Germany's lost cities: Stettin (Szczecin)
- Published: 13 June 2010 13 June 2010
- Last Updated: 12 November 2013 12 November 2013
by Adam Carr
In May 2008 I spent three weeks travelling in Poland. I was particularly interested to visit four major Polish cities which were once part of Germany – Szczecin (Stettin), Gdansk (Danzig), Wroclaw (Breslau) and Poznan (Posen). I also passed through Olsztyn (Allenstein) on my way to the Wolf’s Lair at Rastenburg. I had read that these cities were almost totally destroyed in the last months of World War II, and that there is little to see of their German heritage, but I found this to be far from true. In all these cities many fine German buildings and monuments have survived, or have been restored by the Poles.
In presenting these photos and commentary, I make it clear that I have no sympathy with any residual German claims to these cities, which have been Polish for more than sixty years. The loss of these eastern territories involved a great deal of suffering for the German population, but this was the price that Germany paid for its enthusiasm for Hitler’s regime and its aggression against Poland in 1939.
This hydrant cover set into a footpath is one of many small reminders that Szczecin was once the German city of Stettin.
This is the Altes Rathaus (old town hall), on the Heumarkt or Haymarket (Rynek Sienny), a masterpiece of brick gothic architecture built in the 15th century. This building is the sole survivor of the Stettin Altstadt (Old Town), which was mostly flattened in 1945. It was originally known as the Neues Rathaus because it replaced an older one on the same site. When a much bigger Rathaus was built on another site in 1869, this building became a restaurant. It was badly damaged in World War II, and after many years as a derelict ruin it was restored in 1968. It now houses a restaurant and museum.
This is the Rathaus built in 1869, now known as the Czerwony Ratusz (Red Town Hall), built in the red brick gothic revival style typical of 19th century Prussian civic architecture. The building still houses parts of the Szczecin city administration.
Here we see the gothic detailing of the Rathaus in greater detail, particularly the windows with pointed arches and the mullioned window with a trefoil above it, seen at the top.
This is the General Landschaft building on Parade Platz (now Aleja Niepodległości), built in a German style known as Jugendstil (youth style), which had both gothic and classicist elements. This facade seems more classical than gothic to me – note the Corinthian columns and pediment above the ornate portico. The General Landschaft was a Prussian bank and credit house for landowners. The building still houses a bank today.
According to several sources, the General Landschaft building was designed by the Stettin architect Emil Drews in 1891-95, but above the pediment there is a column with the date 1781 on it. I don’t know what this refers to. [Ed. it refers to the foundation of the General Landschaft] The column is supporting a Pomeranian gryphon carrying a shield with the initial R on it. I don’t what this refers to either. The gryphon was the heraldic symbol of the Dukes of Pomerania, as it still is of the Polish Pomorze region.
The street next to the General Landschaft building was called Greifenstrasse: Gryphon Street (now Ulica Bogurodzicy). On the other side of Greifenstrasse stood the Oberpostdirektion (General Post Office), built in an ornate red brick gothic style in 1905. The building now houses the Szczecin offices of the Polish Post Office and the Polish Telecommunications Board.
A feature of this building are the decorative vertical facades, which echo the gothic facade of the old Rathaus, shown above. These are made of glazed stonework.
Stettin was a fortified town, known as Festung Stettin (Fortress Stettin), frequently contested between Prussia and Sweden. The city’s walls were demolished in the 19th century, but two gates survive. One is the Brandenburger Tor or Berliner Tor (Brandenburg Gate or Berlin Gate), now called the Brama Portowa (Port Gate). The Berliner Tor stood facing onto Linden Strasse (now Aleja 3 Maja).
The Berliner Tor was built in 1725 by Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia to mark his acquisition of the city from the Swedes in 1719. It was designed by the French sculptor Barthelémy Damart. The Latin inscription on the gate records that he bought the city “with a legal contract and for a fair price” (20,000 thalers, in fact).
Above the gate the initials FWR (Fridericus Wilhelmus Rex) form a monogram set into a fanciful coat of arms.
The other surviving gate is the Königstor (King’s Gate), now called the Brama Krolewska (Royal Gate), facing onto Königs Platz (now Plac Żołnierza Polskiego). This gate was erected in 1725 by Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia. It is more ornate that the Berliner Tor, being decorated with reliefs of mythical beasts and agricultural scenes.
As at the Berliner Tor, the king’s initials FWR (Fridericus Wilhelmus Rex) form a monogram above the gate, supported by two rather un-Prussian cherubs.
The Poles have gone to some trouble to restore both gates, but have then spoiled their good work by turning both of them into cafes – not a very dignified way to treat historical monuments.
For the Poles, the historic heart of Szczecin is the Castle of the Dukes of Pomerania (Schloss der Herzöge von Pommern, Zamek Książąt Pomorskich). The original castle was built on this site in 1346 by Duke Barnim III, of the Polish-speaking Gryfici dynasty. The castle is thus seen as proof that Szczecin was originally a Polish city, although the Dukes of Pomerania were subjects of the (German) Holy Roman Empire from 1181. These are the castle gates.
