The Hanseatic City of Lubeck (Hansestadt Lubeck) is the largest German port on the Baltic Sea and the second-largest city in Schleswig-Holstein.
Situated at the mouth of the river Trave (hence the name of its port suburb Travemunde). The city has been an important port since the 12th century and, together with nearby Hamburg, has founded what became the powerful Hanseatic League of ports and trading towns. Unlike fellow Hanseatic Cities of Hamburg and Bremen, it has lost its “Free” (Freie Stadt) status and has been incorporated into the surrounding federal land, but history also has a sweeter side for Lubeck – it is globally known for the finest marzipan.
The old town (Altstadt) of Lübeck , although considerably damaged during the Second World War, survived from medieval times in a pretty much unchanged or truthfully rebuilt form. It is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city centre’s medieval skyline, mainly composed of seven Gothic-style church towers, is still intact. Lubeck is surrounded by parts of the old city walls with two of the original four city gates left. Most notable is the Holsten Gate (Holstentor) which was the motif on the German banknote of 50 Deutsche Mark prior to reunification, when the bills were redesigned.
Understand : Historically, Lübeck was an independent city state (in fact they only lost that status due to a Nazi era law in 1937) and accumulated considerable wealth as the primus inter pares of the Hanseatic League from the 11th to the 17th century. Many merchants made a fortune on shipping salt to other Baltic port cities in exchange for valuable goods needed in Germany. Many impressive warehouses are located at the old harbour and can be accessed by tourists since they host museums, shops, restaurants or pubs today.
After sea trade substantially shifted away from the Baltic Sea to the Atlantic in the 17th century, Lubeck was slowly marginalized as a trading city against the North Sea ports of Bremen and especially Hamburg. This led gradually to a noticeable decay in wealth and eventually inspired contemporary writers to draw a resigned picture of the city’s residents, most famously in the novel Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann, who earned a Nobel Prize for it in 1929. In the second world war Lubeck – not unlike Hamburg – was a target for allied (primarily British) bombings and in one particularly “successful” raid much of the densely built old town burned down. While most of the landmark buildings have since been restored, the New Lubeck has a lot less wood (for obvious reasons) and historic style residential buildings (mostly for financial reasons).
After World War II, the city was ultimately marginalized due to the nearby “Iron Curtain” which impeded access to many trading partners in the eastern Baltic and even cut off two minor urban districts of the city itself. As a traveller you might notice two effects of the Cold War still visible today: First some bridges have something that looks like undersized manhole covers at either end. These were in fact holes that could be filled with explosives to destroy the bridge, should the Soviets ever attack. The other thing you might notice is that there is a lot of (for Central European standards at least) untouched wildlife just outside the city to the east. While it was preserved by happenstance and the GDR’s attempt to shut its border airtight, there are now efforts to preserve this “green band” of wildlife all through Germany. A curiosity in this area are Nandus, flightless birds native to South America that escaped in the early 2000s and roam free since. Despite efforts to boost commerce in the Baltic region, the city is still struggling from the cold war era with a fragile economy that leads to a comparatively deteriorated infrastructure outside the picturesque city centre. Ironically the very fact that the cold war ended dealt a further blow to the city, as it lost its “border town” status that made it eligible for big subsidies. Add to that a nearly total wipeout of the once huge ship building industry in the 1990s and you have an economic crisis the city hasn’t quite shaken off to this day.
Access : Coordinates: 53.869722, 10.686389 / By plane :Hamburg Airport (HAM IATA) is just one hour away, and offers many international connections. From the airport you can take the S-Bahn to Hamburg main station with an hourly train connecting to Lubeck main station. By road : Lubeck is about 60 km northeast of Hamburg and easily accessible by car through the Autobahn A1. With the opening of the new highway A20 (Baltic Sea highway) to Rostock the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pommerania is only a very short distance away. Note that the A1 is the backbone of the cargo transport from the Hamburg to the Travemunde port, there will be heavy (and rather slow) traffic on the right of the three lanes.
By rail : On working days, commuter trains to and from Hamburg leaves every 30 minutes, on weekends and on holidays every 60 minutes. Local trains from Luneburg, Kiel, Schwerin and the beach resorts Travemunde and Timmendorfer Strand depart on an hourly basis. Additionally, InterCity trains via Hamburg leave/arrive every two hours, with some trains continuing to Berlin, Munchen, Cologne or Frankfurt among others. There are also regular trains from Copenhagen, Szczecin and the island of Fehmarn.
By boat : There are many ferry connections to and from Lubeck. Passengers ferries arrive and depart from Skandinavienkai, a quay in Lubeck’s borough Travemunde Most of the ferries run 1 or 2 times every day. Current connections are:
Helsinki, Finland operated by Finnlines
Malmo, Sweden operated by Finnlines
Trelleborg, Sweden operated by TT-Lines
Skandinavienkai is served by buses 40, 30, and 31 (timetable), which travel between Travemunde Strandbahnhof and Lubeck ZOB. There is also a train station called “Travemunde Skandinavienkai” it is about 1 km from the ferry terminal building. However, the only way between the ferry terminal and the train station is by those same buses. It is not possible to walk.
