Monthly Archives: March 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #206: Hanseatic City of Lübeck

Posted by on March 13, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #206: Hanseatic City of Lübeck

UNESCO World Heritage Site #206: Hanseatic City of Lübeck


From the World Heritage inscription:

Lübeck is the city which, more than any other, exemplifies the power and historic role of the Hanseatic League. Founded in 1143 by Heinrich der Löwe (Henry the Lion) on a small island of the Baltic coast, Lübeck was the former capital and Queen City of the Hanseatic League from 1230 to 1535. As such it was one of the principal cities of this league of merchant cities which monopolized the trade of the Baltic and the North Sea, just as Venice and Genoa exerted their control over the Mediterranean.

The plan of Lübeck, with its blade-like outline determined by two parallel traffic routes running along the crest of the island, dates to the beginnings of the site and testifies to the expansion of the commercial centre of Northern Europe. To the west lay the richest quarters with the trading houses and the homes of the rich merchants and to the east were small traders and artisans. The very strict socio-economic organization emerges through the singular disposition of the Buden (small workshops) set in the back courtyards of the rich homes, which were accessed through a narrow network of alleyways (Gänge); other lots on the courtyard (Stiftungshöfe) illustrated the charity of the merchants who housed there the impoverished widows of their colleagues.

Lübeck remained an urban monument characteristic of a significant historical structure, but the city was severely damaged during the Second World War, in which almost 20% of it, including the most famous monumental complexes, were destroyed – the cathedral, the churches of St Peter and St Mary and especially the Gründungsviertel, the hilltop quarter where the gabled houses of the rich merchants clustered. Selective reconstruction has permitted the replacement of the most important churches and monuments.

One of the benefits of visiting world heritage sites is that it often takes me to places that I might not otherwise have visited. Lübeck is one such city.

I knew nothing about Lübeck prior to my visits to Stralsund and Wismar, which were both Hanseatic cities. Lübeck was not only a Hanseatic city, but was where the Hanseatic League was founded in 1159. It was one of the largest cities in the alliance and served as its de facto capital for several hundred years.

Because of its prominence in the Hansa, many architectural features which originally appeared in Lübeck can be found in other cities around the Baltic.

The building in the photo is the Holsten Gate, which is probably the best known structure in Lübeck. If it looks like it is tilting inward it isn’t an optical illusion. It is titling inward…and forward….and sinking. It is literally twisting in all three dimensions due to the ground beneath it shifting.

There is an argument to be made that Lübeck should have been listed with Stralsund and Wismar as part of their serial site, however the historic importance of Lübeck as a city is enough to set it apart.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #205: Historic Centres of Stralsund and Wismar

Posted by on March 12, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #205: Historic Centres of Stralsund and Wismar

UNESCO World Heritage Site #205: Historic Centres of Stralsund and Wismar


From the World Heritage inscription:

Wismar and Stralsund, leading centres of the Wendish section of the Hanseatic League from the 13th to the 15th centuries and major administrative and defence centres in the Swedish kingdom in the 17th and 18th centuries, contributed to the development and diffusion of brick construction techniques and building types, characteristic features of Hanseatic towns in the Baltic region, as well as the development of defence systems in the Swedish period.

The historic towns of Wismar and Stralsund are situated in north-eastern Germany on the Baltic Sea coast. The cities were founded as part of the German colonization of the Slav territories in the late 12th or early 13th centuries. Both cities emerged as important trading places in the 14th century as part of the Hanseatic League. After the Thirty Years’ War, the towns came under Swedish rule from the 17th to the early 19th centuries. Under the subsequent changing political situations there was a period of stagnation, but from the second half of the 19th century a gradual economic improvement began. The historic centres survived the Second World War bombardments and were part of the German Democratic Republic until unification.

The two towns demonstrate features that are often similar, although there are also differences that make them complementary. The town of Wismar was originally surrounded by moats, but these were filled on the landward side. The medieval port on the north side has been largely preserved. The so-called Grube is today testimony of the old man-made canal that used to link the harbour area in the north with ponds in the south-east. The almost circular old town is now surrounded by urban development that began in the second half of the 19th century. The streets of the old town retain their medieval form; the main east-west street is the Lübsche Strasse, tracing the ancient trade route of the Via Regia, which passes through the central market place with the town hall. The overall form and the silhouette of the town have retained their historic aspect.

