The unique architectural style “Brick Gothic“ is a phenomenon, which is not only omnipresent along the coasts of the Baltic Sea, but also throughout the surrounding inland regions. This medieval, stony cultural heritage can be found in Denmark, in many parts of Poland and in Germany, all the way down to Berlin and the federal states of Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt and Lower Saxony. Even in the Baltic countries, southern Sweden and Russia, Brick Gothic is widely presented each time with charming regional characteristics.
In North-East Poland, in Olsztyn the visitor will find, for example, the Gothic castle of the Chapter of Warmia, where Nicolaus Copernicus himself once resided and researched. Several other well-preserved medieval castles are located just around the corner, most of them earlier castles of the Teutonic Order. Olsztyn is also a gate to Masuria, a region famous for its thousand lakes. A fair way off lies the city of Płock on the banks of Vistula River, where history was made before the era of Brick Gothic, we can find steeples of the cathedral, the Gothic castle and former abbey tower above the city centre. Down the Vistula River lies Toruń, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with more than a thousand historical buildings, birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus and home of famous gingerbread “pierniki”. Besides the beautiful old City Hall and plenty of Gothic churches, the former city fortification is worth seeing. A couple of kilometres away, on the Vistula River, Chełmno offers its visitors an impression of a nearly completely preserved medieval town. Brick Gothic as far as the eye can see. This impression will be even extended in Gdańsk, the lively metropolis in Northern Poland, birthplace of the legendary Solidarity movement (“Solidarność“): Its St. Mary’s Church is the biggest Brick Gothic church in whole world, and the construction alone took around 150 years.
West of Gdańsk, and only a bit southwards from Darłowo, the visitor reaches the small town of Sławno. Here, a visit of the imposing and majestic St. Mary’s Church is a must. Further examples of beautiful Brick Gothic architecture are the two town gates. The next stop along the route will be the city of Szczecin, where after decades, St. James’ Cathedral has now a new and impressive steeple, reconstructed according to the original model. Of course, the visitors have the opportunity to climb all the way up to the tower – or take the lift. St. Peter’s and Paul’s Church, on the other hand, was erected under the influence of the famous Brick Gothic architect Hinrich Brunsberg, who was also active in other places along the route, such as in Brandenburg an der Havel. The Castle of the Dukes of Pomerania and the hooked terraces (“Wały Chrobrego”) are worth seeing too. Near Szczecin, lies Stargard Szczeciński, with its Mill Gate built over a river, representing a unique construction in the whole of Europe. A further top sight in town is St. Mary’s Cathedral, one of the most beautiful Brick Gothic churches in Poland with its stellar vaulted ceiling and the completely preserved fortification.
Prenzlau in north-eastern Germany is situated just a short distance to the west from the River Oder, on the German-Polish border. St. Mary’s Church, in the town centre, can already be seen from kilometres away with its unusual twin spires. The church has also famous ornate gables on its eastern side. Worth visiting is also the Dominican Monastery at Prenzlau. Southwards, the visitor will find the equally famous St. Mary’s Church in the Kleist Town Frankfurt (Oder), of which medieval glass windows, known as the “Illustrated Bible”, were returned from Russia a couple of years ago. They were brought to Russia after the Second World War as looted art. A tip for passionate cyclists: try out the long-distance cycling route Oder-Neiße through Frankfurt and along the beautiful River Oder. The next stop will be the old episcopal town Brandenburg an der Havel, which is more than thousand years old and blessed with an impressive cathedral complex, St. Catherine’s Church, St. Paul’s Monastery, several gate towers and many other interesting Brick Gothic buildings. Since the town is located in the middle of a beautiful lakeland area, it is a great spot for hiking, cycling, sailing and canoeing. Barely an hour away to the west the steeples of the Hanseatic City of Stendal stick out to the skies. In the 15th century, Stendal became a flourishing merchant town in the Altmark Region. From those prosperous times several buildings have survived – such as four medieval churches with valuable interiors and two impressive town gates, the Uenglingen and Tangermünde Gate.
Also Lower-Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark, participate with many magnificent buildings in the cultural heritage of Brick Gothic. In the Hanseatic City of Lüneburg, located on the banks of the River Ilmenau and prosperous through its salt resources, Brick Gothic meets the Brick Renaissance. However, particularly the churches represent the pure classical Brick Gothic style, while the Town Hall is a mixture of many different eras, and at the same time one of the most valuable buildings in Germany. Also, the numerous old houses with their charming, nowadays already slightly asymmetric, brick gables from the times of Gothic or Renaissance are unique. Nearby, and nice to visit by a bicycle tour, the impressive Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul in Bardowick and many beautiful Brick Gothic village churches can be found, all of them one of a kind. Further exceptional and precious highlights are the six convents around Lüneburg; Lüne, Walsrode, Wienhausen, Medingen, Ebstorf and Isenhagen. Even today they are not only jewels of the Gothic and later architecture, but active chapters of nuns, where visitors will experience not only the buildings, but also other details from the convent life. The town of Buxtehude, with its thousand-year-old history, lies in the famous region Altes Land. The well-preserved Dutch-type old waterways, the “Fleth,” the historical downtown with St. Peter’s Church and the majestic Floodgate are worth seeing. After crossing the Elbe River and the Kieler Canal up north, the visitor approaches significant sites of the Vikings, passes by Hedeby and Schlei, a narrow inlet of the Baltic Sea, and reaches the episcopal town of Schleswig. Here, the Schleswig Cathedral with its comprehensive medieval interior decoration is without equal. Furthermore, a walk across Holm, an old fishing village at the Schlei shore, is a must. Situated likewise at the shore of a narrow Baltic Sea inlet, at Haderslev Fjord, lies the same-named town Haderslev. The town centre is also here perfectly preserved and in its very centre stands a cathedral – without a tower, but with marvellous acoustics and puristic interior. Remember to check out the concert programme! From here fantastic tours with boats can be made, too.
