World Facts Index > Germany > Lubeck

Lubeck, once the former "Queen of the Hanseatic League", is today a modern city enclosed by historic walls. There is good reason to be proud of it, as the UNESCO has declared the intact ensemble of churches, merchant's houses, warehouses and small narrow alleys in the Old Town part of the world´s cultural heritage. "World literature and the world´s cultural heritage" - this slogan nicely combines Lubeck´s cultural treasures with one another. Not only can the old spirit of the Hanseatic League still be sensed in the Old Town, but you can also imagine the protagonists of such famous novels as Professor Unrat, Tonio Kröger and Buddenbrooks walking by. Apart from Thomas and Heinrich Mann, who certainly belong amongst the city´s best known sons, many artists have lived and worked here over the centuries: the painter and sculpturer Bernd Notke, the organ player Dietrich Buxtehude, the author Ida Boy-Ed, the poet Emanuel Geibel and Gunter Grass, who has only recently been awarded the Nobel prize for literature. The politician and Nobel peace prize winner Willy Brandt was born in Lubeck in 1913. He used to say "I always carried a piece of Lubeck inside me, wherever I had to go."

The heart of Lubeck is its Old Town, surrounded by the river Trave in the west and by the river Wakenitz in the east. The many narrow lanes and alleys are lined by old town houses with red brick facades and impressive stepped and other artistic gables, and there is a pleasant everyday bustle here. The Old Town is no decorated showcase for tourists, but the cultural, political and social centre of Lubeck. The impressive Town Hall is still in use - this is where the senate meets and where the citizens' conferences take place. A pedestrian area starts here, where the city´s popular shopping streets are lined with town houses from the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classic period, which have been put under a preservation order. All the main churches can be found in the Old Town: St. Marien, the Dom (cathedral), St. Petri, St. Aegidien, St. Jakobi. Their 7 naves already represented Lubeck´s wealth in the early Middle Ages, and they still dominate the city´s skyline. The Stiftshöfe, which were founded by the rich merchants, also belong to the townscape and are popular just as before. Apart from elderly single ladies, young students have taken to staying here, although the annual "tourist epidemic" is sometimes considered a bit of a nuisance.
All the major museums are spread across the Old Town: St. Annen museum, Behnhaus, Museum church St. Katherinen, Buddenbrook house, the Ethnological Collection, Scientific and Environmental museum, Museum of Puppetry and the Holsten Gate.

Lubeck´s many schools of further education are gathered here and there are also plenty of good reasons for the locals to go to the Old Town in the evenings - not only are the best known theatres located here, like the old Stadttheater with its art nouveau façade, the Theater Combinale and the Theater Partout, but Lubeck´s cinemas and several discos such as the Red Zone, Body & Soul or Hux can also be found here. Many old town houses have popular pubs and restaurants within their walls, ranging from the traditional Schiffergesellschaft at the Old Seafarers´ Guild House to the plain old pizza place.

The Koberg in the north of the city also belongs to the Old Town. It is surrounded by impressive buildings like the Heiligen-Geist-Hospital, St. Jacobi, some beautiful renovated town houses and the Schiffergesellschaft. Despite all efforts and a new but somewhat "controversial" decoration, it has not been accepted by the locals which explains why it is not very lively.

The Malerwinkel below the cathedral is much more popular. There are many narrow alleys and renovated courtyards in this area, and the pubs and restaurants along the Upper Trave are particularly busy during the summer months. The visitors appreciate these sheltered locations and know that they can catch the first rays of sun in the spring here. The College of Music moved here a few years ago, and you can frequently listen to nice concerts when the windows are open. Friends of architectural highlights praise the Große Petersgrube, as it has beautiful examples of northern European townhouses from the Gothic, Baroque, Rococo, late Baroque and Classic period standing close together. At Holsten bridge, opposite the old Salzspeicher (salt warehouses), ships depart for tours of the Harbour, the canals and the city.

