Anne-Rose organised accommodation for us in the local sports centre. As well as the usual basketball courts and soccer field, there are five guest rooms above the canteen/bar. Our showers and toilet are those used by the general public. Our room is spacious, with two sets of bunks, a small table, four chairs, two wardrobes and lots of spare space. It’s also warm and dry! Luxury for campers!
The history of Stralsund goes back to at least 1234 when it was given far reaching trading privileges by the local king. The town’s position on the shores of the Strelasund, where it’s harbours are sheltered by the island of Rügen, enabled it to grow to a point where it was considered the second most important city in the Hanseatic League, after Lübeck. The power and importance of the Hanseatic League waned dramatically by the end of the 16th Century and Stralsund began its own gentle decline. It reached its lowest point during the years of the German Democratic Republic but has blossomed as a tourist town since the reunification of East and West Germany. Stralsund was included on the UNESCO register along with Wismar in 2002.
We climbed the tower of the Marienkirche – 366 steps in all. The first 250 steps were of brick and went round and round and round a central column inside a tower.
Then the space opened up and we were in the ‘attic’ where the three bells hang. The steps were wooden, short flights joining each level. Looking across, I saw Anne-Rose through a forest of beams, joists and posts, all glowing golden in the muted light.
A last, very steep flight of steps took us to the top, we exited the building through a trapdoor and emerged onto a round platform under the highest roof in town. Walking around the platform, we had a great view over the town, the Strelasund and the three internal lakes. I could even spot our sports centre where we’re staying.
The descent spiralling down another tower had to be taken gently. The steps are steep and worn smooth by countless feet traipsing down them over the centuries.
After this exertion, it was time for a spot of lunch followed by a wander through the old town. There are two market places, the old one and the new one.
The old market place has the town hall on one side with the St. Nikolaikirche next to it. The town hall is very impressive with a façade rising so high into the sky that circular holes had to be placed in it near the top to allow the wind to pass through. This same device has been used at the town hall in Lübeck. Unfortunately, the whole front of the town hall is currently covered in scaffolding and protective sheeting so we could only guess at its magnificence. The centre of the Stralsund town hall is an open rectangle lined with columns. There’s now a glass roof covering it but originally it would have been open to all the weather.
Halfway along the rectangle is an archway and wide passage leading directly to the front door of the St. Nikolaikirche, a juxtaposition which hints at the importance of merchant money in the building of these magnificent churches. It’s notable that the period of the development of the northern red-brick architectural style, the building of so many significant and beautiful public buildings and the hey-day of the Hanseatic League all occurred in the same time period. Hanseatic profits often went to the glory of god and mankind.
Further evidence was inside the church itself. There is a set of pews in front of an altar sponsored by the Bergen traders. One of the pews has a merchant engraved in the end. He is carrying a wooden club over his shoulder and warns that those pews are reserved for merchants. Anyone else attempting to sit in them will be whacked over the head with his club.
The Riga traders had their own set of pews with painted engravings showing them trading for furs and honey with Russian merchants. The Russians have long beards and pointy hats, the merchant stands in front of a red brick building with an assistant in the doorway.