Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology

  Sub-Marinean Magic - The Ozeaneum in Stralsund, Part 1

The Oceanographic Museum is part of the German Maritime Museum in Stralsund and specialises on the Baltic and North Sea. The underwater world of both seas is presented in a series of themed tanks, together with additional information about themes like biodiversity, climate or the hydrologic cycle. I was surprised that some photos turned out nice, considering the darkish blue or green light and the moving fish. So here is a glimpse into an alien world.

Tank 'Harbour Bassin Stralsund', European perch, common roach and rudd

The first tank presents the hidden life of the harbour in Stralsund. The salinity is 0.8% and the temperature 12°C. With 126,000 litres, the tank is one of the larger examples. With fishlife like that, no wonder there were fishermen casting their rods and lines at the quay.

Tank 'Greifswalder Bodden', a curious pike-perch

The Bodden is a form of lagoon or bay found in several places along the Baltic Sea coast, usually between the mainland and islands. The water depth is often less than 5 metres and sandbanks can prove dangerous for ships. Other fish living in the brackish water of the Bodden are plaice and flounder who camouflage by imitating the sand of the ground.

Tank 'River Outfall', various trout and char

The simulated river outfall is colder (9°C) and with lower salinity. Most of the fishes swimming around are members of the salmonid family (and very yummy when served fried or boiled). To give you an impression of the technology involved to create such tanks; the windowpane (7 x 2.3 metres) alone weighs 1.6 tons; some of the other panes are even heavier.

Tank 'River Outfall', Russian sturgeon

This guy, a Russian sturgeon or Waxdick, had been living in the other Marine Museum in Stralsund until his move to the Oceaongraphic Museum in 2008. He is more than 40 years old; caught by a fisherman back in 1968, and something like the mascot of the museum.

Tank 'Marine Eelgrass Meadow', broadnosed pipefish

Pipefish play hide and seek, looking pretty much like seagrass. Can you spot them? Pipefish can cope with pretty different conditions from the sea around northern Norway to the Mediterranean and live anywhere with enough seagrass to hide in.

Tank 'Stockholm Archipelago', lumpsucker

This funny looking guy is a lumpfish, a mostly ground-living fish that attaches itself to surfaces - usually stones, but the glass of the tank pane works as well - by a suction disc in its pelvis. The German name means sea-hare (Seehase). Other inhabitants of that habitat are whitefish and eelpout.

Tank 'Kattegat Reef', haddock and pollock, trying to escape my camera

The Kattegat, together with the Skagerrak, both between Sweden and Jutland / Denmark, are the connection between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. The salinity of the water slightly higher than the Baltic Sea so that fish of both seas live there. The area is difficult to navigate due to a number of stone reefs as th one represented in the tank.

Coldwater coral reef in the Baltic Sea

We think of corals as creatures thriving in warm water where they build impressive reefs like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. But there are species who can live well in colder water provided it is very clean. They grow more slowly, but they are very pretty, too. These orange ones are typical for the Baltic Sea.

Moon jellyfish

Those fragile beauties reflect the blue light of the tank illumination. Jellyfish are difficult to keep under tank conditions, but if those are right, they live longer than outside. When we were on holiday at the Baltic Sea coast as kids, we used to gather dead jellyfish and plop the cold, glibbery mess on the beer belly of that nasty old guy who kept complaining about kids having fun. Hehe.

Baltic Sea crab

Crabs are one of the largest subspecies group of the crustaceans, and it's pretty hopeless to try and figure out who exactly the cutie above is. Possibly a variant of the spider crabs. They attach algae to their exoskeleton for camouflage.

The next part about the North Sea is below.

  Sub-Marinean Monsters - The Ozeaneum in Stralsund, Part 2

The tour of the Ozeaneum - follow the little footprints on the floor - will now take us to the North Sea in this second post about the tank displays of the Oceanographic Museum in Stralsund.

Some fish like herring or haddock can be found in both seas, but others have developed special subspecies who can deal with the higher salinity of 3,5%.

Compass jellyfish

This jellyfish is a bit more alien looking. Compass jellyfish also have toxic nematocysts at the end of their tentacles whose discharge can lead to skin irritation. The species can be found in the deeper water off the British and Dutch coasts, but storms sometimes bring them up and onto the shore.

