It doesn’t really fit into the city – yet the „Rügen-Hotel“ has become a landmark of Sassnitz and has been determining the city’s silhouette for over 50 years now.
Being the GDR’s northernmost city, for many “West Europeans”, Sassnitz was at the end of a popular transit route on their way to Sweden. It was also very popular with many Swedes to go shopping duty-free on the “Königslinie” ships, spend one night in Sassnitz and return to Trelleborg the next day. The much sought-after currency of these foreign guests was a reason to build a modern and comfortable hotel.
After the old villa „Villa Wachtmeister“ had been demolished, construction work began in 1968. The Swedish construction company SIAB (Svenska Industribyggen AB) carried out the construction work from the ground floor up to the interior design. Already the following year in August, the „Rügen-Hotel“ celebrated its opening.
While in the beginning it was reserved for foreign and prominent GDR personalities only, from the mid-1970s, more and more domestic visitors, mainly FDGB tourists, were accommodated. The 9th floor was well-known and popular with both foreign guests and locals as an event location, especially on New Year’s Eve. One of the amenities the hotel offered was an outdoor pool which, however, had to be roofed in 1978. Seagulls had confused it several times with the Baltic Sea, leaving “lasting impressions”.
A sailor´s home
With its huge dimensions, the large bay window and its massive tower, it could almost be perceived as the Sassnitz city palace, although only half of the initially planned building complex was constructed. It was also not meant to house counts or kings, but simple fishermen.
In Sassnitz, the tradition of a „Seemannsheim“, a sailor’s home, goes back to 1891, when Adeline Countess von Schimmelmann built a Christian sailor’s home in today’s Seestraße („Alt Crampas“-route, No. 6). Sixty years later, the city of Sassnitz experienced a tremendous boom due to its thriving fishing industry. The cutters’ harbor passage times were often very short and crew members, if they did not have an apartment in Sassnitz or the surrounding area, slept in bunks onboard which brought quite some discomfort. This circumstance changed in 1955, when the newly built „Seemannsheim“ offered 202 beds as accommodation to the fishermen. This significantly improved the fleet members’ living conditions.
Giving streets, squares and buildings the names of anti-fascist resistance fighters, KPD members, etc. corresponded to the zeitgeist in the newly formed GDR. The „Seemannsheim“ was named after “John Schehr” – chairman of the KPD party after Ernst Thälmann had been arrested in March 1933, until he himself was arrested in November 1933 and murdered by the Nazis in Berlin in 1934. Since 1990, the former „Seemannsheim“ has been used as a hotel.
When on December 23, 1958 with the screening of the DEFA movie “Das Lied der Matrosen” (“The Sailors’ Song”), the „Stubnitz Lichtspiele“ started as an official movie theater, no one would have guessed that the cinema would only be operating for little more than 30 years. Right from the start things went anything but smooth. Several problems delayed its completion, at times construction work was even stopped completely. A special novelty caused a new problem: during the construction process, film projection technology changed and the widescreen format became standard. Therefore, already during its construction process, the cinema had to be modernized with new stage and screen dimensions as well as new projection machines. In addition, changing rooms for artists were created, which allowed its additional use as a cultural center. Already in 1959, first youth initiations („Jugendweihe“) and later school enrollment celebrations took place on its premises. The house quickly became the central meeting point for Sassnitz’s inhabitants. Another attraction was added in 1976, when the club cinema was opened. Up to 40 people could sit on swivel chairs at tables and watch movies while eating and drinking. After the closure of the cinema in 1992, the ground floor served as a meeting point for young and old, both as a disco and a youth club, before the lights were turned off here, too. An artistic feature still can be found on the north and south sides. During the planning of the building, the well-known sculptor Jo Jastram was commissioned to integrate artistic motives into the building, which he executed in Sgraffito-technique. They are now separately listed on the monument register.
Hardly any other point in Sassnitz symbolically stands more for wanderlust than the „Sachsenblick“ at the southern end of the “Bahnhofstraße”.
