SCHWERIN – Culture, traditions and a haunted Castle!
Schwerin is the oldest town and the capital city of the federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in Germany. The town is surrounded by several lakes, and it is said that the area within the town borders can be divided into three: 1/3 lake, 1/3 buildings and 1/3 parkland. It is obvious then that you will never be far from water, parks or other green areas when visiting Schwerin. The town has around 100,000 inhabitants and is easy to reach from Hamburg, a train journey that takes one to one and a half hours.
I visited Schwerin in December. My immediate impression was of a charming town centre surrounded by water on all sides. The narrow streets in the town centre lead you between historical buildings side by side with modern architecture, and the town’s passion for culture and art becomes quickly evident. On a stroll through Schwerin’s old town, the oldest part of the town centre, I found myself in an area of old, lopsided timber framework houses – still a predominant feature in parts of this area. These were interspersed by welcoming cafés and restaurants, modern design shops and more traditional and specialist boutiques. I can recommend a visit to some of the many interior design shops or second-hand outlets, or a trip to the jewellery and artwork studio also located in one of the town’s oldest buildings. You will be fascinated by more than the products on sale, as a number of these old buildings are absolutely delightful inside.
On one of the side streets, I found an old house where the first floor extended as a small superstructure above the ground floor into the narrow street. I learned that this was a way to make the most of space available, at a time when a building’s area was only calculated according to the foundations, and not the floor space on the upper stories. If you take a stroll through this part of town, don’t forget to stop at a baker to sample an authentic doughnut, but don’t wait too long as these are extremely popular and are often sold out early on.
Schwerin is well-known for its beautiful, majestic fairy-tale castle, with a total of 635 rooms and situated on its own island nearby the town centre. Around the Castle are vast and well-designed gardens popular with both the locals and visitors. Schwerin Castle was originally built as one of the castles for the numerous Dukes and Grand Dukes of Mecklenburg, but now is a combined museum and office for public officials.
On a guided tour of the Castle, you will see painted portraits of some of the former residents, and learn about how fashions have altered throughout the period when the Castle was home to Dukes and Duchesses. You can also enjoy the beautiful and elaborate decorations in the rooms used for the museum. These feature original furniture, sculpture and art. The basement level also has a large collection of porcelain, silverware and weapons that once belonged to the Castle.
It is said that the Castle is haunted by a little boy known as Petermännchen or little Peter. He is portrayed in paintings and statues around the Castle, and also on several souvenirs of Schwerin. The legends and myths surrounding little Peter are many, but they all have in common that Peter is a “benevolent” ghost who watches over the Castle and its owners and residents. He is rumoured to chase away thieves and dishonest visitors, and rattles his chains during the night if something is amiss. Drawings show that during the restoration of the Castle in 1857, a separate room was furnished for little Peter with a bed, chair and desk. The room was cleaned regularly and constantly showed signs of a small person having slept in the bed. Noises were often heard from the room. Today, we no longer know which room this was.
As mentioned above, Schwerin Castle is surrounded by delightful gardens, with a summer café for visitors. A number of events are hosted in the gardens, and this is a very popular site for walks, jogging and recreation.
EVENTS AND FESTIVALS
Schwerin is a town with a wide range of festivals and events throughout the year. I was fortunate enough to visit the town when the entire town centre was taken over by the Christmas market – every nook and cranny was packed with something related to Christmas. The main street in the town centre was lined with stalls from one end to the other, and the market continued up to the market square, which had a large stage and daily entertainment by both local and more national artists, a Christmas pyramid and a merry-go-round for the kids. At one end of the main street was a huge Ferris wheel and an indoors skating rink for people looking for excitement and speed. The aroma of candied almonds, sausages on the barbeque, hot mulled wine and an impressive number of other exciting dishes filled the air, mixing with the notes of Christmas tunes from a street organ – the perfect way to get you into the Christmas spirit.
As the town is practically surrounded by water, Schwerin has a very successful annual dragon boat festival – one of the main attractions in the summer. Companies and private individuals compete in the boat race, rowing colourful dragon boats to the finishing line. The festival lasts for three days and makes its mark on the town.
If you are more interested in food than sports, Schwerin should be at the top of your list. The vast gardens surrounding Schwerin Castle are transformed into a huge gourmet restaurant during the Gourmet Garden Festival. Local chefs use local produce to create the most delicious dishes served from a long row of food stalls. There is also a separate outdoor festival dinner that should be of interest to food lovers.
The town also has its own wine festival, held in the main square in the old part of town. Vineyards from Rheinland Pfalz bring their best wines to the festival, and arrange an authentic German “Weinfest”, normally at the start of September.
For lovers of culture and history, Schwerin is a great destination with several exciting festivals targeting this group. Each spring, a street festival takes place with musicians, artists, actors and fairy-tale figures filling the streets. The town also has an art film festival later on in the year. During the summer, opera performances are held every week nearby the Castle. If you would like to take part in a festival that takes you back to Medieval times, plan your visit in November for the annual Martensmarkt, a festival celebrating the friendship between Lübeck and Schwerin.
A BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF SCHWERIN
For a perfect viewpoint over both the old part of town, the historic square and Schwerin Castle, you can climb up the 117.5-metre-high tower that is part of Schwerin Cathedral. The cathedral is a masonry building started in 1172, then extended and reconstructed over the centuries up to 1883, when it was completed with the high tower as it is today. Climb up to the viewpoint terrace that circles the tower, providing 360-degree views of Schwerin and its surroundings.
This trip to Schwerin was a part of the #CitybreakGermany campaign, a collaboration between NordicTB.com and Germany Travel to highlight lesser known towns and areas in Germany. As always, all opinions are my own.