First Contact: The Vikings

From Bad Oldesloe, our route took us North through the Holzsteinische Schweiz, a region named for its apparent resemblance to Switzerland. It was lovely, with lots of lakes, but given that the landscape is as flat as a pancake, it really didn’t shout “Swiss”, at least not to our ears.

Plön is apparently the tourist centre of the region, an attractive town literally surrounded by lakes, with a photogenic castle (well, more of a palace really).

We did come across a tour group of elderly Germans, all sporting very large name badges, waiting to board their boat for a trip round the lake. You could clearly hear the loudspeaker even as the boat disappeared round a corner in the distance: a tour suitable for the hard of hearing as well as the short sighted.

From Plön, we continued to nearby Preetz, a former shoemakers’ town. In 1850, Preetz had 150 master, 369 journeymen, and 160 apprentice shoemakers as well as a larger number of wooden clogmakers (clogs being the everyday wear of the poor). The town itself was nice but the shoemaking seems relegated to the past. We did find “probably the biggest wooden clog in the World” and a cute statue of a shoemaker:

Further North again, we had a look at the Danewirke, a 7th – 12th Century fortified border constructed by the Danes (to the North) to keep out the Saxons (to the South). We’re still in modern-day Germany here; there’s been a lot of battling over this part of the World over the centuries, with the border moving around accordingly.

The Danewirke was around 35km long and crossed the narrowest part of the isthmus. To the East is a Baltic sea fjord, the Schlei, and to the West the Treene and Eider rivers:

Initially just a tall earth bank, it was improved and extended over the years to incorporate stone, timber palisading, and finally, under Waldemar the Great in the late 12th Century, a brick section over 5 metres high, 3 metres deep, and 4-5 kilometres long.

Our next visit was nearby Haithabu (as the place is now called) or Hedeby, as the town that stood on the site was called. This is near the Eastern end of the Danewirke, across the fjord from modern-day Schleswig. Hedeby was founded in the early 9th Century and quickly became an important trading town, being near both the shortest land crossing between the North Sea and the Baltic (which goods used to be carried over) and the only overland route between the Continent and Scandinavia. My Viking book (John Haywood’s “North Men”, Head of Zeus Ltd, 2015) describes Hedeby as “the most important town in Viking Age Scandinavia”.

The 1.3km semi-circular earth wall surrounding the town site (semi-circular being sufficient as the town is next to the fjord) was built under Harald Bluetooth in the late 10th Century. Harald was the 2nd king of Denmark, the son of the entertainingly-named Gorm the Old.

There are seven reconstructed Viking buildings to look at:

Excavations at Hedeby have uncovered a Viking longship and also a ship burial containing 3 fully kitted-out warriors.

Frustratingly, the on-site museum is closed for most of 2017 and the contents are on display at a museum in Zealand. The longship seems to be at the Viking ship museum at Roskilde, also in Zealand. We’re not going to Zealand on our way North… 🙁

Basically, the choice is to either cross East through Zealand, using a couple of large bridges (with large toll fees) to cross to Sweden, or to drive to the northern tip of Jutland (the part of Denmark that joins onto Germany) and get a ferry from there to Norway. We’ve gone with the latter option, so the goodies from Hedeby will have to wait for another time…

We’re spending tonight in Germany, just. The border is only a couple of kilometers from here, so we’ll be crossing into modern-day Denmark in the morning.