By Sharon Whitley Larsen
"You must go to the top of St. Peter's for the view!" was the advice I received when I arrived in magical and charming Lubeck.
This German city of 216,000 was founded in the 12th century and until the 16th century was a major trading center for northern Europe. Lubeck was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, the first time that an entire Old Town in northern Europe was awarded this prestigious title.
So after dropping off luggage at our hotel near the train station, I headed off for the short walk to Old Town, where the 540-year-old Holsten Gate offers an impressive welcoming entrance.
Known as the "Gateway to the Baltic" and the "Queen of the Hanse," this island-shaped medieval town, with a history of maritime commerce, surrounded by the River Trave and with unique architecture and meandering cobblestone passageways, has a lovely skyline barely changed since the 14th century. It's also known as the "City of Seven Spires" because of the five Old Town churches (Lubeck Cathedral and St. Mary's each has two).
It wasn't hard to find the massive 13th-century St. Peter's, which is used for exhibitions and events today. I paid a small fee to ride the lift (thank goodness for that!) to the 164-foot-high viewing platform, which offers a 360-degree view of the city and sites beyond; on a clear day you can see to the Baltic Sea.
I also stopped in St. Mary's — built between 1250 and 1350, the third-largest church in Germany with several works of art and the largest mechanical organ in the world. And it has a connection with the devil!
As I exited the church, I noticed this plaque on the brick exterior: "When the first stones of St. Mary were laid, the devil believed that this building would be a wine bar. He liked the idea, because many souls had already found their way to him after frequently visiting such a place. So he mixed with the crowd and started to help the workers. No wonder that the building grew higher and higher amazingly fast.
"But one day the devil had to realise what the building would really be. Full of anger, he grabbed a huge boulder to smash the walls that were already standing. He was just flying near through the air when a bold fellow shouted at him: 'Just stop it, Mr. Devil! Leave what has already been erected! For you we will build a wine bar just here in the neighborhood!'
"The devil was very pleased with this idea. He dropped the boulder beside the wall, where it is lying until this day. One can still see the devil's claws on the stone. And just opposite the church the workers built the wine cellar of the Town Hall."
Also nearby is a 1999 sculpture of the devil by Lubeck sculptor Rolf Goerler.
Besides the devil leaving his mark here, three world-famous Nobel Prize laureates hail from Lubeck, including German statesman Willy Brandt (his museum, opened here since 2007, is well worth a visit). The others were writers Gunter Grass and Thomas Mann.
Tempted for an Irish coffee and sugar fix, I stopped at the historic Cafe Niederegger for a bit of marzipan — the local treat. The popular cafe was founded in 1806 by Master Confectioner Johann Georg Niederegger and is now run by the seventh and eighth generation of the same family. It was crowded with shoppers the day I visited, and I enjoyed touring the Marzipan Salon on the second floor, a museum sharing the history of this popular sweet.
Afterward, I visited the impressive European Hansemuseum, the world's largest dedicated to the history of the Hanseatic League. Exhibits range from original manuscripts, letters and photos in pulled-out cabinets to high-tech interactive features, including videos and touchscreen devices to learn more detail. Utilizing replicas of historic scenes — including shops and homes — it encompasses the living and working conditions of former town residents.
Topics include religion, sea voyages, deadly diseases, the rich and powerful, the poor, food and clothing, and showcasing various lifestyles — from Roman Catholic priests to political figures. Today, with its focus on trade, the league is viewed as an early day United Nations. I could have stayed here all day!
WHEN YOU GO
St. Peter's Church: www.luebeck-tourism.de/discover/sights/churches-in-luebeck/st-peters.html
St. Mary's Church: www.luebeck-tourism.de/discover/sights/churches-in-luebeck/st-marys.html
Willy Brandt House Museum: www.luebeck-tourism.de/culture/museums/willy-brandt-house-luebeck.html
Cafe Niederegger: Good place to stop for breakfast, lunch, dinner or just for a delectable marzipan treat: www.niegeregger.de/en
More on marzipan: www.luebeck-tourism.de/hosts/gastronomy/marzipan.html Schiffergesellschaft (classic north German favorites, popular with locals, where I enjoyed lunch and dinner): www.schiffergesellschaft.de/en
The Newport (nice place for dinner, on the marina): www.the-newport.de
LabSaal (another nice dinner spot): www.labsaal.com
Hotel Lindenhof is hospitable and near the train station: www.hotel-lindenhof-luebeck.de/en
Lubeck Tourism: www.luebeck-tourism.de, www.historicgermany.travel/en/historic-cities/luebeck
Historic Highlights of Germany: www.historicgermany.travel
Sharon Whitley Larsen is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
The 16th-to-18th-century Salt Houses on the Trave River in Lubeck, Germany, are a landmark of this area. Photo courtesy of Sharon Whitley Larsen.