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


27.4.16
  Spring in the Meissner Mountains

I've posted some photos of the Meissner mountains taken in autumn some time ago. Here is a bunch I took two weeks ago, with the first buds of spring appearing on the trees.

Meissner mountains, juniper heath near Rossbach

I'm still having a busy time at work. I hope it will be better soon so I'll have the time to write some longer posts that require research. It's not that I'm running out of landscape photos, but I suspect my readers will get bored if there's not some castle soon. ;-)

A view into the valley

The scenery for this post was taken on the juniper heath near a village called Rossbach in the Meissner foothills. One of the Premium hiking paths is leading through this landscape. The Premiums hiking ways are mostly natural paths that are kept free from obstacles and well equipped with signposts. There are also maps so you can plan tours ahead.

Juniper heath with birches

The areas with juniper heath are interspesed with calcareous grasslands, fields, and grazing meadows down in the valleys. In summer, some rare orchids will bloom on the calcareous grasslands. I'll plan to return for another tour when the heather is in bloom - the hills should look lovely then.

Another - slightly obscured - view into the valley

There is some forest as well, and a river that gets lost. *grin* Since the rock ground in that area is limestone and gypsum kalk, the brook seeps into some particularly porous bit of ground. That itself is not so unusual in limestone formations, but the brook doesn't reappear anywhere - like for example the Rhume Springs - and that is unusual.

A gnarled tree

The limestone dates back to the zechstein time when this part of Germany had been a shallow sea that stretched from eastern England to northern Poland, an area that was known as the European Permian Basin - back then located near the equator. That was 298-252 million years ago. The zechstein is a sedimentary rock as result of layers of calcareous marine fauna pressed together.

A shrubbery dividing some fields

The Zechstein Sea was also responsible for the vast layers of halite (rock salt) that can be found in Germany and Poland. The salt domes around Lüneburg which played a role in the rise of the Hanseatic League in the Middle Ages belong to that strata. Salt can also be found at Werra and Leine where it comes close to the surface in some places.

More juniper heath on the other side of the village

The grassland parts of the landscape are kept open by sheep who are herded to grazing regularly. The area is an interesting mix of natural habitats and man made parts like fields and cherry orchards (the whole area is famous for its cherries). The landscape has developed that way for hundreds of years and is now a nature reserve despite its partial agricultural use.

Juniper tree gate

Karst landscapes like the ones in the north-eastern foothills of the Meissner can also be found in the southern foothills of the Harz (I explained the Zechstein Sea in a bit more detail in that post).

A view towards Rossbach

And finally a nice view towards the village of Rossbach on a sunny spring afternoon.

 


11.4.16
  Spring Impressions from the Danube

Life is a bit busy right now so here's another short picture post with spring photos, this time from the Danube.

View of the Danube from Castle Donaustauf

Castle Donaustauf, a formidable ruin, is situated at the Danube near Regensburg. Both the castle and the view were worth the climb albeit Regensburg in the background was hidden by the morning haze.

Shores of the Danube near Regensburg

I took a two hours mini cruise on the Danube to rest my feet after walking on cobblestones for hours. I love those little boat trips.

Traffic on the Danube

There is a fair bit of traffic on the Danube, though not as much as on the Rhine, at least not this far upriver. There is likely more downriver from Vienna to the Black Sea.

A side arm of the river

Sometimes the river branches off, either to form a peninsula, a bayou, or an abandoned meander, though the latter often have been filled in to make the river easier to navigate.

Spring blossoms

Spring was well on its way in early May.

The shore with castle Donaustauf in the background

A peek of castle Donaustauf from the cruise ship.

Closeup of castle Donaustauf

And a closeup of the castle with the remaining interior of the chapel painted in white.

The Walhalla

The Walhalla. No, not the Norse warrior heaven, though it's named after it. King Ludwig I of Bavaria (the grandfather of 'Mad King' Ludwig) built it in 1842 to commemorate important people of German culture and history. They a represented inside the Greek style temple by busts and tablets.

Against the sun

A nice view against the afternoon sun on the way back to Regensburg.

Interior of the ship

The interior of the ship, the Crystal Queen. Yes, she's decorated with Svarovsky crystals all over (including the bathrooms). The Regensburg Danube fleet has two of those sparkly ships.

Upriver towards Regensburg

Returning to Regensburg. Part of the town's Danube harbour can be spotted to the left.

