CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH FORTE
If you could transport yourself to the 14th century, of course you’d find a much different Germany. In fact, the separate German states didn’t unite to form a country until the 1800s. In the medieval times area we now call Germany or Deutschland was broken up into small principalities, ruled by the royal families who gave us all the castles we enjoy today. As shipping increased on the Baltic Sea, some of the most rich and powerful cities weren’t Munich or Berlin. Instead, the cities of the Hanseatic League ruled the seas and therefore were very rich and powerful.
The Hanseatic League saw a group of port cities that realized that combining their powers and standardizing their practices would make them even stronger than if they each took maters into their own hands. Interesting trivia: Lufthansa gets it’s name from the hansa league and laterally means “Air Hansa.” The “Queen of the Hanseatic League” was Lübeck.
Lübeck was strategically located to trade with Scandinavia, other Baltic areas (what we now call Belgium and the Netherlands), and even the United Kingdom and what is now Estonia and Russia. With the Hanseatic towns united, they were a powerful force, offering safety to those who worked with them and a dangerous foe to those pirates that worked against them.
Today Lübeck’s altstadt is filled with brick buildings and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The altstadt is actually located on an island in the Trave River, which offered the city natural protection that was reinforced with protective walls and four sets of gates. Two of these gates still stand, the Burgtor and Holstentor (Holsten Gate or Holstein Tor”).
The Holsten Gate has a unique shape – two round towers, with ice cream cone roofs, a small connecting structure in between with it’s own Hanseatic roof. Even as the builders were constructing the gate in 1478, the towers started to lean towards each other because the ground underneath was marshy. So instead of parallel towers with a rectangle between, the whole structure leans in on itself as if in some kind of fun-house mirror.
We’re pretty lucky that this building still stands. At one time this gate was one of a set four gates that those wishing to enter needed to pass through. There were two outer and two inner gates offering protection to this rich city. One by one they were demolished to make way for modernization and industrialization in the early 1800’s. Finally it was put to a vote and with a margin of only one vote, this gate was saved.
Today’s pirates and merchants (tourists and souvenir sellers) peacefully flow through the gates while the scholars may stay a bit longer since the gate is now a museum.
The museum is family and English friendly. Children of all ages (yes that includes you grown up kids too) will appreciate all the hands-on displays that help bring the Hanseatic League to life. Visitors can see what was traded, why universal measurements were integral, models of the gate with all four layers, a room-sized model of the town and more. Many of these displays can be touched to reveal more layers or explanation. Almost all the displays are in English as well as German.
The Holsten Gate is a recognized symbol of Lübeck and this area. It once adorned the 50 Deutschmark bill and can still be seen on Germany’s 2 Euro coins minted in in 2006.
If you are planning a trip to this area, this museum will help you see Lübeck’s place in history. I think you’ll appreciate it!
Tips for Your Trip:
January – March: Tues – Sun 1100 – 1700
April – December: Mon – Sun 1000 – 1800
Youth (ages 6-18): €2.00
Children (under 6): Free
Family 1 (one adult with own children): €7.00
Family 2 (two adults with own children): €13.00
There are discounts for multiple sites and visits in Lübeck.
Phone: 0451 – 122 41 29