Just a short time exploring the cobblestone streets of Lübeck, Germany is enough to soak in the culture of this once major trading center founded on the Baltic coast in 1143. One of the thriving medieval cities of the Hanseatic League, a confederation of merchant guilds and market towns which monopolized trade routes in the Baltic and North Seas from the 13th to 15th centuries, Lübeck retains much of its architectural wonder and the charm that accompanies it.
Enter through the impressive Holstentor, the red brick city gate, still standing sentinel despite the damage it suffered during World War II. Many of the buildings in the heart of the Old Town, including 15th and 16th century Patrician residences, public monuments, churches and salt storehouses, remain unaltered. Even today the city’s layout is considered a masterpiece and is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.
What does all this mean for today’s traveler? If you are a student of history you’ll love this place. If you are looking for clean streets, good eats and great German beer, you’ll be happy you came. I recommend a guided walking tour especially if you only have a day.
[Photo Above] Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Classical—each of these architectural styles can be seen in the row houses on one street!
[Above Photo] A ‘gang’ is an alley, much like a ‘wynd’ in Edinburgh, and they were crowded with small houses, more like shacks, where poor families lived behind wealthier townsmen’s houses. Today some of them are for rent to travelers!
Rathaus | St. Mary’s Church | St. Peter’s Church
All built in the 13th century, be sure to check out the Lübecker Rathaus (town hall), St. Mary’s Church and St. Peter’s Church, in the heart of Lübeck’s town center. St. Mary’s has the distinction of having the tallest brick vault in the world; the height of the central nave being 38.5 meters, just over 126 feet. One of the greatest composers of all time, Johann Sebastian Bach played in St. Mary’s, perhaps on its mechanical organ—the largest in the world.
St. Peter’s is no longer used as a church. The building’s 800-year-old light and airy interior has evolved into a vibrant events and arts exhibition space. If you come at Christmastime you can shop the large arts and crafts market held here.
Hospital of the Holy Ghost
In the Old Town definitely plan to visit the Hospital of the Holy Spirit at Koberg. Built in 1286 it remains one of the oldest social institutions in the the world as well as an important architectural monument built in the red-brick Gothic style. Originally designed as a church, hall and nursing home, it was funded with income the many estates it owned in and around Lübeck and run by monks and nuns.
The hall or longhouse behind the church originally housed beds that were set up on rows for its patients. In 1820 the beds were removed and replaced with wooden chambers, each only six square meters, about 65 square feet. You can still see one of the chambers as it would have been furnished in the late 1970s. Now fully modernized, it is still a senior home and nursing home run by a public foundation administered by the city.
The King of Marzipan
Visiting Neideregger is a must. Founded by the pastry chef Johann Georg Niederegger in 1806, it’s still a family run business with the secret marzipan recipe passed down from one generation to the next. Located in the heart of town, visit to learn the history of marzipan, reserve a table in the cafe and of course, and buy as many treats as you can hold in the shop.
Tasty German fare and beer at the Ratskeller await!