On my blog I have repeatedly referred to the „hanseatic beauty“ of certain places. I have also frequently linked back my passion for this specific beauty with my home town of Hamburg and the stamp it has left forever on my soul. Now I don’t know how much anyone who is not acquainted with Northern Europe might be acquainted with what I mean by hanseatic, but I think everyone should be, because really, if a city is a Hanse city, in my book it is pretty much down as a must see travel destination.
The Hanseatic League, or Hanse, was a trade union in the Middle Ages that linked together different port cities mainly in the Baltic, but also in the North Sea. Between the cities that were part of it, there were beneficial trade regulations and diplomatic privileges. They formed a network of support all over Northern Europe. In some ways, through their mutual history, they still feel obliged and connected to one another today. There used to be very many of them. In Germany, seven cities carry the name Hansestadt, Hanse city, until today: Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck, Rostock, Stralsund, Greifswald and Wismar. In other countries, well known cities that used to be part of the Hanse are Gdańsk, Toruń and Szczecin in Poland, Riga in Latvia, Tallinn in Estonia, Stockholm in Sweden, Antwerp in Belgium and Groningen in the Netherlands.
What all these cities share is that they have been places of trade, mainly sea trade, for centuries. That means one thing above all: They are all connected to the water. Every Hanse city is located either directly by the sea or at least by a river, and in every one of them water plays a great role when you look at the city’s general build-up.
Where there is water, there are certain other things. Like bridges!! Hamburg, they say, has more bridges than Venice. That might be due to the fact that Hamburg is just a lot bigger than Venice, but it only makes sense that Hanse cities should have a lot of bridges given that their key feature is being built close to water. I have written about some of them in this post on Riga and this post on Greifswald.
My second favourite symbol after the bridge may be the ship, signifying travel, movement, and freedom, and yes, of course there are lots of ships in Hanse cities. I love the port atmosphere of Hamburg’s huge and bustling port, the second biggest in Europe after Rotterdam, with its cranes and its overall industrial charm, just as much as I love the cosy and cute museum port in Greifswald with its old sailing boats and wooden masts. Size doesn’t matter in this one, as long as the sound of seagulls is to be heard.
Next to the water, there is usually another specific feature of a Hanse city – the granaries. Where there was trade, there had to be places where to store the goods. In Hamburg there is a whole district called Speicherstadt – granary city. Now, what could possibly be so interesting about a couple of old storage buildings? The architecture!! The typical hanseatic granary is built from red brick stone. It is my favourite material, above all because it looks different and equally beautiful in any weather. In sunshine it will glow fiery, and in grey and misty rain it will keep its earthy, honest feel.
Not only the granaries feature red brick stone in Hanse cities. Most landmarks in any of the cities are made from this material. There is a style called Brick Gothic that is predominant along the Baltic Sea. This is of course because in this area, there were no natural stone ressources, but clay from which the bricks are burnt. Although this is not directly related to their hanseatic character, I love this style of architecture and it feels like home to me. Find a few iconic examples here:
By these elements – water, ports, and red brick stone architecture – I would recognize a Hanse city at any given moment. But what also factors in my love for these places is the mentality of the people. We are talking about places here that have been connected to the world via trade for ages, and that have therefore acquired an international feel for an equally long time. The Hamburg coat of arms has a city gate on it – the Gate to the World, they say. The Bremen coat of arms holds the Key to this very Gate to the World. Hanseats take pride in being open, curious, and worldly. They are direct, engaging, honourable people who make their word count. Sometimes they come across as a little blunt or harsh, but the warmth they display given a little time is heartfelt and true. They will usually greet you with a handshake – but when they hug you roughly, you will know that they mean it. I know where I am at with Hanseats.
In my honest opinion, all of these cities that I have mentioned here are horribly underrated as travel destinations. Most of them are close to one or even several beautiful beaches that grant you delicious summer fun when you come at the right time of year and that won’t be as overcrowded as Mediterranean beaches. The cities all have a long and proud history and a rich cultural life, of course each in relation to its size. The people are generally friendly and curious for the world, used to visitors and open to whatever travellers have to contribute to city life. Personally, I may at times have trouble with German patriotism, and what I say now may go against all I have said about pride so far – but I am truly proud of being a Hanseat.
Have you been to any of these places? Do you think they make good travel destinations?