The title of this travelogue was tongue-in-cheek, but accurate. The word "pointy" when applied to a building sounded quite silly, but it was the word that stuck in my mind the entire time I wandered around its sights. Virtually all its old buildings were topped with needle-sharp spires, some of them with whole rows of these structures on top of their walls. Yes, indeed, Lübeck took this red-brick style of architecture and made it a city-wide motif.
I was drawn to visiting Lübeck because of its tremendous history. Although not quite as well known now as other Germany cities, Lübeck was the founding city of a famous medieval trading block known as the Hanseatic League, a collective of forty-odd port cities stretching along the North, East, and Baltic Seas. The city-based League established common laws and regulations for trade, not unlike what the European Union is doing for modern nation-states. Although the League faded away in the 16th Century (some would have said 'good riddance', I understand), it's legacy remained. Quite a number of the former member city still considered themselves Hanseatic, at least in name. As an example, licence plates issued from Lübeck are identified with the abbreviation "HL", for "Hansestadt Lübeck". Not surprisingly, references to the League are found in other places around Lübeck, from the naming of banks, trading unions, and other businesses.
Lübeck remained an important city in northern Germany, and a quick look at the map showed why. The city was formed at the confluence of two rivers, and eventually canals were dug that turned the downtown into an island. The canals were turned into small harbors that tied Lübeck to the East Sea only a few short miles away. Three gates were established to connect Lübeck to the outside, the most noted being the Holstentor, shown in the first picture. As the picture shows, the gate entrance was marked with a beautiful park. Behind me, the park led directly to the train station.
The Holstentor's towers and the St. Paulskirche in the back were indicative of the architecture I found. The second photo shows two other of Lübeck's prized buildings, the massive Marienkirche and the Rathaus. I admit that it was difficult to discern the two in this photo, but getting a clean shot of either building was tough as the Rathaus was undergoing significant renovation and the equipment blocked all the good views. The series of small spires in the center of the photo belong to the Rathaus, while the small black turret was part of the Marienkirche. The Marienkirche was also undergoing significant renovation, but on the interior. The church's insides were practically stripped away although remnants of the ceiling frescoes remained to help fuel the imagination of what it used to look like.
Getting around to Lübeck's famous buildings was not at all difficult, most of them followed along series of main streets going from the Burgtor in the north to the Lutheran cathedral in the south, with the Rathaus and its marketsquare in the middle. In fact, the third photo shows an aerial view of the altstadt's southern half. Drawing a straight line among the towers was easy -- the massive Marienkirche was at the left, the St. Paulskirche was right-center, and the Cathedral at the far right.
How did I get this aerial view? From a ferris wheel.
I was very fortunate to have visited Lübeck during their fabulous city festival. This was huge. The Rathaus marketsquare held concerts, while the harbor hosted a number of very old style boats that ferried visitors around the canals. Many of the workers were dressed in traditional costume and sang seafaring songs in boisterous tone. Thousands crammed the shores of the Holstenhafen harbor to watch the boats and listen to the music. Meanwhile, about 700 meters of waterfront were lined on both sides with booths, food kiosks, and biergartens, while the city's Congresshaus (convention center) hosted classical music concerts.
The magnitude of the festival gave a good indicator of just how big and economically busy the city is. The island is now only the Old City -- several boroughs and harbor towns sprang up around the town. I found the shopping districts to be very large and heavily populated with trendy labels. While the city maintained the red-brick appearance of its older buildings, many of its residential areas were completely renovated, with elaborately painted facades. It was obvious to me that many of the restored houses were done in the past ten years. Walking through those streets (mostly on the eastern side of the island) was very pleasant.
But still, the old buildings were just so unique they attracted more of my attention. The fifth photo shows the facade of the Heilige-Geist Hospital, located just north of the island's center. With the array of four spires, its appearance was not what one would expect from a hospital. I took a walk left of this photo to a point where I could see the spires in a row. While from the front, the four spires look very well aligned, the fact was that a couple of the towers leaned forward much more than the others. One or two had that Pisa-kinda-thing going.
Another thing that was very nice about Lübeck was its canals. In some parts, there were actually two canals running concentrically around the old town, and the land in-between has been established as a park or inner harbor. A large park dominated the land south of the island, too, and on Sunday morning there were plenty of joggers out doing their thing. There was nothing more peaceful than a jog or walk in the park alongside a river or canal in the morning, I believed.
There was one other thing that I thought was cool about Lübeck, and this is shown in the final photo. Not only did Lübeck preserve its current historical treasures, it remembered some of its others that disappeared. Several plexiglas cases like this were around the city, showing ancient structures no longer part of the town -- this one being of the Mühlentor that guarded the southern bridge entrance to the island during the Middle Ages. Things like this show how proud Lübeck was of its heritage.
Lübeck was very impressive. It was a clean city, easy to navigate, and a healthy and vibrant economic center. And, it was a wonderful place for a photo shoot. After all, few cities had so many pointy buildings in it.
Trip taken 24-25 August 2002 -- Page last updated 21 October 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin