Amber – the gold of the Baltic Sea

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is poor in valuable oreslike silver and gold. However, there is a much more romantic present of the Earth’s history – amber. Already 4000 years ago, Stone Age people manufactured the honey, sheer material into jewellery. Especially after the northeasterly spring – and autumn storms, the co asts of Fischland, Darß, Hiddensee, Ostrügen and Usedom are rich in amber. Amber is no real stone. Its time of origin was the Tertiary period that began about 65 million years ago. How can you recognize real amber? There are several possibilities: through rubbing, amber is electrostatically chargeab le. In addition, amber is burnable. This explains its German name “Bernstein” that is derived from the Low German expression “börnen”. Safest is the verification in salt water. Amber swims in a solution of 160 gram common salt to one litre of water. No other stone does.

The swimming, fossil material occupies people since centuries or millenniums. It was celebrated in songs and i mmortalised in legends. The most beautiful story was written by the Past or Wilhelm Meinhold in his successful novel, published in 1841 and having the long title: “Maria Schweidler, the witch of amber, the most interesting witch trial, after the defective handwriting of her father, the Pastor Abraham Schweidler in Coserow on the Island of Rügen.” In his story, he picks up on the myth about the be autiful and clever daughter of a Pastor. In the Thirty Years War, she discovered amber in Streckselberg near Koserow and that way, she saved the people in her village from starva tion. Therefore, the refused bailiff Wittich von Appelmann condemned her as witch and wanted her to be burned at the stake. However, it was not the devil in wolfskin who met her on the Steckelsberg, but her disguised lover, the Junker Rüdiger von Neuenkirchen. Finally, he revealed himself, liberated Maria and took her home as his bride. The story concerning the amber has truth content. In 1955, holes were drilled near Stubbenfelde, and the studies revealed the deposit of amber.

Altenkirchen

Baptismal fonts are one of the oldest evidences of Christianity in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The fonts that are constructed out of limestone mostly come from Gotland. In Northern Germany they are also called “Tauffünten”. This expression reminds much of the Scandinavian “dobefonten”. Until the 14 th century it was usual to duck the whol e newborn’s body under water, so that there were certain demands on the vessel’s size. For that reason, the measures of the fonts are relatively uniform. The ritual of baptism hardly changed since the Middle Ages. Baptism still enables the entry into the Christian community.

The water symbolizes the Baptism of Jesus in Jordan or the four Rivers of Paradise. The Gotlandic font out of limestone in Alte nkirchen was built in 1220. The cuppa shows four nearly three-dimensional, careful drawn men heads. Special care was taken to portray the hairstyle. It is parted in the middle and falls down chin-length and wavy. One of the men has a curly beard. All of the three men have a happy expression because of their mouth posture. Many of these sculptures have Romanic traits with ornamental design, often they are decorated with portrayals of figures or animals. The oldest works are probably made of granite, because the Gotlandic fonts out of limestone were produced just since 1220. Beforehand sandstone was preferred. Counterparts without ornamental decoration can be found in Wiek on the Island of Rügen and in Lüdershagen near Barth.

A 200-ton stone in Heiligendamm

On 17th September 1911, the Sunday supplement of the Mecklenburgische Zeitung included an article about a memorial stone. In 1843, the stone was strained, pulled and dragged for 4 months and 15 kilometres to fina lly arrive at the 50th annivers ary of the seaside resort in Heiligendamm. “After His Royal Highness, Grand D uke Friedrich Franz II, decided to erect a memorial in form of a boulder, the director of Doberan’s ba thhouses and the building officer Demmler were sent to Doberan.

