Exploring the Hanseatic League

“Part of the Hanseatic League.”  I heard that descriptor repeatedly as I traveled through cities of interest during my historical novel research.  Enthusiastic tour guides in Riga, Klaipeda, Kaliningrad, Elblag, and Gdansk made references to the centuries-old trade union. ‘Hanse’ root word of Hanseatic, is a German word and refers to a union of merchant traders along the sea. The air industry appropriated ‘hanse’ with the well-known Lufthansa Airlines.  

P. D. Hanseatic Trading Route

Perhaps a modern equivalent on this side of the ocean would be the USMCA (US, Mexico, Canada) trade agreement, better known as the former NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). 

The original Hanseatic League existed from about 13th to 17th centuries. Up to 200 cities along the Baltic and North Seas benefitted from the lucrative trade deals. Other port cities would include Talinn (Estonia), Hamburg (Schleswig-Holstein), and Gotland (Sweden).  There were a fair number of inland cities included in the trade pact, too, including the Russian city of Novgorod on the Volkhov River between Petersburg and Moscow and Krakow, Poland on the Vistula River.  A new Hanseatic League was established in 2018 with many of the original cities included. 

During walking tours in the cities of Riga (Latvia), Klaipeda (Lithuania), Kaliningrad (Russia), Elblag (Poland) and Gdansk (Poland) it was the Hanseatic past that came up repeatedly.  The term helped me appreciate how closely connected these places are and that political borders may come and go, but the geographic influences remain the same. I know some people shun organized tours, but these were small and intimate, led by knowledgeable and enthusiastic historians. I found them extremely useful as a key to unlocking the past. 

Hamburg's Hanseatic Flag
My dad grew up on the North Sea near Hamburg (also a Hanseatic port) and his favourite old German sea chanties also became mine. Having the opportunity to be a "tourist" in five of these historic cities back in 2019 was a privilege . . . something neither of my parents got to be when they lived near those Hanseatic ports.

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