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We initially visited the German city of Lubeck in July 2008. The plan to visit this city was a random decision which was tiny in comparison to the whole trip that we were about to undertake.
We had decided some months earlier that this summer we would be doing something different. This something would be part of a plan that took us away from airport lounges and flight delays and instead would see us packing up our people carrier with our tent and three children and making a mini Euro treck across to my husbands parents in his native homeland, Sweden.
The route was planned with military precision, taking into account countries passed, currencies required, pit stops, mileage, shortest routes, petrol consumption and many pin points in the map of where we would be staying over our three week trip.
We had decided to take the ferry across from Calais to France and get to Sweden, the start of our holiday as soon as possisble with as few stops as possible.
When we decided to throw in an overnight stop as we figured that it was just too much to expect all of us to happily make it to Sweden in one day we looked at our precisional planning and decided to stop at around 4pm of day one. This happened to be around Hamburg. As my husband had previously visited this city we decided to try somewhere else close but that none of us had visited. We got out our map & out trusty friend google and began to google in the cities and towns in this area. The first city that we looked at was Lubeck and we were instantly won over by what we saw and read. We managed to find a nice looking Hanseatic hotel and got it booked promptly.
*The day of arrival*
We left Calais at around 8am on the day of travel and worked out that we should arrive in Lubeck at around 4pm. We seemed to have chosen to travel on what was to feel like one of the warmest days of the entire year and thanked our lucky stars for the air conditioning that bellowed through our car. We quickly passed through the small area of france, through Belgium, Netherlands and into Germany. The driving route was a very interesting and beautiful way to get to this destination.
This was to be my first visit to Germany and I was instantly impressed with the cleanliness and natural beauty of this country. If you decide to take a driving route to Lubeck, expect to be impressed with motorway & autobahn facilities. There are a lot of clean toilets, outside off road picnic and barbeque areas, an abundance of fuel filling stations and generally fast free flowing roads.
* Our arrival into Lubeck*
When we first arrived in Lubeck, the sumnwas shining and we were full of the holiday spirit. Aside from google photos, we did not really know what to expect from this city but from what we saw so far, we were very impressed. We drove through the city and to our hotel which was a beautiful 14th century Hanseatic hotel which is located on the river Trave.We checked in to the hotel (review to follow) , freshened ourselves up with well needed showers and off we went to hit Lubeck after all we wanted to make the most of this as we were only staying for one night.
Situated at the Trave River, Lubeck is the largest German port on the Baltic Sea. The old part of the town is an island enclosed by the Trave. Due to its brick Gothic architectural heritage, it is on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites.
As taken from Wikipedia:
Lightship Fehmarnbelt in front of the Concert and Congress Center.
Hospital of the Holy Spirit, one of the oldest social institutions of Lübeck (1260)
A typical crow-stepped gabled town house
Much of the old town has kept a medieval look with old buildings and narrow streets. The town once could only be entered by passing one of four town gates, of which two remain today, the well-known Holstentor (1478) and the Burgtor (1444).
The old town centre is dominated by seven church steeples. The oldest ones are the Lübecker Dom (the city's cathedral) and the Marienkirche (Saint Mary's), both from the 13th and 14th centuries.
Other sights include:
the Lübecker Rathaus (Town Hall).
Saint Catherine Church, Lübeck, a church that belonged to a former monastery, now the Katharineum, a Latin school.
Thomas Mann's house.
Günter Grass' house.
Church of St. Lawrence, located on the site of a cemetery of people dead during the 16th century plague.
Church of St. Jacob (Lübecker Jakobikirche, 1334).
the Salzspeicher, historic warehouses where salt delivered from Lüneburg awaited shipment to Baltic ports.
Lübeck has many smaller museums like the St. Annen Museum, the Behnhaus and the Holstentor. Lübeck Museum of Theatre Puppets is a privately run museum. Waterside attractions are a lightvessel that served Fehmarnbelt and Lisa von Lübeck, a reconstruction of a Hanseatic 15th century caravel.
We first headed up towards the shops where there is an eclectic mixture of modern shops and fast food take aways to more individual shops and more upmarket restaurants. We did not stop in Lubeck to shop, however, if we had, there would have been plenty of choice.
