus, a brick gothic house dated around 1490, which still has its historical roof construction carried by one single long tree trunk.

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Lange Straße: Hanseatic Version of Stalinism

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On the way back into the city centre you pass the most remarkable example of hanseatic socialist architecture. Lange Straße, one of the main streets in the centre, has been renewed in the 1950s in Stalinist style. Both sides of the street are accompanied by huge blocks and towers with shops and apartments.

Compared to Stalinist architecture elsewhere, the Rostock example is particular. The facades are built of bricks, interchanging with white plaster. Ornamentation follows medieval patterns. This is an interesting case of the regional tradition influencing an international style.

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Former Jakobikirchhof behind Lange Straße

A bit of medieval history can be found behind the blocks of Lange Straße. The church of St Jakobi (James) was destroyed in the war and never rebuilt. Instead there is an underground parking garage. The new little park on its roof marks the foundations of the church. Information boards tell about the history of the place.

Marienkirche – Rostock’s Main Church

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Marienkirche seen from Neuer Markt

The main parish church of the city gives testimony of medieval Rostock’s wealth and power, based on long-distance overseas trade of the Hansa. Rostock’s rich merchants donated the money to build a church to equal the Marienkirche of the mighty rival Lübeck in size and beauty. Works started around 1230 and took more than two centuries. Just like in Lübeck and other Hansa Cities like Danzig, it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

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Inside, the most remarkable works of art are:

  • the bronze baptismal font, founded around 1290
  • the astronomical clock in the choir
  • the huge baroque organ in the west and the ‘box’ of the Grandduke underneath
  • the woodcarved altar of St Rochus of 1530 in the southern choir chapel
  • the baroque main altar
  • the 16th century pulpit with a rich ornamentation and reliefs depicting scenes from the life of Christ
  • the 18th century main altar
  • the exhibition of paraments in the northern side nave, especially the embroidered „wedding cloth“
  • the new exhibition on war and peace and resistance in the northern transept

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Gate Towers, Town Walls and Ramparts of Old Rostock

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Kröpeliner Tor and Kuhtor

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Lagebuschturm and city wall

The old town fortifications are partly preserved along the southern and eastern edge. The most impressive parts can be found in the southwest between Kröpeliner Tor and Schwaansche Straße. Outside the town wall we still have the ramparts, now turned into a park, and further below a rest of the deep moat which once surrounded the city. The park along Wallstraße west of Steintor has been turned into a rose garden. The open field between the rows of trees is planted with thousands of roses - a pretty spot to relax in summer.

Kröpeliner Tor, the western gate tower of the old town on the street to Kröpelin, is the only of the four preserved gate towers that is preserved in its more or less original medieval shape. It was built in the 13th/14th century in brick gothic and has a height of 54 m.

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Steintor
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Steintor, the gate tower on the southern side of the old town, used to be the main entrance of the old town. It received its present appearance in 1576/77 when the facades and roof were redesigned in renaissance style. Above the gate, the crests of the city (golden griffin on blue ground above a silver and white field) and the Duchy of Mecklenburg (black bull’s head) are shown - a small version on the outer side, a more elaborate and larger version on the inner side together with the Latin inscription, Sit intra te concordia et publica felicitas (may there be unity and public happiness inside you, i.e. the city).

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Mönchentor

East of Steintor a longer part of the city wall in more or less its original height, a fortification tower and another gate tower are preserved respective rebuilt. The tower, named Lagebuschturm, was built in 1577, the same time as the Steintor. The smaller Kuhtor further east was first mentioned in the 13th century and is the oldest remain of Rostock’s fortification.

Towards the bank of the river another town gate has remained. Mönchentor must have been redesigned around 1800, it shows purest neoclassical style.

I ran out of time and had to hurry back to the station after a quick coffee in the new market square. No idea how many kilometres I walked that day. But it was worth every single step. Rostock is worth a full day, and I recommend wearing your most comfortable shoes. Explore the streets off the beaten path. This city is full of surprises if you are ready to see them. It may not be the most spectacular Hanseatic town along the Baltic Sea. If you expect five-star sights and tourist infrastructure everywhere, better see Lübeck, Wismar, or Stralsund. If you are, on the other hand, interested in a treasure hunt, and into Germany’s recent history and seeing the changes after the reunification, Rostock may surprise you as much as it surprised me.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 02:50 Archived in Germany Tagged mecklenburg-vorpommern Comments (0)

Güstrow

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Haus der Kirche, where we stayed

In 2014 our choir went on a week-long concert tour in Mecklenburg. This could be arranged thanks to a choir member’s family ties to this area and into the protestant church of Mecklenburg (long story). Our base camp was Güstrow. The regional church has a house there which can accommodate large groups like ours. We sang three concerts in the Dom of Güstrow, in Waren an der Müritz, and in the amazing brick-gothic abbey church of Bad Doberan, which I have already described in a previous entry.

