The Hanseatic City of Lübeck (Hansestadt Lübeck) is the largest German port on the Baltic Sea and the second-largest city in Schleswig-Holstein, situated at the mouth of the river Trave (hence the name of its port suburb Travemünde). The city has been an important port since the 12th century. Lübeck and nearby Hamburg founded what became the powerful Hanseatic League of ports and trading towns. History also has a sweeter side for Lübeck - it is globally known for the finest marzipan.
The old town (Altstadt) of Lübeck, although considerably damaged during the Second World War, has survived from medieval times in a pretty much unchanged or truthfully rebuilt form. It is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city centre's medieval skyline, mainly composed of seven Gothic-style church towers, is still intact. Lübeck is surrounded by parts of the old city walls with two of the original four city gates left. Most notable is the Holsten Gate (Holstentor) which was the motif on the German 50-Deutsche Mark banknote prior to reunification, when the bills were redesigned.
Lübeck is perhaps Germany's finest example of "brick Gothic" architecture, which uses the locally available brick (as opposed to "proper" stone, which was not available to medieval builders in northern Germany) to produce quite stunning buildings. The most notable being the seven spires that form Lübeck's medieval "skyline" but also a range of more or less secular buildings, including the Heilig Geist Hospital (despite being built as a hospital, it cites the Holy Spirit in the name, so whether it is a secular building is debatable) and the medieval town hall.
Lübeck was an independent city state until 1937, when it lost that status due to a Nazi era law. Lübeck accumulated considerable wealth as the "first among equals" of the Hanseatic League from the 11th to the 17th century. Many merchants made a fortune on shipping salt to other Baltic port cities in exchange for valuable goods needed in Germany. Many impressive warehouses are located at the old harbour and can be accessed by tourists since they host museums, shops, restaurants or pubs today. Unlike fellow Hanseatic Cities of Hamburg and Bremen, it has lost its "Free" (Freie Stadt) status and has been incorporated into the surrounding state of Schleswig-Holstein.
After sea trade substantially shifted away from the Baltic Sea to the Atlantic in the 17th century, Lübeck was slowly marginalised as a trading city against the North Sea ports of Bremen and especially Hamburg. This led gradually to a noticeable decay in wealth and eventually inspired contemporary writers to draw a resigned picture of the city's residents, most famously in the novel Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann, who earned a Nobel Prize for it in 1929. In the second world war Lübeck - not unlike Hamburg - was a target for allied (primarily British) bombings and in one particularly "successful" raid much of the densely built old town burned down. While most of the landmark buildings have since been restored, the New Lübeck has a lot less wood (for obvious reasons) and historic style residential buildings (mostly for financial reasons).
After World War II, the city was marginalised due to the nearby "Iron Curtain" which impeded access to many trading partners in the eastern Baltic, and even cut off two minor urban districts of the city. As a traveller you might notice two effects of the Cold War still visible today. First, some bridges have something that looks like undersized manhole covers at either end. These were in fact holes that could be filled with explosives to destroy the bridge, should the Soviets ever attack. The other thing you might notice is that there is a lot of (for Central European standards at least) untouched wildlife just outside the city to the east. While it was preserved by happenstance and East Germany's attempt to shut its border airtight, there are now efforts to preserve this "green band" of wildlife all through Germany. A curiosity in this area are Nandus, flightless birds native to South America that escaped in the early 2000s and roam free since. Despite efforts to boost commerce in the Baltic region, the city is still struggling from the Cold War era with a fragile economy that leads to a comparatively deteriorated infrastructure outside the picturesque city centre. Ironically the end of the Cold War dealt a further blow to the city, as it lost its "border town" status that made it eligible for big subsidies. Add to that a nearly total wipeout of the once huge ship building industry in the 1990s and you have an economic crisis the city hasn't quite shaken off to this day.
Lübeck sits at the confluence of the rivers Wakenitz and Trave. The "-itz" ending just like the original name of Lübeck "Liubice" indicate Slavic settlement in the early middle ages. The rivers have historically played an important role in the city's economic life and in city defense and they were extensively rerouted and redesigned, forming an "island" on which most of the old town and most of the sights are to be found. Travemünde, the port of Lübeck for all boats too small to sail up the river has been a part of Lübeck since medieval times and its name just means "mouth of the Trave". Another body of water which historically played an important role is the Elbe-Lübeck-Canal which replaced predecessors dating to the 14th century and was built during the turn from the 19th to the 20th century. While its role for cargo traffic is next to zero these days, it is a popular route for joggers, cyclists, rowers and people in pleasure craft. Thanks to the shoreline protection made from tree-trunks the canal looks rather "natural" and much less "artificial" than canals like the Main Danube Canal.