The Danube, seen from castle Donaustauf

Another haze veiled view of the Danube from castle Donaustauf.
 


26.3.16
  Happy Easter

I wish my readers a Happy Easter.

There is not much in the way of spring outside, so I picked some photos from the spring tour I did last year, when nature was already wearing a veil of fresh verdant.

Spring at the Trave river in Lübeck

A nice way to see some beautiful vistas of Lübeck is a boat tour on the rivers and canals surrounding the old town.

The Slavic open air museum in Gross-Raden

I visited the open air museum in Gross-Raden (near Schwerin) which shows a reconstructed Slavic settlement with ringwall fort twice, in spring and in autumn. It is a fun place to explore and I did not have enough time during the first visit.

The Viking open air museum in Haithabu in Schleswig

The trading settlement of Haithabu / Hedeby was even larger, but the open air museum covers only a small part of the area. The wall around the settlement still exists for the most part, and that is where you can see how large the place once was.

Lambs in the open air museum Gross-Raden

We can't have an Easter post without some easter lambs now, can we? :-)

Flensburg Firth

And finally another photo of blue, sparkling water. The Flensburg Firth on a spring afternoon.

 


13.3.16
  Harbour Impressions from Wismar

I have been to Wismar twice last year, in spring for the brick architecture and in autumn to join a sailing trip on the reconstrcuted cog Wissemara. In spring I got sunshine; in autumn a mix of rain, sun and a thunderstorm. So I got a collection of photos with different moods again.

The skyline of Wismar's old town
Left to right: St.Nicolai Church, tower of St.Mary, St.George Church,
and several cranes in the harbour outside the town

The tour on the cog gave me the chance to take photos from the seaside. When we left, the rain stopped and the sun came out (which made for a really nice trip). Upon return, a nasty, dark-clouded thunderstorm was brewing over the town while the evening sun still shone on the sea, highlighting some features in an eerie glow.

A container crane seen in the light of an incoming thunderstorm

Like Stralsund, Wismar was a Slavic settlement in the early Middle Ages; the tribe living in the area were the Obodrite. Their prince Heinrich Borwin, a Christian and vassal of Duke Heinrich the Lion of Saxony, founded Wismar in 1226. This brought an influx of German settlers. The three settlements around the churches St.Nicolai, St.Mary, and St. George grew together, and by 1276 a wall surrounded the entire town. Wismar became an official member of the Hanseatic League in 1259 when the town joined with Lübeck and Rostock to fight the Baltic Sea pirates.

Wismar, St.Nicolai Church seen from the sea

Wismar lies inside a bay which is further protected by Poel isle on the southern end. The old town is Unesco World Heritage, together with Stalsund. Wismar had suffered bomb destruction during WW2, and the GDR government had the St.Mary church blown up except for the tower (instead of repairing it). But both Wismar and Stralsund have undergone lots of renovation after the German reunion and are today little jewels of brick architecture with some splendid churches.

Tower of St.Mary Church, St. George, and modern container cranes

Wismar - also like Stralsund - became a Swedish possession after the Thirty Years War, since the Swedes had conquered the town in 1632. The Swedish kings turned Wismar into a sea fortress with 18 bastions carrying 700 canons, but Sweden nevertheless lost Wismar to Prussia in the Great Nordic War in 1716 (1) and was forced to dismantle the bastions.

Sweden pawned out Wismar to the dukes of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in 1803 and abandoned the pawn in 1903, so Wismar fell back to Germany. This is still celebrated today.

View to the old harbour, with one of the new container cranes in the background

Wismar's old harbour, once teeming with cogs being unloaded and merchants in fur lined cloaks checking on wares, is now a quiet place used by smaller sailing ships, some fisherboats who sell snacks directly from the railing, and the Poel ferries. Though on a sunny day the place can still be busy with tourists. And thieving gulls. ;-)

The old harbour on a sunny day

At the outer end of the old quay stands the 18th century 'Beam House'. The building is named after the beams and chains that were drawn across the water to protect the harbour at night. On the other side is the Water Gate, built 1450 in the gabled Gothic style. It is one of the five gates that once allowed entrance into the town and the only one to access the town from the water side. You can see the Water Gate on the photo below; it is the gabled building with the white decorations to the left.

The old harbour on a Sunday evening

The old harbour is framed by warehouses many of which today house hotels and restaurants. At the end of the season, with fewer tourists around and the weather on the dreary side, the old harbour is a quiet place.

