Seit dem 1. April 2008 nennt heißt es wieder Hansestadt Salzwedel. Hier enthüllen Innenstaatssekretär
Rüdiger Erben und Bürgermeister Siegfried Schneider das neue Ortsschild.
1. The Old Hanseatic League
The name Hanseatic League comes from the Old High German "Hansa." This means group or crowd. The Hanseatic League was a loose alliance of merchants from about 200 port and landlocked cities.
These towns and cities were located in an area which today includes seven European countries: from Holland to the west to Estonia on the Baltic Sea to the east, from Sweden to the north down to a line connecting Cologne and Erfurt in the south. In its heyday, the Hanseatic League was so powerful that it imposed trading blockades against kingdoms and principalities to protect its interests, and even went to war in exceptional cases.
Members of the Hanseatic League from the region of the "Old Marches" (Altmark), included the cities of Stendal, Salzwedel, Osterburg, Tangermünde, Gardelegen, Seehausen, Werben and Havelberg. Salzwedel merchants were licensed to trade in Visby on the island of Gotland and were therefore accepted into the Hanseatic League very early (1263), as were Brandenburg, Berlin and Frankfurt/Oder.
The most important trading-centers on the coasts were Bremen, Stade, Hamburg, Luebeck, Wismar, Rostock, Stralsund, Greifswald, Danzig, Riga und Reval (Tallin). League memberships of Anklam, Demmin, Lueneburg and some towns of Pomerania, like Treptow, Kolberg and Stolp, have been documented as the first alliances of cities in the middle of the 13th century.
In the beginning, the main objective was to protect the members against robbery and to obtain trading privileges. The Hanseatic League held the monopoly of the Baltic and North Sea trading, had driven out foreign merchants, and the overseas branches in Bruegge, London, Bergen und Novgorod flourished. This astute trading policy had to be protected. The Hanseatic League had its own judicial system; therefore it was able to make decisions about disputes among its members.
The members of the Hanseatic League made their most important policy decisions together at the Hanseatic League conventions. The first Hanseatic League convention took place in 1356.
The Hanseatic League convention was the highest authority. It made decisions without the possibility of appeal about all important matters, such as:
- Ratification of contracts
- Trading privileges
- Negotiations with foreign cities or foreign rulers
- Peace, war or blockade
- Financial or military measures
- All kinds of economic regulations
- Admission or exclusion of members
- Mediation of conflicts between Hansa cities, etc.
However, in spite of these really significant challenges, the conventions never had clearly defined agendas. The Hanseatic League conventions were not held at regular intervals. Also, only the biggest Hanseatic cities were to attend a Hanseatic League convention. Often there were only 10 to 30 of cities represented by their delegations. The reasons were:
- the high costs because of long travel distances
- lack of interest in many issues
- the community’s trust in the decisions made by Luebeck
2. The Decline of the Old Hanseatic League
With the formation of territorial sovereignties like dukedoms, principalities and earldoms some cities left the Hanseatic League. The rebellious citizens of the Altmark had been defeated in the "beer tax war" (1488) with the Margrave of Brandenburg, whereupon the towns lost various privileges. Therefore these cities had to give notices of resignation in 1518. And there was no possibility to rejoin the Hanseatic League later.
Another reason for the decline was the opening of new trading areas in America and India, yet the Hanseatic League was still trading only in the northern European areas.
The foreign trade merchants pursued their own business objectives. But from the second half of the 14th century on, the Hanseatic cities tried to create a firmer alliance for mutual support against sovereignty claims by the nobility. They also hoped to use this firmer alliance to counter problems resulting from growing competition from English and South German merchants and Dutch threats from the emerging state structures in the trade destination countries. And so it was external pressure which brought the cities of the German Hanseatic League closer together.
However, developments could not be stopped and resulted in a decline in the influence of the Hanseatic League, even if it still saw huge growth in the 16th and 17th centuries. The last formal convention of the old Hanseatic League met in 1669 in Luebeck.
2. The new Hanseatic League
In 1980 the Dutch town of Zwolle sent out invitations for a Hanseatic League convention on the occasion of its 750th anniversary. The town wanted to resume the old tradition, because Zwolle was a member of the old Hanseatic League.
The reason was that someone had found an old letter from the year 1294 which mentioned that Zwolle had recognized Luebeck as the "Head of the Hanseatic League." Delegates from 43 Hansa cities came to this Hanseatic League convention - the first Hanseatic convention since 1669. The idea to revive the Hanseatic League convention tradition was born.
The Hanseatic League has given itself the task of promoting the Hanseatic cross-border idea and experience to revive the concept and spirit of the European city, to promote the self-image of Hanseatic cities and to develop cooperation between these cities. The aim of these cities is to contribute to the economic, cultural, social and governmental unity of Europe and in this context enhance the stature of the cities and towns so that they can better perform their tasks as places of living democracies. In 2000 the Hanseatic League developed statutes to specify the means of achieving its goals.
The following activities in particular aim to realize these objectives:
- Exchange of culture and traditions
- Know-how, social and information transfer
- Economic and trade contacts
The member cities of this old and new Hanseatic League want to demonstrate that the old Hanseatic concept can once again contribute to enhancing the appeal and attraction expected of a Hanseatic city.