Also in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania Brick Gothic is omnipresent – it is one of the region’s trademarks, together with the beautiful nature and numerous castles and manor houses. However, not only coastal areas and towns are interesting. In the heartland lies for example the capital of the federal state, Schwerin, known for its horticultural festival in 2010, for its gorgeous castle, where the state parliament has its seat, and for its cathedral with 117 metres high tower. Only a little bit southwards lies Parchim with its interesting Town Hall – a mixture of Gothic and neo-Gothic – as well as with two Brick Gothic churches, where even the trusses are open for visitors!
To the north-east of Schwerin on the other hand, in the Barlach Town Güstrow, the visitor will “bump” into a majestic Renaissance Castle, to an excellent preserved St. Mary’s Parish Church, the Güstrow Cathedral and to the works of Ernst Barlach, who lived and worked in town until his death in 1938. The Ernst Barlach Museums are also an absolute must for all Güstrow visitors. The trip continues to the Hanseatic City of Wismar, a gem of Brick Gothic and a UNESCO World Heritage Site with many interesting sights. Particularly the two parish churches St. Nicholas and Holy Spirit are very well preserved and in function. In St. Nicholas one needs to bend his neck backwards quite a distance to be able to see the vaulted ceiling as a whole, since it is one of the highest ones in the entire world. Wismar is also an ideal starting point for small excursions into the surrounding region. A very special one of them leads to neighbouring Neukloster, a cute village with a wonderfully preserved monastery with a church, a provost’s residence and a monastic park on a beautiful lake. Furthermore, the village is nestled in the midst of an amazing lake district and the landscape around the town is distinguished by idyllic hills and meadows.
Situated a few kilometres southwards from the famous seaside resort Heiligendamm and a couple of metres away from the park “Kamp” in the centre of Bad Doberan, with its classical buildings, lies the emblem of the town, the unique Doberan Minster and its annex with the charnel house and further buildings. The Gothic minster, a manifestation of highest technical perfection, excellently preserved with outstanding interior decoration, would offer highlights even for a 24 hours tour! Also in the Amber Town Ribnitz-Damgarten, located on the border between Mecklenburg and Western Pomerania, a famous Brick Gothic convent can be found: The Clarissa Order Nunnery, which is nowadays dedicated to amber. As such, the town serves also as a wonderful gateway to Fischland-Darss-Zingst, a charming peninsula in the Baltic Sea coast – to where the visitor can enjoy a fantastic view from the tower of the Brick Gothic church St. Mary’s at Ribnitz. Further to the east, the visitor will reach the Bay of Greifswald, at which the old University and Hanseatic City of Greifswald is located. Here, the old fishing village Wieck with the famous ruins of the Eldena Monastery, the wonderful Pomeranian State Museum, with several originals of the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, the second oldest university in the Baltic Sea Region, and three beautiful Brick Gothic churches invite the guest to spend some more time in town.
Further to the east lies the 750 years old Ducal Town of Wolgast, a gateway to the sunny Usedom Island and the birthplace of the Romantic painter Philip Otto Runge. For the restoration of sarcophagi from the ducal epoch in Brick Gothic St. Peter’s Church, the church received the Europa Nostra Award in 2010. A further Gothic highlight is the St. Gertrude’s Chapel, which is situated a bit outside the beautiful medieval town centre. Another gateway to the Usedom Island is the Hanseatic City of Anklam, the birthplace of the aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal. The town is situated on the idyllic Peene River as well as on several long-distance cycling routes. St. Mary’s Church, located directly on the market place, counts as one of the most beautiful Brick Gothic churches in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Neubrandenburg, the so called City of Four Gates, possesses probably one of the most impressive medieval fortifications in the whole of Europe: The town wall, with its four double gates, is a masterpiece of Brick Gothic. Another place of interest is the Brick Gothic St. Mary’s Church, which has been restored to a modern concert hall with Europe-wide renowned aesthetics and acoustics. A further superlative can be experienced in neighbouring Burg Stargard with same-named fortress complex with its 13 different buildings. The fortress is also the most northern hill castle in all of Germany and the oldest secular building in the federal state. The town is surrounded by the wonderful Feldberg Lake District. Further scenic, historical, architectural and medieval highlights are definitely the Brick Gothic rich Hanseatic City of Stralsund and the Island of Rügen. Stralsund is proud of its three churches and many, many other Brick Gothic buildings, which go wonderfully together with pieces of the modern architecture, such as the Ozeaneum aquarium and the new Rügen Bridge. It is obvious, that the town is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the other side of the Rügen Bridge the classics of the island are also tempting; the beautiful nature, Baltic Sea spa towns, the White Cliffs and much more. In addition, in nearly every town and village on the island a real Brick Gothic pearl can be found – such as St. Mary’s Church in Bergen, the oldest church on the island.
Photo ©Dariusz Bógdał