Friday, 29 March 2013

Fernzug nach Poznań

On a wet April day we boarded the Berlin-Warsaw Express and trundled Eastwards over the German border into Poland on a day-trip to Poznań. The train journey takes about three hours, so my advice is to take a good book with you. I loaded up my e-reader with a Jack Reacher novel, so I was well prepared. Not that I had much time to read it at first, as the young Swiss guy and his Chinese wife in our compartment insisted on grilling us about the life and times of Margaret Thatcher (recently deceased), a person they seemed to think any Brit viewed with goddess-like status. Much as we enjoyed reviving memories of Thatcher's Britain, we soon reached 'thatcheration point' and tore ourselves away to another part of the train where we could sit with our American friend.

The Berlin-Warsaw (Berlin-Warszawa or Berlin-Warschau) Express does not really live up to its name 'express', and slowly made its stop-start way across Brandenburg, through the twin border towns of Frankfurt / Słubice, and across the river Oder into Poland. Its distinctive blue-and-white striped livery decorates a mismatch of compartmentalised and open-plan carriages that perhaps have seen better days. But it has a good restaurant car, and a refreshment trolley makes frequent journeys up and down the train. Plus, the view from the window is fascinating; the sense of traveling in a different country hits you as soon as you are over the border as you pass through Polish towns and villages. The landscape is suddenly populated with storks and cranes, and large red deer career out of the train's path into the forest. Jack Reacher was all but forgotten.

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Uwaga! (Warning!)
This is not the Berlin-Warsaw Express of course,
but one of the trains at  Poznań station when we arrived.

On arrival in Poznań, first impressions are of the small, dark, four-platform station with an enormous, partly-constructed steel and glass construction growing over and around it. This is a premonition of what you will find in Poznań itself, at least away from the Altstadt; rather run-down, grey crumbling concrete Soviet-era buildings alongside a few shell-shocked pre-war survivors, towered over by recently erected modern-architecture consumer palaces and city-living apartments. Weaving amongst the streets, the trams are a mixture of quaint, narrow ones straight out of a transport museum, and large super-sleek green-and-yellow tinted-glass people-carriers.


Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Poznań Tram

It has been sixty-eight years since Hitler designated Posen (as then was) a 'Festung' (fortress) - a stronghold to be defended at all cost. The city was in the path of the Red Army's advance on Berlin and the securing of its supply route back to Warsaw. The Soviets arrived in late January 1945 and so began the massive month-long assault known as the Battle of  Poznań. By the time that the last stronghold in the Citadel was taken by the Soviets on 22nd February, 5,000 German soldiers had been killed (many by the guns of their own side if they tried to surrender) and 12,000 Soviets soldiers lay dead. Untold civilians were also killed or maimed, and if they weren't they had to survive in a demolished town. 90% of the city centre was reduced to rubble by shelling and infantry fire in the street battles.

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Hot-Dogi

Poznań was slowly reconstructed during the Soviet era, leaving a 60's legacy of intensive housing development in the style of pre-fabricated concrete blocks of flats (Plattenbauen). After the overthrow of the communist system and resumption of democracy in 1989, the rebuilding and development programme has moved on apace, and looks like it is still in full (if slow) flow. Visiting from Berlin it is like moving from one building site to another.


Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Centrum Mody
Eery, sad-looking brides look down from a first-floor window

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
A Survivor

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
'Second Hand from London'
A store selling hand-me-downs from, well, London I guess

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
The larger-than-life cyclist on the left is street sculpture.


Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
As you near the Market Square, the street-scene gets more interesting

Poznań Old Town is a different story. The area around the Old Market Square (Stary Rynek) was of course heavily damaged during the Battle of Poznań, but was the first area to be re-built during the 1940's and 50's. The emotional importance to the survivors of Poznań in reconstructing the mediaeval core of their city led to painstaking effort in rebuilding it to old plans and drawings of the square. Hence it is the area where all the tourists come, though there weren't that many apart from us on a dull, rainy Friday in April. And worth coming to, it is too! Exploring any new city is in itself an enjoyable experience (even Sheffield, England), but it is the quintessential heart of a city that gives it its personality, and we found it around Stary Rynek.


Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Stary Rynek

Dominating the Market Square is a massive, polychromatic, crenelated, arched and towered fortress. It looks like a Moorish palace. But this is the town hall, and was built in (basically) this Renaissance Mannerist style between 1550 and 1560 (re-built 1945-54). Every day at noon, tourists gather to watch two mechanical goats butt heads below the town hall clock. We got there well after noon so missed this spectacle, having pigged out on large dishes of Polish specialties - including pierogis to die for - at Chatka Babuni restaurant. Well recommended, but not if you are in a hurry or don't have a large appetite. The legend behind the goats on the clock can be read here.


Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Decor inside Chatka Babuni
Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Don't you just hate it when bloggers and tweeters post photos of what they are having for dinner?

Around the Market Square are many interesting and colourful buildings, some in Gothic style, some Renaissance. Some modern. They don't just edge the square, but also stand in it, making the market place seem more closed in and intimate. I believe that for a week in June each year the Stary Rynek is crammed with handicraft stalls and street performers - an event called Jarmark Świętojański, or St John's Fair. Could be worth visiting at that time, but for now the square looked picturesque enough, even if it was almost deserted in the rain.

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
The Apollo Fountain
Poznań Old Market Square

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
A row of merchants' houses (domki budnicze), dating from the 16th century.

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Stary Rynek
With at least one American tourist enjoying herself in the rain.
Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Pubs and restaurants around Stary Rynek.
There are a lot of pubs around Stary Rynek.
Oh, and a pole-dancing club. That is not a pun.
Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
One last view of the Market Square before I wipe the raindrops off of my lens.

Away from the Market Square down a cobbled street stands the magnificently Baroque Kolegiata Matki Boskiej Nieustającej Pomocy i św Marii Magdaleny w Poznaniu (Collegiate Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help / Succour and St. Mary Magdalene in Poznań), better known, for obvious reasons, as the Poznań Fara (a Fara is a parish church). Confusingly it also seems to be known as the Bazylika Mniejsza Matki Bożej Nieustającej Pomocy, Św. Marii Magdaleny i Św. Stanisława Biskupa (Lesser Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Mary Magdelene and St. Stanislaus). A plaque outside the church says that it was once a Jesuit church, built between 1651 and 1705.


Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Approaching the Poznań Fara
Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
the Poznań Fara
Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Sign over door: Koncerty
The Polish language is great for forming plurals - it seems you just add a 'y' or 'i' on the end.
Not like some convoluted languages I could name. *cough* German.

This pink piece of icing-piped confectionery deserves any multitude of fabulous titles when you take a look inside; it is as over-the-top ornate and in-your-face Roman Catholic symbolistic as you would hope and expect. Statues of saints, and candy-twist pillars, and white marble cherubs flying up to vaulted ceilings painted with visions of heaven and dripping with gold. But it was also very cold, and even though it was a wet April day, going back outside the warmth of the air actually hit you like getting off the plane at Nairobi airport.


Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Inside the Poznań Fara
Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
More baroqueness inside the Poznań Fara
Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Back out in the rain

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
And more rainy cobbled streets

There is more than one impressive church in Poznań, and for the other we went for a walk and over the bridge across one arm of the river (the river Warta - not hard to forget) to 'Cathedral Island' (Ostrów Tumski) looking for the Archcathedral Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul.


Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
On Cathedral Island

Cathedral Island is the oldest part of Poznań. Here sometime in the 8th or 9th century a gród (fortified settlement) was established, which in the 10th century became one of the main political centres for the House of Piast, who were themselves the first ruling dynasty of Poland. Mieszko the First of Poland (930 - 992) was of that dynasty. In the same way as British kings of the time did, Mieszko regularly moved between ducal palaces in his domain, taking his court with him. One of his most important palaces was here on Cathedral Island in Poznań, and archaeologists believe that there was a chapel attached, perhaps used by Mieszko's wife Dobrawa and her Bohemian attendants. If so, then this was the first Christian temple in Poland, and it occupied the spot where the Church of the Virgin Mary stands now on Cathedral Island (it is the building on the left in the above photo.

