August 17, 2015
On the second to the last day of our Baltic cruise, the ship was back in Germany. The port here is technically called Warnemünde (which means “the mouth of the Warne River”), but Rostock is right next to it, so it took only a few minutes on a bus to arrive in town. Our guide, Juliana, told us that over 100 cruise ships dock here every year during the summer season – which is a lot, comparatively speaking: the other popular destinations we’ve visited – Stockholm, St. Petersburg, Helsinki and Copenhagen get more than 200, but these are much larger and well-known metropolitan areas.
History and geography
Rostock is the most important city in the state of Mecklenberg-Pomerania. Situated as a port on the Baltic Sea gave it a prominent role in shipping and trading since medieval times, and it, like Lübeck, was a member of the Hanseatic League. Rostock was previously part of East Germany. There are many concrete block apartments built in the 1970s, Soviet-style, but today they have been renovated and are quite nice inside. There are many newer apartment buildings as well.
In this part of Germany, salaries tend to be lower than their counterparts in the western part of the country. Juliana’s father often said, “In the past we had plenty of money, but nothing to buy. Now there is a lot we could buy, but we have little money!” in a nutshell, this is the difference financially for the people of former East Germany between the Soviet era and today, although they enjoy many freedoms they didn’t have then.
What Juliana knows of the Soviet era she learned from her parents, who grew up during that period. She was born in 1988, only one year prior to reunification.
Near Rostock is a coal-burning plant – 40% of their energy comes from coal, a surprising fact to me, but the current government is committed to converting to renewable energy sources in the near future.
2/3 of the land in this area is used for agriculture. Rostock is well known for its delicious and abundant strawberries. Grain and canola are important products. During its heyday in the Hanseatic League, which still influences the area, the #1 export was beer.
Rostock has three breweries – although in the past it had more – one large one and two micro-breweries. Beer was considered healthy to drink. In the past the alcohol content was lower and children all drank beer. Today the minimum drinking age is 16.
Rostock was founded in the 11th century. It was a walled city with 22 city gates, of which only four remain. Most of the others were destroyed during World War II. Its architecture contains Russian influence. Long Street (Lange Strasse) was named this because it was the longest street in medieval Rostock. It retains the name today even though there are many longer streets.
Over 60% of the city was destroyed by Allied bombs in WWII. After that, Germany was divided into East and West, the east being dominated by the Soviet Union until reunification in 1989. Many people in Rostock do not know English, compared to other German cities, because children were required to study Russian as a second language in school, and those who showed talent were able to study English or other languages. Nowadays, English is the 2nd language of most German students.
Kröpelin Gate is one of the gates to the city and is now a museum. It is the highest of the remaining four gates. Originally it was two stories high, but as the city grew more prosperous, it was built up to six stories – a difference can be seen in the color of the bricks.
Behind this gate is the main shopping area, for pedestrian traffic only.
The University of Rostock
In the 1490s, the University of Rostock was founded. Female figures on the façade of the main building represent the four departments of the original university. The Latin words over the entrance are translated as “Many theories, only one truth.” The university now has 16,000 students, with limited admission based on entrance examinations. There are many international students.
A humorous true story regards Albert Einstein, who in 1919 received an honorary doctorate from the University of Rostock. The university was giving out honorary doctorates to prominent scientists, but they forgot about Einstein at first – when they realized that he should be given one of the honorary degrees, all the departments had given out their allotment, except the department of medicine, which had one left to give out. So they gave Einstein an honorary doctorate in medicine, a field he had never studied!
(You can see a German Drehorgel on You Tube: Drehorgelspieler 1.)
Convent and church
On the oldest street in Rostock is the Convent of the Holy Cross, founded by Queen Margarete of Denmark. She was on her way back to Denmark from Rome, where the pope had given her a splinter from the cross of Jesus. Off the coast of Rostock, her ship wrecked, and she was rescued by a fisherman. She took this as a sign from God that she was meant to stay in Rostock and do God’s work. So she stayed and founded the convent, where she lived the rest of her life as a nun.
Later the convent became home for single women – spinsters, age 30 and above! They built some houses within the premises to house these women. Some say that professors from the university came to give the ladies “private lessons”!
The Gothic church on the convent grounds now belongs to the university. There is a house that used to be a brewery, a common industry for nuns and monks.
Gebhardt von Blücher
In an adjacent park, there is a statue of Gebhardt von Blücher, a war hero. He was a field marshal in the Prussian army who led his troops against Napoleon in the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig in 1813 and the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He became Rostock’s first honorary citizen, and also was made honorary citizen of Hamburg and Berlin. On two sides of this monument are bas relief pictures of the battles von Blücher fought in. One of them shows von Blücher lying on the ground, after being thrown by his horse. There is a guardian angel who is shiny from people rubbing it. Von Blücher’s shoe has also been rubbed shiny – his left shoe is said to give good luck to students in their exams (after touching the guardian angel). OK, it’s superstition, but Juliana says it seems to work!
Fountain of Joy
In a nearby square is a fountain with various statues in it. Its official name is the “Fountain of Joy.” However, no one seems to know it by this name – it’s much better known as the “pornographic fountain”! Looking at the statues, it is easy to see why. There are two statues of nude couples, one in which they are just lying together – the woman’s body is shiny from people sitting on it to pose for pictures – and in the other, the woman is over the man in a suggestive pose (although not actually copulating!). There’s also a statue of two dogs who appear to be embracing and possibly copulating. A boar is depicted doing a somersault – very strange!
The seagulls that fly over Rostock have a bad reputation – people say they are mean. Actually, they are very bold and seem to have no fear of humans. They have been known to hover over restaurants, then dive down and snatch people’s food right out of their hands! This happened to Juliana once: a gull swooped down and grabbed her sandwich, and then even took her chips!