Great Spider Crab

Great spider crabs (Hyas araneus) are indigenous to the North Sea and Atlantic. They live in deeper water (down to at least 50 metres). They are hunters who hide under stones or other places and who, like their Baltic Sea relatives, use algae to cover their shields, until something edible, like a starfish, comes along.

Tank 'Tidal Bassin', weever

This guy may look harmless if a bit grumpy, but it's actually one of the nastier critters hiding in the tidal sands. The weever has a sting on its back that ejects poison into the foot of any hapeless tourist who happens to step on it. The pain and discomfort may be worse than a vasp sting and can lead to an allergic shock.

Coral reef in the Channel, with boar fish

Another of those beautiful coral reefs, this time from the North Sea. The violet ones are called Anthothelia, a deep sea coral that can deal well with cold, dark water. Those red darlings swimming among the corals are boar fish, almost too colourful for the environment - it's what you would expect in the Pacific. But boar fish turn black when they swim into deeper water.

A wreck with new coral and sea urchin colonies

I liked this one just because it looks so pretty. A simulated wreck starting to attract inhabitants of all sorts.

Tank 'Helgoland', catsharks

Those two guys were hanging out in the tunnel-shaped Helgoland tank. The dark colour is due to the dim light; catsharks (also called dogfish) are a bit lighter of colour, with dark spots. But I like the blue version. :-)

Tank 'Scottish Underwater Cave', with a John Dory

This one is not a nice fish to meet if you're a herring. It will suck you right in, literally. John Dorys can evert their mouth very wide and snatch an entire herring. Slurrp. But humans are safe.

Tank 'Open Atlantic', a shoaling of mackerels, with some cod

The last tank is the largest. The 'Open Atlantic' contains 2.6 million litres of water. Too bad I could not find out what the glass plane of that one weighs - it has a size of 50 square metres and is 30 cm thick. It also was the most difficult to photograph because the fish kept either moving too fast, or hiding in the background of the big bassin.

Tank 'Open Atlantic', stingray

Now try to escape the stingray and resurface back in the museum after the trip through the Baltic and North Sea. You can visit a guy from the other hemisphere on the museum roof: one of the ten Humboldt penguins living there (the other ones were hiding in their stone caves).

A curious Humboldt penguin

I hope you liked the little tour through an unknown and alien world. A hot tea or coffee may be in order now.

I could have spent more time in the museum if my itinerary had allowed it, waiting for the perfect shot of some cool fishes I did not show here.

  More Mediaeval Brick Buildings

I'm back from my second Hansa League tour, with some 2,000 photos. The weather was a bit on the dreary side some days, but at least the rain poured down mostly during the night or when I could stay under cover.

Ratzeburg Cathedral, seen from the lake

First we get a very beautiful cathedral in Ratzeburg, a small town near Lübeck. The cathedral was founded by Heinrich the Lion and survives as Romanesque building, but it is constructed of bricks like the great Gothic cathedrals in northern Germany. In an area lacking stone quarries but rich in loam, bricks were the material more easily obtained.

Ratzeburg Cathedral, interior with view to the choir

I came a bit early and there was still Sunday service going on, with an additional organ concert. It was totally worth the wait until I could walk around with my camera.

St. Nicolai Church in Lüneburg, interior

We can compare the sturdy Romanesque columns with the slender pillars of a Gothic church with its soaring architecture that reaches towards Heaven. The example shown is my favourite of the churches in Lüneburg, St. Nicolai.

The cathedral in Schwerin; flying buttresses

Another typical feature of Gothic churches are the flying buttresses that support the high naves. The use of bricks makes them look less fragile and elegant than the ones built of sandstone; they give the brick architecture a more solid appearance even when it tries to imitate the flamboyant style.

Lübeck, Hospital of the Holy Spirit

The Hospital of the Holy Spirit in Lübeck had been scaffolded in when I went there in spring, but now the scaffolding has come off and the facade shines in new splendour. The hospital was commissioned by rich merchants in the 1260ies and provided housing for the poor until 1970. The foundation of the hospital still cares for old people.

Stralsund, the town hall

Brick architecture developed into an art form, with glazed bricks in black and white and sometimes bricks in other forms than the common rectangular ones, used as decorative elements. The town hall in Stralsund is a fine example.

Lüneburg, gabled houses

Rich citizens wanted to show their money by building representative houses, the so-called Dielenhäuser which held the office, storage space, and the living quarters in the back. Decorated gables became a common feature, and in the northern Hansa towns they are often created of bricks.

