|Mecklenburg State Theatre, |
with cathedral spire behind, Schwerin
|The Schloss, Schwerin (above and below)|
Before long an even more impressive sight presents itself – a fairy-tale castle that looks as if Neuschwanstein and Chambord have miraculously come together in one place. This is the ducal Schloss, built on a small island in the city’s other lake, the much larger Schwerin See, in the mid 19th century, and surrounded by exquisite gardens (recently restored) and connected to the lake shore by a causeway. The building is now the state parliament, though parts of it can be visited. I made do with an amble round the gardens, where formal planting reminiscent of the 19th-century bedding schemes at Waddesdon Manor in the UK sits between romantic grottos and a sumptuous neo-Classical orangery, with the extravagant façades of the palace on one side and the calm waters of the lake on the other.
|Houses in Market Square, Wismar|
A thirty-minute train ride north brings one to the Baltic coast and one of the main former Hanseatic ports – the first travelling eastwards from Lübeck and once its chief local rival, Wismar. As a busy commercial port this was inevitably bombed in the war, and a couple of raids in 1942 wrecked two of its three great churches. These had been built in the 14th and 15th centuries when rival church organisations – including the burghers and seamen – competed to see who could build higher and bigger in the new gothic style and using the local medium of Bachstein – 'baked stone', or brick. The result was some of the key ecclesiastical architecture of northern Germany.
|St Nicholas, Wismar|
|Tower of St Mary's, Wismar|
Next to St Mary’s is all that’s left of one of the former prides of the city, its church school house, a symphony in red-brick formality as old pictures show. The impression from a hoarding around its foundations is that a rebuild is in the offing. That has already happened to the nearby church of St George, the third of Wismar’s three great medieval church masterpieces. This too suffered in the bombing and was left roofless and in a perilous condition until 1990, when a collapse of part of the building with near-fatal consequences to local residents inspired the authorities finally to initiate its restoration. That took 20 years and some €40m – and work is still in evidence. But the result is impressive and for the moment, at least, the building is an empty shell with no furniture – perhaps the intention is to use it as a flexible performances space or a museum, as it is notably devoid of religious paraphernalia.
|The restored St George's, Wismar|
Finally, one can’t visit a Baltic port without exploring its harbour. This, frankly, was a little disappointing. Fine if you’re after a lunchtime smoked-fish roll from the rival enterprises selling their wares from boats on the quay, but apart from a handful of surviving old buildings – an 18th-century customs house and an old town-wall gateway – the space seems rather bare and doesn’t look as if it has yet recovered fully from the raids of 1942.