The castle was rebuilt several times, until in 1577 Duke Johann Friedrich had it rebuilt in its current Italian Renaissance style. Unfortunately for the Poles, therefore, there is little to link the castle as it now exists to Szczecin’s Polish past. As Johann Friedrich’s German name suggests, the Duchy of Pomerania was heavily Germanised by the 16th century. In 1630 it came under Swedish rule, and in 1719 it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Prussia.
Under Prussian rule the castle was further embellished and Germanised, with adornments such as this clock tower.
The castle was almost totally destroyed during the fighting for Stettin at the end of World War II. Rebuilding began in 1957, and the castle as seen today is almost entirely a post-war reconstruction. This is evident in the castle’s inner courtyard, seen here, where the walls have a suspiciously smooth finish. The whole castle has a slightly Disneyland quality.
Prussia was a Protestant kingdom, although as it expanded to the east it acquired a substantial Catholic minority, both Polish and German. In Stettin the Catholic churches were converted to Protestant use after the establishment of Prussian rule in 1719, and Stettin was soon a solidly Protestant city. The Jakobskirche (Church of St James) was the oldest German church in the city, dating from 1187. It stood on Breitestrasse (Broad Street, now Księdza Kardynała Stefana Wyszyńskiego).
The current red brick gothic church mostly dates from the 1670s. It was destroyed during World War II and rebuilding began only in 1971. In 1982 it was consecrated as Katedra pw Św Jakuba Apostoła (Cathedral of St James the Apostle), the seat of the Catholic Bishop of Szczecin. Unfortunately at the time of my visit its facade was shrouded in scaffolding.
Further north, on Grosser Dom Strasse (Great Church Street, now Ulica Farna), was Stettin’s largest church, the Peter-Paulskirche (Church of St Peter and St Paul), which was originally a Wendish Slav church dating from 1124. It was rebuilt as a Protestant church in the red brick gothic style in 1817.
The church suffered little damage in World War II and served as the city’s main Catholic church, as Kościół Św Piotra i Św Pawła, until Św Jakuba Apostoła was restored. The church has a splendid stone gothic facade.
Under Prussian and German rule Stettin was a garrison town, and during World War I a new Garnisonkirche (garrison church) was built, designed by Bernard Stahl in a style that blended Prussian tradition with modernist elements. After the expulsion of the Germans in 1945 it became the Catholic Kościół pw Najświętszego Serca Pana Jezusa (Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus).
Under Prussian rule the Catholics of Stettin were served by the Johannes-der-Täufers-Kirche (Church of St John the Baptist) on Elisabeth Strasse (now the Kościół pw Św Jana Chrzciciela on Ulica Kaszubska), designed by Engelbert Seibertz and built between 1888 and 1890.
This is the rather battered gothic southern facade of the Johannis-Kirche (now Kościół pw Św Jana Ewangelisty), which stands beside the Oder (Odra) River on Heilige-Geist-Strasse (now Ulica Świętego Ducha, both names meaning Holy Ghost Street). The church dates from the early 15th century, although most of the present church dates from after its takeover by the Protestants in 1527. Heavily damaged in World War II, it sat derelict for decades.
As can be seen in this view from the northern end, which faces onto Księdza Kardynała Stefana Wyszyńskiego (Breitestrasse), the church is still being restored.
As well as Protestants and Catholics, there were Jews in Stettin, about 3,000 of them in 1933. On Kristallnacht in 1938, their synagogue, on Grüne Schanze (now Ulica Dworcowa) was burned down by a Nazi mob, and in 1940 those who had not managed to emigrate were deported to their deaths at the Belzec extermination camp in Poland. This was the site of the Stettin synagogue: today an apartment block stands on the site.
This was the Stettin Synagogue as it appeared before Kristallnacht.
Although there are official memorials at Auschwitz, the Warsaw Ghetto, and other sites of the extermination of the Polish Jews, little regard is paid to the Jews who had lived in the territories annexed by Poland in 1945, who of course were not Polish by race, religion or citizenship. Today there is a plaque at the site of the Stettin synagogue, but it was erected by former Stettin Jews themselves, not by the Polish government or the city of Szczecin.
A striking example of the continuity of use of many buildings in Stettin and other cities transferred from Germany to Poland in 1945 is the police headquarters on Augusta Strasse (now Ulica Małopolska), built in the standard Prussian brick gothic style in 1902-05. During the Nazi years this was of course the headquarters of the Stettin Gestapo. After 1945 it was taken over by the Soviet NKVD and their Polish counterparts, the UBP.
This is the entrance to the police headquarters. Above the doorway can be seen a stern Prussian knight: the point of his shield is skewering a serpent, representing evil-doers.