Stralsund, remains of the town walls

The towns of the Hansa League all had town walls in the Middle Ages, but often those were dismantled later to make room for more houses. Some, like Stralsund, retain at least parts of those fortifications.

Schwerin, the neo-Romanesque palace

The palace in Schwerin is not Mediaeval, but neo-Romanesque. But it is so over top with its turrets and oriels and gilded decorations that it's fun. *grin* Some rooms are a museum, the rest is taken up by the county government of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

Don't miss the second photo post below.

  Nature, some Very Old Tombs, and a Slavic Ringwall

The Baltic Sea coast and the landscape further inland are beautiful in a way different from the mountains of the Harz and Meissner or along the Weser; places I've frequently blogged about. But I love the northern part of Germany and the sea very much.

Hiddensee island, the coast of the Baltic Sea

Offshore of Stralsund are two islands, Rügen and the smaller Hiddensee. Fortunately, one day turned out to be sunny, and I decided to take a ship over to Hiddensee and do some hiking in the dunes, juniper heath and beech forests of this lovely island.

Hiddensee, the lagoon side seen from the lighthouse

There are no cars on Hiddensee (except for an ambulance and a small school bus) so you have to use your feet, a bicycle, or a horse coach to get around. I'd read about Hiddensee in a children's book many years ago and was devastated when my parents told me it was in the GDR and we could not go there. Well, there's no longer a GDR and now I could go there.

Riparian forest at the river Wakenitz

The Wakenitz is a river which springs from the Ratzeburg Lake and confluences into the Trave near Lübeck. The river had been the border between West-and East-Germany and therefore remained a wilderness with riparian forests framing its shores. There's a ship tour from the Ratzeburg Lake to Lübeck which turned out to be one of the most beautiful ones I ever did.

The bay of Wismar, seen from the cog Wissemara

Another fun ship tour I did was an afternoon out at sea on the reconstruced cog Wissemara. It is modeled after a wreck dating to 1560 which had been found near the Poel peninsula in 1999. When I was in Wismar in 2004, I came across the construction site of the cog, so being able to sail with her now was a special experience.

One of several Neolithic burials near Grevesmühlen

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is rich in tombs from the Neolithic Funnelbeaker culture (3,500 - 3,200 BC). We got the simple dolmen type, the great dolmen, the passage grave, and the long barrow. The boulders used to erect them are glacial erratics. There are several burial sites in the Everstorf Forest near Grevesmühlen.

The dolmen called Devil's Oven

Those giant stone structures led to local legends. The dolmen above is called Devil's Oven and the matching long barrow stone setting is the devil's bed. Often, the extended dolmen are refered to as giant's tombs with the usual legend about how someone tricked the giant and killed him.

Open air museum Gross-Raden, the gate of the settlement

Another interesting place was the open air museum in Gross-Raden, a reconstructed Slavic settlement with ringwall castle from the 10th century, which has been built on the original site. Excavations had taken place 1973-80 and the reconstruction started a few years later; the museum opened in 1987.

Gross-Raden, the ringwall fortress

Like in Haithabu, not all the houses have been reoconstructed, but Gross-Raden has more buildings, including a temple. The most interesting feature is the ringwall fortress - an earthen rampart crowned by a timber palisade - with its impressive tunnel door.

Humboldt penguin in the Ozeaneum Stralsund

The Ozeaneum in Stralsund shows the underwater world of the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, plus some time-limited themed exhibitions in a series of aquariums and other displays. It was an interesting way to spend a rainy evening. The Humboldt penguins don't belong in the north, of course, but they're a cute addition.

Another view of the bay of Wismar seen from the cog

Finally another shot taken from the stern of the cog. The sun had decided to come out after a very wet morning and give me some nice blue water and sky.

  Hunting more Hansa

I'll be off again to find more Hansa League related things, and some more brick cathedrals and other buildings in Stralsund, Lüneburg, and Lübeck once more, where the new Hansa Museum has now opened.

Lübeck, houses at the Trave, with a sailing ship in the foreground

Also on the intinerary is Schwerin and probably another open air museum or two. Let's hope the weather holds; rain makes for dreary photos like the ones here (just well it was the only bad day during my spring tour).

Lübeck's old town, seen from the outer harbour

I'll be back in about ten days, hopefully with new photo booty.

