The Hanseatic City of Lübeck was the capital of the Hanseatic League in the 12th century. Being the ‘Queen city’ of the Hanseatic League, Lübeck was an inspiration to all other Hanseatic cities and towns. It was the first western town on the coast of the Baltic Sea, precisely located on the Trave and Wakenitz rivers in northern Germany. 

Lübeck served as the main trading center of northern Europe and is still used as a seaport. The Hanseatic city of Lübeck was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.

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Historical Importance

Lübeck belonged to Denmark for a short period. But in 1226, it was converted to a free imperial city by Frederick II. By this time, Lübeck had already developed its own laws called ‘the laws of Lübeck’ and had formed self-government. The Hanseatic League made Lübeck its administrative capital in 1358. 

All this happened in just eight years post the Black Death incident in Lübeck that wiped out the city’s population. However, emerging as a major trading center, the city became the second largest in northern Germany with 22000 inhabitants. 

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Lubeck- Trave River_©×388,c:crop/09/101809-004-269C9883/Lubeck-Germany-Schleswig-Holstein-Trave-River.jpg

The Hanseatic city of Lübeck underwent many changes in the following years. The Protestant Reformation (1529-1530) led to the fall of the city council and Jürgen Wullenwever established himself as the chief. He waged an unsuccessful war against Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands, which only deteriorated the economy of Lübeck and affected its political influence.

Stuck between two rivals exerting economic pressure, Lübeck’s trade and economy were completely ruined. This was during the French revolutionary and the Napoleonic wars (1792-1815) when Lübeck was under French rule. After 1815, it became a part of the German Confederation. 

Next, it became a member of the North German Confederation and finally, in 1871, it was added to the German Empire. The 1900s brought about a change in the city’s economy, with the construction of the Elbe-Lübeck canal. 

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Urban Planning and Social Organization 

The plan of the Hanseatic city of Lübeck has two stark parallel routes running along the city, giving it a blade-like outline. It was subjected to a lot of expansion and changes, given that it was a commercial center in northern Europe. The houses of the rich merchants along with the rich quarters and trading houses were located towards the west of the city. The east accommodated the artisans and lower economic activities. 

The planning of the city emphasizes the strict socio-economic organization that existed in Lübeck. Small workshops were located in the backyards of rich houses, which could be accessed only through a narrow network of lanes. 

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Plan- Aerial view_©

Cultural Heritage and Building Style

The Hanseatic city of Lübeck was not only a commercial center but also a cultural heritage site. It houses some of the best structures belonging to brick Gothic architecture, the Renaissance period, Baroque architecture, and classical buildings. It is also famous for its narrow lanes and streets, churches, rich houses of merchants, workshops of the craftsmen, and fortifications. 

However, since the Middle Ages, the city skyline has been dominated by seven church spires. These seven spires belong to five churches that exhibit intricate brick Gothic work. Lübeck also propagates a medieval character through its narrow cobblestone streets and municipal structures and two towered gate fortifications (the Burgtor and Holstentor). The inner city is surrounded by waterways and parklands. 

Few notable structures include the Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church) in Gothic style, the Romanesque cathedral, St. Peter’s Church, and the Rathaus or city hall which is a mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles. 

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A large part of the Hanseatic city of Lübeck was destroyed in the second world war, with the British bombing. However, the city was quickly re-established during post-war reconstruction. This was due to the influx of 100,000 German refugees into Lübeck from the Soviet attack in the east. The area around St. Mary’s Church and the city hall (Rathaus) still holds evidence of the heavy bombing that Lübeck suffered during World War II. The damaged churches have been reconstructed. 

The Current Scenario

The Hanseatic city of Lübeck is now one of the largest harbors on the Baltic coast of Germany. The city also has the most employment opportunities with options ranging from handling cargo such as paper and wood products, fruit, grain, automobiles, salt, and fertilizer, to ferry traffic control and related jobs. 

The presence of industries like shipbuilding, metal works, and food processing also contributes to the same cause. Financial services, communication, and trade and tourism have also developed in Lübeck. Tourists especially enjoy the city’s confectionery items such as marzipan which is an almond-based concoction. 

A Tourist’s Perspective

Lübeck has established itself as an attractive tourist spot. Surrounded by water and dominated by church spires, the city has a lot to offer in terms of tourism. The city boasts of harbor tours, to see the old town from the Baltic Sea or the Trave river. There are thirteen museums in Lübeck, each of which displays the historical significance of the city along with its beautiful churches. 

Three of these museums are dedicated to three Nobel Prize laureates: the Günter Grass-House, the Willy Brandt House, and the Buddenbrook House. The city also offers sailing activities along the Baltic Sea beach offering views of the big ships rocking back and forth.

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Buddenbrook House_©Dietmar Rabich / WikiCommons

The city offers many opportunities to learn about the Hanseatic League. You can do so along with admiring the beautiful medieval architecture and abundant culture, enjoying marzipan on the way! 

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One place of interest includes the Heiligen-Geist-Hospital, one of the first social institutions in the world which was built to treat the poor and was later converted to a retirement home. It now serves as an exhibition area for arts and crafts during Christmas. The narrow cobblestone lanes are a delight for tourists who enjoy wandering, with colorful picturesque stills and beautiful houses that have stood the test of time. 

Large cargo ships also form a part of the tourist attractions in Lübeck, for example, the Passat, a long-distance cargo ship also known as a windjammer. The Museumshafen zu Lübeck exhibits these cargo ships.

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Meghna Patnaik is a third year B.Arch student who has begun to explore her writing potential in architectural journalism. She looks forward to writing, not only to enhance her understanding of architecture, but also because she is passionate about it. She is also an ardent baker.

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