Friday, July 25, 2008

Hanseatic and Mecklenburger for a day

So I took a weekend off travelling to big European destinations and had a look around more local Northern Germany. My travels took me to Lübeck, the former "capital" of the Hanseatic League, and also to Wismar, which is a smaller town that has retained a lot of Hanseatic character, and seems mostly frequented by German tourists. Also in the same day trains took me to Schwerin, the capital of the Bundesland Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, where the government still operates out of the impressive, fairy-tale-like Schweriner Schloss.

So one at a time:


Surrounded by the river on both sides, the city centre of Lübeck is an island of terracotta roofs in a more-or-less modern German city. The city is full of brick Gothic architecture (get used to the term, it shall come up a lot). Spires of the churches and cathedral are visible from far away and are very prominent in the skyline. Two city gates remain, the Holstentor, and Burgtor, which are both very impressive, and tell me that I did not want to screw with the medieval Lübeckers, even though they are famous for inventing marzipan*.

I spent most of the time in this town on the run, and got to experience the lovely weather one gets near the Baltic. Basically, it is sunny, then 5 minutes later it is raining, then 10 minutes more it is sunny again for an hour. I noticed locals who made a habit of waiting under shelter with the (correct) expectation that the rain would stop shortly. Truly bizarre to someone who experiences rain or sun for days at a time. As a pedestrian, the city sucked, because there was no public transit but buses, and even early in the morning, buses dominated the roads in the city centre. Traffic signals were also unbelievably long. It took me more than 5 minutes to get across both parts of an intersection.


This tiny town is quite off-the-radar for international tourists, and I would never have known about it had my supervisor not highly recommended it to me. The city centre is a UNESCO world heritage site, and the three enormous brick Gothic churches are particularly marvellous. And by three I mean one and two halves. Two were destroyed in the war and are in the process of being rebuilt. This is where UNESCO's money helps out. This is the first place in Germany I've seen what could be resentment about the WW2 bombings, and very likely because it is a smaller town with less international influence (I was it).


So except for the supposed only remaining statue of Lenin in Germany (which did not want to be found), the only truly notable thing in Schwerin was the Schloss. But what a Schloss it was. I was Cinderella for a day. The most important thing I took away from this city was that I want to be insanely successful so that I can build my own castle just like this one and live in it.

Apparently the castle and city has a local pöltergeist, known as Petermännchen (Peter, the little man), and even has a museum devoted to him. Also odd was the prevalence of painted rhinos throughout the city. Toronto had Moose once upon a time, Berlin has Bears, Hamburg has little men carrying water buckets (more on that later), and for some reason, Schwerin has Rhinos. I could be wrong, but I really don't think they're native here. *shrugs* Oh and this city had a brick Gothic cathedral too, but by this point brick churches were lost on me.

*although my sources tell me this is still hotly debated

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