August 8, 2015
Our first shore excursion on our Baltic Sea cruise was to Lubeck, Germany.
We began our tour on a motorcoach, which took us through the port city of Kiel on our way to to Lubeck.
Kiel is not a picturesque town. 97% of the city’s buildings were destroyed during World War II. However, it is a college town and there are many international students there. Kiel is best known for its maritime activities, particularly sailing.
In Lübeck we got another guide for our walking tour, although Christina stayed with the group. Giovanna was from the Italian city of Pisa. Her English was not as good as Christina’s, but, typical of Italians, she did a lot of “speaking” through hand gestures.
Lübeck was not originally a German town; it was founded by Slavs. It later became a member of the Hanseatic League, as it became heavily involved in the Baltic Sea trade. Lübeck became powerful enough to be called “Queen of the Hanseatic League”. Its main product for trading was salt – a very important commodity especially due to its properties as a food preservative.
After 1492, the city lost much of its power, as the center of trading transferred to the Atlantic Ocean after the “discovery” of America by Christopher Columbus, and the Baltic Sea diminished in importance.
Lübeck in medieval times built gates to protect the city – there was a series of them at the north, south, east and west entrances to the city. A wall connected them and all construction took place within these protected walls. Only two of the gates remain, Giovanna said, but originally each entrance would have been fortified with three gates.
Giovanna stopped at the junction with another street and directed our attention to a plaque embedded in the cobblestones.
We arrived in Market Square, where our guide pointed out facade containing two holes; another facade, covered with scaffolding, also had two holes.
What were the holes for?
Does “Gothic” conjure for you images of white faced girls dressed in black or 19th century novels such as Wuthering Heights? “Gothic” actually refers to an architectural style characterized by tall, narrow buildings. It was believed that the higher you built your house (or church), the closer you were to God, “Gott” in German.
Built in Gothic style was St. Mary’s Church (Marienkirche in German), one of the most important churches in Lübeck, and certainly the most beautiful. At the point where we had the best view of Marienkirche and everyone was snapping photos, Giovanna pointed out the three roosters at the top of each of the towers as well as the cupola.
Why roosters instead of crosses?
Another story about Marienkirche has to do with the Devil on a stone slab:
Under the sculpture of the memorial below is written, “Your homeland waits for you.”
It was time for a snack and Lubeck is famous for marzipan! We walked to Niederegger’s, the best place in town to buy this confection made primarily of almond meal and honey or sugar. The higher the content of almond paste in the marzipan, the higher its quality.
Our group was escorted to the second floor of the store, where tables were set up for us, and each of us was served a slice of marzipan cake, then offered our choice of coffee, tea or hot chocolate.
I don’t think I had ever had marzipan before, although my mother loved it. Afterward, some members of the group had a few minutes to buy marzipan souvenirs.
After our marzipan treat, Giovanna took us to a modern part of town to see what are known as gangs in German. Gang means to go. A gang is a narrow alleyway which leads to a group of small houses, sometimes with a small courtyard or garden in the middle. The people who live there get to know each other, look out for each other – they’re like a small community.
St. Mary’s Church was built before the Protestant Reformation, so it was Roman Catholic; but today it is Lutheran.
I found these symbols of death to be unusual; or at least, they reminded me of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. Others told me, however, that such images are common in churches throughout Europe. The preoccupation with death and the dying may have originated in the Black Plague.
Our guide, Giovanna, had told us to look in particular at the astrological clock. It’s quite phenomenal.
Lubeck suffered only one bombing during World War II. Incendiary bombs were dropped on the town, destroying many old buildings, part of the wall that surrounded the city, and some of the gates. However, a British RAF officer apparently convinced his superiors that due to its beauty and historical value, Lubeck should be left alone. Lubeck today may swarm with tourists during the summer, but it has been able to preserve a lot of its historical heritage, its offering to the public today. Once a major power in the Hanseatic League for trade on the Baltic Sea, it is now a major tourist destination for Baltic Sea cruises.