K ulturwissenschaftliches Institut für Europaforschung
(Lüneburg, Mai 2004)
Recreation of Hansa - how one benefits from it /Tiit Remm:/ At first the word hansa (hanse) was used to represent a group of men who gathered together to carry out rituals. Later, hansa signified a community of merchants in foreign countries. From 13th century hansa received the meaning of a trade network of towns and their merchants - the Hansaetic League.
The network extended mainly in the costal regions of Baltic Sea (and North Sea). The core of the network was towns in northern Germany; we are more concentrated on issues of Tartu and Lüneburg. The role of Lüneburg laid in being the origin of salt; Tartu and Tallinn were the trade centres and mediators between East and West. In the later era of Hansa League interests of German towns stayed more in Western trade, Tallinn and Tartu became the leaders of eastern area of Hansa.
Thus Lüneburg and Tartu had special roles in the network; and later Tartu (with Tallinn) became the centre of a more limited and local network. Any kind of locality in present creates local heritage for future. In historical towns there are nodes of its history - objects and phenomenon that are understood as reflecting the history. Such 'nodes of hansa' in different towns reflect the universality and locality of hansaetic identity. Among those nodes, there are mostly two principles by which the objects and phenomenas are considered to represent the Hansa.
Majority of object are considered to represent Hansa because of their´
(1) historicality - it is seen as being connected to the epoch of Hansa (i.e. past, esp. medieval era) through origin or origin of style etc; strict connection to Hansaetic league is not crucial; (in Tartu: ruins of Dome church and city wall, Jaani church etc.)
(2) functionality - hansaetic identity lies here in the usage of objects or a behaviour that is considered as being connected to Hansa (in Tartu: market, harbour etc.)
Both types can be considered as functions - temporally indicative function and function of usage of the object as a sign. But functionality is an attributed meaning, compareable to historicality.
In the first case Hansa is mostly understood as an historical, i.e. temporal phenomenon and an epoch, in the second case Hansa is described through trading and other activities carried out continuously throughout history.
There are several reasons, why do those objects become considered as Hansaetic and how. We find that two most important processes that make Hansa active in Estonian everyday culture are the celebration of modern Hansa days and the usage of Hansa for corporate images.
Hansa days are mostly historical-cultural event that consist of several exhibitions, fairs, handicraft workshops etc. All those activities (re-)create more or less the historical (imaginative) atmosphere of Hansa times - which means usually the medieval or historical culture in general. As such it is comparable to the Old Town Days in Tallinn; still Hansa days are more concentrated on aspects of commerce and less on other cultural and historical everyday aspects.
While both medieval days are concerned about the historical city, its atmosphere and historical activities, the connection to Hansa network makes Hansa days more international. Besides the wide range of network and present internationality, Hansa league has originally been and is still talked about as being largely German-centred. In contrast to it, Hansa days in Tartu have the slogan "Hansa - our own history"; and the most usual goods at Hansa fairs are traditionally considered as being Estonian national. Thus the network of German tradesmen is included into Estonian own history and on the other and our locality is projected into Hansaetic identity.
In our presentation these theories of brands are important which stress values. For example, according to Arvola, one of the functions of a brand is to add values for the target group.
There are no "real" brand Hansa but many enterprises are using the world 'hansa' as a part of their names. Why is it so? Two theories that may help answer to this question will be presented below.
J. Lotman has wrote about proper and general names. Proper names designate concrete objects; general names refer to some objects in general. The less a real name additional information carries, the stronger its naming function is. For example, smith as a general name refer to a professional but Smith is a proper name.
R. Barthes says that names have denotative and connotative functions. The denotation of a name is the thing behind the name. The connotations of a name are additional meanings of this word. For example, the denotation of 'Mensa' is the eating place in campus and one of the connotations of the word 'mensa' can be the club of wise men.
If the connotation is a secondary meaning of signifier, then myth is secondary meaning of signified. In the myth of mensa can belong cheep food, long queue, friendly personnel etc.
Now I will come to the name Hansapank. It is the biggest bank is Estonia and a strong brand. The question rises, how is the bank connected to historical trade union? First of all it should be mentioned that compared to other bank names, Hansabank seems to be more real name as Äribank or Krediidipank, or Sparkasse in Germany.
Still, in Barthes' terms, the name can have connotations that refer to internationality, traditions, wealth, greatness etc. The myths of Hansapank may include the concepts like being innovative, ethic, successful, client friendly etc. Of course there can exist also some counter myths.
Actually, nowadays in Estonia all the bank names are acting like real names because the myths of the banks are much stronger as the connotations of the names. Considering the firms that are less known, the notion Hansa can refer to its connotations. The more one knows about a company itself, the more the name functions as a proper name.
There are many "hansa-firms" is Estonia and in Germany as well and the connections between the names and the business fields are very different. Sometimes grounded and sometimes ungrounded. It is said about Hansa Hotel (in Tartu):
"Hansa - old german word, originally meaning an armed group or band that protected the common interests of merchants travelling abroad. Nowadays it could also mean a group of (unarmed) foreign visitors whose common interests are protected by Hansa Hotel in Tartu. Just as it was profitable for a town to be a member of the Hanseatic league, you will profit from the stay in our hotel."
By most of the cases - the connection is not reasoned so thoroughly. And there are firm names from 'Hansakeskus' (Hansacentre) till 'Hansamaaler' (Hansapainter) in Estonia. So we see that the "ancient" notion 'hansa' carries still popular values - these can be based on economical professionality or historical exotic or mobility or whatever - the amount of possible connotations seams to be wide enough.
Considering some other cases, one can find quite illogical connections. The logo of Estonian telecommunication company symbolises a blooming fern and the logo with oak belongs to an Estonian meet industry (Rakvere). By the last case it is said: "Every year an oak have new acorns, exactly the same way Rakvere surprises its clients every year with new products.
Concluding the issue of corporate brands, I would say that it seams to be occasional, how the logos and names are linked to the companies. But it is not occasional how the symbols and names for companies are selected.
Here we saw different usages of Hansa - Hansa as the historical epoch with German, international and local aspects, Hansa as a sign for trade, traditions and quality. In Estonia, Hansa has also been the proof of traditionally and naturally belonging to Europe. But most of all we could see the dual usage and recreation of Hansa: Hansa as a cultural-historical epoch and Hansa as an universal sign of quality (esp. to travel and monetary companies). The historical Hansa league had both aspects - the period and region specificity and overall economical trading aims - but nowadays the two aspects are hardly connected and the sameness of Hansa hardly reognised.
But imagine an annual appreciated monetary conferece of Hansapank being held in association with Hansa days.