Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Wood and coal merchant, and guesthouse, Stralsund

Autumn has definitely arrived: everywhere trees are turning from green to glorious yellows and reds, and temperatures are dropping. To stay warm (and cook), most people in the western world rely these days on gas and electricity, but there was a time when wood or coal were the only sources of heat, and for many around the world still are.
In the former German Democratic Republic, shortages and the presence of a large coal industry meant the switch to gas was limited to new blocks of flats and a few new houses. Until very recently large ceramic stoves were a common sight in the main rooms of older houses (and a pain for their inhabitants). Thus coal merchants continued to trade well after their counterparts in other parts of western Europe had gone out of business, and it is still possible to find here and there traces of their activity. Earlier this year my in-laws took us for a week on the island of Rügen on the Baltic Sea. From there we went one day to the beautiful Hanseatic city of Stralsund, where in one of the few streets of the centre still to be renovated, I discovered this little gem of a coal merchant.

Several houses in this street still had signs painted above their doors or windows but none of them could compare with this one at Frankenstraße 29.

The main sign above the door would have read:
Holz- und Kolhlenhandlung Paul Schröder
[Paul Schröder Wood and Coal Merchant]
How do I know this? Well, you'll discover how further below, but first let's look at the other painted signs...

Indeed a closer look at the entrance shows another sign, painted on wood this time, for a guesthouse or boarding house.

Actually the name of the guesthouse, "Zum Frankenwall", was painted on both sides of the entrance, on the lower part of the facade. Not necessarily the most noticeable place, but maybe they only accepted long-term lodgers and didn't really need to be spotted by more casual visitors to the city.

The name of the guesthouse refers to the street that runs behind the house, where the city wall once stood. "Frankenwall" comes from Vranko or Franken, a family of wealthy city merchants who gave its name to several streets of Stralsund, and "Wall" or "ramparts". Until the mid-19th century Frankenwall street was called Frankenmauer, although following the demolition of the city walls the names of Wallstraße and Am Wall were also used. Then in 1869 it was changed to Frankenwallstraße, before being shortened at some point between 1956 and 1971 to Frankenwall. Thus even if there may already have been a guesthouse, the two signs date from the GDR period.

Finally here is how I could tell what was written above the door.

On both sides of the door were these unusual signs with a hand rising out of the ground and holding a coal brick. On the coal brick itself are the logo (an anchor with a rope wrapped around it) and name ("Anker", which means, you'll have guessed it... "Anchor") of the company that manufactured it.
The name of the guesthouse, "Zum Frankenwall", is painted below this sign but is now barely visible.

I can only hope that whoever restores the house will keep those signs, as some have done in other parts of the city.

Location: Frankenstraße, Stralsund, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany / All pictures taken on: 05/05/2009

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