September 6, 2016 – The ms Koningsdam docked in the port of Warnemunde, Germany. This is the principal port on the Baltic Sea for access to Berlin via train, and many of the ship’s passengers chose to take the 2.5 hour train to see that city. Alice and I were not very interested in spending 5 hours on a train, so we chose an excursion to the nearby city of Wismar, a world UNESCO Heritage site.
We boarded a comfortable coach at the pier and met our guide for the day. He was a pleasant young man with some wonderful insights into the recent past, when Germany was divided into East and West. He was seven years old when the reunification of the country started in 1990. We will delve into that recent history at the end of this post, as most of the information was offered on our ride back to the ship.
On the drive west from Warnemunde to Wismar, we experienced a beautiful rural farmland dotted with many modern windmills.
Upon arrival in Wismar, we were let off of the coach at the large Market Square. As the name suggests, the square was used for centuries by local merchants to market their produce and goods. The completely cobble stoned area was surrounded on all sides by buildings in many architectural styles. The image below is Northern German Gothic building housing a restaurant called Alter Schwede (or Old Swede).
Right next to this is a building in the 19th century Romanesque Revival style:
I love the way the fronts of the buildings are styled. The tops cover the much lower building roofs and make the buildings appear larger and more impressive that their actual size.
Right in front of these two structures is the famous town landmark waterworks (Wasserkunst) built in the early 15th century to insure a supply of fresh water to the town, even if it was under siege.
From the square, we walked a short distance to the site of the mostly destroyed St. Mary’s cathedral. All that remains today is the 80m tall church tower and a reconstructed outline of the walls of the church with marked off pillar bases inside of the walls.
The main part of the church suffered two devastating blows in the 20th century. The first was the heavy allied bombing of this town at the very end of WWII. The second wast the self inflicted destruction of the remainder of the church by the East German government. In the guise of demolition prior to restoration of the building, the government enlisted the aid of the townspeople in dismantling all of the old Gothic brick works. The bricks were then carted of for use on other construction projects and the town was left with just the clock tower. The East Germans could not destroy the tower because it was a major landmark used for shipping navigation in that part of the Baltic.
There was a second large church nearby that was also heavily damaged in the bombing raid. This is the reconstructed St. Georgen Church.
St. George’s church was saved and restored because an important member of the city government during that period was a member of that church and not St. Mary’s. You should notice that all of the windows are clear. There was never enough money to try and restore lost stained glass.
Perhaps my German speaking followers can interpret this sign on the building:
After our tour of the old town, we were given about an hour to walk through the more modern part of Wismar. Here are some street scenes that I hope you enjoy. I know that I love the wide open cobble stone streets.
The tour group gathered once more to head to our last stop: one of the oldest continuously operating brew houses in the city. On the way, we crossed over one of the canals in the heart of the city.
Walking along the street on the side of the canal, I snapped a few interesting pictures of an old firehouse (no longer in use or there wouldn’t be cars parked in front) and a few other buildings:
We finally arrived at the brew house:
This brew house was established in 1452, and today still brews several different types of beer for both local consumption and for export. We got to sample three different types of beer, and each was excellent. Since my wife does not like beer very much, I got a little extra.
From here, we boarded our coach back to the ship. During the trip back, the passengers asked many questions about what it was like living in East Germany as a child. Our guide told us that his mother was a doctor and her father had another important job, so he grew up not wanting for very much. He said that many of their family and friends fled East Germany just after the war and before the wall went up to stem the tide of millions of Germans fleeing the Communist regime.
He also remembers the propaganda being taught in the early grades of school about how much better off they were under the state controlled regime where everything was shared equally by the people and how corrupt the western governments were. He also described the slow progress of reunification and the eventual improvements in local conditions by the end of the 1990’s.
After we got back to the ship, we learned about the fate of all of the passengers that went to Berlin. They were caught in two downpours of rain while in the city. Then, at the end of their return train trip, they all had to walk through a major storm to get from the railway station to the port. The heavy rain and strong winds managed get everyone completely soaked. We were glad we chose the more local excursion.