Spires and Marzipan

The Holstentor Gate A small inland island situated in northern Germany encircled by the River Trave, Lübeck, City of the 7 Spires. History tells us this medieval city can trace its roots back to the last ice age though not until 1143 was it founded as a city and today one of the most important sea ports in Germany. However, it’s the marzipan, spires and historic buildings that visitors come for.

The ‘Holstentor’, a Gothic ‘City Gate’ built in 1464 with two large spired towers and ornate brick arch is still the gateway to the western area of the medieval city an area festooned with beautifully preserved and restored buildings. Restaurants, hotels, bars, line the river bank affording wonderful relaxing views whilst enjoying a local beer.

Once through the arch wander to the old town, visit the church of St. Petri now transformed into an art gallery whilst retaining the original beautiful stonework interior painted brilliant white adding light and contrast to paintings and exhibits alike. Cross the town square, enter the town hall or ‘Rathaus’ to use its correct title, historic seat of the Hanseatic League. Grandiose rooms sporting high ornately decorated ceilings, walls dripping with old paintings, exquisite wood carvings set in large doors, dark tiled pillars and arches contrasting with gold brass and red carpet. Grandiose room in Rathaus Within the largest marbled walled chamber still sits the old burner used to heat the room in days gone by, retire to the council chamber boasting inlaid marquetry, panelled walls, paintings and a sense of beauty wherever you look. A building to tour and gaze in awe whilst reflecting on bygone times.

St Mary’s Church, the third largest church in Germany built between 1250 and 1350, but in March 1942 destroyed in an air raid. Reconstruction of the building, its spires, the tallest over 400ft took 12 years. A small sculpture of The Devil sits on a wall outside. Step inside, view the Great Organ, its 8,512 pipes ranging in length from 36 feet to about 3 inches or the smaller Danse Macabre organ, 5,000 pipes. Every New Years Eve both organs accompany the choir and congregation with the singing of We Thank We All Our God. On your visit you may be lucky enough to hear a tune coming from the churches 36 bells.

As you meander the streets, lanes and passageways soaking up the atmosphere of this medieval city you can’t help but allow your mind to wander, imagining how things were in a bygone age.

Old wood carvings By now you will have built up an appetite and what better place to quench those hunger pains than dinner at the restaurant Schiffergesellschaft situated in the former premises of the Schiffergesellschaft dating back to the late 1500s, an institution for seafarers. Despite the premises having gone through various modernisations the restaurant area in what was the great hall has changed little. Model sailing ships hang from the ceilings and part of a restored ships bow dating back to the 1500s retain its maritime heritage. The food is exceptional, my choice, a smoked herring fillet on a bed of apple-onion sour cream followed by one of the most tender rump steaks it has ever been my pleasure to eat accompanied by Béarnaise sauce, jacket potato and cole slaw washed down by a delightful rosé wine. Finally, to finish, pineapple with dark chocolate mousse and coffee. A wonderful way to finish the day.

Lübeck has been dubbed the Marzipan Capital of the World and not without good cause as history of the product can be traced back to the famine of 1407 when the remains of sugar and almonds were mixed together to form bread loaves which were then distributed to the poor on St. Mark’s Day. Whether the legend is true no one is sure but it makes for a good story. However, it is known that up until the 18th century marzipan was considered a medicine and eventually became a delicacy.

Marzipan In 1806 Johann Georg Niederegger, a former pastry chef, created the recipe for Niederegger Marzipan and so it all began. In 1873 this marzipan won gold medal at the Vienna World Exhibition and has continued to win awards worldwide ever since. The current factory employs around 500 staff producing almost 300 varieties of hand painted and chocolate covered marzipan in blocks, slabs, sticks and individually wrapped delicacies. A visit to the Niederegger factory is an eye opener to the care and attention that is given to produce the finished product.

Niederegger marzipan is made of ⅓ sugar and ⅔ almonds. The almonds on arrival from Spain are subjected to hot water divesting the nut of its skin. From here the nut travels on conveyor belts past keen eyed scrutineers who remove any that still have skin attached or do not look to be in perfect condition. The perfect nut travels to the next process, coating it with sugar, before going through a grinder reducing the nut to minute pieces before entering the large mixer bowels where the ingredients become a thick paste. Eventually the paste having been transferred to large revolving bowels sends the marzipan as it now is to the separation unit where it is shaped into blocks, packaged and finally stored for use. Step through the connecting door and be met by the rich aroma of chocolate, yes, Niederegger make their own chocolate, a thick dark brown liquid oozing from nozzles to form containers large, small, different shapes, into which marzipan will form the centre ingredient before being finally encapsulated in more chocolate and finally turning everything into a very desirable delicacy. And its biggest export market, yes, the United Kingdom.

Marzipan ice cream For those in the old town there is the famous Café Niederegger. The large ground floor sales area adorned with numerous designs of painted marzipan and with Easter only a matter of days away wonderful displays of the Easter Bunny in many guises but all made of marzipan. Visit the first floor and select from the extensive famed cake menu, cakes of various sizes, toppings, fillings the list seems never ending but having tried several you will not be disappointed. If cake is not for you sample the delicious marzipan flavoured ice cream.

For anyone wishing to visit Lübeck, Hamburg is the nearest airport serviced by British Airways from London Heathrow and easyJet from Gatwick, it’s then a train ride to Lübeck.

Ornate bay window There are many hotels and guest houses in and around Lübeck to suit all pockets, I stayed at the Radisson Blu situated on the banks of the River Trave. My 1st floor room was light, airy and well presented, the bathroom sporting one of the largest walk in showers I have ever encountered. Toiletries, hairdryer, tv and air conditioning are all standard as is a very comfortable bed. The lunch menu offered a good choice of light snacks whilst breakfast had everything the international traveller could possibly wish for.

For that special weekend away, Lübeck should certainly be on the list.

My personal thanks to Niederegger GMBH & Co.KG for all their help in assisting me in my learning about marzipan and chocolate and the beautiful city of Lübeck.

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Alan Fairfax

Travel writer & cruise journalist

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