The town centre itself is full of gorgeous buildings and is full of history. We spent hours exploring the small side streets of Lubeck. The city is very charming and definately somewhere to go for old fashioned German style tourism combined with friendly people.
On the other side of the town, there were pavement cafes and restaurants, a very cosmopolitan feel within a city of history and culture. In the evening, we headed back down to the water side by our hotel and had our evening meal in one of the many al fresco river side restaurants. This was a very charming place to eat on a warm summers evening, watching the world go by, hearing the hustle and bustle of the city and watching the sunset with some good wine.
*Time to leave Lubeck*
The next morning after breakfast, we repacked the car and we were on our way by 8am. The city was quiet and the water was glistening and calm. We were very sad to leave Lubeck and knew that we would be back again.
We obviously continued up to Puttsgarden and across to Denmark and into Sweden and began our proper trip from there. When it was time to return, we came back into Germany, saw the sign for Lubeck and on a very impromptu decision decided to stay again! We managed to get a room in the same hotel and did our exploring all over again with the sun shining just as bright as our first visit and we soon fell in love with this city even more.
Will we return? Oh yes we will, after all it feels like the sun always shines in this beautiful city.
Starting from first principals, not wishing to insult anyone's geographical knowledge, I will explain to you just where Lübeck is. Many will probably have a good idea where Berlin, Dresden, Hamburg or even Cologne are located, but, if a straw poll amongst friends and colleagues is anything to go by, not a lot of you will have heard of, let alone know where, Lübeck, is situated.
To start with the clue is there in the other German cities mentioned, yes we are in Germany and you get rather warmer with the mention of Hamburg, which is Lübeck's largest neighbour, approximately forty miles to the south west.
Lübeck is located in the far north of Germany very close to, but not quite on, the Baltic coast. Around fifty miles further north of here and you are out of Germany and into Denmark. Whilst it is not a seaside city, its satellite town of Travemunde is. Having not (yet) visited Travemunde - which is administered by the city of Lübeck - this review will be only about the main city.
There is no hard and fast way of explaining the size of a city to you. In bald statistical terms this is a city of 215,000 inhabitants - almost putting it on a par with my own city of Brighton and Hove. However, there the similarity ends. The city centre in Lübeck is superbly well defined; it is located on an island formed by the partially canalised Trave River. The island is oval in shape, around two kilometres long and one in width.
Like most cities, Lübeck has sprawling suburbs, although the main travel connections, primarily the bus and train stations are located very close to the island and therefore city centre. Close to, but not encroaching actually upon it, and I think this is what gives the city its' uniquely tranquil character.
HOW TO GET THERE?
Having read the rest of this review I hope that you will form the impression that Lübeck is somewhere well worth going to! In actual fact, although it looks a long way from England on the map, transport connections are very good indeed.
Being the Richada's, naturally we did it, seemingly, the hard way - driving up through France, Belgium and the Netherlands in order to reach northern Germany. It looked a complicated route on the map, however it turned out to be an easy one that took, or rather would have done so were it not for a motorway closure, several hours less than anticipated to complete. We left the Channel Tunnel in Calais at 7.30am and arrived in Lübeck at 4.30pm, having lost two hours on the German A1 autobahn thanks to an accident closing the road.
Hamburg airport, less than forty five minutes away by road, has cheap airline connections to many UK airports. There are also flights available direct to Lübeck Airport from Stanstead, Leeds Bradford and Dublin.
In order to arrive by train or bus, you would need to pick up one of the regular services from Hamburg.
THE HISTORY LESSON
In all of the tourist information, and at many points within the city, you will read references to the "Hanseatic League" - a term which to be honest meant nothing to me prior to reading my Lonely Planet Gemany guide before we went. Knowing a little about the Hanseatic League will explain why this really rather grand little city exists today.
The origins of the city of Lübeck date from 1143, when Count Adolf II von Schaunburg chose the site as an ideal one on which to set up a trading post. He attracted settlers from all nations, to join the original Slav inhabitants of the area; rapidly a port was established here.
Unfortunately twenty-four years later a huge fire devastated the city, which had been constructed entirely of wood. Count Adolf left it to another nobleman, Heinrich the Lion, to rebuild and expand the now established city. This took place rapidly; it was geographically a superb natural site for trading to take place - having open access to the Baltic Sea via the river, but far enough in land not to suffer regular flooding, although periodically, to this day, the riverfront areas are prone to flood.
Once the Bishop moved from Oldenburg to Lübeck, the importance of the city was sealed. The city became in the thirteenth century a centre of European trade, mostly through its maritime connections to the countries fringing the Baltic. This lead to thriving support industries, such as shipbuilding, developing here further fuelling the expansion and wealth.
By 1370 Lübeck had become Germany's second largest city after Cologne. The Hanseatic League had been set up, a medieval trade network of cities, spread all of the way across northern Europe, from the Arctic Circle in the north to the Alps in the south, London in the west and Novgorod in the east. Its' meeting place was the maritime port of Lübeck - situated right in the centre. This was indeed a much larger geographical trade area than that covered by the EEC.
Whilst we generally tend to think of the Medieval and Middle Ages as a highly unstable time politically, the Hanseatic League, originally formulated to protect Baltic and North Sea trade ships from the ravages of war and piracy, proved very enduring and lasted for almost 300 years. Throughout those years it was one of the worlds strongest Economical and political powers.
After the League disbanded in 1666 much more turbulent political times followed, including the French occupation of 1806-1813. Fifty years later with the arrival of the railway and with its port system well established, Lübeck evolved into an important industrial centre.
Naturally the wealth and power created in those earlier times very much formulated the fascinating city that we see today. A substantial portion of the wealth generated was put back into the city, creating the superb public buildings and the seven churches which form the unique cityscape that is now so much admired.
However, as with the other German cities listed in the opening paragraphs of this review, it is the history of the last century, most notably the Second World War, which has had the most obvious visual impact upon this city.
Due to the incredible and unusual foresight of the thirteenth century city fathers, by local law - following the fire that decimated the original city, all buildings facing the street had to be built of stone. Undoubtedly this decree saved a lot of superb buildings from being destroyed by World War Two fire bombs.
Since the War, Lübeck has been a city in transformation, its' former trading strength gone, the industry destroyed by the bombing and the partition of Germany leaving it stranded on the edge of a border zone to the east. As with many English cities it has struggled to cope and change with the times, especially with those times being far less prosperous than in the more industrialised cities in the centre and south of Germany. Lübeck suffers one of the highest unemployment rates in what was western Germany and according to our guides who were resident there, one of the highest crime rates in the whole country too.
THE TOURIST POINT OF VIEW......
......or a more polite way of saying 'let's get on with the review'!
We found ourselves here by complete and utter chance, had a friend of mine not invited us to his wedding - his bride's family being Lübeck residents - this is unlikely to have been a place that Mrs R and I would ever have experienced. How glad we are now that we accepted the invitation!
My friend, by profession, is something of an organiser. Consequently at the wedding reception we found ourselves sharing a table not only with other English guests, but also some fluent English speaking German ones, a fascinating married couple; a nurse and anaesthetist from the local hospital, who were work colleagues of the bride. During the evening they overheard us saying that we wanted to spend the following day (Saturday) seeing Lübeck and, if possible, taking a drive up to the Baltic coast - around twenty minutes away. They approached us later, offering to show us around their city, they lived close to the centre in a side street next to the Registry Office where we had been celebrating in the morning!
For us the offer of a guided tour from two residents was too good to pass up. Naturally we jumped at the chance, realising that we were likely to see far more with their help than we would wandering the streets on our own.
What we discovered was that Lübeck is a most friendly city to view on foot. Their home, off of the island, was no more than a ten minute walk from the centre. The area to the south of the island where they live is a relatively prosperous and sought after one, partly due to its proximity to the centre, it and the rest of the city are well served by public transport - mostly modern "bendy-busses".
The areas off of the island are busy with traffic, busses and trains - all the hubbub of a big city in fact. Walking into (more accurately ON to!) the city centre, we passed a large Saturday open market. Cross the bridge onto the island though and you walk into another city, a different world, almost akin to stepping back into the middle ages.
People seem to prefer not to bring their cars into the island, there are cars parked here, but they appear to belong to residents. Although the roads are good, and parking seemingly plentiful, the number of traffic movements are incredibly low. Our Saturday morning impression was one of an overwhelming sense of peace and tranquillity, a delightful city centre in which to live - if apparently you can afford to!
RETAIL THERAPY, ESPECIALLY FOR THOSE WITH A SWEET TOOTH
There are several shopping streets here, the two main ones intercepting in the middle. For those of you whose main aim on a city break is to shop, then I would not particularly recommend Lübeck. It does have its very specific and well known retail attractions though, primarily Niederegger - Mecca for everything marzipan.
We had the previous evening sampled local marzipan on the wedding cake, which was smothered in the stuff. I am not usually a marzipan lover, but this was unlike any that I have previously tasted. Marzipan was always a highly prized commodity here, Niederegger is known nationally in Germany, which makes it more than a mere tourist shop / marzipan emporium / café / restaurant. Yes the RICHADA's parted with some Euros here, although we avoided buying the most fancy (and expensive) of marzipan creations - the life sized fruits looked particularly alluring - certainly far too good to eat!
CRUISING AROUND THE CITY
You cannot go far in Lübeck without coming to the river, after all, it surrounds you. Regular cruises can be taken from Obertrave, the water front area adjacent to the Holstenbruke, which is the main bridge onto the island. Being a fan of such water-borne tours, we eagerly awaited the departure of the 11.00am cruise.
For a charge of 5.50 Euro each, this proved to be an excellent value tourist experience. We stepped aboard a very smart boat with both inside and outside seating. Being first on board we chose to sit at a table on the open deck at the stern, it was a beautiful sunny autumn day. Before leaving the mooring we were served good and reasonably priced coffee and also made use of the clean on-board toilets. The crew spoke fluent English, although once we set off the commentary was all in German, leaving our guides frantically translating for us.
Not only did the cruise offer the best views of the city, but we enjoyed many sights that on foot we simply would not have seen. For any photographers among you I would heartily recommend the cruise as it provided the best photographs of the day.
Immediately opposite the mooring are the impressive salt warehouses, dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, although the facades were rebuilt in the nineteenth century. Here salt was stored having been brought up the canal by barge from Luneburg.
Pulling away from its mooring the ship heads north, the route that ships of old took towards the sea. We pass the Museum Docks where many historic ships are permanently moored, before heading north and into a much less pretty, far more commercial part of town. The largely derelict docks and factories on the west bank have a certain fascinating industrial charm of their own, although I suspect that this whole area will be rapidly re-developed.
Upon reaching a brand new, yet to be opened road bridge, an impressive lifting one, our ship does an about turn in order to circumnavigate the eastern side of the city where the riverbanks are more leafy in nature, affording wonderful "through the autumn leaves" views of the impressive church spires. Along the riverbanks joggers, dog walkers and cyclists enjoy this fine October Saturday.......
.......but not as much, I suspect, as we are enjoying our cruise around their fine city.
The cruise lasted for just over an hour and was such a totally relaxing and enjoyable experience that we really did not want to get off the boat!
This is the main commercial waterfront area of the city. Its general appearance is not very commercial at all. The river Trave is canalised where it passes this part of Lübeck, the east bank, or island side, being lined with colourful merchants houses.
Artisans connected with the maritime trade worked and lived along the bank of the river, their small back yards - too small to be called gardens being packed with their work in progress and tools of the trade - sail-making, salt packing and ship-wrights. Thanks to the layout of the area and that back to back properties are common here; there are thoroughfares through which we can walk. Medieval and Middle Age courtyards have mostly been restored or modernised for twenty first century living, their origins however remain unmistakable.
Lining the river front on this sunny Saturday morning was colourful washing, hung out, by ancient right, to dry. Parking here may be something of a problem in our modern times; drying washing it would appear is not.
