History Highlights, Notes on German Culture

Lübeck’s German offices in London were the largest medieval trading complex in Britain, from 1282 until 1853

In the 1300’s, the northern German city of Lübeck was the “Queen of the Hanseatic League”, by far the largest and most powerful member of this medieval trade organization, with offices in many countries.

Medieval Lübeck
Trade routes and office locations of the German Hansa League
Lübeck was the “Queen of the Hanseatic League”

As testimony to Lübeck’s power were their merchant offices in London, called the Steelyard, once the largest medieval trading complex in Britain, located on the north bank of the Thames for 600 years, from 1282 until 1853. The Steelyard, like other Hansa offices, was a self-governing separate walled community with its own warehouses on the river, its own weighing house, church, counting houses and residential quarters. In 1988 remains of the former German Hanseatic trading complex were uncovered by archaeologists during maintenance work on Cannon Street Station.

Lübeck’s Steelyard complex on the Thames River in London, rebuilt after the Great London Fire of 1666…layout of new buildings in a German language drawing, dated 1667
Plaque in London where Lübeck’s Steelyard complex stood for 600 years

Lübeck celebrated its 800th anniversary in 1943 and was honored with a postage stamp that highlighted its seven church steeples…….The town was founded by Adolf II, Count of Schauenburg and Holstein in 1143 as a German settlement on the river island Bucu. In 1181 Kaiser Barbarossa gave the city a ruling council that survived into the 19th century, and this council, dominated by merchants, caused Lübeck’s politics to be focused on trade and led to its prosperity for centuries to come.

Of particular interest to me is that around the year 1200, Lübeck became the point of departure for crusaders and colonists. They traveled on ships to the Baltic territories that were being conquered and converted to Christianity. They joined the new governments and cities being established by the German Sword Brothers and by the Teutonic Knights. Then, after seven hundred years of German culture and leadership in the Baltic lands…now known as Kaliningrad, Lithuania-Memel, Latvia and Estonia….the descendants of those early pioneers returned to the same place that their ancestors started out from, with my family among them. The tragic circumstances are beyond the scope here.

Today the city of Lübeck is 877 years old and listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, well known for its extensive Brick Gothic architecture and restored medieval city center.


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