Five Reasons to Visit Lübeck

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Felix Zaska / CORBIS

Grand entrance The 15th century Holsten Gate

Schleswig-Holstein, Germany's northernmost state, might be known for its expansive landscapes and windblown position between the North and Baltic seas, but the hidden jewel in its crown is Lübeck. The city has a rich history, lively maritime connections and strong associations with two of Germany's most significant novelists, Günter Grass and Thomas Mann. Add to this its impressive architectural features and some famous marzipan and this UNESCO World Heritage site has much to brag about.

Going Gothic
Surrounded by the Trave River and connecting canals, Lübeck was the onetime head of the Hanseatic League, a powerful trading union in the Middle Ages; hence the grandness of some of its buildings.

In the Altstadt, make for the Rathaus (Town Hall) on Breit Strasse, tel: (49-451) 122 1005, one of the oldest such buildings in Germany and featuring a distinctive blend of Gothic and Renaissance styles. Note, too, Marienkirche on Schüsselbuden, a fine example of ecclesiastical Gothic architecture. It was damaged by an Allied bombing raid in 1942 and has since been sensitively restored, although the bells still poignantly lie where they fell. For a contrast, explore a couple of the 90 or so dainty courtyard-alleyways that are a feature of the city, like Lüngreens Gang (Fischergrube 38).

Penmen and Politicians
There is obvious pride in the city's association with three Nobel Prize winners: novelists Günter Grass (who lives there) and Thomas Mann, and a Chancellor of the former West Germany, Willy Brandt, who was born in Lübeck.

Günter Grass — Haus on Glockengiesserstrasse 21, tel: (49-451) 122 4230, celebrates the work of the author of The Tin Drum and includes exhibits of his sculpture and graphic art. Buddenbrookhaus at Mengstrasse 4, tel: (49-451) 122 4240, was owned by grandparents of Mann and was the setting for his prizewinning novel, Buddenbrooks. It's now a fastidiously maintained tribute to the author and his novelist brother Heinrich. Meanwhile, Willy-Brandt-Haus at Königstrasse 21, tel: (49-451) 122 4250, offers imaginative insights into German affairs and Ostpolitik in particular.

Sweet Stuff
According to local lore, Lübeck's association with marzipan stems from a famine in the early 15th century, when bakers were forced to make bread out of almond meal. Whatever its origins, the confection starts making its appearance in written records as martzapaen from the 1530s.

Today, Lübecker-Marzipan is protected by E.U. directive as a geographical indication of origin, like Scotch beef, Gouda cheese or Périgord lamb. The biggest and best-known producer is Niederegger, where the recipe is as closely guarded as Coca-Cola's. Their shop, with intricate marzipan displays and sculptures, a café and a museum, is located at Breite Strasse 89, tel: (49-451) 5301 126.

Beach Life
Mann claimed the happiest days of his life were spent at Travemünde, and Lübeck's attractive seaside resort can be easily reached by ferryboat. Strandkörbe — wicker seats with sides and tops to offer protection from the elements — are a feature of the sandy beach.

For gamblers, the Art Nouveau — style Casino Travemünde at Kaiserallee 2, tel: (49-450) 28 410, is a more tempting diversion. Alternatively, you can head over the impressive suspension bridge to the island of Fehmarn, a popular holiday resort and nature reserve that, incidentally, was the venue of fabled guitarist Jimi Hendrix's final concert. Pancake flat and with a ribbon of unspoiled beaches, Fehmarn is best explored by bicycle.

Local Brew
Records show that in 1450, the then tiny town of Lübeck boasted around 180 breweries, so beer is definitely in the inhabitants' blood. Very few beermakers remain today, but among them is Brauberger, at Alfstrasse 36, tel: (49-451) 71 444. This atmospheric pub-restaurant has a brewery at the back of the premises and a cellar dating to 1225. The tangy, yeasty beer is served in tall, straight glasses and is ideal for washing down Brauberger's hefty roast and smoked-pork dishes.