Yesterday, we took a day trip to Lübeck, an old Hanseatic city not far from Hamburg. We had talked about a longer trip to Lutherstadt-Wittenberg, Copenhagen, or Stralsund (a resort town on the East German coast of the Baltic), but we forgot to consider one important thing: August. In August, most of Germany and the rest of Europe goes on vacation. So, searching for a hotel at the last minute in a resort town was a futile exercise. We decided to just do a day trip instead.
Lübeck is a nice town. It was bombed heavily in World War II because of its port, but they’ve done a pretty good job of rebuilding the city. Several of the old churches were painstakingly rebuilt practically from scratch, and look as good as new (or as old). Lonely Planet told us that it would take us two days to fully enjoy the city. Perhaps we missed some of the full enjoyment, but we were fine to leave after a long day there.
Although there is a cathedral in Lübeck, the most impressive church is a different one, the Marienkirche. It was one of the first churches built in the Gothic style using brick instead of stones, and it has the tallest brick vaults in the world. This is one of the buildings that was completely destroyed by Allied bombing, but they have completely rebuilt the enormous building. The most poignant memorial in the church is the remains of the church bells, which crashed down from the tower during the bombing all the way to the main level, crushing much of the floor. The bells have been left in their destroyed, partially melted state as a reminder of the destructiveness of war.
Another interesting building was the Heilig-Geist-Krankenhaus (Holy Ghost Hospital). It’s about 800 years old, and has been a working nursing home for about half the time. It’s still in use, but we were allowed to see some of the buildings inside, including a surprisingly long “Long Hall” that once had beds lined up on either side for the length of a couple city blocks.
One interesting aspect of Lübeck is the expertise in Marzipan. I had never really taken to the almond-sugar paste from which realistic fruits are often made, but they have turned it into an art in Lübeck, particularly at the Niederegger Café. In addition to a large sales room on the ground floor and a fancy café on the first floor, they have a small museum on the second floor with some amazing creations. We bought some chocolate-covered marzipan candies, and I have to say that they were much tastier than I expected.
After a few hours in Lübeck, be decided we weren’t quite ready to return to Hamburg. So, we went to the Lübeck suburb of Travemünde, at the mouth of the Trave River. Travemünde was originally built to guarantee Lübeck control of its access to the Baltic Sea. However, its been a popular resort for over a century.
We didn’t spend a lot of time there, but we saw a nice coastal town evenly split between being a playground and a working port (with many ferries to Scandinavia and Russia). Walking on the beach was nice, and we ran into an odd spectacle; representatives from across Europe running into the Sea, swimming to a buoy, and swimming and running back to the beach. Eventually, we figured out that it was the European Lifesaving Championships. Apparently, lifeguards have turned their skills into a sport, complete with events like dragging a teammate from the water in record time.
Finally, we returned to Hamburg wishing we had had time to spend a full weekend traveling, but glad for what we had seen.