A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lübeck is a must-see city in Schleswig-Holstein. As the capital of the Hanseatic League, the city was a central node in a network of ports around the Baltic Sea. Lübeck has been the “City of Seven Spires” for hundreds of years, and even after the devastating bombing raid in 1942, the towers still adorn the skyline of the old town on the island of Traf.
The streets are lined with gabled merchant houses, guild halls and warehouses, all symbols of the trade that brought prestige and power in the Middle Ages. The town hall is full of prosperity, while the five main churches are still decorated with medieval and renaissance art.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Lubeck:
1. Old Town
The largest historic center in Germany is the 100 hectares of historic streets, under the watchful eye of these seven spires.
The classic Lübeck street scene is of rows of Renaissance gabled houses ruined by passageways.
The city is designed in such a way that it rewards anyone with an adventurous spirit.
You can close main streets and follow these alleys to hidden courtyards, or find yourself popping up on familiar streets.
The courtyards are mostly located in the well-preserved Köber region in the north, along Engeslwisch, Glockengießerstraße and Engelsgrube, and around the cathedral in the south.
If you’re in the mood to shop, you can walk straight down the narrow streets at Breite Straße and Königstraße, where well-known brands compete for places next to one-of-a-kind boutiques and confectionary stores.
The Holstentor is more than just a building, it guards the western entrance to the old town and is a well-known landmark in Germany.
Originally built in 1464, the gate features Lübeck’s iconic North German Gothic brick design.
The passage is flanked by two circular towers, with smaller decorative towers on the gables.
You can see how the sinking made the South Tower a little lower than its neighbors.
There are two terracotta frieze around the gate, while on the city side there are three tiers of small arched windows on the front.
Inside is a small museum showcasing Lübeck’s might as a Hanseatic League and Free Imperial City, using period measuring instruments, ship models, armor and weapons.
3. St. Mary’s Church
Like Holstentor, you cannot overstate the importance of St. Mary’s Church.
Dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries, its brick Gothic design will be replicated in dozens of churches around the medieval Baltic Sea.
In the style of the German medieval hall church, the building has no transept.
The nave is particularly high, with the highest brick vault in the world at 38.5 meters.
These are reinforced externally by flying buttresses.
Meanwhile, the two towers are 125 meters high and are the last elements completed in the 1350s.
In the chapel in the south tower, you can see the broken bell that fell from the tower during the 1942 air raid. The war brought a wealth of art such as the 14th century bronze baptistery, the 15th century Darsaw Madonna reassembled from hundreds and the winged altarpiece by Christian Swarte in 1495.
4. City Hall
Among Germany’s largest medieval town halls and another photogenic landmark in Lübeck, the town hall was first mentioned in 1225. It was originally a Romanesque building and you can still see Romanesque blind arches in the shield wall.
But the first town hall was destroyed by fire in the mid-13th century, and the pointed arcades on the Markt are from that time.
Renaissance buildings were added to the north side in the 1570s, and the light sandstone used in this phase contrasts with the dark bricks of earlier buildings.
From Monday to Friday, there are 3 tours a day around various halls such as Audienzsaal.
In this former courtroom-turned-audience hall, doorways have different heights: innocent defendants can leave with their heads held high, while guilty ones must bend over.
5. Holy Spirit Hospital
The Holy Spirit Hospital is one of the oldest social institutions in the world, on Koberg Square in the Jacobi district north of the old city.
Founded in 1286 and secularized after the Reformation, the hospital was a symbol of the social conscience of medieval Lübeck, which cared for the poor, old and sick inhabitants as long as they lived close to a monastic life.
They were given food, shelter and warm baths eight times a year, and the hospital operated until the 1960s.
Now you can view buildings that are over 700 years old.
The portico and nave have frescoes from the 14th century, as well as a 16th century altar.
At Christmas, this solemn setting welcomes the international handicraft market.
6. European Hans Museum
The capital of the Hanseatic League is a logical place for a museum about this international federation of market towns and trade guilds.
The Hanseatic Museum depicts the birth, rise and fall of the Hanseatic League for more than half a century.
There are detailed outlines of trade networks, and reconstructions of port scenes in cities as far away as London, Bergen, Bruges, and Hansa Novgorod, Russia.
If you are fascinated by the governing mechanics of this medieval organization, the museum has a wealth of historical documents.
These record the oaths sworn by its members, as well as the ingenious contracts and agreements that helped to perpetuate the Hanseatic League.
A large pile of gold and silver coins was found in Lübeck.
7. Lubeck Cathedral
Lübeck Cathedral was built by Henry the Lion after becoming bishop “see” in the 12th century and is one of the oldest monuments in the city.
It was severely damaged in 1942, and the restored building was not put back into use until 1973. As a break with medieval norms, the cathedral was not the tallest church in the city, due to the diocese of Lübeck and the city’s powerful businessmen, who were patrons of St. Mary’s Church.
