This summer I got to see two of the most important large bodies of water in the history of European trade: the North Sea and the Baltic. The North Sea lived up to her reputation for grey ferocity, as seem earlier. The Baltic? Was a bit different.
Recall what I said earlier about none of the major port cities being on the sea, but hiding in estuaries and up rivers for protection from the elements and from hostile neighbors (Vikings, Swedes, Danes, Swedes, Swedes, pirates, Swedish pirates)? The major Baltic Hanse cities were Lübeck, the Queen of the Baltic, Rostock, Stralsund, Wismar, Danzig, Greifswald, and Stettin. They were called the Wendisch Hanse as opposed to the German Hanse, because of the greater percentage of the population that were Slavs. That didn’t matter to the people doing business. What mattered was business.
Because there is so much history in the hanse cities, they suffer from the same problem as other old places in Europe, if you are trying to do construction. As they say in Cologne, “The first man to find a wall, cries.” Below is what you really do not want to see if you are trying to construct a new building.
While trade was good, it was very good, and a lot of the funds from that trade went into church construction and church decoration. We’ve seen that in Bruges, and here, in an altarpiece from the 1300s. The top figure is St. Anthony (note the “Tantony Pig”) and then St. Margaret of Antioch. In standard iconography, St. Margaret is either standing on or beside the pagan king’s dragon. Not choking the daylights out of the beast and preparing to throw it past the priest celebrating the mass and into the congregation
But Rostock is not on the Baltic exactly. To see the water, we first went to Stralsund, farther east, and then north to Rügen.
Which is a lovely island covered in tourists, with a national park that is full of tourists. Did I mention that lots of Germans like to get away to the Baltic Coast during summer? And tourist season had not really started yet.
The weather proved to be almost ideal, cool in the morning with light breezes and mild skies. We found the parking area for the visitors’ center, and took a shuttle bus through some very dark woods to the gates of place. And discovered that after storms a few years ago had caused part of a cliff to fall into the sea, the main viewpoint was closed off and a new visitors’ experience center had been constructed a safe distance away from the sea, with funding and supervision from the World Wildlife Federation. And a hefty entrance fee. However… However, there is still a trail through the woods that takes you to some other sea-views, where you are on your own without the crowds or the lectures and if you fall off the edge it’s still your own fault for not acting like a responsible adult. You can guess where my group ended up.
The Baltic is one of those seas that Americans don’t worry too much about, at least until the Russians start making noise and losing subs or having subs pop up in other people’s waters. But it was a critical trade access right into modern times. By land it was two months trip from Riga, Latvia to Lübeck if all went well. It only took a week or so by sea, and a kog carried as much cargo as forty-four wagons, and only need a twelve man crew.
The island also has beaches, but we were not interested in doing the beach scene per se, and since there were not that many tourists, many of the beaches were not really “ready” for visitors. Our goal was to see the North Sea and the Baltic, and so we did.
I do agree with how Germans “do” beach visits. You own or rent a Strandkorb, literally a beach-basket, really a large wicker chair with a built in sunshade that you can move to keep the sun and wind off, a padded seat, storage cubbies for drinks and books and food and towels and hats and so on, and high sides to block both the wind and your view of the tens of thousands of other people on the beach. Sort of the perfect introvert’s beach experience. By large, I mean it is slightly narrower than a love-seat.