Fate had it in for WISMAR. The first Hanseatic city east of Lübeck has similar looks to the league-leader on which it was modelled in a cobbled Altstadt stuffed with gables and red-brick Gothic. And it retains the backbone of the central harbour that made it a rich port with considerable diplomatic clout during a medieval golden age. Unlike Lübeck, however, Wismar was conquered. Snatched by the Swedes in 1648, it became a southern bulwark of the empire and suffered the consequent woes of siege, fire and pillage – the legacy of their hundred-and-fifty-year occupation is scattered throughout, not least the fabulously mustachioed “Swedish heads” that are a town mascot. Worse still were air raids in 1945 that obliterated two massive medieval churches.

Since reunification, Wismar has taken tourism seriously. It again declares itself a Hansestadt (Hanseatic town), and a major renovation programme has buffed up its once neglected Altstadt, something that elevated it onto UNESCO’s World Heritage list in a joint application with Stralsund. Yet it remains refreshingly untouristy. Away from the set pieces, the historic streets have an air of glories past. It may be one reason why film director F. W. Murnau turned to Wismar as a backdrop for his 1922 Gothic-horror classic, Nosferatu: shots include the prewar Markt and the vampire’s ghostly ship drifting into the old harbour. It also makes it one reason to go. Others include the Hafentage (wismarer-hafentage.de), which brings fleets and a funfair to the harbour in late June, and the jolly, historic Schwedenfest (schwedenfest-wismar.de) over a weekend in late August.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Germany features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

A beginner's guide to the best German beers

A beginner's guide to the best German beers

Think Germany and you think beer. It’s a country whose beer culture is so ingrained and recognised that Oktoberfest (16 September–3 October 2017) is celeb…

14 Sep 2017 • Daniel Neilson insert_drive_file Article
How Syrians are keeping their culture alive in Berlin

How Syrians are keeping their culture alive in Berlin

Syria has been shattered by conflict since March 2011; more than 5 million people have been forced to flee the country and rebuild their lives elsewhere. Jessi…

05 Sep 2017 • Jessica Bateman local_activity Special feature
Going underground in Hamburg: 6 ways to see the city's alternative side

Going underground in Hamburg: 6 ways to see the city's alternative side

Hamburg is perpetually on the brink of falling out with itself. On the one hand, it’s a city of convention and millionaires – Hamburg has the highest concen…

18 Jul 2017 • Neil McQuillian insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook