Sometimes Rostock is just too big for me. Too many cars and too many people; too many trams and too much noise. Having grown up in a village of 62 souls, the city can still be overwhelming for me at times. That’s when I go to the Old Town. There it feels like being in a cosy old village right in the middle of a vibrant modern city with neatly kept flower pots on the window sills and thoroughly cared for hanseatic facades of the old
buildings. Between the narrow streets of cobble stone and the small, slightly skewed houses that cling to them on both sides, you can almost physically feel the chequered and colourful history of the city. You’re standing right where it all began. And amidst all that cosiness, the sweeping steeples of the Peter and Nikolai churches remind you of the fact that you are still in a city that has been the centre of the entire area for the past 800 years or so.
It’s the perfect place to take a nice stroll and puzzle about the mysterious street names (hint: The name “Kleine Goldstraße” (Little Gold Street) has absolutely nothing to do with actual gold.).
Sometimes, when you walk through the Old Town at night, when all the quaint street lamps are lit and you’re standing there baffled by the sound of silence, you can hear a horn blow somewhere in the alleys; then the rhymed call of the night watchman informing all the residents of what hour the church tower’s clock has struck, and that, according to him, everything is in perfect order: “Ninth hour of the night and all is alright.”
Then, if you choose to take in the spectacle, you see him come around the corner in his long dark cloak with his lantern in one hand and his halberd in the other. He’s on duty to protect the respectable and honest citizens of this city in their well-deserved slumber; as he and his long line of predecessors have done for centuries.
He knows every cobble stone and every pigeon in the Old Town and he knows plenty of curious, funny and almost unbelievable stories about his precursors’ night shifts of the past centuries. Suddenly, history’s coming to life.
Today, the night guards are tour guides and their turnout is nothing but a well-packaged show but if you join them on their beat, they paint a picture of the city that makes you look over your shoulder every now and then to check for a nocturnal scoundrel with malign intentions.
The night watch tour is held by Hansetouristik and takes place every Monday and Saturday at 8pm from November – April and every Monday, Friday and Sunday from May – October. The meeting point is the main entrance of St Peter’s church in the Old Town. Tickets can be pre-booked via phone (+49381 25 22 29 44) or in the Hansetouristik office at Schnickmannstraße 15 (€9 p.p., €7.50 for students; children under 12 years can go for free).
Unfortunately, public tours are only offered in German at this point, it’s a good chance to stock up on archaic vocabulary; otherwise make sure you bring an interpreter.
Group tours are offered in English but need to be booked well in advance.
I’ve done the tour twice already. It actually is that good. 🙂