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Baltic/North Sea coasts, Germany

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Did You Know…?

  • Rostock University is the oldest university in northern Europe (1419).
  • Lubeck was one of the cofounders, with Hamburg, of the Hanseatic League in 1241.
  • The UNESCO-listed Wismar is at the southernmost point on the Baltic coast.
  • Heiligendamm, on the Baltic, is Germany’s oldest seaside resort (1793).
  • The North Sea produces the world’s smallest shrimp.

In League with one another

Germans don’t have the Med, but they do have the Baltic shoreline plus islands along the North and Baltic coasts for recreation under the sun.

Most North Americans, however, envision something else when considering the area for a vacation.

For them, the area is appealing because it is characterized by red brick Gothic structures, traditional gabled houses, large market squares, herring and other fresh fish, and local choices in beer. The coastal towns host a wide array of annual festivities, fairs and Christmas markets, plus numerous maritime festivals reflecting the area’s focus on the sea.

In addition, many of Germany’s coastal towns and cities were greatly enriched as members of the medieval trade cartel, the Hanseatic League, and it shows in the surviving — and very appealing — period architecture.

The region’s cities listed below are just teasers. Four boast UNESCO sites (Bremen, Lubeck, Stralsund and Wismar), and those four plus Rostock were in the Hanseatic League.

  • Bremen, known for its beautiful market square anchored by a Gothic-style town hall; the winding alleys of the Schnoor quarter lined with 15th and 16th century houses, and the open-air performances of the Bremen City Musicians’ fairytale drama.
  • Lubeck, with its Old Town surrounded by a river and canals, noted for its rather exotic Romanesque town hall, the iconic medieval Holsten Gate and nearby warehouses. Lubeck was the setting for Thomas Mann’s “Buddenbrooks.”
  • Rostock, which is sought out for its stunning medieval churches, abbeys and a surviving city gate, plus the Hanse Sail Rostock, the largest Baltic maritime event.
  • Schwerin, a city set among lakes and appreciated for the Schwerin Castle on an island in Lake Schwerin and for its gardens. Its state art museum houses an outstanding collection of Dutch and Flemish masters.
  • Stralsund, with an Old Town, also surrounded by water, boasting fine examples of historic gabled houses and medieval buildings, plus its adjacent port with warehouses, boats — and the day’s catch of fish.
  • Wismar, loved for its considerable collection of Gothic buildings — gabled houses, churches, the town hall. It has one of the area’s largest market squares.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Plan a self-drive tour that takes you to several Hanseatic League cities, or make UNESCO sites your theme. In any case, you will want to allow plenty of time for side trips.
  • In Stralsund, climb the 366 steps up the 342-foot spire of the St. Marien Church for a panoramic view of the city. Or climb to the 384-foot-high viewing platform at the Schwerin Cathedral.
  • Charter the Jan von Moor peat boat in Bremen and sail to the artists’ village of Worpswede. Or, go for bigger things and plan a sailing trip in the Baltic.
  • There are cycling choices for those in expert leagues, such as the Tour d’Allee on Rugen Island, accessible from Stralsund, and, still more strenuous, the six-day velodrome track races in Bremen.
  • At Husum on the North Sea, take a walk through the mudflats, always with a guide. In this area, you have the chance, too, to walk through mudflats to the North Frisian Hallig islands, which disappear under water during storms, except for manmade mounds and the buildings sitting on them.
  • Get married on the island of Rugen, where sites include castles, palaces and piers. Or, choose for your venue the Kiel-Holtenau lighthouse or the four-mast bark “Passat” in Lubeck-Travemunde.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Tour Beck’s Brewery in Bremen (where you will sample the goods) and/or attend the Stralsund Brewery Festival in June.
  • See the Schwerin area by cycling along the shore of Lake Schwerin to Wiligrad where you will be rewarded with a chance to see exhibitions at the neo-Renaissance Schloss there.
  • Pursue an interest in seafaring. All the sizeable cities have port festivals of some type. Examples: Bremen’s Vegesack Harbour Festival; the Stralsund Sailing Week, and Hanse Sail Rostock, which is described as the biggest of all Baltic maritime events.
  • Be serious about photography. Plan visits to medieval town halls, city gates, churches and shorelines with photo ops in mind. On sunny days, these towns are a photographer’s dream.
  • Eat seafood, such as North Sea shrimp, or the Bismarck herring for which the Hanseatic towns are well known.
  • See a castle festival play in Eutin, north of Lubeck. On this excursion, head farther north, as well, to Oldenburg, to see its Romanesque churches and medieval walls.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Go to the beach. The key cities generally give access to established beach resorts, such as Travemunde at Lubeck; Waarnemunde at Rostock and Rugen Island, noted for its chalk cliffs, at Stralsund. Scherwin’s beaches are on some of the 10 lakes that surround the city.
  • Or, plan an all-resort holiday and head directly to any of the following traditional Baltic resort sites: Bolgenhagen, Heiligendamm, Kuhlungsborn or the island of Usedom, traveling from the Hanseatic town of Anklam.
  • Shop for gifts and holiday decorations in one of northern Germany’s Christmas markets. All the cities have them.
  • Get acquainted with the ratskellers, meaning the cellars, generally found under medieval town halls. In Bremen, this would mean attending a wine tasting in the Town Hall Cellars, whereas in Wismar, which has a large cellar complex, you can see museum exhibitions. In Lubeck, the ratskeller is a restaurant.
  • Book a guided walking tour in the towns or cities you choose to visit. Take harbor tours, too, and check out the fish markets for a taste, literally, of the places you are visiting.
  • In Bremen, between May and October, see the fairytale play, “Bremer Stadtmusikanten” (The Town Musicians of Bremen). The play is presented, for free, in the market square.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the German National Tourist Office at