- Candace Ahlfinger
One Short Day in a German Port
Our stop in Germany on our Viking Jupiter Ocean Cruise was in Warnemunde which has easy train access to Berlin. In fact, around 90% of the passengers on the Viking Jupiter took
the train for a long day in Berlin—which left our excursions off the ship relatively tourist free.
We had spent several days in Berlin previously, so we opted to explore Lubeck and Wismar along with the port town of Warnemunde.
Lubeck, Wismar, and their neighboring town of Rostock were all founding members of the Hanseatic League, a group of German traders that dominated trade in the Baltic Sea from the 13th century to the 15th century and created trade policies that still exist. These cities’ positions in the League ensured their economic importance during that period. In fact, Lubeck was the Queen City of the Hanseatic League and served as its administrative center.
According to Britannica, Lubeck, our first stop, was founded in 1143 by Count Adolf II, destroyed by fire in 1157, and rebuilt by Henry III in 1159. I have to admit that I like the story that our guide told: Lubeck was founded by Richard the Lion Hearted. It’s much more romantic. Lubeck maintained its prominence, partially due to its location between the Schwartau and Trave rivers and the fact that it was a Free City directly under the rule of the German emperor. The city lost its status after being bombed multiple times in WWII. Now Lubeck’s primary business is tourism as it enjoys its UNESCO position.
A note here: Our guide shared that North Germans greet each other with “Moin” and pronounce it as one syllable. Only if they are really being friendly, will they give it a two-syllable pronunciation. Oh, and by the way, you can’t smile as you say it.
Like Lubeck, Rostock, and Wismar were founding members of the Hanseatic League. After WWII, Rostock and Wismar became part of Eastern Germany, under the control of Russia, while Lubeck became part of Western Germany. Even now, the red and white flags flying everywhere in Lubeck serve as reminders of the Hanseatic League.
As we walked through Lubeck, sometimes in a pouring rain, we saw 2 of the 4 gates remaining in the old fortress walls. Looking around, we also saw omnipresent statues of lions—a reminder that Richard the Lion Hearted founded the city. (I’m sticking to our guide’s story.) Homes are narrow because residents were taxed by the number of windows that faced the main road.
One of our visits took us to the Hospital of the Holy Spirit, which was completed in 1286, as a hospital and church for the needy. The wealthy residents of the town supported the effort to ensure their place in heaven. The church is built of brick in Gothic style that was common for the Hanseatic League. (The Carillion in the tower plays five minutes before every hour and is fun to hear.)
Our next stop was St. Jakobi’s Church. Consecrated in 1334, the church is also built of red brick. (Bricks were easy to obtain in the area.) The church was for seafarers which is reflected in the large model of the Pamir, a four-masted ship that sank in 1957. Thankfully, the church escaped bombing during WWII and so its 16th century organ is still working.
As we walked along the main street of town, our guide explained that the main street was built higher than other streets to provide water for the residents. Water would be sent down the main street and flow downhill to houses along the way. Unfortunately, the side streets were also used to empty chamber pots, so a notice went out that told people not to use the streets to empty their refuse on Mondays and Tuesdays, because the water at the bottom reservoir was collected to make beer on Wednesdays--and folks drank beer instead of water because it was cleaner. (I did change the words on the notice to make it more appropriate.)
Next up for our tour was the Willy Brandt house. I did not know who he was, but he played a very important role in rebuilding relations between Germany and Poland after WWII. As Chancellor of Germany, he knelt in Poland in front of the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto, bowed his head, and prayed for the forgiveness of Germany. (Brandt won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to reconcile Europe.)
St. Mary’s Church, another red brick Gothic church, was our next stop. Unfortunately, the doors were closed, but we heard the story of the rose bush. Legend has it that the rose bush shows the health of the church. If the church has money, crumbs are left for the church mouse so the mouse does not eat the roots. If the church doesn’t have money, the mouse is left to dine on the rose bush’s roots. One other fascinating item is outside the church—a statue of the Devil. In this case, legend has it that the Devil was curious about what was being built. The construction workers didn’t want to tell him for fear of what he would do, so they told him they were building a wine bar. Satan was so excited that he helped the workers and only discovered that it was a church when the building was almost finished. Needless to say, he was very angry and picked up a huge piece of rock to destroy the church, but a worker thought quickly and told him a wine bar would also be constructed nearby. (There is a bar nearby!)
The presence of so many churches, all of which have tall spires, is no accident. The planners of the city wanted to show anyone interested in attacking that they were a heavily populated city, but they were peaceful. Since church spires also meant there were wealthy people, they built many.
One last sweet thing about Lubeck. A nickname for the city is the “Capital of Marzipan,” the tasty confection is an almond paste dessert used by itself or in recipes. We had lunch upstairs at the marzipan-famous Café Niederegger. Downstairs, marzipan called my husband’s name as we passed all things marzipan, from beautiful presentations to conveniently prepared boxes to go. We justified multiple purchases by acknowledging its original purpose when it was brought from the Orient—marzipan is medicine.
Our visit to Wismar was much shorter than to Lubeck and very different. Because Wismar was heavily bombed during WWII, many sites are still in red brick ruins. Wismar’s Old Town was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002. We had great fun visiting the Rathaus and square where a market was going on, complete with entertainment and a marching band. Of course, we had to shop and sample a little at the various kiosks. The streets in Wismar are named for the type of work done there. For example, Schweinsbrücke is named because it is the street used to take pigs to market. Likewise, Tittentasterstrase was the street where people went to find wet nurses for babies.
One of the most interesting places to me was St. Marien Church. Most of the church was damaged during WWII and the remainder, except for the tower, was removed for safety reasons. The site is impressive even with its foundation lying in ruins. A statue in the courtyard received a great deal of attention from some in our group.
A former beloved mayor of the city is captured forever in a statue there, which did not strike anyone as unusual. The fact that she is lounging naked in a beach chair did seem very different, but ideas of nudity are also very different from those in the US.
After returning to our ship, we wandered along the coast, on the boardwalk, past a carnival and into the picturesque town of Warnemunde for a fun way to end our evening before reboarding and heading for our next port.
Interested in our other cruise ports?
Mariehamn, the capital of the Åland Islands
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