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Archcathedral Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul

In 966, Mieszko the First was himself baptised, possibly at the palace chapel in Poznań, possibly after a long talk with his wife or her Bohemian attendants about The Good News. Certainly, about this time the first church proper was built next to the chapel, which took on cathedral status in 968 after Bishop Jordan was sent to Poland by the Pope. It was dedicated to St Peter, after the Basilica in The Vatican. This first church lasted some seventy years before being destroyed by Bretislaus I, Duke of Bohemia who captured Poznań in 1039. What is it with these Bohemians? One year they are converting the King of Poland to Christianity, a few decades later they are ransacking cathedrals. Tsk.Anyway, it was rebuilt, in the Romanesque style.

The cathedral of St Peter also took on the patronage of St Paul when Pope Pius VII elevated the status of the cathedral to that of an archcathedral in 1821 (no, I don't know what the difference between a cathedral and an archcathedral is either). After a long existence and one or two rebuilds after being razed by fire, it succumbed to its last conflagration on 15th February 1945 during the liberation of Poznań by the Red Army, and was rebuilt in the gothic style it had taken on in the fourteenth century. The cathedral was reopened on 29 June 1956.

In 1962, Pope John XXIII gave the church the title of minor basilica. In 1983 Pope John Paul II visited the Archcathedral Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul. Of this spot, Pope JP2 said 'Poland began here… Poland began in Poznań'.

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Welcome to  Poznań! Statue of Pope John Paul II on Cathedral Island

Also beginning in Poznań were Polish demonstrations against the communist government. Workers at the Cegielski Factory demanding pay compensation for a raised work quota and better conditions protested in Poznań on June 28, 1956 at 6:00am. They took to the streets and were soon joined by workers at other plants and students. Between 9:00am and 11:00am a crowd of around 100,000 protestors assembled in the town centre on Adam Mickiewicz Square in front of the Imperial Castle and near the Urząd Bezpieczeństwa (UB: Department of Security = secret Police) building. They were met with 400 tanks and 10,000 soldiers. The demonstrations, which spread around the city, were bloodily suppressed by the squads of the People's Regular Army and the corps of Internal Security. During the subsequent clash, firing on the demonstrators broke out resulting in the deaths of between 57 and 100 people. One of  them was a 13-year-old boy, Romek Strzałkowski, who has become a symbol of the Poznan 1956 events. Subsequent protests led to the so-called October Revolution or Polish Thaw, when a less Soviet-controlled government was allowed (by the Soviets) to come to power in Poland.

Many historians consider the Poznań 1956 protests to be an important milestone in the modern history of Poland, and one of the events that precipitated the fall of communism in Poland.

On the 25th anniversary of the June uprising, a monument comprising of two 21-metre tall steel crosses, joined with a knot-tied arm and a sculpture of an eagle's head, was erected in Adam Mickiewicz Square. On the left-side cross there is the date of 1956, commemorating the protests, and on the right-side cross there are the dates of workers' later protests from other Polish cities: 1968, 1970, 1976, 1980 and 1981.

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Poznań Crosses

By the way, Adam Mickiewicz Square is named after the national poet of that name, who has been adopted as the patron of the University of Poznań. As well as being a leading Romantic poet, dramatist, and essayist he agitated for the independence of his home region (now a part of Belarus) from the Russian Empire. So, he was kind of like a cross between Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron. Anyway, his gigantic statue stands beside the Poznań Crosses monument, looking towards the University bearing his name.


Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Statue of Adam Mickiewicz, one of Poland's "Three Bards" ("Trzej Wieszcze")
 Lived 24 December 1798  -  26 November 1855

Whilst we are in the area, I noticed that in front of the Imperial Castle (this part now being the Mathematics Institute) is a monument to Marian Rejewski.


Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13

Rejewski was a Polish mathematician and cryptologist who in 1932 deduced the secret internal wiring of Germany's Enigma machine. Five weeks before the German invasion of Poland, Rejewski and his colleagues at the Polish Armed Forces' Biuro Szyfrów (Cipher Bureau) passed on their findings of Enigma decryption to French and British Intelligence representatives. Without their research and insight, the Wizards of Bletchley Park might never have broken the Enigma Code, and who knows how the war would have ended then.

Talking about the war ... we finished our day in Poznań by taking a walk up to Poznań Citadel. This was the site of the Prussian-built Fortress that Hitler had ordered his troops to defend to the last bullet, and is now a pleasant park. There is very little sign left of the polygonal Citadel; what bricks remained after the final stages of the Battle of Poznań in February 1945 were plundered to rebuild Poznań. But there is a military museum here in the remains of the fort, as well as cemeteries and memorials to the Polish, British, Soviet and Commonwealth soldiers who died fighting here. In fact, the remains of the POW's who are depicted in the film 'The Great Escape' are buried here in the Old Garrison Cemetery.

