Lübeck, the Queen of all the Hanseatic cities, was founded in 1143 as ‘the first western city on the Baltic coast’. Today, its appearance is still characterized by a medieval ambience and by cultural and historical attractions, such as the Holsten Gate, that hark back to Lübeck’s glorious past as a free imperial and Hanseatic city.
Over the centuries, Lübeck’s name has stood for freedom, justice and prosperity. Lübeck law was, for its time, a progressive set of land and maritime regulations and inspired the establishment of over 100 towns near to the Baltic Sea, paving the way for the Hanseatic League’s dramatic rise to become the biggest trading power of its age. Its undisputed capital was Lübeck, one of the most illustrious early seats of global trade. Surrounded by water, the old town with its seven towers and five principal churches brings to life 1,000 years of history and has been protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987. And rightly so, because the Gothic, Renaissance, baroque and neo-classical buildings, narrow lanes and streets, churches and abbeys, merchants’ houses and fortifications come together to form a remarkable whole. A jewel of brick-Gothic architecture, the Church of St. Mary is Lübeck’s finest sacred building, a model for around 70 other churches around the Baltic and of great architectural merit thanks to the highest brick-vaulted roof in the world. It sits in splendor at the highest point of the old town, right opposite its modern counterpart, the MuK music and congress hall.
Lübeck’s largest hall, the MuK is the main venue for the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival and serves as an international congress centre, philharmonic concert hall and municipal venue. Another of the Muk’s striking features besides its modern architecture is the group of figures known as Die Fremden (the strangers) found on the roof of the hall. This sculpture by Thomas Schütte was created for the documenta art exhibition and symbolizes all those who leave their home and have to make a new life in an unfamiliar place.
Other significant buildings in the old town are the ensemble around the town hall, the castle abbey, Koberg – a district that has remained unchanged since the late 13th century – with the Church of St. James, the Hospital of the Holy Ghost and the buildings between Glockengiesserstrasse and Aegidienstrasse, the grand old patrician town houses between St. Peter’s Church and the cathedral, of course the famous Holsten Gate, which is the city’s most famous landmark, and the salt warehouses on the western banks of the Trave river. Medieval Lübeck is a fascinating place for a stroll, especially as it has plenty of modern attractions as well. When the sun goes down, the numerous pubs, restaurants, bars, clubs and discos come to life and even usually shy and retiring locals let their hair down. Maybe even Günter Grass, who along with Thomas Mann and Willy Brandt is one of the three Nobel laureates associated with Lübeck. The Forum for Literature and Fine Arts, known as the Günter Grass House, contains a permanent exhibition of his art and illustrates the close connections between literature and art in his works. The Forum also has a garden with sculptures by Grass, an archive, a library and a shop. Just behind the Forum is the Willy Brandt House, which opened in 2007 as a museum and memorial dedicated to the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former German Chancellor. Also situated in Lübeck’s old town, the Heinrich and Thomas Mann Centre has provided an insight into Thomas Mann’s famous novel about the decline of the Buddenbrooks family and explored the life and works of the illustrious literary brothers since 1993. All three museums – and the city itself – look forward to welcoming you, even those of you who aren’t Nobel laureates. What’s really important is that you taste and pay homage to the city’s specialty: Lübeck marzipan, which has been the sweetest temptation for as long as there have been almonds.
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