You have to go in and see the surviving late Gothic and Baroque art.
The engraving of the cross screen and the 17-meter triumphal cross were the work of Bernt Notke in the 15th century, while the Flemish sculptor Thomas Quellinus produced a series of works for the funeral chapel on the south aisle.
8. Lübeck Theater Puppet Museum
The lovely theatre puppet museum, consisting of five medieval brick buildings, houses 300 years of puppets and puppet props from Europe, Africa and Asia.
These are private collections assembled by Fritz Fey, one of a long line of puppeteers, and they reveal a common theme of this art form, which is to reflect the society that produced them.
Along with the puppets, there are also small stages, posters and a pipe organ, and you will learn about the culture of each region as the puppets embody Indian legends, Chinese social customs and African tribal rituals.
If all this piques your interest in puppetry, there’s a theatre next door to the museum.
9. Willie Brandthouse
A Nobel laureate and one of Germany’s most popular politicians, former Chancellor Willie Brandt was born in Lübeck in 1913. The museum opened on his 94th birthday in 2007 and the property chosen was a tilled Burger house in need of restoration.
Brandt lived a different life as a child, and the exhibition retells it through documents such as newsreels, transcripts of interviews, and Brandt’s school diploma.
You’ll find out about his resistance efforts, exile in Norway and working as a journalist during the Nuremberg trials.
He was mayor of Berlin when the Berlin Wall was built, and the museum has a letter he wrote to John F. Kennedy at the time.
The largest space is dedicated to Brandt’s efforts to bridge the divide between North and South Germany, promote human rights and encourage friendlier relations with East Germany.
10. St. Peter’s Church
The Romanesque St. Peter’s Church was first mentioned in 1170, but fell into ruins in the second half of the 20th century and was not restored until 1987. The church no longer provides services, but an exhibition and function space.
If you’re in Lübeck over Christmas, visit the handicraft market.
The main target for the rest of the time is the observation deck of the church, which is 50 meters high and offers the best panoramic views of the city.
If the sky is clear, you can see the Baltic Sea on a sunny day.
Look outside for the 1647 Danziger Glocke Clock.
Perhaps overshadowed by the more famous Holstentor on the former west wall, the Burgtor is another remaining gate to Lübeck that is still worth a visit.
Right next to the Hans Museum, the gate guards the northern access to the old town, built in late Gothic style in 1444. The Baroque copper dome on the main tower was built in 1685. From the lawn on the east side, you can also see rare fragments of a city fortification: circular towers and a curtain wall with arrow rings.
If you cross the Burgtorbrücke (bridge), you will come across two lions guarding the entrance by the 20th century sculptor Fritz Behn.
These are partners of the 19th century Holstentor lion made by Daniel Rauch.
12. Günter Grass Haus
The great 20th century writer Günter Grass spent most of his later years in Lübeck, where he died in 2015. In his memory the museum opened in 2002 as a literary and visual arts forum. Glass is mainly known for his writing, but also produces paintings, sculptures and graphic arts.
The museum houses more than 1,300 visual works that more fully present Glass’ ideas, messages and creative process.
If you’re an avid Grass reader, his pictorial world offers fresh perspectives on recurring themes such as National Socialism and post-war Germany, as well as contexts such as the Baltic Sea.
13. Schiffergesellschaft (Seafarers’ Club)
The Lübeck Seamen’s Guild was founded in the early 15th century.
In 1535 it purchased and remodeled a house opposite the Jakobikirche, which would have been the base of the guild until its dissolution in the 19th century.
The Guild Hall is now a traditional tavern and has taken care of all the old decorations.
Historic model ships hang from the wooden beams of the ceiling, while the benches are still engraved with the badges of the various companies of the guild.
Even after the Reformation, the Sanhedrin had strict religious norms, and above the wood paneling are nine frescoes from 1624, reminiscent of passages from the Bible.
14. An der Obertrave
The southwestern curve of the Old Town Island was not significantly damaged in 1942 and is full of medieval and Renaissance buildings.
The best way to enjoy it all is to walk along An der Obertrave, a 720-meter long promenade next to the Trave River.
The road is lined with gorgeous listed homes with crow steps and rounded gables.
It’s hard to resist taking a detour into the seven courtyards that are reached from the street through narrow passages.
Summer is a great time to come to the city, when café terraces take over the promenade, and you can watch the river and its green banks from across the benches.
After passing through the Holstentor, your first sight in Lübeck is a row of six historic warehouses in Obertrave.
The oldest of these is 1579 and the newest is 1745. Salt brought to the city from southern Lüneburg would be stored here and then exported to Scandinavia for the herring trade.
In the past, in front of the warehouse by the water, it used to be the hut of a herring merchant.
Fans of Weimar cinema will be delighted to know that these gabled buildings appear in Nosferatu in FW Murnau as the vampire’s home in Wisborg.
Where to Stay: The Best Hotels in Lubeck, Germany
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