Citadel Park, with its elevated location and leafy walkways, would probably be a lovely place for a stroll, but time was catching up with us, and we needed to grab a bite to eat before catching the Berlin-Warsaw Express home. By now the light and the rain were too bad to take any photos (hence none whatsoever of the park), but here is a closing shot of a puppy and a sphinx, which depicts totally my overall impression of Poznań * :

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Puppy and Sphinx

* answers on an email, please.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Immer Winter

It seems like it is a long, long Winter this year. Though we have had Winters with more snow, this year feels like we have had fewer days when it has ever totally cleared. After a week when it seemed like Spring was coming, and the Council workers had started sweeping the grit off of the pavements, temperatures plummeted and snow blew in from the East.

Ah well, it makes for some pretty photos. We just wish that we could finally go riding on the new bikes we bought ourselves for Christmas.

Here are some photos from this weekend taken walking just north of our home:

One of the Drei Heilige Pfühle (Three Holy Puddles!) 

Liepnitzsee

Liepnitzsee

Liepnitzsee

Skater on Wandlitzsee

Wandlitzsee

Wandlitzsee
The Buddah in our garden

View of our wood-shed
At least the neighbour's Solaranlage is getting some sunshine!
Our garden again.
Nicht Barbecue Wetter!
But all is not a bleak forecast. I have seen fawns in the fields, and long strings of migrating cranes in the skies. The bird-feeder outside my study window is getting more active, including a whole family of blue tits that survived the Winter. A pair of siskins have also started visiting; here is a photo of the male:

Male siskin




Sunday, 3 March 2013

Wismar - Haunt of Nosferatu

One of the most picturesque towns in the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is surely Wismar on the Baltic Coast. For sure, MeckPomm's capital Schwerin is pretty enough, especially with  its fantasy castle, but Wismar retains its authenticity as a trading port almost un-touched by the blight of East German -era 'modernisation' (or at least, so the Altstadt struck us). We visited Wismar on a cold but sunny day in early March, in the delightful company of a couple of Berlin friends - A German Photografin originally from Eisenhüttenstadt and a Mid-Western American gal.

The rail journey from Berlin on Regional Express takes about three hours; it is the same route that goes to Schwerin, and then another thirty minutes further. You can get there quicker with InterConnex (two hours twenty-five), but then you can't use the good-value Schönes-Wochenende ticket.

Wismar was one of the founding port-towns of the Hanseatic League, the powerful alliance of merchants and market towns trading in the medieval period across the Baltic and North Sea coasts and inland water-routes. Not only saleable goods flowed along the trade routes, but also cultural ideas such as religion and architecture. It was not surprising then that almost as soon as we got off of the train we encountered ware-houses with elaborate stepped gable-ends that we had seen in other Hansa towns such as Stralsund, Rostock, and Lübeck.

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Step-gabled warehouses
Am Poeler Tor
Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
More gabled warehouses, Wismar
The other architectural innovation frequently found in Hansa towns is Backsteingotik ('brick Gothic'). In a flat landscape devoid of natural rock, fired clay brick is the only endurable building material. In the towns of Northern Europe, construction with the simple slab of brick has been elevated to an art-form. Mixed red or black clay bricks, and blue or green glazed bricks, interposed with moulded ornamentation, towering high in gravity-defying emulations of the Gothic stone cathedrals of Southern Europe. And thus producing gargantuan buildings such as the Nikolaikirche (church of St Nicholas - as the patron saint of sailors you also get a lot of these in Hanseatic sea-ports).

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Impressive Backsteingotik pediment on the Nikolaikirche, Wismar
The Nikolaikirche is a truly imposing building that dominates the St-Nikolai-Kirchhof like a moored tanker dominates a sea-dock. The nautical analogy isn't so far-fetched, as the German word for a church nave is 'Kirchenschiff', where 'Schiff' also means boat or ship. The Nikolaikirche's 'Mittelschiff' is a lofty 37 metres high, making it the highest Backsteingotik nave in Germany after the Marienkirche in Lübeck (which is only 1.5m higher).

