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November 25, 2005


Dear Friends and Families,

Our day-trip goal was the Island of Ruegen, off the northeast German coat. This is a popular summer resort, but we figured a winter visit should prove interesting as well. Coming from our base in Prerow, we first drove to the city of Stralsund. Like Wismer, Stralsund is one of the old Hanseatic Leagues cities (see below). During the Hanseatic period, from the 13th through about 16th Centuries, Stralsund served as a port linking interior German states with the coastal League Cities. After that, it seems prosperity and war alternated in the region, with the current recovery from post-WWII Soviet rule offering hope for a period of prosperity.

Driving into Stralsund we saw the plain, high-rise apartment blocks that we had first met in Kiev. Here in the former Eastern Germany, these are being either renovated or torn down, as the lifestyle becomes gradually more "western". So far, these monoliths are still not rare enough to warrant photos. However, once we got inside the center, we turned the camera back on and explored the city.

The gate into the old walled city dated from the Hanseatic period. Once inside, we parked and then wandered toward the center square. From a distance, we could see that it was set up for a Christmas Carnival and the color and noise were welcoming

The most important part about the Christmas Carnival was that we could have our first gluewine ("glow wine") cup of the season. This is a great tradition that immediately puts one in the Christmas spirit. On the street over toward the rathaus (City Hall), the park was lined with Christmas stalls and we managed to buy our first presents.

The rathaus itself had an open ground level, which gave access to the (locked) doors of St. Nicholas' church. The rathaus facade was grand, but a close examination of the windows of the upper floors revealed that the facade may have been more impressive than the interior.

In the rathaus keller (cellar), even more Christmas kiosks had been set up. We succumbed here too, and picked up a couple of warm sweaters - from Ireland. Somehow the Baltic Coast seemed closer to the British Isles than to our farmers of Bavaria.

(Our German seller of Irish sweaters even had a web-site as, I suppose, a modern Hanseatic trader should have: http://www.spinndoenz.de)


We left Stralsund at about 2:30 in the early afternoon, heading for Ruegen Island. It took us some time to find the bridge and to cross it, but we hear that in summer our 20-minute passage could be a few hours instead. Out on the island, the scenery was ... dull. It was a basic, wind-swept, flat landscape, perhaps open and charming when its warm, but pretty plain in wintertime. By the time we made it our t to Saanitz on the outer side of Ruegen Island, it was 4pm and dusk had descended. The only thing worse than cold and windswept is dark, cold and windswept, so we turned around and headed home for Prerow.

But, don't get us wrong. We were looking for cold and blustery and that's exactly what Ruegen gave us. We were thankful for meeting our expectations (and for leaving).

John and Marianne


ps: Hanseatic Cities

Back "home" in Bavaria, we are surrounded by history, Bavarian history. On our Thanksgiving weekend, we had chosen to go to the north coat and we discovered a different chapter in German history: Hanseatic Cities. For some reason, it's a history we knew little about. Maybe I slept in this part of European History.



The Hanseatic League was a loose confederation of cities, united primarily by trade, perhaps like an early multi-national corporation or the World Trade Organization. Over 60 cities joined, primarily for sea trade around the Baltic and North Seas. The original capital was Luebeck, in modern Germany near Denmark. Later the center of power moved eastward and the capital moved to Gdansk, in what is now Poland. The Hansa "settlements" (communities), "factories"(warehouses and shipping stations) and "counters" (trade offices) stretched from Novgorod to London. Started in the mid 13th Century, the League faded out in 17th Century as geographic countries became more important. (It's interesting to think of a period where companies and trade organizations were more important than governments. Have we returned to that?) However, the independent spirit of the Hansa cities stayed and the leadership of Luebeck even spoke out against Hitler's plans for new empire, preferring their own memories of a largely peaceful, trading, past. Today, seven German cities call themselves "Hanse", including Stralsund and Wismer.



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