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Historic Highlights of Germany from A to Z
Lübeck: a northern city of beauty and intellect.

Lübeck: a northern city of beauty and intellect.

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 characterised 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 splendour 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 symbolises 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 speciality: Lübeck marzipan, which has been the sweetest temptation for as long as there have been almonds.

City Highlights

The Buddenbrooks House, which provides the setting for Thomas Mann's famous novel about the decline of the Buddenbrooks family, now contains a museum that has served as a tribute to the Mann family's literary legacy since 1993.

Based in Lübeck's old town, the permanent exhibition of letters, commentaries and first editions gives an insight into the life and work of writers Thomas and Heinrich Mann. Also on display are photos and other contemporary documents, including Thomas Mann's certificate for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929. Regular special exhibitions focus on the various members of the Mann family as well as other 20th-century writers.

The Holsten Gate, the most famous landmark in this Hanseatic town, is one of Germany's finest examples of a late medieval town gate. Nearly everyone in Germany has carried this little piece of Lübeck around in their pockets at some time or other, as it used to feature on the back of the old 50 Mark note. Erected between 1464 and 1478 by Lübeck architect Hinrich Helmstede on the banks of the river Trave, the late-Gothic gate once stood as a bridgehead on the perimeter of the town and formed part of the fortifications. Housed within the 3.5m thick walls, the interactive Holsten Gate Museum charts Lübeck's history as a major trading post and seafaring hub.

Nobody really knows how the people of Lübeck came up with the idea of marzipan. According to legend, it may have been during a famine in around 1407 when the regional government called upon all of Lübeck's bakers to make bread out of almonds and sugar. Out of necessity was born a sweet treat and a passion – marzipan. Other sources date its origins back to 1530. One thing we know for certain is that the 'Lübeck Marzipan' seal of quality did not appear until 1800 or thereabouts. At the time, 130 or so manufacturers, mainly patisseries, were devoted to establishing the excellent reputation of Lübeck marzipan. As is now evident around the world, they achieved their goal with great success.

Set in an elegant patrician residence in Lübeck's old quarter, the Willy Brandt House is an educational centre, museum and memorial dedicated to the German Chancellor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Willy Brandt

It was opened on the 94th anniversary of the birth of Lübeck's famous son. The exhibition, entitled 'Willy Brandt - A life of politics in the 20th century', uses exciting installations and multimedia elements to chart his career from the Weimar Republic through to reunification. Along the way it paints a clear and vivid picture of his ideas, which remain influential to this day. In addition to Brandt's biography, the exhibition focuses on the themes of democracy, human rights and freedom.

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