Recently, people have become aware of Lubeck´s beautiful Harbour between Holstentorbrucke and Hubbrucke again, where the Oldtime sailing ships recall the old days when the ships of the Hanseatic League used to lie here to take on freight or deliver goods into the nearby warehouses. This is where the Queen of the League´s heart used to pound, this is where the city´s wealth and power had their origin. The trading business has moved to other parts of the harbour, but the lovely old warehouses remained and they create a special ambience here. At Drehbrucke berth the ships to Travemunde depart. The harbour serves as a setting for both the Old Town Festival and the youngest daughter of the Berlin love parade: Lubeck´s Friendship-Party.

Facing the Old Town in the west is the Wallhalbinsel between Stadtgraben and Stadttrave. It is cut into two parts. In the southern part large hotels like the SAS Radisson Senator Hotel and Mövenpick Hotel have found ideal locations behind the embankments with the open-air stage, and the Music and Congress Hall has pushed aside the alternative scene - "Walli". In the northern part the old red storage sheds can be found at Wallhafen and Hansahafen. Wood is mainly loaded here, and the future of the ideally situated harbour vis-à-vis the Old Town is being carefully discussed at present.

The neighbourhood of St. Lorenz is located beyond the embankments. It is divided into St. Lorenz North and St. Lorenz South. St. Lorenz North spreads to both sides of the motorway behind the railway station. It is a plain residential area with industrial estates near the Trave and the western city port (Nordlandkai). The former Kusel summer cottage stands out like a relic from long gone days. It was built in 1756, when there used to be exclusive summer residences at this former suburb. Near the Lohmuhle, many large DIY hypermarkets and the sports grounds can be found. The more significant local football matches take place here.

St. Lorenz South has a similar structure to the northern part. It is situated where in former times Lubeck´s nurseries used to grow vegetables and shrubs. The Dräger factories have had their main branch here since 1982. Many insurance companies have settled around the main railway station and the central bus station. The IHK Lubeck also moved here recently.

The next neighbourhood further south is Buntekuh - it got its name from the brown and white cows which used to graze here until World War II. Today, multi-storey houses, major shopping centres and a large industrial estate with a motorway exit are situated on the former agricultural grounds.

The Lubeck neighbourhood Moisling is mainly an industrial estate between the river Trave and the Elbe-Lubeck-canal. It includes the villages of Genin, Niendorf (with a 1760 manor), Moorgarten and Reecke. The Jewish cemetery, which survived the Nazi regime relatively unharmed, proves that this area used to be inhabited by Jewish families.

St. Jurgen, one of Lubeck´s most popular and most sophisticated neighbourhoods, is situated in the south-east of the city, between the Wakenitz and the Elbe-Lubeck-canal. Near Huxtertor and Muhlentor, but especially between St. Jurgenring and Ratzeburger Allee there is a relatively complete line of suburban villas, which were built here after the city gates were opened in 1884. Thanks to the save St. Jurgen and St. Georg initiative, the beautiful houses could be preserved. Their classic facades resemble the architectural variety of the period when many industrial firms were founded in Germany. The palais-like summer house, which the Danish architect Joseph Christian Lillie built for the art patron Dr. Max Linde in 1804, can also be found here. It serves as a registry office today. Across the street from here, the little St. Jurgen chapel is located with lots of trees in its cemetary. One of Lubeck´s most famous weekly markets takes place at the Brink. It also attracts customers from other neighbourhoods. The Medical University is situated at Ratzeburger Allee in the southern part of St. Jurgen, and not far away from there, at Mökhofer Weg, Lubeck College can be found. The Krankenhaus Sud (southern hospital) is also close by.
St. Jurgen includes the villages of Oberbussau, Kronsforde and parts of Krummesse.

The river Wakenitz marks the borderline to St. Gertrud, a very green neighbourhood which looks a bit like the villa district at St. Jurgen, especially around the Stadtpark.
The classic and art nouveau houses here were also built beyond the town gates, when living space became scarce and the wealthy people moved to the green regions. Around the time of the industrialisation, villas were grouped around the City Park and along Roeckstraße and Burgfeld. The district court is located here, which explains why many lawyers offices can be found in the surrounding streets. They caused the rent to rise considerably in this district. St. Gertrud is not just a residential but also a recreational area - the Schellbruch nature preserve, Wesloer Tannen, Lauer Holz, parts of the Wakenitz, Drägerpark and Gothmund belong to this neighbourhood. The Volksfestplatz, where the annual fair takes place and the circus sets up its tent is situated in the north-east of the City Park.

