On the northeastern coast of Usedom island it is frequently possible during calm weather to see the ruins of an old, large city within the ocean. Once the world-famous city of Vineta was located there, which came to a horrible end more than a thousand years ago due to its vices and lusts. This city was larger than any other city in Europe, even than the large and beautiful city of Constantinople, and all sorts of people lived there such as Greeks, Slavs, Wends1), Saxons, and many other tribes besides. Each had their own, unique religions, and only the Saxons, who were Christians, were not allowed to proclaim their beliefs openly, for only the pagan idols were permitted public worship. Regardless of these heathen ways, the inhabitants of Vineta were honorable and decent people, and they had no equals when it came to hospitality and courtesy towards strangers.

The inhabitants engaged in staggering amounts of trade. Their shops were filled with the rarest and most precious of goods, and year after year ships and merchants from all regions and from the furthest corners of the world came here. For this reason the city experienced wealth beyond compare, and the strangest and most entertaining lifestyle that can be imagined. The people of Vineta was so rich that its gates were made out of iron and bronze2), but the bells were made out of silver. And the silver was so common in the city that it was used for mundane tasks, and even the children played with hard silver coins3). But such wealth and the heathen ways of the pagans caused the doom of the beautiful and great city in the end. For when they reached the highest pinnacle of their glory and wealth, the inhabitants entered a period of great civic strife. Each of the different tribes wanted to have primacy over the others, and severe infighting resulted from this. Furthermore, one faction called the Swedes and another called the Danes for aid. They hurriedly replied to this call with the intention of gaining large amounts of plunder, and destroyed the mighty city of Vineta to its very foundations and took all of its wealth. This is supposed to have happened during the times of the great Emperor Charlemagne4).

Others claim that the city was not conquered and destroyed by enemies, but doomed by other means. For after the inhabitants became so rich beyond compare, they fell into the greatest vices of opulence until parents even cleaned their children with bread rolls. For this they were struck by the righteous wrath of God and the opulent city was wrecked by the raging sea and devoured by the waves. Then the Swedes arrived with many ships from the direction of Gotland and carried away whatever riches of the former city they could fish out of the ocean, retrieving masses of gold, silver, iron, tin, and splendid marble. They also found the iron city gates which they brought to Visby on Gotland, to which the trade routes that passed through Vineta relocated.

The location where the city used to stand can still be seen today. When travelers traverse the Peene5) from Wolgast into the lands of Usedom and reach the village of Damerow6) two miles after Wolgast, then they can see a large number of large stones, marble pillars, and foundations up to a quarter mile into the water during calm weather. These are the ruins of the sunken city of Vineta. They are stretched from east to west. The former streets and alleys are laid out with small pebbles, and larger stones show where the corners of the streets and the foundations of the houses were located. Some of these stones were so large that they rose out of the water by more than half a meter7) - these showed the locations of the temple and the city halls. Others are arranged in an order suitable for the foundations of houses, implying that they were intended for new buildings at the time the city was devoured by the water.

How far the length of the city extended into the waters is impossible to see, as the ocean floor slopes downward and is increasingly covered by vegetation and sand. The width of the city however is larger than that of Stralsund and Rostock, and as large as that of Lübeck8).

In the sunken city there is still strange life. When the waters are utterly quiet, it is frequently possible to see wondrous images amidst the ruins at the bottom of the sea. Large, mysterious figures in long, folded clothes then roam up and down the streets. Frequently they sit in golden wagons, or on large, black horses. Sometimes they happily amble back and forth, but at others they walk in slow funeral marches and then they can be seen carrying a coffin to the grave.

The silver bells of the city can be heard calling from beneath the waves for the evening rites whenever there is no storm on the ocean. And since the sinking of Vineta occurred from Good Friday to Easter Monday, it is possible to see the city on Easter Monday as it once was: As a punishment for its heathen ways and debauchery it rises out of the water as a warning shadow image, with all its houses, temples, gates, bridges, and debris. But when it is night or when there is stormy weather, no human and no ship may approach the ruins of the old city. Ships will be thrown against the rocks and shattered apart without mercy and hope of rescue, and none who were in these ships can escape the waves with their lives.

There is still an old path leading to the ruins from the nearby village of Loddin, which the locals call “the overland route to Vineta” since the old days.

Source: Temme, J. D. H.. Die Volkssagen von Pommern und Rügen, 1840. p. 23ff.

Notes and Commentary: That Sinking Feeling - The Lost City of Vineta

An old term for West Slavic groups living close to German settlement areas.
The term used here was “Glockengut” - literally, “the stuff bells were made out of”, which seems to have been one-fifth tin and four-fifth copper in medieval times.
The word used here was “Thaler”, a silver coin that was used in Europe starting in the late 15th century. Of course, this doesn’t quite fit with the claim that Vineta was destroyed “more than a thousand years ago”, so I took this as a generic word for “silver coins”.
In the years from 786 to 814, if the take this literally instead of approximate.
This doesn’t actually refer to the river Peene, which empties into the Baltic Sea about 20 km south of Wolgast, but the Peenestrom, a strait between the mainland and Usedom island.
A former village on Usedom which was largely destroyed during a flood in 1872 - 32 years after this story was published.
The unit used here was an “Elle”, a pre-standardization unit that had vastly different definitions in different regions. In this region, it was probably around 55-60 cm.
If we interpret this as the island where the historic town center of Lübeck is located, this might mean anything from 1-2 km - more if we also take the suburbs into account which existed by the time this book was published.