Sunday, 28 September 2014

Stendal, Capital of the Cradle of Prussia


Stendal was an important Hanseatic town and has a history stretching back a thousand years. It was the largest town in the 'Altmark', the region to the West of the Elbe that through German eastward expansion with the conquest of Slav-controlled land became the Margraviate of Brandenburg. The Ascanian dynasty of Brandenburgian Margraves gave way to the Hohenzollern dynasty, under whom Brandenburg expanded further to become the Prussian and thence German Empire. For this reason Otto von Bismarck, who was born in the region, near Stendal, called the Altmark 'the Cradle of Prussia'. Even today the red Brandenburg eagle takes up half the official town coat-of-arms, even though Stendal is now in Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt) and not Brandenburg.

As a member of the Hanseatic league and with its own guild of sailors trading across the Baltic and North Seas, wealth poured into Stendal. This was expressed in the building of fortified city walls with elaborate gates, numerous large churches and a cathedral, progressive educational institutions, and elaborate town houses for the rich merchants around the market place. And all in the typical Backsteingotik which predominates wherever the Hansa merchants showed off their taste in architecture.

Stendal was also, from 1640 until the Soviets left in 1994, an important garrison town, The first Luftwaffe paratroopers were established in 1936 at nearby Stendal-Borstel airfield, to whom the famous boxer Max Schmeling was assigned for a period. The presence of troops here  attracted bombing during the Second World War. Stendal also happened to be on the direct route for Allied bombers heading for Berlin 120km East. The town mayor surrendered the city to American forces on 13th April 1945; a move that Joseph Goebbels denounced as ehrlos (dishonourable). Wenck's 12th Army surrendered his forces at the town hall on 4th May and the British army took over administration of Stendal until it was handed over to the Soviets on 1st of July 1945.

Lots of history then, but what's actually there for a visitor to see at Stendal? If you have visited other former-Hanseatic mediaeval German towns that then became part of East Germany and since re-unification have carried out major renovations, then you will know what to expect. Stendal does not disappoint, and so you will find:

Two former gates into the (now gone) city wall, both constructed in Backseteingotik.
Tangermünder Tor:

Tangermünder Tor

Uenglinger Tor:

Uenglinger Tor

Lots of old doorways:

A newly renovated shopping high street:

Monuments to former VIP's, in this case Johann Joachim Winckelmann (pioneering art historian and archaeologist):

A Marienkirche (St Mary's) with bridged twin towers:

Prussian eagles (here on the Schwarzer Adler hotel):

A Roland Statue on the Marktplatz - only this one has gone on a beauty treatment course. Oh yes, there are also lots of major renovation-works still going on in Stendal. It might all be finished in ten years time:

Pristine newly-cobbled streets and buildings that look sparklingly new:

The remains of an old village feel:

Impressive red-brick schools, like this which was the grammar school, established in 1338:

Lots of open parks adorned with graffitied ugly DDR-era statues:

A lot of buildings still in need of TLC:

Renovated Fachwerkhäuser (timber-framed buildings):

A cathedral:

Modern cutting-edge architecture cultural buildings, like the Theater der Altmark:

A rebuilt Pulverturm (where they used to store the town's gunpowder. Inevitably these were periodically blown up):

Elegant Gründerzeit town-houses:

And a large red-brick railway station:

By the way, we combined our visit to Stendal with a trip to Lüneberg. This is possible with a Schönes-Wochenende ticket, but it did mean getting up at 6am on a Saturday, and not making it back until nearly midnight.

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