You can check the map linked in the post below to find the places.

  Surviving as Sacrifice - The Nydam Ship

The peninsula (1) between Baltic and North Sea is a typical terminal moraine landscape which developed after the last Ice Age (~ 11,700 BC). Fertile marshlands - albeit prone to flooding - in the west are followed by the sandy geest formation in the middle, and the uplands to the east. Those are a landscape of low hills and lakes, bays and firths, and bogs. The land had been settled since the Neolithic Age, but it would be the people from the Iron Age who left behind the most interesting remains in form of bog sacrifices. Among those is the famous Nydam Ship.

The Nydam Ship

The Nydam Ship - a rowing boat without additional sail - dates to AD 320. She is made of oak timber, 23.7 metres long and 3.5 metres wide midships; with space for 32 men to row her (2).

It is by ships like this the Angles and Jutes came to England. Imagine a fleet of those, some even larger, arriving at the shore close to your village, the crews brandishing the spears and swords also found in the bog. In AD 320 you could at least hope the local Roman garrison was on alert, but a hundred years later you might wonder if the Picts were really that bad. *wink*

The Nydam Ship from a different angle

The Danish archaelogist Conrad Engelhardt discovered the Nydam Ship in a bog near Sønderborg in Denmark (3) in 1863. It was one of several ships that had been deposited in a lake between ~ AD 200-450. Another oak ship found at the site had been cut to pieces, but this one remained complete. A third find consisted of a complete ship made of pine, but it was lost during the Schleswig War in 1864. Parts of another, even larger oak ship have been discovered in 2011, but there are currently no plans to salvage it (4). The ships have been buried with lots of weapons and arms in what had then been a shallow lake. The lake silted over and the developing peat bog offered ideal conditions for the preservation of both wood and metal.

Seen from the 'bow'

When the ship was salvaged, some parts were missing or in such a bad shape that they had to be replaced with new ones when the ship was salvaged and restored. But the hull of the Nydam ship survived pretty much intact. It was constructed in clinker technique with overlapping planks, or strakes, above the keel. They were fixed by iron rivets (5). The planks had clefts left standing when they were cut, to which the frames that were lashed. The keel (14.30 metres long and 57 cm wide midships to 20 cm at the ends) was made from one piece of oak, but the strakes were scarved and consisted of more than one plank. The equally shaped bow and stern posts were interlocked with the keel. Caulking was done by wool soaked in sheep's tallow and birchwood pitch.

View from the side
(There is no distinction between starbord and port, because the symmetrical shape of the ship
does not have a clearly defined stern and bow)

The planks have shrunk a bit (from 56 cm to ~ 45 cm) since the boat came in contact with dry air. Its shape is not entirely correct as measurements undertaken in 1995 show: the prow should be higher, the draught deeper and the inside more V-shaped, but due to the altered condition of the wood, the ship cannot be taken apart and reassembled in its correct shape.

View to the inside

Only some bits of the frames - originally single pieces of oak each - survived, though we know by the clefts that they were set p about one metre apart. In the middle of the ship, each plank had two clefts, as does the keel; towards bow and stern the amount of clefts decreases.

It is assumed that the ship was weighted by ballast stones. Recently, parts of a deck, a layer of planks and wickerwork, resting on transverse sticks, have been excavated. A deck between the ribs and the rowing benches would have been necessary for the rowers to put their full power to the oars. The rowing benches are reconstructed as well; they were held by vertical wooden supports and about 30 cm wide (smaller in the middle). The ship would have required 15 oarsmen on each side.

Rowlocks fixed to the gunwale

The gunwale on the 'port' side and the rowlocks also survive mostly in fragments. The rowlocks are interesting because they were crafted separately and latched to the gunwale. The rowlocks were made of forked branches from alder and birch, woods that are soft enough to counter the pressure from the hard ashen oars, and they could be easily replaced in case of wear. The second, chopped up oak boat found in the Nydam bog had its rowlocks cut into the oaken gunwale.

Engelhardt only discovered fragments of oars, but a dig in the 1990ies recovered about 20 oars in a pretty good condition. Some of them are assumed to have belonged to the Nydam Ship. They were made from radially split stem wood of the ash, about 3 metres long and with slim blades. Their shape and the short horizontal distance between rowlocks and thwart points at a rowing technique with short, quick strokes; different from later Viking ships.