After 1945 all the German street names in Stettin were replaced with Polish names, many in honour of Polish, Soviet and other communist heroes. After 1990 these streets were again renamed after Polish nationalist and Catholic figures such as Marshall Pilsudski, Wladyslaw Sikorski, Cardinal Wyszynski and Pope John Paul II. Other street names commemorate World War II battlefields where Poles saw action, such as Monte Cassino and Tobruk. So it’s a surprise to find a Szczecin street named, even indirectly, after Stalin. The name actually means “Street of the Defenders of Stalingrad.”
This is a memorial to the men of the “Berling Army,” the Polish army formed from former POWs and exiles in the Soviet Union. Under the command of General Zygmunt Berling it fought on the eastern front beside the Red Army from 1943 to 1945, and participated in the capture of Stettin in April 1945. Honoured in the communist era, the Berling Army has fallen from favour since 1991, and monuments like this one are neglected.
The most fashionable part of Stettin was along Wilhelm Strasse (now Alija Papieża Jana Pawła II), which ran out of the city to the north-west, and especially around Kaiser Wilhelm Platz (now Plac Grunwaldzki). Around this area many fine 19th century buildings, or at least their facades, have survived, giving an idea of what pre-war middle-class Stettin was like.
Around Plac Grunwaldzki.
Around Plac Grunwaldzki.
Dotted around this part of Szczecin are these old water pumps, now painted in bright colours. The monogram “PG” probably stands for “Plac Grunwaldzki” in which case it is a recent addition.
Here’s another one, with a Pomeranian gryphon at the bottom.
The next six photos are of prewar buildings around Szczecin, not notable in themselves but showing the various buildings styles of the old city, and also their varying states of restoration. This is a theatre, with the date 1909 on the gable.
It should be remembered that nearly 400,000 Germans fled or were expelled from Stettin in 1945, and that the city was severely underpopulated for the next 30 years. Not until the 1980s did Szczecin reach its prewar population, so there was little incentive (and little money) to restore old buildings.
Since 1990 Poland’s greater prosperity, and the desire to attract tourists (mainly from Germany) has led to a greater effort to rescue these old buildings, but many still stand derelict.
This is the Hotel Victoria on Plac Stefana Batorego (formerly Albrecht Strasse).
These buildings are undated but judging by the plain, somewhat modernist style they date from the 1910s or ’20s.
This empty shell, apparently a former factory, is on Ulica Świętego Ducha, formerly Heilige-Geist-Strasse, near the Johannis-Kirche.
It should be noted that most of these German buildings are in the old centre of the city. They are surrounded by communist-era Szczecin, mostly built of grey concrete like this.
Here we are at the intersection of Ulica Kaszubska (Elisabeth Strasse) and Ulica Bogurodzicy (Greifenstrasse), showing the crumbling prewar facades of the old commercial centre. Note that the credit company occupying the ground floor corner is using the English name “Pomerania.”
The same intersection looking in the opposite direction. Note the elegant oriel windows, supported by corbels, projecting out over the intersection.
This commercial building on the corner of Hohenzollern Strasse (now Ulica Bolesława Krzywoustego) and Falkenwalder Strasse (now Aleja Wojska Polskiego) has the distinction of being the home of the world’s oldest continuously operating cinema, the Pionier, formerly the Helios, which opened in this building on 26 September 1909. There is a Guinness Book of Records sign in the window attesting to this fact. The entrance is through the arched doorway at the bottom right of the photo.
At Augustaplatz (now Plac Lotników) was the Stettin branch of the Preussische Staatsarchiv (Prussian State Archives). Following the usual pattern, it has retained its former use under Polish administration, and now houses the Archiwum Państwowe w Szczecinie (State Archives of Szczecin).
The former Marktplatz Post Office, which stands near the river facing onto Grüne Schanze (now Ulica Dworcowa), is still a post office. The Marktplatz is now called Plac Tobrucki, after the siege of Tobruk in World War II, in which Free Polish units took part.
The other end of the same building, on Uferstrasse (Embankment Street), now Nabrzeże Wieleckie, is now the Adam Rudawski Higher School of Management (Wyższa Szkoła Zarządzania).
At the turn of the last century a new administrative precinct was built in the area between the Marktplatz and Rosengartenstrasse (now Ulica Podgórna). The centrepiece was the Stadthaus (City House), built in the fashionable Jugendstil (a sort of German art nouveau) with a distinctive tower, and completed in 1902. This photo shows the front facade with the Pomeranian gryphon high on the gable.
Before World War II Stettin had no university, but in 1947 it became the home of the Pomeranian Medical University (Pomorska Akademia Medyczna), which took over the Stadthaus and other nearby buildings as its administrative centre. The Stadthaus is now the Rectory (Rektorat), seen here.
Around the corner on Ulica Podgórna is the university’s library, housed in a more traditional red brick building.