The tower is no dwarf either, being 120m high.

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Nikolaikirche tower
It is a bit dizzying pointing your camera up at that tower, and you can't step too far back because of the rows of gabled buildings crowding around the base, so here is a pleasing composition of brick and stone at the base of the tower.

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour

Inside the church there is a forest of brick columns from floor to ceiling, imitating the gothic columns of large carved stone cathedrals such as at Köln. In fact you see that these light bricks mortared together make for better material to solidify the soaring visions of gothic architecture - you can reach these inspiring heights without the need for supporting flying-buttresses holding the whole thing up.

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Looking down the nave to the altar in the Nikolaikirche, Wismar
The church interior is a chiaroscuro of impressions, as the high-up tall narrow windows cast piercing sunlight into the darkness, picking out details on pews, altars, and gravestones.

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Carved rabbit
The lighting conditions aren't conducive to photography without a tripod (Verboten!), so take these photos as an indicator only. The atmosphere of the place, and the solemn weight of time and the bulk of bricks, will make even the most hardened of atheists pause for reflection.

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Light and shade in the Nikolaikirche, Wismar
Over the main entrance to the church a baroque Jesus welcomes the faithful on-board in a striped arch of red and black brick ...

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Entrance to Nikolaikirche.
The inscription reads:
"Ich bin die Tür. So jemand durch mich eingeht, der wird selig werden."
... which is echoed by a secular building on the Marktplatz: der Alter Schwede (the old Swede), formerly a warehouse built around the same time as the Nikolaikirche (1380) and now a restaurant.

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Alter Schwede, Wismar.
Arch over entrance doorway with statue of jolly Swede person wearing a bearskin.
"So jemand durch mich eingeht, der wird schwedisch werden."
This might only have been a warehouse, but it shares with the Nikolaikirche the same Backsteingotik ornamentation of towering facades, arched windows, moulded columns, and blue-glazed bricks.

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Alter Schwede, looking up.
This unique kind of building style has meant that, along with Stralsund, Wismar's Altstadt has the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you are charmed by the look of Backsteingotik, and haven't done so already, then I recommend a visit to Stralsund where it is even more prevalent (though you will also encounter it in innumerable towns all over Northern Germany).

The Swedish connection exemplified by the name of the Alter Schwede is not just random, by the way. Wismar was militarily occupied by Swedish troops in 1628 and became the heavily fortified capital of Sweden's German possessions until it was leased for 100 years to the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in 1803. It wasn't until the lease was up that Sweden gave up any claim to the town in 1903.

Near to the Alter Schwede is the richly-ornamented Wasserkunst, a twelve-sided pagoda-like building with wrought-iron grill work and a lantern topping a copper dome.

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Wasserkunst on the Market Place, Wismar
Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Wasserkunst, Wismar
The Wasserkunst is actually nothing more than a water tank and fountain, built in 1602 and fed by wooden pipes from a water tower to provide drinking water to the town. Actually, I say 'nothing more than' as if fresh clean water wasn't important to the town, and of course it was, especially to a foreign-occupied town always in danger of being beseiged. But, you know. A bit OTT?

On the east side of the Wasserkunst are a bronze mermaid and merman (Nix und Nixe) from which the fountain pours. However, the originals were later removed to the city museum during more prurient times, and these are copies re-erected in 2005.

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Nix and Nixe
aka Adam and Eve
aka Frauloch & Mannloch (!)
The one-acre square Market Place in Wismar is a mix of architectural styles, ranging from the Backsteingotic through the neo-classicism of the Rathaus, to Jugendstil/Art Nouveau.

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Wismar's Market Square.
The streets off of the Market Square also have their fair share of interesting old buildings of different styles, sometimes all within the same building. Also lots of places to stop for a coffee too.

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
That's not us, by the way. Too busy snapping photos.
And why were so many apothecaries in Germany named after either lions or eagles?
Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Hanseatic gabled town-.house with Gründerzeit additions,
in-between a basically Jugendstil building and timber-framed Fachwerkhaus.