Besides the old harbour, Wismar has several marinas in the outskirts of the town.

Leaving the harbour on the cog

Nowadasy, new harbours and shipyards spread along the inner part of the bay. They had grown over time and got an additional push after 1945 when Russia established a shipyard for its fleet in Wismar. After the reunion, it was taken over by Nordic Yard, which is one of the main employers in Wismar and well known for its large dry dock of 395 metres length and 72 metres height.

Wismar, the outer harbour

The sea harbour deals with timber, steel, building materials, and salt, among other goods. The docks have a length of 2.3 kilometres and offer space for up to 15 large cargo ships.The transhipping in 2015 was 3.7 million tons, making the harbour of Wismar more important than Stralsund.

The reconstructed cog Wissemara in the rain

In 1997, the wreck of a Hanseatic cog was found in the Bay of Wismar near the Poel isle. Research showed that it was made of pine timbers cut in 1354. The hull was clinker-built and showed elements that date back to the Viking and Slavic ships of the early Middle Ages, thus perhaps providing an example for the special 'Baltic cog' which has been assumed to have existed (2). The cog is 31 metres long and could carry freight of 200 tons.

The cog against the light

The wreck served as model for the reconstruction of a cog using the old techniques. The planks were cut with special axes; saws did not exist. They were then bent into shape using steam - a very tricky process. The one difference was the use of steel nails instead of iron ones. I visited the construction site in 2004 and talked with the guys working there, so it was a special experience to be able to actually sail the cog whose hull I had seen back then (it was finished in 2006). The cog, dubbed Wissemara, has been equipped with a motor and a toilet, plus benches and cots in the freight space, and offers sailing tours from several hours to several days.

Passing the sea bridge in the evening light

Footnotes
1) Basically Russia, Saxony / Poland and Denmark / Norway, both personal unions, against Sweden, fighting for supremacy on the Baltic Sea. Later, England, Prussia, Hannover, France, the Netherlands, Poland-Lithuania and others joined in, inlcuding the Ottoman Empire, thus extending the conflict all the way to the Crimea. It lasted from 1700 to 1721.
2) The significance of the find is still discussed.

 


6.3.16
  A Bit of Sunshine - The Flensburg Firth

The dreary weather between winter and spring has put me in a melancholical mood and makes me long for some real sunshine. So I checked my photos for some pretty pics.

Sailing boats on the Flensburg Firth

There, that's much better. A sunny spring afternoon I spent on a little tour on the Flensburg Firth - with a good Flensburg beer. :-)

The coast on the German side

The Flensburg Firth or Flensburger Förde, as it is called in German, is the westernmost Baltic Sea inlet on the Schleswig peninsula. It is actually not a firth (fjord) because it was not shaped by a glacier flowing into the sea, but by a landward moving glacier that pushed up material in front of it to form part of the peninsula. A Förde is also shallower than a firth.

Ox Islands on the Danish side

The Flensburg Firth is the border between Germany in the south and Denmark in the north today. Historically, the Schleswig peninsula was a contested area between Germany and Denmark for most of the time, and the border shifted accordingly.

The Flensburg Firth seen against the light

The length of the firth is 40 or 50 km, depending on the definition, since the inlet is divided in two parts by some islands. The little ship tour - actually a ferry connection that can also be booked as 3 hours round trip - only travels the inner firth to the Ox Islands / Sønderhav on the Danish side and the town of Glücksburg on the German side.

The quay and beach at Glücksburg

It had been a spontaneous idea, since I actually had come to Flensburg for the pretty houses in the old town, but it was one of the best ideas I had. The tour was absolutely lovely.

Naval Academy Mürwik

One of the more splendid sights of the tour is the Naval Academy Mürwick, the main training establishment for German Navy officers. It is situated on a small hill overlooking the firth. The main building is also know as the 'Red Castle' due to its colour and architecture.

The harbour of Flensburg with sailing boats coming in

The harbour of Flensburg is very pretty with marinas for sailing boats, a historical harbour, and some ferry terminals. Nothing big, and no huge freighter ships around. It was a quiet and sunny place that afternoon.

Flensburg, the historical harbour

I stayed in Flensburg to wait for the evening train back to Schleswig where my hotel was, and walked around the historical harbour and the old town in the evening sun.

Historical sailing ships

Göttingen is a pretty town, and the surrounding mountain areas of Harz, Solling and Meissner are beautiful, but I do miss the sea sometimes. At least I have the photos and the memories.