Schlutup, originally a fishermen's village, follows further to the north-east, where the border to the former German Democratic Republic used to be. Today, it is a residential area with an industrial estate. The old town centre is grouped around the St. Andreas church built in 1436, and fish processing businesses have settled at the fish dock. Due to the former border, this neighbourhood had been slightly neglected until the reunification. Since then, it has been possible to implement plenty of new projects here, but on the other hand the area suffers from an increase in traffic. In 1993, the port around the Sweden terminal was enlarged for forestry products.

Kucknitz with the Flender shipyards (shipbuilding and repairs) and the Villeroy & Boch ceramics factory at Dänischburg is situated on the other side of the Trave, opposite Schlutup harbour. Large construction sites have been a striking characteristic of Kucknitz since World War II. This way, the formerly surrounding villages of Rangenberg, Herrenwyk and Dummersdorf became part of this neighbourhood. Recommended sights in Kucknitz are the Geschichtswerkstatt Herrenwyk and the Dummersdorfer Ufer nature preserve.

Travemunde, the city´s most northern neighbourhood, is often called Lubeck´s most beautiful daughter. Thomas Mann also appreciated its advantages in his days. The Gate to the North consists of Old Travemunde with historic houses around the St. Lorenz brick church, as well as the Fish Dock, and the health resort district Travemunder Strand. A promenade leads along the shores of the Trave, past the old lighthouse and the marina with its wooden bridges all the way to the beach of the Baltic Sea and further along to the impressive Brodten cliffs. Walking on the promenade in the breeze, you will pass by the Kurhaushotel, the exceptionally beautiful casino and the Brugmann gardens with the bandstand. It is never boring in Travemunde, as you can always enjoy the full view of the Trave from the promenade or a basket chair, and watch the giant ferries pass by on their way to the Scandinavien Quay right in front of you. Facing Travemunde is the Priwall peninsula with its nature preserve and the Passat, a sailing ship built in 1911. Its four masts point to the sky and can be seen from a great distance.

History of Lubeck

It took three attempts to build the city of Lubeck, attempts which have lasted until today. The first settlement was called Liubice which means the beautiful, the lovely. It was situated on a tongue of land near the place where the river Schwartau meets the river Trave. But the sovereigns or king´s headquarters were easy prey for attackers, and so the settlement was destroyed in 1138.

Earl Adolf III. von Schauenburg founded a new Lubeck on the hill which is almost entirely surrounded by the Trave and the river Wakenitz in a part of today´s Old Town. He recognised that it was an ideal location for trading with the north and the east. But arguments with Duke Henry the Lion, the feudal lord, and the fire of 1157 but his plans to an end.

In 1159, Henry the Lion founded Lubeck for a third time, and this time it was meant to last. From now on, the city was built with red fireproof bricks. Seven naves soon showed the flourishing city´s wealth. The bishop´s church - the Cathedral, the Merchants' church St. Mary's, St. Peter´s, St. Aegidien's in the craftsmen´s district and St. Jacob´s, the seafarers' church. The cityscape was characterised by an accurate building plan with side streets and alleys diverting from the main roads towards the rivers - some of which are called Gruben ("pits") and the uniform building material. The old Lubeck townhouse, a gabled house dating from the late 13th century, had a large, spacious hall and an office to serve trading purposes. Many of these houses standing close together lined the roads and alleys.

Due to the access available to the Baltic Sea, trade developed rapidly, just as had been expected. Merchant ships left the harbour with a load of salt, wine or fabrics, or arrived here with furs, ore, fish or other raw materials.
Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa granted the city more privileges in 1188, after Henry the Lion had fallen out of favour. Barbarossa gave the city the right of shipping and fishing, confirmed its landed property and contributed to Lubeck's wealth by bestowing further privileges upon the city, such as the mint and the status as a city to be administered as a district in its own right (in 1226). Lubeck kept this status for 711 years.

