The Wismar “Schwedenköpfe” (Sweden heads)

The Wismar “Schwedenköpfe” (Sweden heads) are more then likely large Baroque ship decorations.

Anyone who has a ship built in the 17th or 18th Century, pays attention not only to the good sail and manoeuvre abilities but pays just as much attention to a fitting decoration.  The inner part of the ship is simple and bare; the outer demonstrates the power and wealth of its owner. The carved ornamentation should send fear into their enemies and give their own soldiers and seamen bravery.

Colourfully-painted, wooden sculptures are often placed on the transom and the bow of the ship. The deck rail, the cannon gates or the so-called “servants” can be decorated.

The original use of the so-called “Schwedenköpfe” (Sweden heads) is not known today. Are they oar-heads or servants? Do they belong to a Wismar ship or to a foreign one?

Since both Wismar wooden sculptures are a pair, it seems more likely that their original use were as “servants” and not as oar decorations.

The Wismar “Schwedenköpfe” (Sweden heads) are in any case not unique – this was proven when a similar wooden sculpture was found in the Baltic Sea near Gotland.


Hercules Busts, so called “Schwedenköpfe” (Sweden heads), around 1700

Oak, composed, carved, modelled, coloured as a Swede and a Hanseatic citizen

Inv. Nr. 8613 PL und 4065 PL


Both sculptures are originally parts of a Baroque ship. Probably around 1800, the heads are placed on posts in the Wismar bay.  As a pair they marked the entrance and were termed “the old Swedes”.

An evasive manoeuvre between a Finish ship and a sailboat ended dramatically for the wooden “Schwedenköpfe” in October 1902:  The “Schwedenkopf” on the east side was badly damaged and the one on the west side was taken to the museum.  The damaged head end up in the restaurant “Zum Alten Schweden” and moved from there to the town museum in 1977.

It can be proven that as early as 1802, the term “Schwedenköpfe” is used for the Wismar Hercules busts.

Due to their placement at their resting location, one termed the figures “the old Sweden Heads”.

Around 1800 there was a special haircut called the “Sweden Head”:  In comparison to the old-style, powdered pony tailed-wigs, the “Sweden Head” is worn without powder, short and is the natural hair.

This hair style was a sign of modernity and enlightenment.  People with this haircut were called “Sweden Head”. The Hercules busts have this haircut.  Perhaps they received their name for this reason.