Wismar – The Hanseatic Town

A history of stories . . . so is Wismar.

Wismar's birth took place at a time when the area was populated by a Slavic tribe, the Wends; a small harbour and farming settlement. With its relative proximity to the legendary Via Regia (Royal Highway), Wismar was an oft and gladly visited centre of trade. In 1229, as a charter first records, Wismar became amongst the first towns founded in Mecklenburg, its name derived from a stream east of the town, the aqua wissemara, although this can no longer be verified.

Klaus Störtebeker, the legendary privateer

Merchants, traders, seafarers, fishermen, coopers, builders from many lands and all points of the compass came to Wismar. Amongst the peaceful bustle the town rapidly flourished economically – but success brought its downside too, in the form of privateers and pirates. One of them was none less than Klaus Störtebeker, the legendary privateer and pirate, whose name is recorded in Wismar's court books for his involvement in a brawl.

The history of Wismar is both varied and never dull. The town's history is what makes it so attractive!

Since its founding Wismar has been committed to seafaring on the one hand and Mecklenburg on the other; a seal dated to 1256 displays both a cog as symbol for maritime trade and the  bull's head of Mecklenburg (which nevertheless did not prevent Wismar's burghers constantly seeking as much independence from their overlords as possible).

Wismar as town of significance within the Hanseatic League

A triple alliance signed by the towns of Lübeck, Wismar and Rostock in 1259 served to secure trade routes both at sea and on land, not least from pirate attacks.

The port and the accompanying shipping and commercial trade in important goods and commodities quickly grew: wines from Spain, Italy and France, furs and timber from Russia, hides from Norway as well as fabrics, silk and wool, but primarily fish and spices, wax, malt and salt. Trade across the Baltic Sea and with the hinterland flourished. The heyday of the Hanseatic League had begun, turning Wismar into a centre of wealth. Both beautiful and powerful, it worked its way up to become one of the significant towns in the Hanseatic League.

Testaments to the economic and social upswing of the time can still be found today in the impressive religious structures in the brick Gothic style, the old town walls, the Wassertor (The Water Gatehouse), the medieval townhouses and the Wasserkunst (pumping station) in the market square - an imposing form dating to 1602 that replaced the simple fountain on the site. By the 16th century however the Hanseatic League had lost its former prominence. 

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