Notes on German Culture

Lübeck is one of the five “Glories of the Empire”… a title shared with Venice, Rome, Pisa and Florence… Kaiser Karl IV, 1537

Lübeck is a World Heritage Site, mainly because of its extensive medieval Brick architecture and its restored city center. But you should also know that this medieval city has experienced 872 years of fascinating history since its founding in 1143 as a German settlement on the river island Bucu. 

The old town center is famous for its seven church steeples. The oldest are the Lübecker Dom (the city’s cathedral) and the Marienkirche (Saint Mary’s), both from the 13th and 14th centuries.

In 1181 Kaiser Friedrich “Barbarossa” granted the city a ruling council with twenty members, and this political structure survived for 700 years, into the 19th century. The council was dominated by merchants and caused Lübeck’s politics to be dominated by trade interests for centuries to come.

Around 1200 the Lübeck port became the main point of departure for crusaders and colonists heading for the pagan territories further north along the Baltic Sea. The German Sword Brothers were conquering pagan tribes, converting them to Catholicism and colonizing what they called Livonia, roughly modern day Latvia and Estonia. Next came the knights of the Teutonic Order, who were authorized by the Pope and the German Kaiser to crusade and claim as their own the lands of the pagan Prussians. All of this activity became known as the Northern Crusades and all of it funnelled through the city of Lübeck for 300 years.

Emperor Frederick II elevated the town to the status of an Imperial Free City in 1226 and in a mere 100 years later 14th century Lübeck became the “Queen of the Hanseatic League“. Lübeck was by far the largest and most powerful member of this medieval trade organization. The Hanseatic League cities were the premier import export merchants, controlling trade coming and going between England and Germany and the Baltic sea ports and even river trade routes all the way into Russia.

Lübeck became a wealthy city …to the point that In 1375, Kaiser Karl IV. named Lübeck one of the five “Glories of the Empire”, a title shared with Venice, Rome, Pisa and Florence.

Much of the old town has kept a medieval appearance with old buildings and narrow streets. At one time the town could only be entered via any of four town gates…today, two of them remain: the well-known Holstentor (1478) and the Burgtor (1444).

Holstentor …the famous symbol of Lübeck
My memory of Lübeck and the Holstentor in 1952

And not to be forgotten… Lübecker Marzipan by Niederegger.



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