Lucky, Lovely Lubeck

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

One of the four remaining city gates of Lubeck.
One of the four remaining city gates of Lubeck.
On the outside of the gate there are two dates – 1477 and 1871.  1477 was the year the gate was originally built, while 1871 was when it was saved from destruction to make way for a proposed railway to support the burgeoning Industrial Revolution.
On the outside of the gate there are two dates – 1477 and 1871. 1477 was the year the gate was originally built, while 1871 was when it was saved from destruction to make way for a proposed railway to support the burgeoning Industrial Revolution.

We wound through old city streets, and passed a puppet museum.
Puppet museum

A different puppet decorated each window.
A different puppet decorated each window.
Above the doorway of the puppet museum was this cute little guy!
Above the doorway of the puppet museum was this cute little guy!

Giovanna stopped at the junction with another street and directed our attention to a plaque embedded in the cobblestones.

This plaque remembers Lina Kesten, a Jewish woman who was born in Hamburg but lived near this spot in Lubeck when she was deported to Auschwitz, where she died. Apparently similar commemorative plaques can be found in Berlin.
This plaque remembers Lina Kesten, a Jewish woman who was born in Hamburg but lived near this spot in Lubeck when she was deported to Auschwitz, where she died. Apparently similar commemorative plaques can be found in Berlin.

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?

.  These holes were put there to allow the wind to pass through.  Due to its location, Lübeck gets winds off both the Baltic and the Atlantic, so it is rather windy.  The holes were intended to prevent wind damage which, without an outlet, would erode the buildings as the blowing winds pushed along the walls.
These holes were put there to allow the wind to pass through. Due to its location, Lübeck gets winds off both the Baltic and the Atlantic, so it is rather windy. The holes were intended to prevent wind damage which, without an outlet, would erode the buildings as the blowing winds pushed along the walls.

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?

The roosters on the towers and the cupola represented the prediction of Jesus that Judas would betray him when the cock crowed three times.
The roosters on the towers and the cupola represented the prediction of Jesus that Judas would betray him when the cock crowed three times.

Another story about Marienkirche has to do with the Devil on a stone slab:

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Under the sculpture of the memorial below is written, “Your homeland waits for you.”

This modern memorial is dedicated to the German soldiers who returned home after World War II.  The years listed are years in which soldiers returned home to Lubeck.
This modern memorial is dedicated to the German soldiers who returned home after World War II. The years listed are years in which soldiers returned home to Lubeck.

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.

Display case at Niederegger's contains a village made of marzipan.
Display case at Niederegger’s contains a miniature Lubeck made of marzipan.
Marzipan can be made into a variety of shapes, and Niederegger’s sold gift boxes containing everything from miniature animals to castles.
Marzipan can be made into a variety of shapes, and Niederegger’s sells gift boxes containing everything from miniature animals to castles.

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've got my cake, and patiently await my hot chocolate.
I’ve got my cake, and patiently await my 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.

Marzipan gift boxes
Marzipan gift boxes
Other bakery items at Niederegger's
Other marzipan bakery items at Niederegger’s

20150808_051840 20150808_051901After 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.

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KODAK Digital Still CameraTo end our tour, we returned to Town Hall Square, where we were to meet in a half hour. I took a few more pictures in the older part of town, then went to see the inside of Marienkirche.

Rathaus (Town Hall)
Rathaus (Town Hall)

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St. Mary’s Church was built before the Protestant Reformation, so it was Roman Catholic; but today it is Lutheran.

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The altar piece
The altar piece

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The walls and ceiling were decorated with painted designs.
The walls and ceiling were decorated with painted designs.
The organ has about 5,000 pipes.
The organ has about 5,000 pipes.
There were many images, in the stained glass windows, and the sculptures, of skeletons and the dead.
There were many images, in the stained glass windows, and the sculptures, of skeletons and symbols of death.

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Stained glass window detail
Stained glass window detail

KODAK Digital Still CameraI 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.

Note the signs of the zodiac on the top portion of the clock. The bottom half contains a lot of information not found on regular clocks, including the phases of the moon.
Note the signs of the zodiac on the top portion of the clock. The bottom half contains a lot of information not found on regular clocks, including the phases of the moon.

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.

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