Bricks Won’t Break Your Bones

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Bricks

Architects in most European countries have always considered bricks second rate material, i.e. inferior to stone.

"The old post office in Hamburg, Germany"

As a consequence, there are fairly few “prestige buildings” across Europe – churches, palaces of the high aristocracy – that are made of bricks.

"St Nikolai church in Wismar Germany"

The exception to this rule is the extreme North of Germany (and to a lesser extent the rest of the Baltic region), where natural stone has always been in particularly short supply.

"The Arsenal in Schwerin Germany"

Since everybody over there always had to work with them, using bricks in buildings in Northern Germany was never tainted or associated with the lower end of vernacular architecture – which meant that nobody saw a need for importing stone even after this had become technically and logistically possible.

"St Mary's church in Wismar Germany"

This is why today, the southern coast of the Baltic has a unique assembly of High Medieval churches made from brick, in a style called the “Brick Gothic”.

Brick buildings can easily look forbidding and austere. This has probably added to, rather than subtracted from, their appeal in this part of the world.

"The use of bricks in buildings as in St Paul's church in Schwerin Germany"

You can always see what buildings are made from, how they have come about. This is an honest architecture that plays with open cards: the very opposite of (suspiciously southern) baroque trickery, one might say.

"The bricks in buildings as in an old office building in Schwerin Germany"

Building in brick has its limitations, of course. There are fewer figurative ornaments than in “stone Gothic”, for example, because such ornaments are difficult to do in brick. (As anybody will appreciate who has ever tried to make a face or anything else with a human resemblance out of Lego).

"An old restored house showing the bricks in buildings in Wismar Germany"

Even today, architects of prestige buildings in Northern Germany do not shy away from using brick. (This is a retail/office building in one of Hamburg’s poshest areas.)

"Brick's company building in Hamburg Germany"

Observing architectural styles is one of the things that make our hikes and travels interesting. Is there anything you like to do to make your travels more than just going from A to C?

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4 comments to Bricks Won’t Break Your Bones

  • JOSEPH

    Outstanding! These are the most beautiful and striking structures (especially; of the churches) I have ever seen!! It’s a perfect example of the extreme combination of the beauty and intelligence. Thanks Michael!

  • I love brick buildings but wasn’t aware of the lack of brick in Germany until very recently! I do find the Brick Gothic interesting and would love to see examples for myself in the Baltic area of Germany.

  • Fascinating! I always wondered why most European bldgs seem to be of stone. You solved a question I’d never really been able to formulate before but that had always been there. Your photos that you picked too…awesome. Super post!

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