SYMBOL OF LUBECK - THE HOLSTENTOR
Before going to any destination not previously visited abroad, we always try to research the place before getting there so as to make best use of our limited time. Doing this, both in guide books and on the internet, you will probably start to form the completely inaccurate opinion that this highly unusual building is the only one of architecture of any merit in the city. Quite simply it appears on all publicity and tourist information.
Many of you who are slightly older and have handled Germany's previous currency, the Mark, may feel a strange sense of familiarity with at least the Holstentor's silhouette; it appeared on the old 50-mark note, 5.8 million of which were in circulation.
The Holstentor formed one of the highly fortified gates to the old walled city and is located adjacent to one of the bridges onto the island. It dates from 1478 and today appears in remarkably good - if not original condition, thanks to a total restoration completed in 2006. Originally, as built, the twin towers were vertical and parallel in alignment. Over the centuries, due to the swampy ground beneath, their massive weight has caused them to spread outwards at the bottom, leaving them with their slightly comical inward leaning appearance that you can marvel at from a distance today.
Whilst we did not have time to visit it, the interior of the Holstentor is given over to a city museum, largely telling the story of Lübeck's glory days in the times of the Hanseatic League. Obviously on a return visit this would be top of our list to see.
ST. PETRI - BEST VANTAGE POINT IN TOWN
We were lead from the Holstentor over the bridge, a little way up the main shopping street and then through a narrow alleyway to one of the "seven spire" churches - Petrikirche. This is no longer a consecrated church, but it is a major tourist attraction. The body of the church, an extraordinarily brightly lit - by natural light thanks to floor to ceiling windows - whitewashed edifice, is given over to temporary exhibitions, but the tourists come for one thing, as we did, to ascend the 50 metre high tower.
For a few Euro, with apologies for not being more specific, I did not pay, you can go up the impressive church tower in a lift. With long queues waiting to do just this, the custodians offered to let us use the stairs, which we gladly did. At the top you walk out onto a wide, covered platform where a 360 degree unobstructed panorama of the city can be enjoyed.
Below you are many homes, literally you are looking into people's back yards, shops and the magnificent town hall. A particularly good perspective of the other churches in the vicinity can be obtained too, whilst on a clear day you can see for many miles out across the flat countryside in all directions.
TOWN HALL AND MARKET SQUARE
A short walk from Petrikirche will take you over the main shopping street and into the remarkable, both for its' beauty and blandness, town square. As you enter it, the corner facing you is simply magnificent. This "corner" is actually the Town Hall, a complex of buildings started with the extraordinary high wall (with its' distinctive circular wind holes) at the back in the thirteenth century, and completed in 1435 with the two stunning galleried buildings in front of it. As a back drop is the splendid Ratskirche Sankt Marien, which at one point almost abuts the high wall.
The rest of the Town Square is formed by some of the most architecturally challenged buildings that I have ever seen outside of an English new town or Communist Eastern Europe. Quite how in the 1950's and 60's the city authorities allowed this type of development on such a historically sensitive site beats me.
RATSKIRCHE SANKT MARIEN
Regrettably we did not have time to view the colossal cathedral, third largest church in Germany which, founded in 1173, was destroyed by the bombing in 1942. However, we did view St. Marien behind the Town Square, an extraordinary church by any standards.
Outside more resembling cathedrals of France, with its twin spired towers, very prominent flying buttresses and arched buttresses, it was the first church of this style to be built in Germany. The appearance outside hardly prepares you for the interior experience.
Probably more than in any church or cathedral that I have visited, St. Marien challenged my senses.
The first impression is not unusual, of a lofty very tall nave supported by elegant arched pillars. As with other German churches this one is relatively light and bright inside - prior to 1942 it had been even more so - all was white-washed here. In an extraordinary twist of fate, conservationists were done a huge favour by the fire bombing that gutted this church. The sheer heat of the fire caused the layers of white-wash applied over the centuries to peel back, revealing the extraordinary original art applied to these very pillars by Middle Age craftsmen. Since the rebuilding of the fabric of this building was completed in 1952, the conservators have been continually restoring the church to what had been revealed as its original appearance.
