If the prospect of the wonderful Danse Macabre isn't enough to tempt you into the parish church of St Petri, then maybe the view from the top of the tower will be!
St Petri's belltower is unusual in that it is octagonal in design - however, the impression is one of squat robustness rather than architectural distinction. The landscape around Wolgast is extremely flat, and so although the tower isn't particularly tall, you get a wonderful view out over the town and the surrounding countryside. In particular, the shipyards on the Peenestrom river are impressive, as is the bridge between Usedom island and the mainland.
We really enjoyed it even on a rainy day, so it must be lovely when the weather is kinder!
The Rathaus (town hall) in Wolgast could best be described as 'dinky'!
We visited on a wet day in September, and wandered into the main square in search of something tempting for lunch. To our astonishment, we encountered a fire engine parked outside the Rathaus, with the firemen arranged in a guard of honour in front of the door. Clearly one of their colleagues was getting married, and they were there to pay their respects to the happy couple!
Our son (then only two) was HUGELY impressed at the spectacle!
I was drawn to Wolgast because I had come across a passing reference to there being a Dance Macabre (Dance of Death) mural in the parish church. I have a fascination with the culture of the plague era - and Dance Macabres in particular (see my travel tip on the stupendous Danse Macabre in Hrastovlje, Slovenia elsewhere) - but researching its whereabouts was surprisingly difficult, and by the time we arrived in town, I was still not confident about being able to locate it.
I need not have worried - Wolgast is a very small place, and St Petri - the parish church in which the mural is located - is by far the most prominent landmark in town. It is an unremarkable structure that would probably not tempt the idle passerby to venture inside, and certainly does not hint at the artistic gem within.
The Danse Macabre is one of several wall paintings at St Petri. I understand that Wolgast's Danse Macabre is not an original design, but based on a woodcut by Holbein the Younger, and dates back to about 1700. Nonetheless, it is a charismatic piece of art, and once your eyes have adjusted to the gloomy interior - even more gloomy than usual on the rainy day that we visited - examining the detail of the mural is a delight. Its theme of the inevitability of death (regardless of age or social station) is universal, and must have been a constant preoccupation in plague-ridden Europe.
The other murals date back to the 15th and 16th century, and are also well worth a look.
Photography is not allowed inside the church due to the fragility of the artwork, but they sell some very good photos of the murals, with the revenue going to much needed upkeep.
This is a wonderful place - all the more wonderful for not being well known - and I would highly recommend it.
Visiting churches is one of the absolute highlights of a trip to Europe, and provides a fascinating insight into the most powerful influencethat has shaped European cultures of the past couple of millenia.
Unlike some other religions - where access to places of worship may be restricted to members of that religious group or a specific gender - the vast majority of Christian churches will allow tourists to visit at most times, including routine services (although some may charge an admission fee for doing so, and access may be denied for private events such as weddings and funerals). However, tourists should realise that most churches are still active places of worship, and so visitors need to exhibit a certain sensitivity to display respect to the culture and avoid giving offence to people at prayer.
The following guidelines are based on wonderful advice offered by Homer (homaned) - who does this for a living - in a forum response, and although specifically written for Christian places of worship, would apply equally to places of worship for other religions
So, here is a general list of do's and don'ts for people wishing to photograph during a church service:
READ THE SIGNS
If photography is not permitted - because, for example, it may damage paint on delicate murals - this will usually be indicated by a pictogram of a camera with a red line through it. Under most circumstances, you can assume that photography will be allowed (unless otherwise indicated), but may not be permitted during services. If in doubt, ask for clarification - this shows respect and will very seldom be met with anything other than a helpful response.
TURN OFF YOUR FLASH!
Every camera on the market has a button on it which will turn off the flash. The number one most alarming and distracting thing that can happen during a liturgy, and one which will even get you kicked out of some churches, is the bright flash that goes off when you take a picture. Not only is it distracting, but it usually makes the picture turn out dark, because your camera's flash only has about a 10-15' range. Turn off the flash, and hold the camera up against your eye, using the viewfinder, and you will likely get a better picture (and you definitely won't have any red-eye problems!).
DON'T MOVE AROUND ALL OVER THE PLACE! (UNLESS YOU HAVE PERMISSION)
Instead of walking all over down the main aisle and in front of everybody, pick a good place from which to take a picture at the beginning of the liturgy, and stay there. Unless you're a professional photographer with practice at stealthily moving during liturgies, you're a distraction, and you're being disrespectful. Even if you're a pro, try to stick to one out-of-the-way place, and use a zoom lens and zoom in to get pictures. Walking in front of people is a surefire way to distract and disrespect and closing in on priests or other celebrants just to capitalise on a photo opportunity is offensive.
TURN OFF THE CAMERA'S SOUND!
Every camera has some way to mute all its 'cute' beeps and clicking noises. If you press a button, and hear a beep, or if you take a picture and hear an obnoxious shutter clicking sound, you need to turn off those sounds (the muting option is usually in one of the menus). Along with the flashing, it's an obvious sign that someone is taking pictures and not showing much respect for those trying to pay attention to the liturgy.
TURN OFF THE 'FOCUS ASSIST' LIGHT!
If your camera can't focus without the little laser-light that shines in everyone's eyes before your camera takes a picture, then don't use your camera. You have to turn that light off! It is very distracting to be watching a lector or priest, and see a little red dot or lines pop up on his face all of the sudden. It's as if some rifleman is making his mark! Turn the light off (again, look in the menus for the option to turn off the 'AF assist' or 'focus assist' light). If you can't turn it off, put a piece of duct tape or some other opaque material over the area where the light is, so the light won't shine on someone.
TURN OFF THE CAMERA'S LCD!
You should never use the LCD to compose your shots anyways; just put your eye up to the viewfinder, and that will not only not distract, it will also steady your camera against your face, making for a better picture (especially if you don't have the flash on). And if you must review the pictures you've taken, hold the camera in front of you, down low, so people behind you don't notice the big, bright LCD display on your camera
CERTAIN PARTS OF THE CEREMONY ARE PARTICULARLY SENSITIVE
The consecration (blessing) of the eucharist (bread and wine) and distribution of communion to the congregation are considered to be particularly sacred parts of the service, and it is offensive to photograph these activities.
The main thing is to try to be respectful of the culture and of other people present at the service. Don't distract. And, if you are asked to not take pictures, or if there's a sign saying 'no photography allowed,' then don't take pictures. You can always ask a priest's permission before the liturgy, but if he says 'No,' put away your camera and enjoy the freedom you have to focus on the privilege of being able to share an experience with people who consider these religious rituals core to their culture and identity, rather than focusing on your camera's LCD!
Homer's Rules ... Homer rules!