On working days, commuter trains to and from Hamburg leave every 30 minutes, on weekends and on holidays every 60 minutes. Local trains from Lüneburg, Kiel, Schwerin and the beach resorts Travemünde and Timmendorfer Strand depart on an hourly basis. Additionally, InterCity trains via Hamburg leave/arrive every two hours, with some trains coming from Berlin, Munich, Cologne and Frankfurt. There are also regular trains from Copenhagen, Szczecin and the island of Fehmarn.
- 1 Lübeck Hauptbahnhof, Am Bahnhof 6 (at the western edge of the city centre). Until 2008, Lübeck was the biggest German city without electrified rail access. Now the important trunk line to Hamburg has been electrified and there are talks of a "Lübeck S-Bahn"
Hamburg Airport (HAM IATA) is just one hour away, and offers many international connections. From the airport you can take the S-Bahn to Hamburg main station with an hourly train connecting to Lübeck main station.
- 2 Lübeck Airport (LBC IATA), ✉ email@example.com. Lübeck Air offers domestic flights from Stuttgart (STR IATA) and Munich Airport since August 2020. The airport has its own railway station along the Lübeck-Büchen-Lüneburg line.
Lübeck is about 60 km northeast of Hamburg and easily accessible by car through the Autobahn A1. Via highway A20 (Baltic Sea highway) to Rostock, the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pommerania is only a short distance away. As highway A1 is the backbone of the cargo transport from the Hamburg to the Travemünde port, there will be heavy (and rather slow) traffic on the right of the three lanes.
- see also: Ferries in the Baltic Sea
There are many ferry connections to and from Lübeck. Passengers ferries arrive and depart from Skandinavienkai, a quay in Lübeck's borough Travemünde. Most of the ferries run 1 or 2 times every day:
- Helsinki, Finland, operated by Finnlines
- Malmö, Sweden, operated by Finnlines
- Trelleborg, Sweden, operated by TT-Lines
Skandinavienkai is served by buses 40, 30, and 31 (timetable), which travel between Travemünde Strandbahnhof and Lübeck ZOB. There is also a train station called "Travemünde Skandinavienkai"; it is about 1 km from the ferry terminal building. However, the only way between the ferry terminal and the train station is by those same buses. It is not possible to walk.
The liberalisation of the national long distance bus market benefits Lübeck. Companies like FlixBus offer service from Berlin for as little as €15 four times a day. Several other companies and lines are in the planning process. For detailed information on the market and other companies see Long distance bus travel in Germany. Buses stop at or close to the ZOB, which is also the hub for local buses and just a few hundred meters from the main train station.
As most of the attractions are within or close to the compact Altstadt, you can get everywhere quickly on foot. There is a local bus service hub at the Hauptbahnhof/ZOB (central rail station) with services to all parts of the town and nearby towns. For medium to long distances within the city cycling is also an option and becoming more and more popular with the locals. Taxis are available nearly everywhere.
Because local bus tickets are quite expensive in comparison to other German cities, a taxi is generally cheaper for a group of three and up if your destination is less than 10 km away. You have to go by taxi at night anyway, because there is no nightly bus service. Check here for bus fares and schedules.
Tourist information can be obtained in the city hall (Rathaus, Breite Straße) or at the "Welcome Centre", opposite Holstentor.
The main attraction is the medieval Altstadt (old city) located on an island surrounded by the Trave river and its various channels. Listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site, it offers an astonishing variety of different architectural styles. The streets of Lübeck are a delight for a connoisseur of architecture.
Lübeck's Altstadt is not an open-air museum but a living city centre, so don't expect a complete medieval site. You'll find many beautiful old buildings intertwined with modern ones and a modern infrastructure. A particularly well-preserved 13th-century part of the Altstadt is the Koberg area at the island's northern end. And don't miss the Gänge, small streets off the bigger roads, with small houses and a peculiar atmosphere.
Noteworthy historical buildings include:
- The churches, housing several of the finest Northern German artworks:
- 1 St. Marien. Or Marienkirche: the biggest one, a fine brick gothic building near the Rathaus (city hall) at the centre of the Altstadt.
- 2 The Dom (on the quiet southern end of the island). It contains a wooden crucifix by Bernt Notke.
- 3 St. Petri (Petrikirche) (near Marienkirche). Its tower platform (which can be reached by an elevator) offers a great view over the city, and if weather conditions allow it you can even see Travemünde (17 km to the north-east).
- 4 St. Jakobi (Jakobikirche) (north of St. Marien, at the Koberg).