Once there, they had to visit the different granite boulders. Before the final decision was taken, the build ing officer had made arrangements for the manufacture of the machinery that was necessary to transport the stone. 0n 28th of June, Demmler travelled to Doberan and further to Elmenhorst in order to a rrange the disinterment of the stone. For that purpose, on 30th of June, arrived both 50 workers and a transport machinery with a specially built hut on three wagons. At first, the most difficult thing was to move the stone from the ground to the machinery: It was 19 feet in lengt h, 16 feet in width, 11 feet thick and it weighted 441,400 pounds (about 220-ton, others say 250-ton) – about 230 horses would have been necessary to transport the stone. The easiest way to move the granite boulder was to undermine it. To this effect, it had to obtain a safe pillar sideways. On the one side, this was easy to fix because of the stone s natural form. On the opposite side, the plan was enabled with the help of certain devices: In three rows one above the other, holes (8 inches deep, 1.75 inches diameter) were gouged. Within these holes strong, iron dowels were fixed. They protruded about 8 to 12 inches from the stone. Under the dowels, a timber - and stone structure was made, so that the stone could be hanged evenly. Th ereafter the stone was undermined (11 to 12 feet) at full length. Therefore the machinery could easily be pushed under the stone. As soon as the spheres of the machinery, 14 on each side, were put in order, the pillars on the sides were removed. Now, on 11th July, the stone was sustained by the spheres. Two “lifting gears”, each with 12 me n, should move along the stone. After the ropes shattered a few times, the stone firstly moved 24 in ches on 13th of July, at half past seven pm. Until the 27th, the further travelling went well. However, some parts of the machinery shattered several times, so that they had to be reconstructed. In general, the terrain was easy to cross. The most difficult passage was near Garnitz-Beck. By use of two logs under the machinery, the crossing succeeded on 19th of Sept ember, so that the stone arrived 150 feet from his current position on 19th of October. No w the turn to its position had to take place, but that caused no further problems.

Bergen and Putbus-Lauterbach

In 1978 a marble slab with bronzeware script was inaugurated. The slab, designed by Werner Stötzer, was provided with the statement “People, I am fond of you, be on your guard”1 and with the author’s name of the warning, “Julius Fucik”.

On the lower part of the memorial a bronze plate is fixed, bearing the inscription: “In honour of the victims of fascism who were killed on the Bay of Greifswald and in the surrounding of Lauterbach, after the forced evacuation of the concentration camp Stutthof, in the end of April/the beginning of May 1945.”2 Background to the statement was the shipment of concentration camp prisoners alongside the bodden. On April 30th, 1945, the detainees came from the concentration camp Stutthof near Danzig. In Lauterbach, after a tumult during the bread distribution, 12 of them attempted to escape and were killed by the SS. Originally, the bronze plate lay over an urn shaft filled with ash from the concentration camp. In 1947, the mortal remains of the 12 people were solemnly buried in the Old Graveyard in Bergen. A simple granite boulder was put on the burial ground and, disconcertingly, it was provided with the red triangle that communist concentration camp prisoners had to wear. However, it is not known to which group of persecuted people the killed persons belonged. The forefront bears the inscription “To the unknown victims of fascism”. Later, honourable citizens of Bergen were buried in the surroundings. With a few exceptions, the bronze letters on the marble slab in Putbus-Lauterbach were stolen in 1993; the base plate and the urn were removed. In 1995 the memorial was reconstructed.

References: 1 Original: “Menschen, ich hab euch lieb, seid wachsam”
2 Original: „Ehre den Opfern des Faschismus, die nach der Zwangsevakuierung des KZ Stutthof Ende April/Anfang Mai 1945 auf dem Greifswalder Bodden und in der Umgebung von Lauterbach wurden“

Wismar: A grid around a baptismal font

Two very contrasting legends relate to beautiful wrought ironwork in Wismar. The work is said to date back to the 16th century and its mullions are twined around with forged cord or cordages. The first legend refers to a poor journeyman who gets help:

A poor, but very skillful locksmith is prohibited from marrying the daughter of his rich foreman. Only if he’s able to create a notably artful work, the foreman is willing to revisit his decision. In adversity, the journeyman deals with the devil. His assignment is to entwist a grid around the baptismal font in St. Mary’s Church in one night. If he doesn’t succeed, his soul will fall for Satan. When the grid was almost done and only one stanchion was missing, the church clock rang – the agreed time was over. In fear he called on the Blessed Virgin Maria and fell unconsciously on the ground. His soul was saved and he could marry his bride. The stanchion is missing down to the present day. In the second story the blacksmith is a villain and gets punishment: In order to enable that also further generations would praise his masterpieces, he promised boastfully to create an incomparable grid around the font. He was very conscious of his disability to do so, so that he called the devil to his aid. The devil created the grid and in return required the soul of the vain blacksmith. A marvel was built and the smith was celebrated. But the devil didn’t leave much time for the smith’s fame, because after a few days he delivered his contract, took the man’s soul and he drove with sulphur fumes and hellish laughter towards underworld. Originally, the font and the grid were placed in St. Mary’s Church. After the tabernacle’s destruction, they are both placed in St. Nikolai today.