- The main attraction is the medieval Altstadt (old city) located on an island surrounded by the Trave river and its various channels. Listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site, it offers an astonishing variety of different architectural styles. The streets of Lubeck are a delight for a connoisseur of architecture.
- Bear in mind that Lubeck’s Altstadt is not an open-air museum but a living city centre, so don’t expect a complete medieval site. You’ll find many beautiful old buildings intertwined with modern ones and a modern infrastructure. A particularly well-preserved 13th century part of the Altstadt is the Koberg area at the island’s northern end. And don’t miss the Gange, small streets off the bigger roads, with small houses and a peculiar atmosphere.
- A frontage made up of listed buildings at An der Obertrave
Noteworthy historical buildings include:
The churches, housing several of the finest Northern German artworks:
- St. Marien. Or Marienkirche: the biggest one, a fine brick gothic building, located near the Rathaus (city hall) at the very centre of the Altstadt.
- the Dom: very nicely situated on the quiet southern end of the island, contains a wooden crucifix by Bernt Notke.
- St. Petri (Petrikirche) (near Marienkirche). its tower platform (to be reached by an elevator) offers a great view over the city, and if weather conditions allow it you can even see Travemunde (17 km to the north-east)
- St. Jakobi or Jakobikirche: north of St. Marien, at the Koberg
St. Aegidien or Aegidienkirche: the smallest one, in the eastern Altstadt
St. Katharinen or Katharinenkirche (without a tower): south of St. Jakobi, contains works of Ernst Barlach
- The two remaining city gates: Holstentor (near train station/ZOB bus terminal) and Burgtor (northern Altstadt) they both contain museums nowadays.
Heiligen-Geist-Hospital near Koberg.
Classicist Behnhaus/Dragerhaus in Konigstrasse, hosting an art museum.
- The Rathaus or city hall: its architecture is a stylistic potpourri reaching back to the 12th century. Note that it is still the seat of the city administration and not a museum, so you’re not expected to have a look inside on your own. But there are guided tours every hour or so where the many historic rooms and the gallery of city leaders’ portraits are explained (in German and possibly other languages).
- The Willy Brandt House: This former (1969-1974) chancellor’s childhood home has now been turned into a museum about his life and career in politics. Entrance is free.
There are two houses dedicated to Lubeck’s two literature nobel prize laureates: The Buddenbrookhaus is dedicated to the brothers Thomas and Heinrich Mann, who spent their youth there, and contains many of their works. It’s near Marienkirche, in Mengstrasse. Then there is the Gunter-Grass-Haus (of The Tin Drum fame) in Glockengiesserstrasse.
- The Museumshafen (museum port) between Beckergrube and the Musik- und Kongresshalle building features some old-fashioned ships, among them a rebuilt Hanseatic kraweel (“Lisa von Lubeck”)—more so in winter, because many of these ships are still in use during summer.
The borough of Moisling has a special Jewish history. An old Jewish cemetery is still to be found there.
Activities : Walk around the Altstadt and enjoy the charming atmosphere of the former queen of the Hanseatic League.
Lubeck Tourism site. The offers excellent guidance on self guided tours as well as guided tours. edit
Take a bus/boat/train ride to Travemunde, a sea side resort and enjoy the view of the Baltic Sea. A bus journey is fastest, as it takes about 20 minutes. A boat ride however, is much more scenic. The train stops at the iconic “Travemunde Strand” Station and is another good option. For further information, enquire at the “Welcome Center” at the Holstentor.
Visit the newly restored St.-Annen-Museum and the Buddenbrookhaus for some cultural experience.
Take a seat on one of the tourist boats and ship around the city (boats go off every hour or so on the Holstentor side of the Altstadt island). For example you get a beautiful view of the Salzspeicher (Hanseatic salt warehouses fans of classic horror movies might be interested by the fact that one of these Salzspeicher was the house of Count Nosferatu both in the Murnau film and the Werner Herzog remake with Klaus Kinski). If you’ve got more time to spend ship on along the Wakenitz river which links the Trave river with the Ratzeburg lake. Parts of the river offer an astonishing flora.
Theater Lubeck: Beckergrube
several smaller theatres.
Stadthalle (southern Altstadt): mainstream
Filmhaus (Konigstra?e, vis-a-vis Katharinenkirche): the special and off-beat film cinema
Kommunales Kino (Mengstrasse): niche films.
Luebeck.de > Aktuelles > Kinoprogramm keeps an updated programme for all cinemas in town.
Note that almost all films are dubbed in Germany, including Hollywood productions. Kommunales Kino is an exception, showing many subtitled films.
If you are visiting Lubeck during autumn, you might want to check out the Nordische Filmtage (Nordic film days), a festival where films from Northern Europe (especially Scandinavia) are shown in all cinemas, most of them in the original languages with German or sometimes English subtitles. Get a festival programme in one of the cinemas.
Other regular events
May: Maifest (May festival) Punk Rock/alternative open air music and art festival at the so-called Walli at Willy-Brand-Allee
July: Travemunder Woche sailing festival in Travemunde
August: Duckstein Festival
November/December: Artificers’ market on Koberg
December: Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) at central market place, medieval market at St. Marien.