- 5 St. Aegidien (Aegidienkirche) (in the eastern Altstadt). The smallest church in the city.
- 6 St. Katharinen (Katharinenkirche) (south of St. Jakobi). A church without a tower that houses works of Ernst Barlach.
- The two remaining city gates:
- 9 Heiligen-Geist-Hospital (near Koberg).
- 10 Behnhaus/Drägerhaus (in Königstraße). A Classicist burgher house that now hosts an art museum.
- 11 Rathaus (city hall). Its architecture is a stylistic potpourri reaching back to the 12th century. It is still the seat of the city administration and not a museum, so you're not expected to have a look inside on your own. But there are guided tours every hour or so where the many historic rooms and the gallery of city leaders' portraits are explained (in German and possibly other languages).
- 12 Willy Brandt House. Dedicated to the former chancellor (1969-1974) and leader of the Social Democratic Party who was born in Lübeck in 1912. free.
- 13 Haus der Kaufmannschaft. A building built by the wealthy merchants.
- 14 Museumsquartier St. Annen.
There are two houses dedicated to Lübeck's two Literature Nobel Prize laureates:
- 15 Buddenbrookhaus, Mengstraße 4 (near Marienkirche). Dedicated to the brothers Thomas and Heinrich Mann, who spent their youth there. It contains many of their works.
- 16 Günter-Grass-Haus, Glockengießerstraße. Dedicated to the author (born in Gdańsk) who spent most of his life in Lübeck until his death in 2015 and who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999.
- 18 Synagogue, St.-Annen-Straße 13. A brick building that survived the pogroms of 1938 but was robbed of some of its stylistic elements by the Nazis later on. It once again is home to a small Jewish community, mostly immigrants from the former Soviet Union and their descendants.
Dedicated to the maritime heritage of the Hanse glory days:
- 19 Museumshafen (museum port) (between Beckergrube and the Musik- und Kongreßhalle building). It features some old-fashioned ships, among them a rebuilt Hanseatic kraweel ("Lisa von Lübeck") — more so in winter, because many of these ships are still in use during summer.
- 20 European Hansemuseum, An der Untertrave 1. Opened in 2015, this is perhaps the "crown jewel" among Lübeck's historical museums as it gives an in-depth look into Lübeck's over 800 years of history and how Lübeck shaped the Hanseatic League and how the Hanse in turn shaped Lübeck.
Dedicated to 20th century aspects of Lübeck's history:
- 21 Industriemuseum Geschichtswerkstatt Herrenwyk. Dedicated to the industrial heritage of Lübeck in the 20th century, that shaped the city. Especially the Hochofenwerke Lübeck AG (a metallurgical company) and the Flender Werft, a shipyard. Both companies were shut down as a result of the industrial crisis of the 1970s and 1980s with the last ship leaving the Flender Werft in 2002.
- 22 Grenz-Dokumentationsstätte Lübeck-Schlutup (Border Museum). As Lübeck's eastern border was co-extensive with the border between West (FRG) and East Germany (GDR) during the Cold War there was a border crossing here. A group of volunteers maintains the remaining border installations and runs this museum.
With such a rich history and literary heritage to draw from it is perhaps not surprising that there is little room for other kinds of museums, but there are some:
- 23 Theaterfigurenmuseum Lübeck, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Closed for renovations until 2022. A museum dedicated to all kinds of theatre puppets.
- 24 Museum für Natur und Umwelt Lübeck. A natural history museum featuring, among other things, an entire sperm whale skeleton taken from an unlucky whale that died in a beaching incident.
- Take a bus/boat/train ride to Travemünde, a sea side resort and enjoy the view of the Baltic Sea. A bus journey is fastest, as it takes about 20 minutes. A boat ride however, is much more scenic. The train stops at the iconic "Travemünde Strand" Station and is another good option.
- Take a seat on one of the tourist boats and ship around the city (boats go off every hour or so on the Holstentor side of the Altstadt island). For example you get a beautiful view of the Salzspeicher (Hanseatic salt warehouses; fans of classic horror movies might be interested by the fact that one of these Salzspeicher was the house of Count Nosferatu both in the Murnau film and the Werner Herzog remake with Klaus Kinski). If you've got more time to spend ship on along the Wakenitz river which links the Trave river with the Ratzeburg lake. Parts of the river offer an astonishing flora.
- 1 Freibad an der Falkenwiese. Dating to the late 19th century, this open air pool makes use of natural river-water and is among the more extraordinary in Germany.