Since the port was built, the view from the steep bank down onto the happenings below or on site at the edge of the pier have been very popular with locals and guests. Especially the shunting traffic of the ferries could fascinate spectators for a long time. Ferries would set themselves in motion with steaming chimneys and disappear in a bend behind the beech trees of the high banks. So it happened day in, day out. At the beginning of the 1960s, free access to the port was no longer permitted for the majority of the population and, for political reasons, citizens of the GDR were mostly denied access to the „Schwedenfähren“, the ferries to Sweden. From then on, this place established itself as the main viewpoint of the harbor business and it attracted masses of visitors. Since especially the dialects of the southern districts Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt could be heard during the summer months, the term “Sachsenblick” (Saxons’ view) was created.
A contemporary poem by the author Wilhelm Ritter from Sassnitz perfectly illustrates the emotions that determined this place for almost 30 years:
“A ferry boat sails out to sea,
followed by looks full of thought,
without visas running free,
towards faraway lands illegally sought.”
Hermann Henselmann was one of the GDR’s most important architects and his work determined the architecture of the 1950s and 1960s. His drawings were the source of the development at Strausberger Platz and Frankfurter Tor in Berlin, the „City-Hochhaus“ in Leipzig and the „Jentower“ in Jena. Prior to that, however, he had left his marks in Sassnitz.
At the beginning of the 1950s, Sassnitz was a flourishing community whose population grew quickly. Not only the shortage of living space but also the lack of school capacities posed severe problems. The 16-class secondary school, designed by Henselmann and opened in 1953, solved the problem of the shortage of space and created, at the same time, a model school for other school buildings in the GDR. Henselmann combined several styles into one design – the low roof at the north side built in “Heimatstil” (traditional style), columns at the entrance in the style of Classicism, and the window-section in the style of Modernism.
On Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s 100th birthday in 1970, also in Sassnitz streets, squares and buildings were named or renamed. This school bore Lenin´s name from 1970 to 1990.
From 1991 to 2008, the building served as a grammar school – since 1997 named “Ostsee-Gymnasium Sassnitz”. Since 2008 it has been accomodating the primary school “Ostseeblick”.
It is a cloudy and rainy day in the spring of 1970. Construction workers are installing stone plates, while in the background a crane lifts a bust into the air which, due to its shape, left the workers no alternative but to tie it up with a rope around its neck. Now it seems to be hanging from the gallows. The head in the noose: Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.
This is just one of many stories that have happened in this place. The site consisted of gardens and lawns before a naval transit camp was built here in the 1930s. When, in the 1950s, Sassnitz’ municipality was growing and today’s Stralsunder Straße was built as a main transit and parade route, the area of this square was also included in the planning. An attractive center with benches and fountains was created. After 1961, this setup was accompanied for several years by a memorial for the social democrat Paul Möller from Sassnitz, who, in the last days of the war, tried to prevent leading heads of the National Socialists from fleeing from the harbor, and paid for this with his life. The celebration of Lenin’s 100th birthday in 1970 transformed the square according to the spirit of the times – Lenin Street, Lenin Monument, Lenin High School and Lenin Square now formed a unified concept.
After the political change, the square was gradually deconstructed and revegetated. Since 2017, it has been used exclusively by the primary school.
People from Rügen are used to traffic jams – people from Sassnitz even more. Long queues of cars and trucks from passport checkpoints and customs regularly ran along the “Stralsunder Straße” – sometimes right to the entrance of “Straße der Jugend”. While in 1952, eight vehicles were transported across the Baltic Sea from Sassnitz, according to a contemporary report, this number increased to 33.500 vehicles in 1971. Thus, an average of 92 vehicles with passengers were waiting day in, day out for their trip to Sweden. Many locals, especially boys, often enjoyed the sight of vehicles not commonly seen in the GDR.
