Greifswald is a well-preserved medieval university town 3 miles from the Baltic Sea. It is situated in a bike-friendly landscape, near pristine beaches and charming fishing villages. A direct, 2.5 hour train-ride from Berlin, Greifswald is one of the most popular ‘at home’ vacation spots among Germans, and a magnet for Germany’s sailing crowd.
Greifswald was founded in 1199 by a group of Danish Cistercian monks, who also established the (now ruined) monastery of Eldena. Greifswald means ‚Gryphon Forest‘ and, according to legend, a giant gryphon showed the monks the best place to start a town. Greifswald joined the powerful Hanseatic League trading consortium in the late 13th century, and became a wealthy trading center. The town’s wealth is evidenced by the presence of 3 magnificent Gothic churches – whose elaborate interior decorations were funded by wealthy citizens – built within the (still existing) town walls. The university, one of Europe’s oldest, was founded in 1456, and is still located in the heart of the Old Town. In 1631, the powerful Swedish army swept southward (toward Prague) and took control of the province of Pomerania, where Greifswald is located, and Greifswald remained (relatively happily) under Swedish control until 1815, when the Congress of Vienna, which ended the Napoleonic era, awarded Pomerania to Germany’s most powerful empire, Prussia. Unlike many towns in eastern Germany, Greifswald escaped significant damage in World War II because town leaders saw the destruction wrought by the Russian army on nearby towns resisting ‚liberation‘ from Nazi/Fascist control in 1945, and ran (waving white flags) to welcome Russian liberators, thereby saving Greifswald from ruin (the bronze doors of City Hall illustrate this story). From 1949 to 1990, Greifswald (and Pomerania) belonged to the German Democratic Republic, and many of its inhabitants worked at the nearby (now decommissioned) Russian-built nuclear plant in Lubmin. Since the reunification of Germany in 1990, Greifswald has become the center of a vibrant university culture, drawing students from all over Germany and neighboring Poland. It is also an important medical and scientific center due to nearby Insel Reims, where Germany’s Center for Disease Control is located. Most of its buildings have been lovingly restored to their former glory, and Greifswald is truly a gem of a town – beautiful, cosmopolitan, cultured, and easy to get to know. Its famous museum harbor is home to dozens of historic sailing vessels and a center of summertime activity.