By Tom Bross
Photos by the author
Travelers who like continental lake districts should set their sights on Mecklenburg-Lower Pomerania, Germany’s least densely populated federal state.
More than 1,000 lakes and ponds speckle the countryside terrain. Seven of those are right inside Schwerin’s municipal confines—plenty enough to give this Landeshaupstadt state capital (population 97,100) the appeal of curving shoreline pathways, footbridges, causeways, pleasure-boat docks and south-side Zippendorf’s sandy beach. To reach the city, take an InterCity Deutsche Bahn train from Hamburg, a 57-minute trip (check www.raileurope.com).
Get acquainted with the Schweriner See (biggest of the inner-city lakes) by way of a short Weisse Flotte cruise to Kaninchenwerder and Ziegelwerder, a pair of woodsy nature sanctuaries frequented by 100 species of birds. Even more central, crisscrossed by ferryboats, the oval-shaped Pfaffenteich features spouting fountains and a terrace café.
If this local water world doesn’t satisfy outdoor enthusiasts, you can hike-bike-paddle through the beechwood-forested Warnotal valley, 43 miles northbound toward coastal Rostock-Warnemünde via hidden-away riverside villages.
First though, one of Europe’s most flamboyantly spectacular castles, inspired by Grand Duke Friedrich Franz II, fairly shouts for attention. Its pentagonal bulk stands on a lake (the Burgsee), consciously imitating Château de Chambord in France’s Loire Valley. Rising from medieval fortress foundations on a mini-island accessed by ornamental bridges, ongoing construction and impulsive add-ons produced the neo-Renaissance, gilded-domed Schweriner Schloss, finally completed in 1857. End result, amidst terra-cotta trimmings: a splurge of pinnacles, belfries and 15 turrets. For dramatic impact, floodlights illuminate the ensemble during nighttime hours. Surely an extravagant setup for the state’s Landtag parliamentary offices.
PORTRAITS, PORCELAINS AND OLD MASTERS PAINTINGS
For visitors touring the premises, however, bureaucratic doings play second fiddle to the castle’s cultural finery. Not to be missed: galleries devoted to portraits covering 600 years of ancestral dukedom, plus important Mecklenburg landscape paintings. Also here: a lavish oak-paneled banquet hall, chapel and big-windowed orangerie. Inlaid-wood floor patterns and silk brocade wall hangings embellish the ducal throne room.
Watch for the Schloss museum’s displays of furniture, jewelry and weaponry, but especially its sizeable porcelain collection (Meissen, Sèvres, Fürstenberg). Relax in the rococo tea salon or stroll through the flowery Schlossgarten, accentuated by allegorical statues (www.schloss-schwerin.de).
Thanks to past acquisitions made by Mecklenburg Duke Christian Ludwig II and his son Friedrich, the state’s Staatliches Museum Kunstsammlung ranks high as an outstanding fine arts repository. Surrounded by linden groves on Werderstrasse’s northern edge of lakeside Alter Garten greenery, this cultural gem (built 1877-82) resembles a Grecian temple. Gallery-goers ponder Dutch-Flemish “Golden Age” materpieces (Rubens-Rembrandt-Hals-Breugel), but influential German works (Cranach the Elder-Caspar David Friedrich-Max Liebermann-Lovis Corinth) shouldn’t be ignored. Also prominent: Thomas Gainsborough’s full-length, 18th-century Queen Charlotte rendition and (surprise!) a comprehensive French array of dadaist-surrealist Marcel Duchamp canvases.
Mecklenburgisches Staatstheater, home of the Court Orchestra.
The Beaux-Arts Mecklenburgisches Staatstheater, another Alter Garten edifice, stages operatic-ballet-theatrical performances—and is “home hall” of the Mecklenburg Court Orchestra, established 448 years ago for eminence as Germany’s third-oldest symphony orchestra, after Dresden’s Staatskapelle and Leipzig’s Gewandhaus.
PANORAMIC VIEWS FROM THE CATHEDRAL TOWER
Schwerin’s cityscape emerged in remakably good shape from the economically skimpy GDR decades. So take in the architectural mix. Dom St. Maria und St. Johannes (on Bischofstrasse) exemplifies soaring early-Gothic north-German brick cathedrals. Climbing 219 spiral stairs to the tower rewards sightseers with terrific panoramics from a 320 foot altitude. Evocative tidbit: the 15th century golden cross crowning the steeple was salvaged from Wismar’s war-damaged (and, in 1990, GDR-dynamited) Marienkirche.
On the Marktplatz, you’ll see an unusual kind of Rathaus—basically Gothic but scrunched behind an English mock-Tudor façade. It stands near Schwerin’s 18th century
Säulengebäude market hall, fronted by a dozen white Doric columns.
(right) Monument commemorating Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, founding father of Schwerin.
In 1707, a planned Schwerin Neustadt community named Schelfstadt came into existence. Narrow streets, clustered half-timbered Fachwerk houses, Baroque Nikolai Church and tidy kitchen gardens comprise a worthwhile visitor attraction. Same for this lakeside setting’s Freilichtmuseum Schwerin-Muess, recalling 18th-19th century rural
WHERE TO EAT, WHERE TO SLEEP
The Sorat organization converted a 1936 wheat warehouse into Speicher am Ziegelsee, where spacious guest rooms complement a 55-seat restaurant (www.speicher-hotel.de). Another Ziegelsee choice, Best Western’s Seehotel Frankenhorst, has boat dock, swimming pool and whirlpool-sauna amenities (www.seehotel.bestwestern.de).
Tops in town for deluxe ambience and Pffanteich vistas, Niederländischer Hof includes a wood-paneled library and mirrored restaurant (www.niederlaendischer-hof.de). Centrally situated Alt Schweriner Schankstuben is a budget category 16-room Gasthaus (www.alt-schweriner-schankstuben.de).
Among recommendable in-town dining options are upscale Weinhaus Uhle (www.weinhaus-uhle.de), beer-pouring Zum Stadtkrug Alstadt Brauhaus (www.altstadtbrauhaus.de), sophisticated Friedrichs, occupying a circa-1801 neoclassical mansion (www.restaurant-friedrichs.com) and ever popular Wallenstein, on a Schweriner See embankment, where patrons seated on the open-air pavilion are treated to views of the castle (www.restaurant-wallenstein.de). For a coffeehouse break, find elegant Café Prag, with sidewalk tables overlooking Schusterstrasse, and Röntgen on the Markplatz.