New Market Square
Farther down the street with the fountain is the public library which used to be the home of the richest family in town. These houses, all tall and thin and squeezed together, seem to be small, but this look is deceptive – they go quite far back, so inside they are larger than they seem on the outside.
In the New Market Square, there is a produce market every weekday. We checked it out later, looking for some of those fresh strawberries Rostock is famous for, but we were disappointed: no one was selling fresh strawberries today – out of season, perhaps? – and I noticed that a lot of things were imported: apples from New Zealand, peppers from Cyprus. On this square, the only completely original (inside and out) building is a green building, a bakery, on one corner. Others may have original facades but their interiors have been renovated or reconstructed.
On the far side of New Market Square is the town hall. It has a pink Baroque façade but originally it was red brick – protruding from the top of the building is part of that original façade. You can prove you’ve been to Rostock if you know what animal is in front – it’s a snake, coiled between pillars. Its “tail” looks like an eel – that’s because legend has it, an eel which was washed up from a flood turned into a snake – but not completely!
We had free time to explore more of the old town or perhaps St. Peter’s Church, since we were going to tour St. Mary’s together. My husband,Dale, brother-in-law, Elmer, and I walked down to inspect the Stone Gate and then followed a section of the old wall down to a cross street, then up a parallel street.
I’d forgotten that Kröpelin Gate had a museum, or I might have suggested we have a look at that instead; as it was, we had time to spare when we returned to our meeting place in front of the Town Hall. It was a good opportunity to use the WC (free in the town hall, unlike elsewhere – even restaurants insisted you pay €1 to use their facilities if you were not having a meal there).
St. Mary’s Church
Reassembled, our group proceeded to St. Mary’s Church (Marienkirk in German).
St. Mary’s and St. Peter’s churches are two of four old churches, and only these two still function as churches. The other two are used for other purposes. St. Mary’s construction started in the 1490s but it took two centuries to build. It contained many valuable religious objects, which were moved to St. Peter’s Church during World War II, because officials believed that St. Peter’s was much less likely to be bombed, due to its location away from the center of town.
Unfortunately, much of St. Peter’s – including most of St. Mary’s relics – was destroyed by Allied bombs, while St. Mary’s suffered only a small fire. In the church, we saw an artist’s rendition of the scene: Marienkirk towering majestically and untouched over the burned out rubble of nearby buildings.
There was a model of a 3-masted ship hanging from the ceiling – there used to be many more of these here – which is a common thing to see in northern Europe’s churches. Maritime societies remember and say blessings for the fishermen at sea who were such an important part of their economy.
We noticed many tombstones on the floor of the church with names and dates. Many people were buried in the church, but the family had to be well-to-do to pay the annual fee. If the time came that the family stopped paying the fee, the deceased’s name would be crossed off and another departed loved one of a family paying the fee would be engraved on the stone! These burial vaults were used various times. St. Mary’s may be the only church, however, that reuses the tombstones by crossing out one deceased’s name and replacing it with another!
The most spectacular object in Marienkirk is a 1472 astronomical clock that still works! The clock is mechanical and has to be wound each morning. It shows many things, including the date, the year, what time the sun rises and sets, phases of the moon, how many days until Easter, and more. The current face is valid for the years 1885-2017. In two years, therefore, it will have to be replaced, but already a new face has been made and is awaiting the expiry of the current one to be installed.
Every day at noon, when the clock strikes twelve, a little door opens onto a tiny platform which can only be viewed well from the side. (Since we were there just before noon, all the tour groups crowding the church suddenly moved to each side to get the best view, leaving a gap right in front of the clock, like the parting of the Red Sea!) When the clock strikes twelve, six apostles process across the platform to another door on the opposite side (pictures 1-2 below).
The last apostle in the procession is Judas, and the door slams shut (picture 3) before he can enter!
Back on board ship: German Fest!
There was a German Fest on board the ship that evening. A local “oompah” band came aboard to entertain the Eurodam’s guests, and there was a feast of German food and drink.
We joined the Sweets at a table on the sunny side of the Lido pool. Servers dressed with aprons that were illustrated to look like lederhosen and Robin Hood-type felt hats were circling the tables asking if we wanted anything to drink. I thought it was hilarious – these Indonesian and Filipino guys dressed to look like Germans!
The food was all buffet style – sausages and brats of different types, other meats, large soft pretzels, sauerkraut, and lots more. We helped ourselves and I told myself not to each too much – I got a sausage in a bun with mustard and sauerkraut and a pretzel (I couldn’t resist!). When I saw what Dale had, I realized I hadn’t selected the really tasty type of bratwurst, but I didn’t want to go back for another one: too much to eat!
The band was lively and fun. They sat under a canopy in folding chairs with music stands, but eventually they got up and paraded around the deck among the guests as they played. I took a video (Roll Out the Barrel!) and several still pictures.
It was so relaxing just sitting there as the sun slipped toward the horizon, the German flag reflected in the calm surface of the pool. I really enjoyed myself that night and wished we’d had more opportunities to do this.
Already I began thinking about taking another cruise – I’d seen the books HAL has with all their cruises and I was interested in the multi-modal tour to Alaska. That day they had been promoting booking another cruise, offering generous discounts if you booked a cruise with a deposit before the end of the cruise. However, I still didn’t have Dale completely convinced. He wanted to wait until the cruise was over and we were back home before deciding whether he wanted to take another cruise.
The feeling I had that evening was the same one I get every time a trip I’ve taken is almost over – melancholy; wishing we had a few more days, vowing to return to these places again soon.