Hanseatic Island City

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September, 2023

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It was an Interrail holiday, aiming at the Viking ships of Schleswig and Roskilde but with some interesting destinations we hadn’t visited plus two – Berlin and Aachen – we had. Hamburg was the junction between the main area of northern Germany and its Jutland peninsula. Lubeck was nearby and offered a couple of quiet days before the journey north.

The great advantage, as with Schleswig we would discover, was its small size. This meant the city centre was a short-ish walk from the station with the tourist information office on the way.

Lubeck seems much quieter now than it must have been in its Hanseatic heyday. Traffic is no more noisy than the horse drawn vehicles of the past. There is nothing cute or madly touristic about it though. A city no larger than central York that produced three Nobel laureates has no reason to hide its light but it proceeds about its business calmly with no concessions. Indeed, we had trouble located the Willy Brandt house. It took lunch and a reorientation before success, and we were glad to have done so.

Brandt’s story is even more interesting than we had imagined from his days as mayor of Berlin and Chancellor of Germany (both West in his time, though he lived to see the Wall come down and re-unification take place). The display proceeds through his childhood, of and unmarried mother in the city to exile in Norway then Sweden as the Nazis gained power and became a threat. He returned after the war, renounced his Norwegian citizenship and entered on the career the world knows. There are examples of his speeches, with a frank recognition of his mistakes – today’s politicians take note. In the garden there is also a block from the Berlin wall. Other cities, notably Berlin, have similar commemorative museums but Lubeck seems to me the most personal.

We did not visit either the Gunther Grass or Thomas Mann houses, where the other two laureates actually lived or were born because, despite the late controversy of Grass’s SS service, little can be added to a writer’s work by visiting his house. Instead we enjoyed the beautiful architecture of Lubeck and took the lift to the top of the St Michael’s church tower for the unrivalled bird’s-eye view of the ciry.

It is easy to see how Lubeck is surrounded by water and where the warehouses stood. A few ships still come in but most craft are for pleasure. The view enticed to spend an afternoon walking along the river bank and, incidentally, to notice there are dwellings for refugees and other needy people. These are within courtyards and look somewhat like almshouses or perhaps guild settlements. Visitors are asked not to enter during the early afternoon to offer the residents some privacy.

Food in Lubeck is varied, with multi=ethnic offerings and lighter forms of tradional fare. We had a splendid Italian-style evening meal in a balmy restaurant garden despite the mid-September date. It is a city of calm, an oasis during what could have been a hectic train safari.


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