Usedom: Craftsmanship and Tradition
On Usedom craftsmanship is not only to be seen in the museum, it is a living part of island life. Traditional crafts are pursued in many quarters, the knowledge being handed on from one generation down to the next. This is amongst others one of the reasons why Usedom is so attractive to artists and craftspeople. They are inspired by traditional motives as they occur in handwork, by its originality, and the authenticity of artisans. And as they create their art they leave an imprint on today’s cultural landscape of the island.
Away from the lively resorts with their posh Resort Architecture, tucked away in the rural countryside and its small and secluded villages you come across the exemplary thatched cottages. Reed thatching is one of the oldest crafts in Pomerania and is still a part of daily life. In the Lieper Winkel for example, one of the peninsulas in the Achterwasser Lagoon, fisherman’s and farmer’s cottages are still typically thatched with reed. Today again many houses are built with a traditional thatched roof in the same style, as it was common hundreds of years ago. Reed insulates excellently against heat and coldness and lasts for 30 to 50 years. By the way, a newly thatched roof is of a lovely golden yellow. Only after some months have gone by it develops its weathered grey-brown colour.
On the island of Usedom mainly fishermen’s houses used to be thatched. Along the coast of the Baltic Sea inshore fishing is still common. Every morning the wooden fishing boats go out on the sea and are being pulled back up the beach by tractor in the evening. This is still to be seen in Ahlbeck, Heringsdorf and Koserow.
Handmade Fishermen’s Carpets from Freest are a traditional product from Usedom. In the 1920s the need arose to give the fishermen of the area a secondary occupation during winter and close fishing seasons to help them earn their living. Thus a cottage industry developed and today the knotted wall hangings with maritime motives and ornaments are valuable and sought after souvenirs. The colour scheme falls back on the characteristic colours of shore and sea. Classical and mainly used motives are stylised waves, seagulls, swans, cormorants, anchors, sea hollies and of course fish.
The ceramicist Daniel Graf calls his workshop “Tonwerk Keramik” (Clay Works) and combines old craftsmanship with modern design in his creations for the garden and the living room. The keen artisan takes his inspirations for his work straight out of Usedom’s nature. Often he combines ceramic with steel and wood waste. Apart from Daniel Graf there are further ceramicists in Bannemin, Mellenthin and Morgenitz. The ceramic manufacture in Mellenthin in particular is worth mentioning. The ceramicist Susi Erler makes traditional Pomeranian utilitarian pottery. Her creations, mainly light in colour and decorated with blue ornaments, were very popular and widespread in 19th century rural households. Susi Erler has revived the traditional and nearly forgotten patterns.
Owing to archaeological finds in the hinterland of Usedom it can be assumed that the island has been settled since the Old Stone Age (70,000 – 45,000 BC). During the Bronze Age the inhabitants of Usedom traded their precious amber against goods from the Mediterranean. During the 7th century AD the area was colonised by Slavs. The name Usedom derives from the Slavic word “uznam” for estuary and is a reminder of Slavic times.
On the 10th of June in 1128 the island’s population was Christianized by force; a cross erected on the castle hill of Usedom-town still commemorates this date. Since then Usedom belonged to Pomerania. But the island has a Swedish history, too. After the Thirty Years’ War (1648) the region West Pomerania and thus Usedom fell to King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. After the Northern Wars in 1720 Brandenburg-Prussia bought Usedom, Wolin and Western Pomerania as far as the Peene estuary for two million thalers. Under the reign of William I the area prospered economically.
From the 1820s onwards the island’s bathing culture and the corresponding tourism developed. Many celebrities came for a vacation, for example the brothers Heinrich and Thomas Mann, Will Fritsch, Lilian Harvey, Kurt Tucholsky, Maxim Gorki and many more. As many of the visitors up to the 1920s came from Berlin, Usedom was known as the “Bathtub of Berlin”. In 1933 Europe’s largest railway bridge in Karnin was completed and thus the journey from Berlin to Usedom became even shorter.
After the Nazi seizure of power the Army Research Centre in Peenemünde was being established under the leadership of Wernher von Braun. The site is the birthplace of modern rocketry, namely the V-2 rocket. During the Potsdam Conference in 1945 it was decided on the western boarder of Poland, which now separated Swinemünde now Świnoujście from the rest of Usedom.
From 1952 the German Democratic Republic promoted tourism on Usedom and therefore it’s economic recovery. Many of the hotels were converted into FDGB (Free German Trade Union Federation) vacation homes. The German Reunification triggered a building and restoring boom on the island and the renewed pier of Heringsdorf was inaugurated in 1995. Due to Poland’s accession to the Schengen Agreement the border between Ahlbeck and Świnoujście became a green line on the 21st of December 2007. The border controls on all checkpoints were abolished by that date, and the traffic was left to flow freely.