Wismar – aspiring world heritage city on the Baltic Sea coast

Thomas Beyer,
Hanseatic City of Wismar,

The Hanseatic City of Wismar lies on Germany’s Baltic Sea coast, in the federal state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, at the southern end of the Bay of Wismar, which is protected by the island of Poel. With approximately 43,000 inhabitants, it is the sixth-largest city in the federal state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, with an interesting historic centre, and is an important industrial location with an efficient and competitive port.

The first mention of the Port of Wismar in a document took place in 1211, more than 800 years ago, making it a whole 18 years older than the oldest written testimony to the existence of the city of Wismar, from 1229!

This makes clear that the protected Bay of Wismar was ideal for the creation of a port and then for the foundation of a city and that Wismar owes its emergence to the port. The port was there first; only then did the city emerge. Through all the generations, the port was a lifeline of Wismar, important for trade and commerce, for the livelihood and – if not always – the prosperity of the inhabitants.

Through the centuries, the port has constantly changed and has been adapted to the respective needs of the time. However, one thing remained largely unchanged, namely the form and location of the quay in the Old Port, the port that was mentioned for the first time in 1211. Thanks to it also, Wismar (the historic centre with the Old Port) was adopted by UNESCO into the list of world heritage, the heritage of humanity, in 2002.

While today the Old Port is mainly used for outing and leisure shipping as well as fishery, the turnover of goods takes place in the neighbouring, newer port basins of Seehafen Wismar GmbH. Modern facilities have emerged there in the last few years and decades, as always before according to the current needs of maritime transport and Wismar’s business and industry.

Without the port, most of the industrial settlements of the last few decades that have brought many jobs and acquisition opportunities to Wismar and the region would not have been able to take place. Thus, the port remains – and no doubt will continue to be – a lifeline of Wismar.

Wismar was an early member of the “Hanse”, the federation of German long-distance trading cities, and blossomed in the Late Middle Ages, which is still testified to today by many listed Gothic buildings. After the Thirty Years’ War, in 1648 Wismar came under Swedish rule, which lasted until 1803 (de jure 1903). In 1903, Wismar was finally returned to the then Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, which today is part of the federal state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

In the Second World War, the city was hit by several bomb attacks, which particularly affected the Gothic Quarter with the main churches of St Mary and St George as well as the Old School. The damage was great, but not destructive. In 2002, the historic centre, together with the historic centre of Stralsund, was adopted into the UNESCO world heritage list as the “Historic Centres of Stralsund and Wismar”. The Historic Centres are prime examples of the developed Hanseatic city from the heyday of the League of Towns in the 14th century.

The industrialisation of the city particularly began in the second half of the 19th century, when machine and vehicle construction businesses were established. These were joined, in particular, by aeroplane construction in the 1930s, which ended again in 1945. Then, after the Second World War, the industrial focus shifted to shipbuilding. Today, shipbuilding, machine construction and plant construction continue to play a major role. However, since the 1990s they have been complemented by large wood-processing businesses. These wood-processing businesses, in particular, make considerable use of the Port of Wismar to receive their raw materials (trunk wood) and ship their products.

As the southernmost German Baltic Sea port, the Port of Wismar possesses an ideal location for the goods flows in the Baltic Sea, Germany and throughout Europe. Here, the north-south traffic between Scandinavia, the Baltic States, Russia and Central Europe find excellent connections for transportation by road, rail and sea. To this end, the port has 17 berths with 2,830 metres of quay length and 23.6 km of its own trackage, with a total surface area of around 66 ha. Across all modes of transport (ship, rail and road), approximately 8 million tonnes of goods are turned over each year.

In the last 15 years or so, Wismar has also developed into a small but sophisticated destination for cruise ships. Wismar has its own berth for cruise ships, from which the passengers can reach the nearby historic centre on foot.

In 2011, Wismar celebrated the 800th birthday of its port; in 2029, the city’s 800th anniversary will be celebrated. The people of Wismar have always shaped the development and future of their city, as they continue to do today. Wismar, an aspiring world heritage city on the Baltic Sea coast.

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