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Kiel attracts with curious sights

In front of Kiel Castle there is a bronze statue that raises questions: an Emperor of Russia - what does he want here in Schleswig-Holstein? In fact, Tsar Peter III, the illustrious husband of Catherine the Great, was born in Kiel in 1728 – as the prospective Duke Carl Peter Ulrich von Holstein-Gottorf.

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Kiel attracts with curious sights

In front of Kiel Castle there is a bronze statue that raises questions: an Emperor of Russia - what does he want here in Schleswig-Holstein? In fact, Tsar Peter III, the illustrious husband of Catherine the Great, was born in Kiel in 1728 – as the prospective Duke Carl Peter Ulrich von Holstein-Gottorf.

He was a grandson of Peter the Great, and his aunt, Empress Elizabeth, who had no children of her own, made him heir apparent in 1742. He adopted the Orthodox faith and the name Peter Fyodorovich and lived in Russia as a Grand Duke. He was married to Princess Sophie Auguste of Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg - later known as Catherine the Great.

When he became tsar in January 1762, he immediately made peace with Prussia and introduced far-reaching innovations in Russia. He banned torture and planned the abolition of serfdom. But he was only to survive as tsar for six months. He was overthrown in a coup in June and murdered in July 1762. Whether his wife and successor Catherine II had instigated this is not clearly documented.

What is certain is that the image of the naïve weirdo that she and her confidants of Peter III. had drawn, persisted for a long time. It is only recently that historians have recognized the unrecognized tsar from Kiel as a progressive reformer. In 2014 his monument was erected in his native town. The empty throne next to him, a symbol of the premature end of his reign, is now a popular spot for selfies.

Kiel was almost completely destroyed in World War II and has since been considered ugly - especially by people who have never been there. Among the historical buildings that are still standing is one of the most beautiful museum buildings in Europe: the Zoological Museum of the University of Kiel with spectacular collections, some of which go back to the founding of the university in the 17th century. Long-extinct species are also preserved here.

The Gropius-Bau, which opened in 1881, is one of the few in the world that has largely retained its original interior to this day. Visitors step into the high, light-flooded hall, a marvel of glass and steel - and are overwhelmed. The imposing skeleton of a sperm whale bull hangs from the ceiling, 14 meters long and weighing 1.5 tons.

In addition, that of a young blue whale female that stranded off Sylt in 1881 - the only blue whale skeleton in Germany. It already adorned the hall when the museum opened, which, with its surrounding galleries over three floors and the historical preparations, looks like the scene of a "Harry Potter" adventure.

With twelve whale skeletons, the Zoological Museum in Kiel is showing the most species-rich whale collection in Germany. There are also other exciting permanent exhibitions - with historical finds from legendary research trips, but also new highlights.

The “Future Ocean” exhibition, for example, uses interactive elements to illuminate current topics in marine research in Kiel. Also impressive is the "deep-sea" show with original objects that are rare worldwide, including the three-metre-tall giant squid Architeuthis dux.

Is Kiel a venerable Hanseatic city like its big sister Hamburg? Well - it's complicated. Although the fjord city entered the trade association in 1284, it hardly took part in comparison to the free cities. When hunting pirates, for example, she was noticeably sluggish. Quarrels ensued, sometimes Kiel was in the Hanseatic League, sometimes outside it, until the city was excluded in 1554.

One possible reason for this: common cause with pirates, the arch-enemies of the Hanseatic League. At least that's what the people in Kiel were accused of. While Hamburg caught and beheaded the legendary pirate Klaus Störtebeker in 1401 (at least according to legend), the people of Kiel are said to have come to terms with pirates and tolerated their stolen goods being sold in the fjord city.

An indication of this are the many pirates at the annual Kieler envelope folk festival (March 2-5, 2023), when Holstenstraße and Rathausplatz are transformed into a market with historical food, figures, music and stories. A leader dressed as a pirate is even present at the head of the traditional pageant.

The folk festival has been around since at least 1431, probably longer. At that time, it marked the end of a week called "Umschlag", a money and capital market for nobles and merchants who traveled from Hamburg, Lübeck or even internationally - probably more important economically for Kiel than Hanse membership.

Today the town festival offers medieval flair, bizarre customs, maritime specialties and shanty choirs. Or, as the city of Kiel advertises: A colorful journey through time from the Middle Ages through "the glorious age of pirates" to the present day. Incidentally, Kiel was accepted into the Hanseatic League of cities, which was newly founded in 1980, without hesitation – despite the annual celebrations with pirates.

Yuck – or is it mmmhhh? Algae are hardly considered a delicacy on the Baltic Sea, unlike in Asian cuisine. The sea vegetables are not only very healthy, they can also taste delicious. Even as an alcoholic beverage. The marine biologists at the Kiel-based company Oceanbasis discovered this by accident years ago when they were developing an algae extract for their Oceanwell natural cosmetics brand. Her 14 percent "algae wine" with the scent of sherry caused a stir nationwide.

The Kieler Trank made from fermented Laminaria algae, grown locally and sustainably in the Kiel Fjord, is unfortunately no longer available today - since "wine" is a protected term, there were problems with the name. But there is an alcohol-free alternative. Oceanwell's organic wellness tea is also made from laminaria algae and tastes amazingly delicious and refreshing (also thanks to the lemon balm, mint and lemongrass it contains).

This goes well with algae spaghetti from the new Kiel food brand Meeresgarten, which also offers algae salad in the form of dried algae flakes – vegan seafood, so to speak. Recipes are on the website. The label also belongs to the company Oceanbasis, which founded the first algae farm in Germany 20 years ago in the Kiel Fjord and to this day only uses plants from certified organic cultivation in Europe. You can buy the algae specialties directly from the manufacturer while strolling along the Tiessenkai at the Kiel-Holtenau lighthouse.

Don't worry, it doesn't do anything: The monster chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum Monstrosa) is only named because of its strange growth. It turns the horse chestnut, as it is also called, into a bizarre beauty. Her buds grow particularly close together, reminiscent of a ribbon. The flat branches, the bark and the whole tree, which grows gnarled and small, appear whimsical. It is also called ghost chestnut.

The oldest specimen in the world is over 60 years old and can be viewed in the botanical garden of the University of Kiel on the Great Pond. This plant is a descendant of a mutation discovered in a Kiel cemetery in 1933 and cultivated from then on. It is only about four meters high, due to the strange growth. The monster chestnut conquered the world from Kiel.

The Kiel Botanical Garden is something special. There are more highlights to discover on a tour of its seven large show greenhouses – including the America desert house, tropical, cloud forest and subtropical house. For example, the world's largest water lily, Victoria. In Kiel it is also cultivated over the winter, which is rare. Or the huge butter trees in the desert house Africa, which came into the garden more than 100 years ago as mature trees and are today its landmark.

A treasure in the Mediterranean house is a 400-year-old grass tree. In her native Australia, the strictly protected plant had to give way to a construction site, and she has been living happily in Kiel since 2015. Around 14,000 plant species grow in the botanical garden on a total of eight hectares, with contemporary sculptures in between.

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