Stralsund, Germany – The gateway to Scandinavia

Stralsund is a town with a population of just over 60,000 on the coast of northern Germany. It is the fourth largest city in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Stralsund is a Hanseatic city: it was part of the Hanseatic League. It certainly reflects that and the wealth that it brought from the historical buildings that still exist in the city to this day. One of the foremost examples is the Town Hall in the Old Market Square; it has an immense and intricate Gothic façade created for the sole purpose of showing off the wealth of the city. It also features one of Europe’s largest Gothic cellar vaults.

Alter Markt (Old Market Square)

Some of the former houses (now mostly businesses and offices) in the Alter Markt.

We started our exploration of Stralsund on the UNESCO World Heritage island: the old city in the old Market Square, which is in the middle of the Old Town. The old Market Square is surrounded by old historical buildings ranging from Gothic to Baroque architecture. The majority of them are also homes and feature shops and cafés/restaurants on the ground floor. The square also has a large fountain embedded in the ground. It has water displays at set intervals throughout the day in the warmer months. If you did not realise that it was a fountain, it would just look like small metallic plates set into the ground. However, as we experience during our time there, this is a beloved place for local children to play when it is hot.

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One of the major features of the Old Market Square is naturally the market that still goes on to this day. Unfortunately, we were not there at the time when the market was on, but we had heard that it was worth visiting if we happen to be there at the right time.

Rathaus (Town Hall)

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Looming over the old Market Square is the Gothic Town Hall. The town hall was first constructed in the 13th century and still dominates the Alter Markt (Old Market Square) and the city centre to this day. The building itself is somewhat analogous to a peacock; the interior of the building is actually quite small and does not have much space but the façade is massive. In fact the façade is much larger than the usable building space, extending high above the square (like a peacocks tail vs the body). This façade was a symbol of the city’s wealth at the time; the Hanseatic League prospered greatly by controlling trade in the Baltic and North Seas and Rostock benefitted greatly from being a member. The number of large churches in the city also reflect this fact.

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Marienkirche (St Mary’s Church)

A side view of the Marienkirche. My comparison a car wouldn’t even reach the top of the metallic part of monument in front of the church.

Built around the same time as the town hall (although the original construction date is unknown), the Marienkirche is a massive building. In fact for almost 100 years during its history, it was the tallest building in the world! This also reflected the enormous wealth of the city and the ruling families that benefitted from League trade.

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Nikolaikirche (St Nicholas Church)

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The Nikolaikirche is another church that towers over both the Alter Markt and the Rathaus. It was also built originally around the same time as the Rathaus to be the council’s church (again to show off their wealth), meaning that it was expected to be a place of more than just worship. Meetings would be held there for the council along with receiving dignitaries and ambassadors and being the public face of the city from which new laws and regulations were announced.

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During the building process the church was altered to become a basilica, meaning that many alterations had to be made to the parts which had already been built. This means that the cathedral was not actually finished until the 15th century (construction began in the 13th century).

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What made the Nikolaikirche more unique was the numbers of altars. At one point the church held 56 altars as a sign of the wealth of the city. During the reformation many of these were removed and the naves that had held them became resting places for prominent deceased members of the city.

Harbour

Like most member cities of the Hanseatic League, Stralsund became rich due to its trade, most of which came in and out by ship. In fact the city operated a fleet of 300 trade ships during the 14th century, bringing in tonnes of profit to the city.

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However, this did make Stralsund a prime target during the Thiry Year Wars. Being Protestant and not accepting the Catholic terms, they were besieged by Catholic forces. Local defenders, supported by Danish and Swedish forces, were able to resist them. At the end of the war, Stralsund became a Swedish port, which it remained until Napoleon Bonapart rolled through in 1807.

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Today the old Harbour Masters Office and the storage warehouse along with some historic ships still occupy the harbour area. In the summer you can also take river cruises that start in Stralsund or ferries to surrounding population centres, like the island of Hiddensee.

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When to go?

A good time to go to anywhere in Northern Germany is later spring, summer and early autumn; the weather is usually sunny and the temperatures are not too hot and not too cold, although there may be some months. I went in September for a conference and the weather was superb with the exception of one day.

Stralsund has a wide variety of accommodation options, including AirBnB, hostels and hotels. I stayed in a nice AirBnB near the city centre for a very reasonable price (in fact I would say cheap in price but not in quality).


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