You may wonder why I have titled this blog 'Wismar - Haunt of Nosferatu'. It is because I had seen this market square before, quite a while ago in a blue-tinted German black-and-white movie, starring Max Schreck with bat-ears and unfeasibly long fingernails. I am talking about the 1922 film Nosferatu, directed by F.W. Murnau, and featuring the famous scene with the shadow of Nosferatu climbing the stairs, then with the shadows of his fingers reaching out for the prone sleeping body of a female victim. You know the one. (If not, do a google for 'Nosferatu online' and you will find lots of opportunities to watch the full movie for free). The film is based on Dracula of course, but as the production company didn't have any right to Bram Stoker's creation - it being still under copyright with royalties going to Stoker's widow- the screen-writer Henrik Galeen had to be carefully inventive with the vampire plot.

Anyway, 19th century Wismar became the setting for Count Orlok's (Nosferatu to his mates) reign of terror after he traveled by sea from Transylvania, presumably taking the place of Whitby in the novel. As you wander around Wismar's narrow cobble-stoned streets with its old gabled buildings, you can well imagine that you have been transported back to the 19th century. Above all, Wismar is a Romantic and Gothic place, which engages your senses and makes a tear in the hurly-burly of the modern world.

But though long-fingered vampires (probably) don't still haunt these alleyways, the spectre of death does still make unexpected appearances. This small street is named 'Sargmacherstraße' - coffin maker street.

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Sargmacherstraße, Wismar
The street perhaps came by its moniker because of its proximity to the graveyard of the Marienkirche (St Mary's Church). There isn't much to see of the 14th century church except for its 82.5 metre bell-tower constructed - you guessed it - in Backsteingotik. It was badly bombed during 1945, and then everything except the tower demolished in 1960. The story goes that the 32.3 metre nave and choir were in reasonable condition and could have been restored, but the East German authorities (this was DDR time) deliberately blew them up and reduced them to gravel to be used in construction. This was supposedly a lesson to those of the town's citizens who kept clamoring on about 'history' and cultural heritage'. The authorities allowed the bell-tower to remain as it was a beacon for shipping.

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Bell-tower of the Marienkirche, Wismar
Nearby is the third of Wismar's medieval churches, the cruciform St Georgenkirche. Despitze being heavily damaged by the British RAF, it also survived the Soviet regime (though in a dilapidated state) and was restored to its Backsteingotik glory between 1990 and 2010. Like its sister churches it was built tall and massive.

How tall? The tower is 59 metres tall. That's over twice the height of the Brandenburg Gate.

How massive? 78 metres long by up to 57 meters wide by 35 meters to the top of the roof-vaults. That means the main part of the church could be filled by about 4,446 ping-pong balls in my estimation. Yes, the train journey back was long.

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Transept of Georgenkirche, Wismar.
Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Georgenkirche. Enough internal space for 4,446 ping-pong balls. Maybe.
Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Georgenkirche, Wismar
It's another big un.
Growing slightly weary of churches, and dizzy from looking up at Backsteingotik towers, we decided to take a trip to the seaside. So, we took a bus heading NW, and after thirty minutes got off near Leibeslaube Campingplatz. There we had a relaxing walk along the sandy beach, surveying the Ostsee (Baltic) and listening to the gentle lap of water as the sea-wind blew through our hair.

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour

Totally blissed out by our short excursion we returned to Wismar and the harbour area near the Wassertor, and indulged in Kaffe und Kuchen. Or heißer Sanddorn mit Schuss. Or a great big Becher of ice-cream. What we could have done with were pizzas, but the Italian place we went to didn't start doing them until 5pm. It was 4.30. Still, the Sanddorn was lecker!

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Italian restaurant by the Wassertor.
Don't ask for a pizza until after 5pm.
Soon we would have to catch the train back to Berlin, but first we had a quick look around the docks. They seemed to have nicely renovated buildings amongst modern container storage and lifting cranes, but crucially it felt like a living, working port still, right there on the edge of the Altstadt.

Photo of Wismar by Andie Gilmour
Ship masts in Wismar harbour.
You might just make out the red and white striped pennants; as a remnant of the town's independent status its shipping is still allowed to fly the red and white flag of Wismar.


Another wonderful Tagesausflug, proving once again that: though you might be based in Berlin, there is much more to discover beyond the Berliner Stadtring (A 100).

So don't be afraid of venturing into Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern - the locals don't bite you know.

Not unless they are called Count Orlok anyway.