A much more permanent and poignant reminder of Palm Sunday 1942, the night of the fire storm caused by bombing Lübeck, can be found under the spires. Still embedded in the floor where they fell - a permanent memorial to the futility of war - are the huge cast iron bells. The bombing of the city, although a strategic target commercially, was partially a retaliation for the Nazi destruction of Coventry - including its' gothic cathedral in 1940. Adjacent to the shattered bells is a nail cross, created from metal fragments recovered from the wreckage of Coventry Cathedral.
However, all of those impressions and facts are overshadowed by an unsettling "aura" about the interior of this church. What had been a bright and sunny day was now in the late afternoon turning into a more dark and gloomy one, the light level whilst we were inside St Marien has fallen noticeably. As it did so, we were aware of being surrounded in rather creepy images of death, skeletons and skulls seemingly jumping out at us from every stained glass window and picture. The partial purpose of this church appears to be to ram home, via repeated images of "The dance of death", the message that none of us can avoid the grim reaper. Whilst the sentiment is real enough, I have to say that the far from subtle way in which it is done here left me feeling unsettled, which in hindsight is probably exactly what it is intended to do!
It would not be at all difficult to write a whole review about this church, so involved is both the history and detail of it. There is so much that I have left out on the subject here that I can only recommend visiting it for yourselves.
A UNIQUE DINING EXPERIENCE
There is so much to see in Lübeck that the temptation is to keep going and going, inevitably, late into the afternoon, tiredness and hunger caught up with us. Our guides were keen to show us, and indeed for us to eat in, the most famous of all Lübeck restaurants, Schiffergesellschaft.
Another deserving (future) review subject of its own, suffice to say here that this extraordinary building, looking like a grand private house from the outside, was a refuge for sailors over the centuries, a cheap meal and free overnight board being offered here for those down on their luck.
Gastronomically I was expecting this to be a wallet busting experience, especially as the huge green wooden front door silently opened electrically as we approached it. Stepping inside is a bit of a culture shock, like something from another world - or a movie set!
A shrine to maritime trade, a high table is permanently laid to play host to any sea captains who should come here to eat. To this day, in order to qualify for service at the high table (literally raised above the rest of the room on a plinth) you are required to show your captain's papers. For us mere mortals, we take our place at the end of one of the room length refectory tables, seated on long pews.
The atmosphere inside Schiffergesellschaft is a little unusual to say the least. It is extremely dark, almost no natural daylight enters and you eat under dim flickering lanterns. The walls are adorned with murals, but so dimly lit that you can hardly appreciate them. We actually only ate smoked fish soup - we had a meal booked at our hotel in less than two hours time and treated this as a starter. It was superb, our guides ate rather more hearty meals which also looked and smelt outstandingly good.
The open wallet surgery was nowhere near as painful as had been at first suspected either - the menu was extremely wide and varied - really allowing you to spend as much or as little as can be afforded.
IN CONCLUSION I HAVE ONLY SCRATCHED THE SURFACE HERE
Regrettably there is much, that due to space constraints, I have had to leave out of this review.
There is a lot that we have yet to see on a future, much anticipated, return visit to Lübeck. In order to really appreciate this fine city you would need to spend a long weekend break there, four days would be ideal. Alternatively it would make a superb base for a full holiday in the area, taking in the Baltic, Hamburg and the very attractive surrounding countryside.
As a bonus, we found that the people of Lübeck were warm and friendly, hearing us speaking English, some even approached us on the pavement and struck up a conversation. Paradoxically, this area I found to be the most "German" and least cosmopolitan place that we have found in that country. Unlike in Cologne the following week, we had not been surrounded in American and Japanese tourists. It would therefore appear that this city remains, in tourist terms, something of an undiscovered treasure - and is all the better for it.
Since 1987 the entire island city centre of Lübeck has been a World Heritage site. Over 1200 buildings: churches, public buildings, homes and business premises are thus protected. In all of our travels, rarely have we seen such a deserving case of World Heritage status. Lubeck truly is a gem.
This review also published by myself on Ciao.
The second largest city in Schleswig-Holstein. A modern city enclosed by historic walls.