Last Friday we went to Stralsund, a hanseatic town on the German Baltic Sea Coast. It was not so much a holiday in itself as an escape from Berlin, where we had been waiting for the reference number from the Iranian foreign ministry necessary to apply for a visa. Normally this takes about two weeks, so we were already one week overdue with a flight booked to Teheran next Monday.
In spite of our distress, the sun is shining when we arrive in Stralsund, and people relax in front of the historic City Hall. Children are taking flight from the fountain on the Old Market Square with its erroneous burps of water. The long bridge over the Strelasund to the island of Rügen (where the camp site is located) is popular with anglers, and from the harbour of Altefähr on the opposite bank of the sound, Stralsund looks sparkling in the evening sun.
But the next day it is cold and windy, so we decide for indoor sightseeing. Stralsund boasts the allegedly most-visited museum in Northern Germany, which won the European museum prize in 2010: Actually the Ozeaneum is a mixture between a museum and an aquarium. The exhibition has been designed in cooperation with Greenpeace and accordingly has a considerable focus on environmental problems that are caused by overfishing as well as global warming. Lots of dioramas and stuffed animals are interspersed with touch-screens and video snippets in the backlit text boxes, which is nice enough.
But the aquarium tanks, and the fish therein, rather fail to impress us. Presumably we are spoiled by the larger Japanese aquariums such as Osaka or Churaumi, and after all they show mainly the – not so colourful – fauna of the Baltic Sea. On the top floor, children are drawn to the play area (“dive in” or some such slogan), while those adults who didn't leave their jackets in the lockers (like we did) venture out to the penguins' rock on the roof terrace, and huddle around to watch a small penguin waver at the edge of his pool like a pupil in swimming class, to jump or not to jump? In the end he turns back without jumping.
On leaving the Ozeaneum, it has become even colder, and dark clouds loom above. We continue with a visit to the Störtebeker brewery, and after that, slightly intoxicated and warmed, we brave the elements to see the historic centre of the town – a UNESCO world heritage site since 2002. During the 14th and 15th century Stralsund was an important trading town within the network of the Hanseatic League. Characteristic for the architecture during these affluent times is the technique of Brick Gothic, using red fired bricks. Among the many houses belonging to the World Heritage is the Wulflam House, owned by Betram Wulflam, a rich merchant in the 13th century who finally became mayor of Stralsund. The most impressive building in the old town is the Town hall with its red-brick gabled façade and its mediaeval trading passage. The St Nicholas Church, the oldest and biggest of the three churches of Stralsund, impressed us with its colourful interior and the small altars owned by the merchant guilds in former times. Although most of them got destroyed or removed during the reformation, there is still enough to see.
We cycled two days along the coast towards Rostock and right now we are back in Berlin; the Iran reference number has arrived and we applied for the Iranian visa today.
Should you go?
Stralsund is a reasonably nice place to visit if you are going to the Baltic Sea anyway. The brick architecture for which the town got its UNESCO World Heritage status is somewhat dispersed over town and not so unique here – in fact we would recommend Neubrandenburg with its well-preserved town walls for the Brick Gothic style.