In 1953, when a wave of insurrection swept through the German Democratic Republic, the town saw some minor protests which were quickly quelled. In 1981, former East German head of state hosted West German chancellor Schmidt for bilateral meetings, but the city population was blocked out from the summit and were replaced in the streets by employees of the Stasi state security service. After German reunification, Güstrow quickly began to adapt to the needs of tourism and has changed its face since considerably.
Today, tourism plays an important role for the town’s economy. It is also home to several administrative institutions and to a beverage plant. Another traditional industry in town, refining sugar, came to an end when the large local plant was shut down in 2008.
Most visitors to town are drawn to the Güstrow Palace, the city’s main attraction (photo). Built in 1558 in Renaissance style as the successor of a Slavic castle that had burnt to the ground, the Palace was the home of the region’s dukes until 1817. The building, which is open to visitors and sometimes hosts cultural events, features some interesting interior design, for example in the theatre room. The museum on the grounds offers a look at some of the hunting rifles and artwork the former inhabitants of the palace called their own and also gives information on the dukes and duchesses who once made their home here. Also worth seeing are the palace gardens which have been reconstructed to represent the Renaissance style.
Among other sights of Güstrow is the historic old town with numerous diligently restored houses reflecting a broad mix of architectural style and ages. Some fine examples of the historic architecture can be found in the streets surrounding the Güstrow Cathedral (Domstrasse) which in itself is an example for the red-brick Gothic style that is widely spread in northern Germany. It was built in the 13th century and is especially worth visiting for its artwork, the altar and a bronze sculpture of a person suspended from the ceiling, made by the city’s most famous inhabitant, the German sculptor Ernst Barlach. The artist had moved to Güstrow in 1910 and lived here until he died in 1938. The historic theater in town is today named after him and there are three permanent exhibitions in the city dedicated to his work. The most notable of these is the Gertrudenkapelle (Gertrud church; Gertrudenplatz 1), where some of Barlach’s most prolific works are on display, mostly wooden ones. The former church building, which during the Third Reich was being used as a so-called ancestry hall by the Nazis, is host to classical concerts in the summer.
Other notable sights in Güstrow include a small, privately-run circus artists museum which will open its doors upon request (address: ZU den Wiesen 17) and the Northern German Krippenmuseum, a museum of nativity scenes, operating inside the Heiliggeistkirche, a church building constructed around 1300 (address: Heiligengeisthof 5).
An attraction particularly popular with families is the city’s zoo and nature park named Natur- und Umweltpark, founded in 1959 and expanded and updated after 1990 (address: Verbindungschaussee). While the number of species on display in this park is comparatively small, it affords a unique possibility for visitors to get close to the animals. For example, there is an elevated walkway crossing through the wolves’ habitat and a glass tunnel leading right into a pond where a number of fish species can be viewed.