"Wistful about Wismar" Wismar by CatherineReichardt
Wismar Travel Guide: 69 reviews and 323 photos
Of all the places that we visited on our 'Red Brick Gothic' tour of the Ostsee (North Sea) coast of Germany, Wismar is the place that I wish we'd had more time to explore. The problem with this part of the country - which seems to be inexplicably neglected by English-speaking tourists - is that there is so much to do and so many beautiful towns and cities within close proximity that you can't do justice to them all. Sadly we had less than two hours in Wismar, as we were driving back from Ruegen and had to get back to Hamburg by nightfall with two cranky kids in tow. To cap it all, the skies were leaden with imminent rain, so this combination of constraints hardly made for optimal sightseeing!
On the fact of it, Wismar has a history that is very similar to so many other towns along this coast, and yet each has its own distinctive character. It rose to prominence in the early Middle Ages as a port which flourished under the protective and self-interested influence of the Hanseatic League and later passed from German to Swedish control. From the 19th century onwards, the town benefited greatly from the Industrial Revolution which stimulated economic activity and encouraged international trade and port expansion. Unfortunately, those same port facilities attracted the tender ministrations of Bomber Harris and Wismar sustained terrible damage during World War II - most notably the decimation of the Marienkirche, which the East Germans subsequently razed to the ground in 1960, leaving only the tower.
Happily, the buildings devastated by bombing have been lovingly reconstructed, and in 2002, Wismar - along with its neighbour, the equally overlooked Stralsund - was granted World Heritage status on the basis of its extraordinary red Brick Gothic heritage.
Probably Wismar's most famous - more accurately, notorious - son is Klaus Stoertebeker - a notorious privateer (that's a 'pirate' to the rest of us) who terrorised the North Sea and Baltic coastline around the turn of the 15th century.
Stoertebeker was the leader of a band of mercenaries called the 'Vitual Brothers' whose services were retained by the Swedish to fight the Danes and secure continuity of food supplied to Stockholm during a siege, but who then decided that an easier living could be made by preying on the merchant vessels of the Hanseatic League. His colourful surname is derived from Old German and refers to his ability to drain a tankard of beer in a single draft - no mean feat given that tankards of the time could have a capacity of up to four litres!
After several years of lucrative looting and pillaging, the authorities finally caught up with Stoertebeker, and he was returned to Hamburg for trial, where he and over 70 of his associates were convicted of piracy and beheaded (doubtless much to the mass relief of the Hanseatic League). Legend has it that he struck a deal with his executioner that he would spare as many men as Stoertebeker could walk past once he had been beheaded - and that the headless corpse managed to stagger past eleven men before the executioner tripped him up. However, the executioner reneaged on his promise and proceeded to execute all of the pirates (including the ones that Stortebeker had 'saved'): the moral of this story is to never strike a bargain with your executioner as you won't be around to enforce the conditions!
Inevitably Stoertebeker's reputation has been lionised and stories about his exploits (some based in historical fact and others the product of wild fantasy, such as the one above) abound. He has become a figure of colourful legend - a sort of German Robin Hood - and in recent years, he has achieved immortality by having a brand of beer brewed in Stralsund named after him. The tongue-in-cheek motto of this beer is "Beer of the Righteous", although personally I think they've missed the mark - surely given the tale of his execution, something along the lines of, "How far can you stagger when you're dead drunk?' would have been more apposite (but maybe it doesn't translate into German?).
- Pros:Small, beautiful and perfect for exploring on foot
- Cons:Depending on the way that you explore the region, you may be "Red Brick Gothicked Out" by the time you get there
- In a nutshell:One of the finest gems in a region inexplicably overlooked by English-speaking tourists
The Marienkirche tower presides over what some sources claim to be the largest market square in Germany (although... more travel advice
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