Rostock (German pronunciation: [ˈʁɔstɔk]) is the largest city in the north German state Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Rostock is located on the Warnow river; the quarter of Warnemünde 12 km north of the city centre lies directly on the coast of the Baltic Sea.
The city territory of Rostock stretches for about 20 kilometres along the Warnow to the Baltic Sea. The largest built-up area of Rostock is on the western side of the river. The eastern part of its territory is dominated by industrial estates and the forested area of the Rostock Heath.
Confirmation of Lübeck law city rights, 1218
In the 11th century Polabian Slavs founded a settlement at the Warnow river called Roztoc (which means broadening of a river); the name Rostock is derived from that designation. The Danish king Valdemar I set the town aflame in 1161.
Afterwards the place was settled by German traders. Initially there were three separate cities:
Altstadt (Old Town) around the Alter Markt (Old Market) with St. Petri (St. Peter’s Church),
Mittelstadt (Middle Town) around the Neuer Markt (New Market) with St. Marien (St. Mary’s Church) and
Neustadt (New Town) around the Hopfenmarkt (Hop Market, now University Square) with St. Jakobi (St. James’s Church, now demolished).
The rise of the city began with its membership of the Hanseatic League. In the 14th century it was a powerful seaport town with 12,000 inhabitants and the biggest city of Mecklenburg. Ships for cruising the Baltic Sea were constructed in Rostock. In 1419 one of the oldest universities in Northern Europe, the University of Rostock, was founded.
15th to 18th century
At the end of the 15th century the dukes of Mecklenburg succeeded in enforcing their rule over the town of Rostock, which had until then been only nominally subject to their rule and essentially independent. They took advantage of a riot known as Domfehde, a failed uprising of the impoverished population. Subsequent quarrels with the dukes and persistent plundering led ultimately to a loss of economic and political power.
In 1565 there were further clashes with Schwerin that which had far-reaching consequences. Among other things, was the introduction of a beer excise that favoured the dukes. John Albert I advanced on the city with 500 horsemen, after Rostock had refused to take the formal oath of allegiance, and had the city wall slighted in order to have a fortress built. Not until the first Rostock Inheritance Agreement of 21 September 1573, in which the state princes were guaranteed hereditary rule over the city for centuries, binding Rostock for a long time, and recognizing them as the supreme judicial authority, was the conflict ended. The citizens slighted the fortress the following spring. From 1575 to 1577 it the city walls were rebuilt, as was the Lagebusch tower and the Stein Gate in the Dutch Renaissance style. The inscription sit intra te concordia et publica felicitas, which can still be read on the gate, refers directly to the conflict with the Duke. In 1584 it finally came to the Second Rostock Inheritance Agreement, which resulted in a further loss of former tax privileges. At the same time, these inheritance contracts put paid to Rostock’s ambition of achieving imperial immediacy as Lübeck had done in 1226.
The strategic location of Rostock provoked the envy of its rivals. Danes and Swedes occupied the city twice, first during the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48) and again from 1700 to 1721. Later, the French, under Napoleon, occupied the town for about a decade until 1813. It was in nearby Lübeck-Ratekau that Blücher, who was actually born in Rostock and who was one of few generals to fight on after the Battle of Jena, surrendered to the French in 1806. This was only after furious street fighting in the Battle of Lübeck, in which he led some of the cavalry charges himself; the exhausted Prussians had, by the time of the surrender, neither food nor ammunition.
In the first half of the 19th century Rostock regained much of its economic importance, at first due to the wheat trade, and, from the 1850s, to industry, especially to its shipyards. The first propeller-driven steamers in Germany were constructed here.
The city grew in size and population, with new quarters emerging in the south and west of the ancient borders of the city. Two notable developments were added to house the increasing population at around 1900:
Steintor-Vorstadt in the south, stretching from the old city wall to the facilities of the new Lloydbahnhof Railway Station (now Hauptbahnhof). It was designed as a living quarter and consists mostly of large single houses, once inhabited by wealthy citizens.
Kröpeliner-Tor-Vorstadt in the west, designed to house the working population as well as smaller and larger industrial facilities such as Mahn & Ohlerich’s Brewery (now Hanseatische Brauerei Rostock). The main shipyard, Neptun was just nearby at the shore of the river.
In the 20th century, important aircraft manufacturing facilities were situated in the city, such as the Arado Flugzeugwerke in Warnemünde and the Heinkel Works with facilities at various places. It was at their facilities in Rostock-Marienehe (today’s Rostock-Schmarl) that the world’s first jet plane made its test flights. Airplane construction ceased at the end of the Second World War.
Large parts of the central city were destroyed in World War II by Allied bombing in 1942 and 1944. Through reconstruction and subsequent extension, the city became a major industrial centre of the German Democratic Republic with the port being developed as the primary gate to the world. Much of the historic centre has been faithfully rebuilt and much of its historic character restored. This includes several buildings characterised by vertical brick ribs, a style common to the Hanseatic towns.
Following the reunification of Germany in 1990, Rostock lost its prior privileged position as the principal overseas port of the former GDR and became one of several German ports, now located in one of the least industrialised regions of reunited Germany. Despite large infrastructure investments, the city’s economy declined in the 1990s but is now growing again.
Rostock’s population dropped from nearly 260,000 in 1989 to about 200,000 today, primarily due to suburbanisation but also due to emigration to more prosperous western regions of Germany.