The evolution of the island of Rügen

Collector of stories: Wolf Karge

When go created the world and had almost finished the work, one evening, shortly before the sunset, he stood on the island of Bornholm and looked at the Promeranian coast. Next to him were a trowel and a big tub that contained only a small rest of soil for his work of creation. When he watched across the sea, the southern coast seemed to him to be too bare. At this moment, his work didn't yet have a name. To give the whole thing a more moving shape, he took the rest of soil out of the tub and in staying on Bronholm, he wanted to stick the soil on the Pomeranian coast. He was already worn out by his demanding work of creation, so that the piece of mud, clay and cretaceous fell into the water about a mile from the coast.

Additionally, some stones rolled into the water. God watched the whole thing from Bornholm, mumbled something incomperhensible to himself and brushed the edges with his trowel. This way he made them look rounder and prettier. That's why the island of Rügen initially was as round as all the other islands. Meanwhile, the sun had almost completly set. God wanted to knock off work; that's why he scraped up the last rest of soil in his tub and stuck it on the island. In doing so, Jasmund and Wittow developed. Indeed, it looked a bit rough, but Got thought: It's finishing time, let's keep it the way it is. – this explains the irregular shape, the high bluffs, the small lakes and the many bays on the island of Rügen

What does the snake in front of the townhall want?

It is said to bring happiness if you pet her head. But is that right? - Who knows. Is it really a snake that winds herself round a column in front of the townhall? At least, the head is unmistakably a snake’s head. On closer examination, the caudal compares more with that one of an eel.

The curious bronze animal is not yet very old – in 1998 it was baptized Johannis, because the day of the christening was Johannistag (in English Midsummer’s day, the 24th of June) and additionally the city’s birthday. The current snake-eel is the youngest of a number of ancestors. The forebears of the eel-snake are notably older. It might be that she is the greatgreat-granddaughter of the first snake that was ever seen in front of the townhall. But nobody’s really certain. By contrast, it is sure that the first animal settled there more than 100 years ago. That was seen and copied down by a clever man. Evil people or barbarians destroyed the snake’s ancestors. The descendants were remodelled, stolen and brought back. Once they were manufactured from limestone, another time from cement and the current snake is brazen. That’s for sure. However, nobody knows why the rare reptile winds herself around the columns in front of the townhall. Not even the mayor knows, although his Office is directly above it. There are different possible interpretations. Because of their moult snakes symbolize immortality. Does this clue refer to the city or to the mayor? Many people bother their heads about that. Maybe snakes in the grass (symbolized through the cleaved tongue) shall be kept away from the townhall? In addition, snakes are considered as very wise animals – this would be a nice metaphor for a townhall. The eel-snake (or is it a snake-eel?) won’t tell us. She keeps her secret and looks cunningly at the stroking hand. Maybe she really brings luck?

Deer, swan and the Monastery Doberan

One of the most visited buildings in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is the Minster in Doberan. For Christians it is a place of a particular authenticity. Admirers of bygone architecture appreciate the beautiful proportion and the hardly changed clarity of North German brick gothic. Pathfinders of European history find a number of important tombs in this church and admirers of music come to visit because of its unique acoustics. The church was called “Münster” (minster) because of its importance in the medieval church hierarchy. The history of the impressive building is closely winked with the development of Mecklenburg.

A legend refers to the place where the church was put up. As every legend, this one doesn’t have to be at odds with the truth at all points, but at least it is immortalized on the coat of arms of today’s Bad Doberan. A deer, a swan and an Episcopal crosier can be seen on the coat of arms. According to legend, the Mecklenburg Prince Heinrich wanted the hazard or the will of higher power to decide on the place for a new monastery, after the first one in Althof had been destroyed by rebellious Slavs in 1179. The place where he brought down the first deer ought to be the place of the new building. A magnificent animal appeared and was shot down by the prince. At this place the ground was boggy, so that the entourage of the prince doubted that it was the right one for the construction of a church. At this moment, a swan in the nearby water cried out “dober, dober” what was interpreted as the Slav “good, good”. This sign from heaven (as some people call it) sufficed and the construction works began. The deer horns on one pillar in the church interior are said to be the original ones. However, the swan on a pedestal in front of the church is a more contemporary artwork. The present Minster in Doberan was consecrated in 1368. In the middle the coat of arms is parted by the crosier of abbacy.