The original access to the “Sweden ferries” had been the “Hafenstraße”, until at the end of the 1950s, along with the modernization of the ferries, the ferry port facilities were rebuilt. In the course of this reconstruction, a new access road was built parallel to the “Stralsunder Straße”, dug through the ground with a slight gradient at an 90° angle to the high banks. There, a connecting bridge was the access’s final section to the ferry’s station building (the so-called “Glasbahnhof”). While initially, vehicle check-in was located at the foot of the bridge, the construction of new facilities between the old and new “Trelleborger Straße” began in 1976. When the ferries moved to the port of Mukran in 1998, passport controls and, subsequently, the queues of cars disappeared.
When in 1957 residential buildings were constructed on August-Bebel-Straße up to Wilhelm-Pieck-Ring, it was something special. Not because of the buildings being constructed in large blocks, but because of all the apartments being equipped with balconies. And since a little bit of color could do no harm, the blocks and their balconies were painted in a wide variety of colors. That´s how Sassnitz’s latest residential area got its nickname: Parrot Quarter. Yet, the colorful appearance did not last long, soon the blocks were repainted in uniform white.
Unlike the Erwin-Fischer-Ring, which was built true to the maxim: “At least you got a roof over your head”, the Wilhelm-Pieck-Ring was designed with the emphasis on comfort. An associated infrastructure was created, too. In 1961, the secondary school „Oberschule III“ was opened, followed in 1963 by the shopping center „HO fix“, in 1964 a day nursery and in 1966 a kindergarten. After a construction time of two years, the tower block which was built to house single person households, was completed in 1964. At the end of the 1970s, a large increase in living space was achieved by attic conversions at some of the blocks.
For almost a decade, a special spectacle were the K-car races (comparable to today’s go-karts), which were held from 1966 onwards. Every year, several thousand spectators gathered at the “Rund um das Hochhaus” (“Around-the-tower block)”) circuit to experience this exciting motorsport up close.
When at the beginning of the 1990s many streets were renamed, the Wilhelm-Pieck-Ring became the Gerhart-Hauptmann-Ring.
Once, there was a small avenue leading from the bridge over the so-called harbor railway to the eastern Dwasieden gatehouse, running straight through the fields. After the bombing raid on March 6th, 1945, during which this area was hit, more intensive use started after the bomb craters had been filled up. Initially, after the war, small garden plots were created to the left and right of the former small avenue, but these were soon removed. The following use remained so strongly engraved in the memories of Sassnitz’s inhabitants, that the area is still called “Kistenplatz”, “crate square”. Due to a lack of space in the harbor area, it was necessary to resort to areas above the shore. Thousands and thousands of fish crates and barrels had to be repaired, washed or simply temporarily stored. Discarded crates immediately found buyers because they were ideal for sheds, fences or henhouses.
Wooden fish crates and barrels soon were made of plastic and, once scrapped, would be seen here and there as rain barrels in garden plots around Sassnitz.
After the decline of fishing, the intensive use of this place came to an end, too. Today, it is used to let dogs run free, serves as a meeting place for youngsters and as a venue for circuses. Yet, above all it is used as a parking lot for major events taking place in the Dwasieden sports hall or in the harbor.
Who was Erwin Fischer, anyway? After the political change, this thought probably occurred to government officials, too, and they added the street to the list of streets to be renamed. Due to the proximity to the sea and the tradition of fishing, the renaming was especially easy and „Erwin Fischer“ simply became „Fischer“, the fisherman.
Not only because of World War II refugees, but also due to the enormous upswing of fishery, Sassnitz had to deal with housing shortage in the decades following 1945. In 1949, the former mayor of Sassnitz, Ella Göhrke, spoke to the district administrator and demanded further living space for the fishermen and their families. Already in 1950, the first 295 new apartments could be handed over. Unfortunately, they had no toilets: they had simply been forgotten in the bad construction planning. Rain pipes were in short supply, too, so that soon some apartments started to molder. Showers and bathtubs were collective facilities, located in the cellars. Also, due to unplastered facades, the housing blocks did not look inhabited, but rather like shell constructions. Following the early GDR´s tradition, the street was named after KPD member Erwin Fischer, who was executed in 1942 in Berlin-Plötzensee as an enemy of the “Third Reich”.
Even though this part of the history of Sassnitz´s residential area was slightly troubled, it still helped many families to get their first flat.