A quiet evening

And hopefully, my mood will soon improve and I'll be able to write the second post about the Hiddensee treasure which I have promised.

 


22.2.16
  Shiny Things from Viking Times - The Gold Treasure of Hiddensee: The Historical Context

On November 13, 1872, a severe northeastern gale swept over the island of Hiddensee, causing a flood that hit the flat southern part of the island, deforested since the Thirty Years War, destroyed several fishing villages of reed thatched wattle and daub cots, and broke the island in two parts by washing away some of the land. But it turned out the flood also brought to light something that had lain hidden in a former bog which had long dried up, for a thousand years. Something shiny.

Six of the ten gold pendants found on Hiddensee between 1872-74

The story of the find and its successive acquirement by the Provincial Museum for Lesser Pomerania and Rügen, as the Historical Museum Stralsund was then called, is a bit garbled and mixed with legend. The most likely variant is that the pieces were discovered separately, partly through planned search at the site of the first find, partly due to a second flood in 1874, and sold separately as well, though in some cases there may have been a time lapse between the finding and selling of items.

(left: Hiddensee Treasure - the complete set of fibula, ten large, and four small 'intermediate' pendants)

There are two reasons: for one, albeit it technically was a hoard find (see below), the inhabitants of Hiddensee wanted to make sure they could claim it as flotsam, because in that case they had a right to the treasure and the money. A hoard find would have belonged to the owner of the land, the Holy Spirit Monastery Stralsund. The second reason was likely that the finders wanted to make sure they got a fair price. Fortunatly for them, the director of the museum, Rudolf Baier, who immediately recognised the Viking craftmanship, was willing to collect whatever the fishermen found and paid handsomely. A few pieces sold to other people were later gifted to the museum to complete the set.

The first piece to be sold was one of the larger cross shaped pendants which goodwife Striesow had found 'at the beach near her garden after the storm'. The goldsmith Petschler sold it to the district's president Count Behr- Negendank in March 1873 (he later gave the piece to the museum). Striesow's son-in-law, the sail maker Linsen, searched the beach and found seven more pieces which he sold to Baier in June 1873. Another woman found a smaller cross pendant and one of the intermediate pieces which she sold to a goldsmith in August. The rest of the finds was sold to Baier in 1874 after the February flood. He spent 2257 Mark on the various pieces, money the poor fishermen could well use restore their homes and repair the rift in the island the flood had caused.

The exact site of the find remains obscure; we only know it was located near the village of Neuendorf on the western side, at the Baltic Sea coast. Baier assumed the pendants and other pieces had been stored in at least two clay jugs - the double bended neck ring and the lack of sand or other remains stuck between the filigree point at such a preservation - and been deposed in a former bog. Traces of the jugs have not been found, but one can imagine the fisherfolk was looking for gold, not potshards. And if they found a jar, they may have 'forgotten' to mention it because of the hoard versus flotsam thing, and one can't blame them.

Hiddensee, the Baltic Sea coast

We can't say for sure if the treasure is complete, but the existing pieces make for an impressive set: A neck ring of 44 cm length (and 12.5 cm diametre) made of four entwined wires, a fibula of 8 cm diametre, six larger cross shaped pendants of about 7 cm length, four smaller cross pendants of about 5 cm length, and four 'intermediate' pendants of 2 cm length. The weight of the gold is 598.2 gram and the purity between 93% and 97% which is very high. All pieces are masterfully crafted in filigree and bead work, and date to the second half of the 10th century (1). I will get back to the craftmanship and production of those pieces in a second post.

Hiddensee Treasure - the fibula

The treasure dates most likely to the time of Harald Bluetooth and may have been commissioned by himself or someone else sufficiently rich and important to pay for that sort of craftmanship. The finds of jewelry of the Hiddensee-style concentrate on Denmark proper, southern Sweden and Norway, Haithabu / Hedeby and the Pomeranian Baltic Sea coast, all places under Danish control at the time of Harald Bluetooth. The comparative dating of such finds points at the second half of the 10th century. Albeit we will not likely ever by able to say for sure who owned the jewelry and who deposited it in a bog on Hiddensee island, there are a few arguments in favour of a connection with King Harald.

