Notes on German Culture

Lübeck has experienced 878 years of fascinating history since its founding in 1143

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 878 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. Saint Mary’s, finished in 1351, served as model for the other Brick Gothic churches around the Baltic. It was the tallest two-steeple façade church in the world for 530 years until the Cologne Cathedral surpassed it in 1880.

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 funneled through the city of Lübeck for 300 years.

Teutonic Knight depicted as St. Jürgen (St. George) in the St. Annen-Museum, Lübeck, Germany. Sculpture by Georg von der Heide in 1504.

The Teutonic Knights organization was started in 1190 in the Holy Land by merchants from Lübeck, who saw an urgent need for hospital care for German crusaders….From this humble beginning evolved a crusader warrior state (Deutscher Orden Staat) with battle hardened ordained monks at its core. To assist the small core of about 3000 Monk/Knights, the Teutonic State recruited supporting soldiers, craftsmen, and temporary “guest crusaders” from all across Europe, but mostly from Germany. Usually these supporters embarked on the final leg of their trip to the Teutonic Order from Lübeck.

Lübeck Coat of Arms on the sail of a medieval ship

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 the “Queen of the Hanseatic League”… by far the largest and most powerful member of this medieval trade organization.

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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