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The trip took place during the 2014 Soccer World Cup, so guess how we spent our evenings after rehearsals and concerts were over…

Güstrow is a smallish city south of Rostock, on the edge of Mecklenburg’s lake district. While the busiest tourist areas are the Baltic Sea coast and the lakes, this inland area is rather quiet and off the beaten path.

I don’t think I saw any other tourists in town, apart from members of our large group, of course.

Güstrow’s old town is a mix of old and new, a mix of well renovated and various stages of decay.

Gothic, renaissance, baroque townhouses can be found in the streets.

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Market square, empty in the evening

The market square is not an open square but forms a ring around the parish church and the town hall and some blocks of houses.

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The neoclassical town hall, built around 1800, substituted a medieval predecessor.

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The Church of Our Lady (Marienkirche) is the parish church of the city. It shows the typical brick architecture of this area – partly medieval, partly 19th century refurbishing.

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Art enthusiasts, however, will know about Güstrow as the hometown of the expressionist sculptor Ernst Barlach. A collection of his works is on exhibit in Gertrudenkapelle, a small medieval chapel. Then there is his former studio on the lakeshore outside the town, and a modern museum next to it.

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A few of Barlach's works in Gertrudenkapelle

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One of Barlach’s most famous works has been put up above the baptismal font inside the Dom: the Hovering Angel. (Apologies for the lousy photo, it was quite dark inside.)

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Güstrow’s Dom has, despite its name, never been a cathedral. It was built as a collegiate church in the 13th and 14th century. Nowadays it serves as Lutheran parish church just like Marienkirche.

This is the church where we sang our concert!

The interior hosts a couple of precious art treasures, including the 15th century woodcarved altarpiece, the monumental tomb of the Dukes of Mecklenburg from the renaissance era, and one of the most famous sculptures of the 1920s, the bronze Hovering Angel, or simply The Floating One, by the sculptor Ernst Barlach.

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Güstrow Palace

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In 1556 Güstrow became the residence of the Dukes of Mecklenburg.

In 1621 the dynasty split up into two lines, and a separate line Mecklenburg-Güstrow was formed. It lasted for hardly 75 years, though, then Güstrow lost its glory to Schwerin and Strelitz.

The era of the Dukes has left a majestic Renaissance palace. It is not yet in perfect shape, renovation works are ongoing. At some point in the future it will show all its splendour.

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Inside, there are some historical rooms which are remarkable.

For example, the hall with the hunting scenes.

The ceiling is decorated with a series of stucco reliefs.

Along the walls, three-dimensional figures of stags and other animals have been attached. The bodies are made from clay, but the antlers are real.

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The palace also hosts a small museum of art and history. Not the kind of place one would cross oceans for, to be honest, but an okay addition to a visit to Güstrow.

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Lavendar in the palace gardens

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Lake landscape around Güstrow

Posted by Kathrin_E 06:52 Archived in Germany Tagged mecklenburg-vorpommern Comments (0)

A Photo Walk Through Stralsund

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Stralsund skyline - snapshot from the highway

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Stralsund skyline from sea

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Stralsund was a day trip during our concert tour through Mecklenburg in 2014. This was our "tourist day". After a morning rehearsal in Güstrow our conductor gave us the rest of the day off for some sightseeing.

Our coach carried us to Stralsund. Many of us joined a guided tour. I preferred to walk on my own, explore and catch the spirit of this historical Hanseatic city with the camera.

And to go "churching" at my own, slow pace, of course - I think you know me by now.

For a change, this here is going to be more like a photo gallery than a thorough description.

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The majestic Marienkirche, Church of Our Lady

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Meant to impress 1: The facade

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Meant to impress 2: the entrance hall underneath the steeple

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Meant to impress 3: the interior
... and no, this is not the biggest church in Stralsund!

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Burial vaults of wealthy families in the side chapels, and the baptismal font

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On the way into town

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Pedestrianized shopping street

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Historical houses, and the smaller church of St Jacobi
(It's the photo that is crooked, not the steeple...)

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The town hall, front and back

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The medieval facade is Stralsund's landmark. It's a trick, showing off.... there is nothing behind the upper part.

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Courtyard and arcades in the town hall

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Market square with the town hall and the even more majestic Nikolaikirche, church of St Nicolai

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Street views with the steeples of Nikolaikirche.
It's hard to lose your way in Stralsund: From almost everywhere you can see at least one steeple. All it takes is knowing to which church it belongs.

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Narrow passage between town hall and Nikolaikirche

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Historical houses off the main square

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Interior of Nikolaikirche and some of its many art works

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In the harbour

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This boat promised a cruise out into Strelasund, the branch of water between Stralsund and the island of Rügen. I could not resist!

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Tall ship Gorch Fock I in the harbour, now a museum ship

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The bridge to Rügen
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A glimpse of Rügen with the village of Altefähr

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Back on shore: The Gorch Fock I again

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A Backfischbrötchen for lunch - another temptation I could not resist. Isn't this a cute snack bar?

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A typical street corner in the old town

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Gothic townhouses

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Renaissance townhouses

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Baroque townhouses

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There are reasons why the ensemble of the old town is listed as Unesco World Heritage.

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And another streetview

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Outside the maritime museum, which I did not have time for - next time!

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A different streetview for the conclusion

Posted by Kathrin_E 11:13 Archived in Germany Tagged mecklenburg-vorpommern Comments (0)

Waren an der Müritz: Concert in a Lakeside Town

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Waren's skyline with the two churches

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Waren was the third city during our concert tour where we performed. We always did the same programme, pieces for choir and organ. Taking a whole orchestra with us would have doubled the group and caused exorbitant costs. One young organist was far easier to transport, and the organs are always there.

The protestant church in Waren does a series of such concerts over the summer, with various ensembles performing. The town is not famous for being a centre of music, though, but for something very different. Waren an der Müritz – the name indicates the importance already – is known and visited because of its location on the shore of Müritz lake. This is not only the largest among Mecklenburg’s countless lakes, but the largest lake in the whole country which is entirely German. A popular question in quiz shows, by the way… Bodensee (Lake of Constance) is much bigger but we share it with Switzerland and Austria.

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Our bus took us over from Güstrow in the morning and dropped us off by the church. We had a rehearsal in the late morning, then we got time off for touristic purposes. In the afternoon we all went on a boat cruise on the lake. Then it was already time for dinner, and afterwards to return to the church and change into our concert dress. If you see a horde of people all wearing elegant black clothes, it’s either a funeral or a choir!

Waren’s old town is located on a hill that appears almost like a peninsula, being surrounded by three different lakes. The protestant Georgenkirche (Church of St George) is the oldest building in town. The brick gothic church dates back to the 13th, the steeple to the 14th century. The interior underwent thorough changes in the 19th century, though, hence its present appearance is widely neo-gothic.

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The town centre is a pleasant country town and holiday resort. The architecture is widely 19th century, including the town hall. In summer, flowers are everywhere. A farmers’ market takes place in the main square in the morning (not sure if daily, it was a Saturday) which adds lots of colours and liveliness.

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The second church in town, Marienkirche, is the parish church of the Roman-Catholic community.

It has older roots, as the gothic facades show. But the present interior is neoclassical, all bright and white. The 19th century has refurbished here, too.

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Then we walked along the lakeshore towards the boat landing. There are two boat landings in different locations, which caused confusion in certain people…

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The Mecklenburg lakes are popular for all kinds of water sports, in particular for canoeing. Most lakes are interconnected by small canals. Multi-day canoe and camping tours used to be a popular and cheap way to spend the summer holidays already in DDR times, and they still are. On the larger lakes sailboats can run, too, but many smaller lakes are too shallow for anything but canoes. For people who love being outdoors and don’t mind getting wet every now and then, canoeing on the Mecklenburg lakes is a perfect holiday activity.

Not for me, though. I’d prefer sitting on the deck of a cruise boat to splashing along with a pair of paddles.

The cruise took us out onto the waters of Müritz lake. This looks big enough, but in fact it’s just the so-called Binnenmüritz, the bay at the lake’s northern end. We did dot see the full extent of the whole lake.

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Instead, the boat carried us through the canal over to the neighbouring Kölpinsee. We then turned around and returned to Waren on the same way. Riding through a canal with a close view of the banks is certainly more interesting than crossing the middle of a wide lake where you see nothing but water and the thin greenish line of a distant shore.

The weather is changeable in these maritime climates where the wind is always strong and the clouds move fast. As we experienced on the boat, it can change from brightest sunshine to a downpour within minutes.

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If you don’t like the weather, wait for 10 or 15 minutes, and then hurry in order not to miss the sunny interval…

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Posted by Kathrin_E 01:44 Archived in Germany Tagged lakes boats mecklenburg-vorpommern Comments (0)

Mecklenburg Landscapes

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These photos were taken during a train ride between Oranienburg and Demmin via Neustrelitz. The landscape was shaped by the glaciers of the last ice age. It consists of low rolling hills, once the moraines that the glaciers pushed along. This part of Mecklenburg is farmland, with stretches of forest and the occasional lake in between.

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Clear skies and white clouds are typical for Northern Germany.

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A stretch of forest in between.

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It was late May. The blooming canola fields tinted the hills yellow.

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More Canola

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Corn flowers in a meadow - taken from the running train!

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The suburbs of Neustrelitz

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Allotment gardens

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Fields and trees, and hedges to break the wind

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Farm buildings

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A village and its church. The wind park behind isn't too pretty, but that's the price we have to pay for 'clean' energy.

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Clouds above the fields

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Wide landscape view

Posted by Kathrin_E 09:50 Archived in Germany Tagged landscapes mecklenburg-vorpommern Comments (3)

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