Lübeck is the origin of the now ubiquitous Cinestar chain of multiplex cinemas and has had its share of interesting as well as run-of-the-mill cinemas through the years. As less and less money is to be made running a cinema, many have shut down in Lübeck, too. These are the three that remain:
- 3 Stadthalle (southern Altstadt). Housed in a nice old building this is your run of the mill multiplex cinema showing largely the newest from Hollywood and mainstream domestic fare. Run by Cinestar.
- 4 Filmhaus (Königstraße, vis-à-vis Katharinenkirche). Run by Cinestar.
- 5 Kino Koki. The name comes from its former name "Kommunales Kino" (communal or municipal cinema) as it was run by the city until August 2007 when it was taken over by enthusiasts. The cinema shows a lot of artsy films that do not attract a large mainstream following.
- Lübeck Nordic Film Days. If you are visiting Lübeck during autumn, you might want to check out the Nordische Filmtage (Nordic film days), a festival where films from Northern Europe (especially Scandinavia) are shown in all cinemas, most of them in the original languages with German or sometimes English subtitles. Get a festival programme in one of the cinemas. The next scheduled edition is November 3–8, 2020.
- 6 Lübeck Cougars. Playing American football in Germany's second division GFL2 Nord. They play at Buniamshof, which is where this listing points to.
- 7 VfB Lübeck. The local association football club. They play their home games at Lohmühle which is where this listing points to.
Other regular events
- May: Maifest (May festival) Punk Rock/alternative open air music and art festival at the so-called Walli at Willy-Brand-Allee
- July: Travemünder Woche sailing festival in Travemünde;
- August: Duckstein Festival;
- November/December: Artificers' market on Koberg;
- December: 8 Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) (at central market place, medieval market at St. Marien.).
- Lübecker Marzipan is the most famous export from the city. It is available in several varieties. The excellent Cafe Niederegger has outlets throughout the city. Its main store on the Alter Markt is a tourist attraction in its own right. It includes a museum dedicated to the Manufacture of Marzipan as well as many Marzipan sculptures.
- Walk down the Hüxstrasse and the "Fleischhauerstrase", Lübeck's famous shopping streets and enjoy shopping. You may find artists, painting various interpretations of the Holstentor, which make an excellent souvenir.
- Rotspon wine, available in nearly every shop.
- Souvenirs and Lübeck-related literature can be purchased at the Rathaus bookshop (between market place and Marienkirche) and elsewhere.
There are several restaurants within the city centre which will satisfy most tastes. At the pinnacle is the Michelin starred Wullenwever. Other good options include Markgraf and Schabbelhaus while the most popular spot for tourists is the Schiffergesellschaft. If you're in for locally brewed beer, check out the slightly Bavarian-themed Brauberger in Alfstraße. Lübeck is well known for its high density of cafés and "Kneipen" (pubs), so peep into some of the smaller streets as well and see if you can find something that fits your taste.
- 1 Taste, Holstenstr. 21 23552, ☏ . M-F 08:00-19:00, Sa 08:30-19:00, Su 09:00-17:00. Bagels, fresh juices, soups and other tasty things with many vegetarian options
- 2 Marae, Engelsgrube 59, 23552, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Tu-F 12:00-20:00, Sa 10:00-19:00, closed Su & M. Vegan restaurant with homemade lemonade and raw cakes.
- 3 Kartoffel-Keller, Koberg 8, 23558 Lübeck, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Th 11:30-23:00, F Sa 11:30-23:30, Su 11:30-22:00.
- 4 Ratskeller zu Lübeck, Markt 13, 23552 Lübeck, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Daily 12:00-22:00.
- 5 Restaurant Korfu, Pferdemarkt 6-8, 23552 Lübeck, ☏ . Greek food.
- 6 Neue Rösterei, Wahmstraße 43–45, 23552 Lübeck (Hinterhof), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Tu–Sa 09:30–24:00, Su 09:30–18:00. They roast their own coffee.
- 7 NUI to go – Sushibar, Hüxstr. 91-93 23552 Lübeck, ☏ . A sushi place also offering Thai food.
- 8 Schabbelhaus, Mengstraße 48-52, ☏ .
- 9 Schiffergesellschaft, Breite Straße 2, ☏ . Excellent food in historic building. Good friendly service (a lot of staff). Many rooms, but if you want a seat in the main hall a reservation is recommended. Prices are a little higher than some but well worth it for the quality of the food and the surroundings.
- 10 Wullenwever, Beckergrube 71, ☏ .
- 11 Die Zimberei, Königstraße 5 (in the rooms of the Gesellschaft zur Beförderung gemeinnütziger Tätigkeit).
