Historic Centres of Stralsund and Wismar
Historic Centres Of Stralsund And Wismar
Cultural Germany Europe And North America State Of Mecklenburg-western Pomerania (mecklenburg-vorpommern)

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.

The characteristic building material in this region was fired brick, which gave the opportunity to develop a particular type of 'Gothic Brick' which is typical in the countries of the North Sea and the Baltic. On the main elevations the bricks could be moulded in different decorative forms, thus permitting some very elaborate architecture. In its economic position as a leader in the Hanseatic League in its heyday, Stralsund led the way in developing a particular form of construction, an independent architectural language identified as Sundische Gothik (i.e. the Gothic of the region of Sund). The 14th-century town hall of Stralsund is located in front of the west facade of St Nicholas Church and forms a unique synthesis of great variety. The town hall with its outstanding decorated brick elevation facing the old market is the most eloquent example of Sundische Gothik. The building has also some important Baroque additions, such as the two-storeyed colonnade in the courtyard built in the late 17th century. Building activities continued throughout the Renaissance and the later Swedish period and several civic constructions were added. These reflect the architectural forms of the Renaissance, Baroque and neoclassicism, which give their flavour to the townscape, but they respect the medieval rhythm established on the basis of the Lübeck Building Code. The sumptuous Wismar Fürstenhof is an example of these buildings. The new town hall of Wismar was built in the Classicist style in 1817-19, integrating parts of the earlier medieval town hall.