Two older middle-aged ladies sit on their wooden balcony chairs on the sidewalk outside a residential building. The July evening in Lübeck's old town center is warm, and even though the friends take up more than half the sidewalk, they also have room for a table and several large pots of plants. They talk loudly and gesticulate, as if they were sitting on their very own terrace. And they are not alone. This evening, the city's sidewalks and alleys are transformed into living rooms and terraces. Down by the canal, a handful of couples dance tango in the evening sun under the supervision of the guests at the popular outdoor terraces. Lübeck is perhaps best known for its Christmas market and marzipan, but this inviting and relaxed summer evening is more memorable than a thousand Santas.
The trading town on the river Trave
Lübeck's old town is situated on a small egg-shaped island, surrounded on all sides by the river Trave. Here, ornate old brick houses mingle with a large number of churches and historic merchant houses. Buildings that tell the story of Lübeck's heyday during the Hanseatic League.
The city was founded in the 12th century and quickly became an important trading city in the Baltic Sea. When the Hanseatic League was at its greatest, it included 100 cities, of which Lübeck was considered the most important and most powerful. Thanks to all the trade, the city's coffers were filled and a number of stately buildings saw the light of day. It is quite impressive that Lübeck's silhouette with the seven spiers has looked almost the same since the 15th century - despite the fact that the city was largely bombed during the Second World War.
Marzipan and the Middle Ages
In the middle of the old city center is the 800-year-old town hall (Lübeck town hall) at a beautiful square. It is here in the square that the city's famous Christmas market takes place in December every year, and small decorated wooden stalls are lit up by thousands of lights.
The facade of the town hall embraces the square and it almost looks like a castle with its peaked towers reaching high into the sky. The town hall has been named Germany's most beautiful "rathaus" several times and it is easy to get caught up in admiring all the building's details. Don't miss the ornate bay window and the white Renaissance staircase facing the Breitestrasse pedestrian street.
The outdoor seating at popular Cafe Niederegger is closed for the evening. It is to Café Niederegger that you head to taste Lübeck's famous marzipan in all its forms – cakes, cookies and sweets. There is even marzipan coffee for those who want to try marzipan in liquid form. Personally, I am very fond of the marzipan with chocolate, which you can buy home in a large number of varieties from their well-stocked store.
Mary's Church and the Second World War
In the neighborhood next to the town hall is one of Lübeck's most beautiful churches - St. Marien Church (Mary's Church). The church began to be built as early as the 1250s, but during the Second World War Lübeck's old city center and the church were almost completely bombed. Many parts you see today in St. Mary's Church come from the reconstruction that was done in the 1950s, but one thing is not restored but left exactly as it looked after the war. The old church bells. During the bombings, the bells of the church tower fell straight into the stone floor and both bells and floor were smashed. The bells remain today as a reminder of the vile war and the horrible night when Lübeck was in flames and hundreds of residents lost their lives.
Salt and brick
Lübeck received its status as a World Heritage City in 1987, largely due to the city's many ornate brick buildings from the Middle Ages. Not only are the large Gothic churches built in brick, but also residential buildings, warehouses and city gates.
Lübeck's most famous attraction is Holsten Gate (Holstein Gate) from 1452, one of the city's few remaining buildings from the time when the city had a fortification. Today, the city gate Holstentor with its two towers is a well-known symbol of Lübeck and a museum of Lübeck's history.
South of Holstentor we are met by six slanted and winding brick buildings that support each other in a row - Salzspeicher magazine (the salt storage). The salt warehouse was built by the river Trave between 1579 and 1745 and is a memory of the time when Lübeck was an important trading city for salt. Salt was also called "the white gold" and was a necessity to be able to store and preserve food throughout Europe. Although the west coast's seawater is salty, Sweden did not have enough sun to be able to extract its own salt. The salt had to be imported and the best salt was considered to be rock salt from Lüneburg outside Hamburg. One can only assume that a large part of the 16th century salt in Sweden passed by these 6 salt warehouses before finally ending up on the plate as a salted fish.
Summer feelings by the river
Down by the river Trave, the outdoor terraces are full of guests. Despite the fact that it is in the middle of the summer high season, most German is heard over the tables. For many foreign tourists, Lübeck is primarily associated with the fabulous Christmas market, but this summer evening, Lübeck shows itself from a completely different – and very inviting – side. The outdoor restaurants attract with comfortable sunbeds down by the river and on the quayside a handful of couples dance the tango in the summer night.
The sightseeing boats have taken evening and are lined up at the quayside. A few small private boats with stern spinners simmer slowly by. During the day you can rent your own small boat and simmer around Lübeck's old town at your own pace. A given activity on a hot summer day.
Lübeck's surprising little alleys
Despite all the beautiful old brick buildings and charming outdoor terraces, these are not what make me most fond of Lübeck. What charms me most is what is least visible on the surface. I had read about the city's medieval alleys before I went here, but I probably hadn't really understood how many alleys there actually are. In principle, the whole of Lübeck's inner city is one big labyrinth of alleys with homes and green patios.
At the end of the 18th century there were 180 residential alleys, today only 90 remain. Some of the nicest alleys can be found at Füchtingshof, Dunkelgrüner Gang, Engelsgrube, Von-Höveln-Gang and Hellgrüner gang, but we found several other beautiful alleys on the southwest part of the island. If you pass a small opening in the facade with a road sign, it is a residential alley. No matter how small it looks.
Many of the alleys are so small that you wonder if you can really walk here, but when you venture into the dark alley, a courtyard opens up (almost always). Outdoor furniture is surrounded by large clay pots with Mediterranean plants and roses and it almost feels like walking across someone's terrace.
As a tourist, it's a bit ambivalent to walk into these alleyways. It is one of the city's most unique features, but at the same time it feels very private. Consideration, silence and respect are especially important if we are to continue to experience these charming neighborhoods.
All around the city's sights
Lübeck's inner city is not large and we suddenly discover that we have walked around almost the entire island. As it is Sunday evening and everything is closed, it is a little extra quick to walk around the city. No distractions and no stops other than for dinner and sightseeing. The alleys act as shortcuts and the river as a delimiter. A perfect city to discover simply on foot.
We leave the city with a good taste. Lübeck may be a small town, but it is well worth a trip of its own – not just an evening stroll on a warm Sunday evening on your way out to Europe.
How do I get to Lübeck?
Lübeck is located in northern Germany, near the ferry town of Travemünde. It takes about an hour by car to get here from Hamburg.
Do you want to read more about Lübeck?
- Lübeck Tourist Office – Visit Lübeck
- German Tourist Board – Lübeck
- Atlas Obscura – 8 unusual sights in Lübeck
Have you been here? What did you think of the destination?
Travel blogger, gastronaut, photographer and family adventurer with over 55 countries in his luggage. Eva loves trips that include beautiful nature, hiking boots and well-cooked food. On the travel blog Rucksack she takes you to all corners of the world with the help of her inspiring pictures and texts.