The following three venues are all on "Wallhalbinsel" ("Walli") and known as "leftist" or "alternative" spaces, which in the past has led to conflicts with centre-right Christian Democratic Union politicians.
- 1 Treibsand, Willy-Brandt-Allee 9, 23554 Lübeck, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. A music venue run by volunteers of a leftish/alternative bend. Prices are moderate as they only charge enough to cover costs.
- 2 Cafe Brazil, Willy-Brandt-Allee 9 23554 Lübeck, ☏ . Run by volunteers of a leftish/alternative bent.
- 3 VeB.
Clubs and discotheques
Some of the biggest/most frequented clubs in Lübeck are:
- 4 A1 Musikpark, Bei der Lohmühle 7 23554 Lübeck, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 5 Hüx, Hüxterdamm 14 23552 Lübeck, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- 6 Eishaus, Geninerstraße 199, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 1 Jugendherberge Altstadt (Youth Hostel), Mengstr. 33, 23552 (from central bus station ("ZOB") (almost) in walking distance, closest bus stops: "Lübeck Beckergrube", "Lübeck Holstentorplatz"), ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com.
- 2 Jugendherberge Vor dem Burgtor (Youth Hostel), Am Gertrudenkirchhof 4, 23568 (from central bus station ("ZOB") with various bus lines towards Gustav-Radbruch-Platz), ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 3 RuckSack Hotel, Kanalstr. 70, 23552 (get off bus 6 (airport bus) at Sandstrasse or Koenigstrasse and walk to hostel), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Friendly and helpful owner. Clean and well kept rooms. Opposite Aldi food store and next to the hostel is a restaurant. Located on north side of old town next to river. Dorms for €14, double €20 per person.
- 4 Hotel garni Stadtpark, Roeckstr. 9, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Holiday Inn Lübeck, Travemünder Allee 3 (just north of the city gate (Burgtor) and opposite bus terminal and taxi rank), ☏ . Practical location. Good reasonable size rooms, good breakfast choice.
- Ibis Hotel Lübeck, Fackenburger Allee 54, ☏ . Budget hotel located quite close to the main railway station. from €55.
- 5 Park Inn by Radisson Lubeck, Willy-Brandt-Allee, 1-5, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- 6 Radisson Blu Senator Hotel, Willy-Brandt Allee, 6, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 7 Lübecker Krönchen, Einsiedelstraße 10, 23554 Lübeck, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
There are several options to spend your time around Lübeck.
- Sea-side towns for sun & beaches are:
- Travemünde Still part of Lübeck and only a 15-20 minute drive away. The railway station Travemünde Strand is right next to the beach and its big clock tower displays the departure time of the next train.
- Timmendorfer Strand/Niendorf about 20-30 minutes and a more stylish resort and very popular with people from Hamburg
Somewhat north of Travemünde is a cliff (Brodtener Ufer) that has a hiking way from Travemünde to Niendorf (1-1½ hr walk) with good views on the Baltic coastline. Niendorf/Ostsee is somewhat more cosy and family oriented with its fishery port and a public swimming pool and a well-known bird zoo (Vogelpark Niendorf, situated in a small nature resort).
The Baltic coast resorts in Mecklenburg Pommerania are about 1-2 hr drive on the Autobahn A20 away and might be worth a day trip
Hansa-Park is an amusement park in Sierksdorf
For nature lovers a trip to the lakes south of Lübeck may be of interest as there are great opportunities for bird-watching (e.g. the Ratzeburger See and the Schaalsee). Ratzeburg (with its Ernst-Barlach and A.-Paul-Weber museums) and Mölln are also worth a visit, especially as they are easily accessible by train. Near Ratzeburg is also one of the rare places to see the nearly extinct European bison—not a very spectacular facility, just some buffaloes on a pasture, but if you're in the area and have never seen one you might want to look out for the "Wisentgehege".
If you're travelling on northwards to Kiel, consider a (train) stop in one of the three small towns of Eutin, Plön, and Preetz. Among other sites, each of them boasts a "Schloss" or former aristocratic mansion. The towns are situated in a lake district which is popular for rambling and canoeing in summer (you can rent a canoe in Plön and go to Preetz by Schwentine River and through various lakes, then the canoe-centre people will get you and your canoe back to Plön by car).
And don't forget that it's 50 minutes by train to Hamburg (they go each hour).
During the summer the Schleswig-Holstein music festival is one of the largest events in northern Germany. An abundance of concerts with world-famous artists and orchestras attracts many people every year.
|Routes through Lübeck|
|Bremen ← Hamburg ←||W E||→ Wismar → Rügen|
|Copenhagen ← Fehmarn ←||N S||→ END|