Two restored original rowlocks on display in the museum

The side oar attached to the ship is a copy, but the original blade survived albeit in bad condition. It is 55 cm wide with a sharp aft edge and a thicker, rounded fore edge.

Since both the steering oar and the rowlocks are only attached by ropes, they could be shifted to change the direction of the ship with its symmetrical bow/stern, though we don't know if that was actually done (fe. on a river too small to turn the ship).

Remains of oars and frames discovered in 1863

You may have noted the carved heads on the photos; their light coloured wood sticks out in contrast to the dark boat. The bearded, cap wearing heads also have been discovered during the 1990ies dig. They rested on posts and were likely attached to the gunwale the way they are displayed today. Their function is not entirely clear.

The finds also included several hand bailers. The best preseved original is currently shown in Copenhagen. Remains of rope have been found as well. Parts of an iron anchor discovered by Engelhardt are lost today, but some drawings of the finds exist.

Reconstructed hand bailer

Whoever built the Nydam Ship had taken a close look to Roman ships from the time. Contact was likely established at the Dutch coast which was then part of the Roman province of Germania inferior, or in Britain. The clinker technique and the caulking with textiles were used by the Romans, as well as the frames to strengthen the hull, and the scarfing of bow and stern to the keel. The anchor fragments show Roman influence as well. I wonder why the people who built the Nydam Ship did not also copy the concept of having a sail in addition to the oars (6).

View to the inside with rowing benches

The Nydam Ship was built ~ AD 320 according to dendrochronological dating, and deposited in the bog in ~ AD 350. But after her discovery in 1863, her journey was not at an end, due to the political situation. Engelhardt prepared the ship and other finds for an exhibition in Flensburg, but the Schleswig War between Denmark and Prussia in 1864 forced him to store the ship in an attic. After the war, the town of Flensburg and Engelhardt's collection were given to Prussia. The ship was moved to Kiel where it again languished in an attic. It took until 1925 to present the ship and the other finds in the Museum vaterländischer Alterthümer in Kiel. During WW2 the Nydam Ship was removed to a lake near Mölln (south of Lübeck) where it was hidden on a barge. After the war, Denmark claimed the ship and the other Nydam finds since the bog lies on Danish territory, but the Allies allowed it to remain in Germany. The ship was moved to Schleswig where it is exhibited since 1947. It got a new hall in 2013 (7)

Another view from the side

A new excavation campaign was launched by the Danish National Museum (Institute of Maritime Archaeology) from 1989 to 1997 in order to look for remains missed by Engelhardt and new finds. The campaign was pretty successful and Copenhagen got its share of interesting things from the bog. But the main exhibition is still the one in the State Archaeological Museum in Gottorf Palace in Schleswig. Including lots of weapons I'm going to present in a future post.

View from the bow with the steering oar

1) You can find Hamburg easily. North from there right into the peninusla, you will come across Schleswig and Flensburg (and, slightly east of Flensburg, Sønderburg with the Nydam Bog). North-east of Hamburg you'll touch Lübeck and if you go east from there along the coast, you'll come across Wismar all the way to Stralsund, the great towns of the Hansa League. South of Lübeck is Lüneburg which I've mentioned several times as possession of the Welfen dukes of Braunschweig.
2) I've found a crew of 45 mentioned on the internet, but I rather rely on the book by Abegg-Wigg.
3) Today's borders. The Schleswig peninsula was contested between Germany and Denmark for centuries, the frontiers moving to and fro with several wars.
4) The ship is larger and older than the Nydam Ship. Modern Archaeology doesn't always need to dig big holes and drag everything out to gain information, and therefore the ship will remain as long as the bog is the best way to preserve it.
5) The rivets have been replaced with new ones, but in case of the bog conserved Nydam Ship iron doesn not pose the same danger to the timber as in the salt water conserved Vasa.
6) It would be interesting to compare the Nydam Ship with the remains of the older one still in the bog and check that one for Roman influences, or lack thereof.
7) The Nydam Ship was lent to Copenhagen in 2003/04.

Angelika Abegg-Wigg: Das Nydamboot - versenkt, entdeckt, erforscht. Schleswig, 2014
Michael Gebühr: Nydam und Thorsberg, Opferplätze der Eisenzeit. Schleswig, 2000


Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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Location: Germany

I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.