The Danish King Waldemar II., who occupied the city since 1201, was the only one to stop Lubeck from rising even faster. But in the battle of Bornhöved in 1227, Lubeck won victory against the Danes, and there was no further obstruction to the trading monopoly.

From 1250, Lubeck protected its people with a wall which had four gates: Holstentor, Burgtor, Mühlentor and Hüxtertor. The Holstentor and the Burgtor can still be seen today.

Lubeck´s trading power was consolidated by the foundation of the Hanseatic League in the middle of the 14th century. The city inevitably became the Queen of the Hanseatic League, as it had secured unimpeded access to the Baltic Sea by purchasing Travemünde in 1329. The first Hanse conference to carry through shared trading interests took place in Lubeck in 1358. The Hanseatic League had no fleet, but they could show up with their impressive ships wherever diplomacy and the persuasive powers of money would not suffice. Offices were set up abroad, like in Bergen, Brussels, London and Nowgorod. Lubeck became the second biggest German city next to Cologne.
After ten years of war with Denmark, the Stralsund peace agreement of 1370 set the seal on the supremacy of the League in the northern seas.

Architecture flourished in Lubeck, and impressive secular buildings like the Town Hall were built. Wealthy merchants helped to set up social establishments like the Heiligen-Geist-Hospital and Stiftshöfe for widows and orphans with large financial donations.

From 1391 to 1389, the people of Lubeck built a canal from the river Trave to the river Elbe. It is called the Stecknitz canal and was supposed to make the shipping and trading of salt easier. But despite these efforts, the city´s political influence and trading power began to decrease, even though its status as a flourishing metropolis of craftwork initially made up for this. Renowned wood-sculpturers and painters exported their works - the famous winged altars, for example - into the entire Baltic region. But too many factors caused Lubeck´s power to vanish - the maritime trade moved westward, after the New World had been discovered, and the reformation had made Lubeck Protestant and proclaimed individuality. A turning away from the Hanseatic League was inevitable. In 1669, the last Hanseatic conference took place in Lubeck, attended by 9 out of an initial 100 members.

The extension of the fortifications and clever diplomacy saved Lubeck from taking part in the Thirty Years War. In 1806, the neutral city was forcibly drawn into the fight between the Prussian army under Blücher´s command and the French. It suffered heavy casualties. Napoleon´s Continental System (1806-12) and contributions harmed the trading city enormously. In 1813, the city was eventually liberated from occupation. Under Bismarck´s reign Lubeck became an independent province within the German Kaiserreich in 1871. It lost its status as a district in its own right through the Groß-Hamburg-Gesetz (greater Hamburg Law), when it was administered to Schleswig-Holstein, which was Prussian at the time.

The hardest time in the history of Lubeck began when an allied bomb raid destroyed one fifth of the historic Old Town during the night of Palm Sunday on March 29th 1942. The area around St. Mary's was particularly badly damaged. Of the seven naves which used to tell of Lubeck´s wealth, St. Aegidien's and St. Jacob's were the only ones left. The Swiss author and diplomat Carl Jacob Burckhardt, among others, saw to it that Lubeck was not entirely destroyed. He was president of the Red Cross at the time and maintained that Lubeck´s harbour was used for shipping goods to allied prisoners of war. Out of gratitude for preventing further attacks, the city admitted him as a freeman.

It took many years and great efforts to reconstruct the city. Houses were renovated, facades were rebuilt according to their original designs and up to 1961 the naves were pulled up again with a lot of help from the citizens of Lubeck.

Some "architectural sins" are undoubtedly to be found in Lubeck, and somewhat controversial decisions are sometimes taken within the renovation of old buildings, but as a whole the city´s Old Town certainly is something to be proud of. It is characterised by a large number of valuable monuments from various eras. UNESCO declared this unique ensemble of Old Town merchant houses of the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classic periods with their churches, monasteries, alleys, warehouses and city gates part of the world´s cultural heritage in 1987.


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