The town of Stralsund was built on an island slightly oval in shape. The overall form and silhouette of the town have been particularly well preserved for this reason. The two focal points in the town are the old market in the north and the new market in the south. The old market is delimited by the rather exceptional ensemble of the Church of St Nicholas and the town hall. Both towns were subject to the Lübeck Building Code, which regulated the size and form of each lot. The cities differed somewhat in their economic structures. Stralsund was oriented towards the long-distance and intermediate trade of the Hanseatic League, requiring more warehouse space, whereas Wismar laid emphasis on production and so housed large numbers of craftsmen and agriculturalists. As a result the houses of Stralsund are larger than those of Wismar, where the total number of gabled houses is more numerous.

I had the pleasure of visiting both Stralsund and Wismar during my 2013 German World Heritage trip.

Both cities were former members of the Hanseatic League, were controlled by Sweden for significant periods of time and were very rich by the standards of the 12-15th centuries.

Stralsund
Formerly known as the “Pearl of the Hanesa”, Stralsund is home to several architecturally significant buildings. The town hall (Rathaus) is best known for its facade and is one of the best examples of a mideval German town hall in existence. The opulence of the facade is evidence of the wealth the city as is the sheer size of St. James church, which is the size of most cathedrals in Europe. There are also many excellent examples of step-gabled gothic merchant houses in the city.

Wismar
One of the first cities in the Hanseatic League, Wismar was home to over 180 breweries for a population of 5,000. Beer production and trading make Wismar a wealthy city. St. Gregory’s church and St. Mary’s church in Wismar are both cathedral size buildings, standing only a few blocks from each other, which were built by the merchants and tradesmen of the city. Damaged during WWII and during the communist era, both churches are no longer used for their intended purpose. St. Gregory’s was rebuilt and is used for concerts and events, where as St. Mary’s was mostly destroyed by the GDR and now only the clock tower stands. Both churches were some of the largest brick buildings in the world at the time of their construction.

Neither Wismar nor Stralsund get the same level of attention as larger cities in Germany, but I found both to be highly educational and provided a unique insite into the period of time of the Hanseatic League. The cities are a 90 minute drive from each other and can be visited as part of a larger trip visiting other former Hanseatic League cities such as Lübeck.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #204: Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany

Posted by on March 11, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #204: Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany

UNESCO World Heritage Site #204: Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany

From the World Heritage inscription:

The Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany are a serial property comprising fifteen components. They represent an outstanding example of undisturbed, complex temperate forests and exhibit the most complete and comprehensive ecological patterns and processes of pure stands of European beech across a variety of environmental conditions. They contain an invaluable genetic reservoir of beech and many species associated and dependent on these forest habitats.

The Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany are indispensable to understanding the history and evolution of the genus Fagus, which, given its wide distribution in the Northern Hemisphere and its ecological importance, is globally significant. These undisturbed, complex temperate forests exhibit the most complete and comprehensive ecological patterns and processes of pure stands of European beech across a variety of environmental conditions and represent all altitudinal zones from seashore up to the forest line in the mountains. Beech is one of the most important elements of forests in the Temperate Broad-leaf Forest Biome and represents an outstanding example of the re-colonization and development of terrestrial ecosystems and communities after the last ice age, a process which is still ongoing. They represent key aspects of processes essential for the long term conservation of natural beech forests and illustrate how one single tree species came to absolute dominance across a variety of environmental parameters.

This world heritage site is serial site comprised of 15 locations spread across three different countries (Germany, Ukraine and Slovakia).

The site I visited was Jasmund National Park in Germany.

Jasmund is the smallest national park in Germany and is only a 45 minute drive from the city of Stralsund. Oddly enough, although Jasmund is on the world heritage list because of its beech forests, its main attraction is its chalk cliffs which overlook the Baltic Sea.

Even though the park is small, there is enough to do to make for an interesting visit. There are many kilomters of hiking trails and the visitor center is located at the chalk cliffs. There are also local municipal buses which run regularly from the nearby city of Sassnitz. Jasmund also has one of the best interpretative centers I have ever seen. A significant amount of time, money and effort went into it. Audio tours of the center are available in German and English.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Gary’s Big German World Heritage Adventure

Posted by on March 7, 2013

The route of my road trip

Starting Monday, March 11 I will spend 2-weeks driving around Germany with the goal of exploring 28 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 27 of which I have not previously visited.*

I am excited to be doing this trip for several reasons. I love road trips because there is a freedom you have when driving that doesn’t exist when you are traveling by train or plane. I love visiting UNESCO sites and Germany has the 5th highest number of them in the world (37). My ancestors also came from Germany in the 19th Century. Outside of a great aunt who spoke German, I didn’t experience much in the way of German culture growing up. (Being German became highly unfashionable in the United States with its entry into WWI.)

The sites are a mix of 19th century industrial sites, forests, cathedrals, monasteries, Roman ruins, paleontology digs and gardens.
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