(right: Hiddensee Treasure - the neck ring, fibula and some pendants)

Harald Bluetooth, born ~ AD 920, followed his father Gorm onto the Danish throne probably in 936 (2). Harald accepted King Otto I of the Germans (the later Otto the Great) as liege lord after he lost a battle about the possession of the Jutland peninsula in 948. Harald became Christian and supported Otto and his bishops in the Christianization of Scandinavia - the first bishoprics in Denmark were founded during his reign. In 950, he founded Jomsburg (Jume) at the Baltic Sea coast, seat of the famous Jomsvikings. The localisation is disputed, but it must have been somewhere between the Darß peninsula west of Stralsund and the Oder river outfall (3).

After the death of Håkon the Good in 961 by the hand of his nephews (sons of his brother Erik Bloodaxe), Harald snatched southern Norway and became king there as, too (in 970), forcing Erik's sons, who were his nephews as well, to become his vassals (4).

Harald married in second marriage Tove, the daughter of the Abodrite king Mistivoy (the Abodrite were a Slavic tribe settling along the Baltic Sea coast from the Schleswig peninsula to the Oder). Mistivoy was another pagan king who had accepted the Christian faith and vassalty to the King Otto of the Germans in 965.

Harald's son from his first marriage, Sven Forkbeard, remained a pagan and tried to oust daddy. He was supported by the Jomsvikings. The conflict culminated in a sea battle at Helgenes near Bornhom. Harald was hit by an arrow and badly wounded. He escaped with some faithful retainers to Pomerania where he sought shelter with his father-in-law Mistivoy. That brought him close to the Rügen and Hiddensee islands. Harald died from his wound in exile in 986 (5). His body was brought to Roskilde and buried in the church he had built there.

The flat southern part of Hiddensee (now partly reforested) seen from the lagoon

Since the jewelry was made for someone of high rank, and most likely had been worn by a woman (the neck ring is too small for a man and the pendants would make for a pectorale-style set a woman might wear), it is a possible scenario that Tove was the owner of the set. She may have fled together with her husband and for some reason decided to bury the treasure on Hiddensee island (6).

The landscape near Neuendorf / Hiddensee from the lagoon side

There is scarce proof for settlement on Hiddensee in the 10th century, and what traces we have concentrate on the land at the foot of the Dornbusch hill in the northern part. A forest of beech, oak and alder covered most of the island, with a concentration of alder on the wet ground in the flat parts where also some lakes and bogs could be found between the dunes. It likely was one of the bogs that served as hiding place for the treasure. A map from 1835 still shows two small lakes and a bog near Neuendorf, fifty years before the discovery of the treasure.

The neighbour island Rügen was more densely populated in the 10th century. The predominant population was Slavic, but there were contacts, both peaceful and belligerent, with the Vikings, esp. from Denmark during the 9th to 12th centuries. Some other shiny things of Viking craftmanship have been found in the area, which puts the Hiddensee Treasure into a historical context of Slavic-Scandinavian-German contacts. The style and craftmanship connect the treasure to Haithabu / Hedeby (7) and other southern Scandinavian trade and craft centres, as the next post will show.

View from the Dornbusch hill to the sea coast

Footnotes
1) My photos are of high quality replica made in Mainz in 1990. The originals at the time were in a safe. They are exhibited in Stralsund since December 2015, but hidden behind two inches of armoured glass, which would make photographing more difficult.
2) Most sources have 936, but dendrochronological dating of the church Harald built for his father in Jellinge point at 958. I think the first date is correct because it was Harald who accepted Otto as liegelord in 948. The church may have been built several years after Gorm's death.
3) Jume / Jomsburg is often likened with the legendary Vineta, one of the sunken cities - like Kêr Ys in Brittany or Cantre'r Gwaelod in Wales.
4) Erik Bloodaxe had been married to Harald Bluetooth' sister Gunnhild.
5) The date is not undisputed since the sagas and chronicles (esp. Adam of Bremen) give contradictory information, but the most likely variant.
6) Another suggested historical connection is the battle of Svolder (AD 1000) where Harald Bluetooth' son-in-law Olaf Tryggvasson fell. Its site is unknown; there are several candidates from Rügen to the Öresund. But even if the battle took place near Rügen, it would not explain how the treasure came to be buried in Hiddensee any better than the connection with Harald Bluetooth' death in Jume.
7) A whole set of jewelmaking tools has been dug out of the former harbour in Haithabu in the 1970ies. I took some photos of those when I visited the museum.

Literature
B. Armburster, H. Eilbracht: Wikingergold auf Hiddensee. Rostock, 2010

 


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.

My Photo
Name:
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.


e-mail

Twitter