In 2018, Rostock will be celebrating 800 years of history dating back to the time when its fortunes were built on, strangely enough, salted fish and ale. Merchants would load barrels full of both to be shipped out to other cities, making Rostock both powerful and profitable. This included a fleet of 370 ships sailing under the town's Hanseatic flag.
The first university in continental Northern Europe, the University of Rostock, was built here in 1419 as well as the now beautifully restored university church. More than 14,000 students from 80 different countries have studied at this prestigious school.
In more recent times, Rostock, like other cities in East Germany, was under the dark cloud of the former Soviet Union and the GDR. The Penta Hotel, where I stayed, was previously a prison and the older part of the hotel was the former headquarters of the Soviets and subsequently occupied by the German State Security Services.
But, that was then. Today, Rostock has been restored to its former glory with a vibrant university culture, a busy shopping scene as well as restaurants and, of course, Christmas markets in December. In fact, this city on the Baltic Sea has the largest Christmas market in Northern Germany. Booths cover several streets and this year they featured the largest Christmas pyramid in the world, complete with a restaurant on the lower floor.
St. Marien Church, the largest of the three in the city, is one of the most beautiful in Germany and built of bricks in a classic Gothic style. Located behind the altar is the famous astronomical clock built by Nuremberg clockmaker Hans Düringer in 1472. The clock's three partitions include elements of the apostles, Jesus, the zodiac, and a clock with the daily time. It is the oldest such clock with all of its original components anywhere in the world.
A visit to Rostock would not be complete without a side trip to the nearby town of Warnemünde. Once a sleepy and windy fishing village, today it is a picturesque town of pubs, gabled houses, cafes, and shops.
Colorfully painted fishing boats line the Old Stream, as it is called, with some offering customers the catch of the day, which was salmon when I visited. Along the waterway, I found coffee houses, restaurants, bakeries, and retail shops. One thing I noticed here in East Germany is that people are generally very friendly with each shopkeeper offering a smile along with a warm guten tag (good afternoon).
Here on the coast of the country, you can take a three hour ride across the Baltic Sea and be in Denmark. Believe it or not, there are also miles of sandy beaches that attract thousands during the summer. During December, skies can be grey but many come here for the atmosphere, food and ambiance.