Marstal is the second biggest city on the island of Ærø and it has a proud history and there has traditionally been a rivalry between the city of Marstal and the larger city of Ærøskøbing. The rivalry was so large the small island of Ærø actually had two different tiny municipalities until 2007 when the two municipalities were forced to merge into one so the island was finally united as one municipality.
The city of Marstal started out as a little fishing village but it had a good location with easy access to the sea. Back when Marstal was founded all trade had to go through towns which had received a special privileges from the king – Marstal didn’t have this privilege so in principle all the trade of the town had to go through neighboring Ærøskøbing. The locals didn’t like to pay taxes so they decide to just ship merchandise in and out of the village.
They sent goods both to Schleswig Holstein and the rest of Denmark. Back in this period there was actually a tariff on trade between Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein despite the fact they were both ruled by the Danish king – but under different systems. The ship owners of Marstal didn’t like to pay tariffs to anybody so they were in fact smuggling their goods in and out of Marstal – unlike the more regulated trade in Ærøskøbing.
With this kind of competition it is hardly a surprise the shipping flourished in Marstal and soon the bulk of the trade on Ærø was concentrated in Marstal. The success of Marstal was so significant it was actually the second biggest shipping town anywhere in Denmark second only to Copenhagen. This was pretty impressive for a town of just a bit over 1,000 inhabitants during this period while other coastal towns had population which was 2-3 times bigger than Marstal.
The city still has a fairly big shipping presence and it is home to the large fleet of coasters in Denmark involved in local trade in the Baltic Sea and nearby. There is also a school training navigators for the Danish merchant fleet in this small town. Though shipping has been replaced by tourism as the main source of income for the village like most other parts of the island of Ærø.
The town is a nice place to go and wonder for a bit – though it doesn’t quite have the same charm as Ærøskøbing. The village has a bit strange layout with every street in the village leading down to the harbor which was the old center of the village. So the town layout is actually kind of with the harbor as the center and everything is spiraling out from this center of the village.
We enjoy the streets for a little bit and then we head back to Ærøskøbing to finish off the day trip of exploration.