Wismar's Red Brick Gothic
The brick as building material
Brick belongs to mankind's oldest building materials, first appearing with the Harrapan Civilisation of the Indus Valley and the ancient Babylonian Empire. Glazed brickwork was already established by the 6th century BCE, as the Babylonian Ishtar Gate – dating from 570 BCE and today to be seen in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin – demonstrates.
Brick construction techniques first arrived in Germany in Verden (near Bremen) and Jerichow (west of Berlin) from Northern Italy in the 12th century. The flattened raw clumps of clay - 'greenies' - were still cut from loam, fired in simple pit kilns. Specialized shapes such as capitals for example, had to be cut individually or else chiselled into shape once fired.
Unlike naturally occurring stone, which the mason embellished individually using his chisel, brick construction worked with 'prefabricated' forms. They would be pieced together to create profiles on cornices and rounded bars, or geometrical ornamental friezes. The manufacture of bricks required advanced production techniques and a high degree of organization.
For example, in the construction of the seat of the Teutonic Knights - the castle of Malbork (Marienburg) south-east of Gdansk - over two and a half millions bricks were required between 1276 and 1280. Eight kilns were operational in which approx. 40,000 bricks per kiln – fired twice yearly at temperatures of at least 800°C - were produced. The means were therefore available to manufacture the bricks on a mass-production scale.