Minster Bad Doberan: A 12th Century German Church for a New Era

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Port of Warnemunde in northern Germany

The day before was a relaxing day at sea on the cruise ship Nautica, part of the Oceania Lines. That morning we docked at the small port of Warnemunde in northern Germany. The small village has a long history as a fishing village since the 13th century. Now the village is known as a resort with its miles of expansive beaches looking out over a gray, churning Baltic Sea.

Many of the Nautica passengers opted for a train ride to Berlin and a long day of exploring the city. I was tempted, but I had recently visited Berlin so I decided to stay near Warnemunde for the day. I was eager to walk along the beach and enjoy the tepid sun peeking through the clouds, but the tour I selected was ready to go and I put off my beach stroll until afternoon. The tour I selected was of a 13th century Cistercian abbey-church located in Bad Doberman, near the German city of Rostow. It would be nice to sit back on the bus and enjoy being a tourist with no other obligations.

German countryside, photo Denise Ames

The bus ride to the abbey wound through an idyllic German countryside. I love to drive through rural areas in different countries, it seems to connect me with a realistic portrait of ordinary people. Also, I am fascinated with what people eat, and a drive through the countryside gives me clues to the answer. German farms were as immaculate and well-tended as I expected. Neat stacks of hay sat ready in the fields to be stored for the long, cold winter. Dairy is important in the region, in fact the Holstein breed of dairy cattle is named after the state of Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany.  

Minster Bad Doberan in northern Germany, dedicated in 1368, photo Denise Ames

We finally arrived at the imposing medieval brick structure: Bad Doberan abbey. The Doberan Minster (church) is the main Lutheran Church in Mecklenburg, Germany. Interestingly, it is the most important religious heritage site on the European Route of Brick Gothic, a tourist route connecting cities with Brick Gothic architecture in three countries along the Baltic Sea: Denmark, Germany, and Poland.

After a nearby abbey built in 1171 was destroyed in a regional war, the monks opened a new abbey in 1186 on the present-day site. Construction of the Gothic Minster commenced in 1280 and the Catholic Church was dedicated in 1368. 

Brick was used as the building material for construction of the minster largely because no real stone or sandstone was available nearby. To produce bricks, the builders mixed sand, clay, and water and then poured this mixture into wooden forms. The dried bricks were baked in field ovens located on the site.

During trips to France, the medieval monks of Doberan were inspired by the French gothic cathedrals. They returned to Germany with new ideas and implemented them on site. The Doberan Minster is a unique combination of a high gothic cathedral building, based upon French cathedral style and elements of other Hanseatic League churches as well as influenced by the building code of the Cistercians.

Altar of the church, photo Denise Ames

During the tumultuous and sometimes violent Protestant Reformation beginning in 1517, the Catholic abbey was dissolved. Northern Germany was the seedbed of the Protestant Reformation, while the southern part largely remained Catholic. The former Catholic abbeys were now Lutheran churches. During the devastating Thirty-Year War in Europe (1618-1648), fought mainly on German soil, the abbey experienced extensive looting. After the war several of the abbey buildings were permanently removed.

Tree of life, photo Denise Ames

Fortunately, Doberan Minster escaped largely unscathed during World War II. In the post-war years, extensive renovation has taken place.

Upon entering the structure, I could almost feel the thousands of people who have passed through this sacred building.  A few of the notable features of the church I have highlighted in pictures.

As I exited the minster, I strolled around the gardens and imagined the hustle and bustle of the abbey in the past:  monks toiling at raising crops and growing gardens, making precious wine, tending the farm animals, praying regularly, and chopping enough wood to last through the cold, dark winters. I wondered if they were happy. Did they yearn for a different life or content with what they had?

The remote location of the abbey was purposely selected to ensure a monastic way of life. I can’t help but think that they derived satisfaction in their simple way of life, and their close connection to God and nature in the beautiful surroundings.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Dr. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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