By Nikki Goth Itoi & Lydia Itoi

The business center of the old Hanseatic League and still one of Germany's busiest ports, Lübeck hasn't lost its medieval charm and character.

Thomas Mann, one of Lübeck's most famous native sons, paid a fictional visit to the old town in his novel Tonio Kröger: "The narrow gables and pointed towers that greeted him over the nearest roofs...Good heavens, how tiny and crooked it all seemed! Had the narrow alleys always climbed with such quaint steepness up toward the town?" After our recent visit, we can assure Thomas Mann that yes, Lübeck's alleys remain narrow and quaint, and its towers and crooked gables still tilt up at the sky.

In fact, Lübeck retains so much of its medieval character that the entire Altstadt was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987. Lübeck's crooked skyline, whose idiosyncrasies Thomas Mann played up in his novels, was deemed particularly noteworthy by the UNESCO commission. Our window at the Mövenpick Hotel provided a perfect view of that quirky medieval cityscape: a confection of fantastic church spires and a pre-industrial maze of twisting alleys, fronted by the massive pile of glazed brick known as the Holstentor or Holsten Gate. The Trave Canal wraps its broad ribbons of water around the Altstadt, and wooden boats bob up and down in front of the old salt warehouses that line the docks.

The old city core begs to be explored on foot at a leisurely pace; visitors should set aside at least an entire day to absorb its atmosphere.

Lübeck has a decidedly provincial, small-town feel, but with enough interesting restaurants, shops, and cultural events to support a visit of several days. Like the other Hanseatic ports of call in our series on Northern Germany, Lübeck is strategically located on a major waterway, so a boat excursion, preferably on a "traditional sailing ship," is also a must. In addition, Lübeck makes a convenient base of operations for exploring the surrounding countryside and the Lauenburg lake district. During the summer, camping, kayaking, and hiking tours can be arranged through the local tourist office. (Kanzleigebude, Breite Strasse, tel. +49/0451/122 8106. Open M-F 9:30-6pm, Sat. and Sun. 10am-2pm.) Also not to be missed is the beach - only 15 minutes away by car - in Travemünde, Lübeck's satellite spa resort and favorite weekend getaway. (For more on Travemünde, see the May 1999 issue.)

Approaching the imposing Holstentor, one is not surprised to discover that it has always been representative of Lübeck's position. First built ostensibly as a fortification, it quickly became a symbol of Lübeck's power and prestige as the leading city of the Hanseatic League during the 14th century.

The great gate's association with wealth extends to modern times, especially since the familiar twin towers used to be on the 50 DM bill. Moreover, Lübeck has traditionally served as Germany's gateway to the Baltic. In fact, until the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Holstentor stood sentry over the border between East and West Germany.

To step through the gate, which was finished in 1478 and has been slowly sinking ever since, is to step back in time. Although nearly a fifth of the buildings in the city were lost to WWII air raids, the townspeople have diligently preserved and maintained their architectural patrimony. Fortunately, the city has not been turned into a moldering old museum in the process of historic preservation. The cobblestone streets are crowded with local residents running errands or meeting friends on their way home from work. We got the pleasant feeling that this charming old town still dances to the beat of modern life.

Although the city has its share of beautiful churches, monuments, and public buildings, the real treasure in Lübeck is the mysterious charm of its labyrinth of narrow streets and passageways. In places, the medieval foundations of the city peep out from under the layers of Renaissance, neoclassical, and modern structures that have accumulated above them. The streets are literally an architectural timeline. In the space of two blocks on Grosse Petersgrube, we walked past buildings that progressed from Gothic to baroque to rococo to neoclassical. As part of a massive restoration project, 22 of these historic but almost crumbling merchants' mansions along Grosse Petersgrube have been turned into the Lübeck Academy of Music.

Even more intriguing are the mazes of passageways, tunnels, and underpasses cutting into the façades of the large houses and leading to tiny cottages and cabins behind the houses or in inner courtyards. In past times, the town's wealthy and civic-minded merchants provided shelter for local widows and orphans in these hidden corners.

One 16th century passageway called the St. Jürgen-Gang leads to our favorite stop, the Museum für Puppentheater (Kleine Petersgrube 4-6. Tel: +40/0451/786 26. Open 9:30am-6pm.). This astonishing collection of rare puppets and marionettes, handbills and stage props, representing nearly every puppet theater tradition that ever existed, is actually a private collection. Fortunately, the collector, Fritz Frey, decided to share his passion for antique puppets with the public. There is also a theater next to the museum where puppet plays are performed daily.

Although salt was perhaps the most important commodity traded by the merchants of Lübeck, we were more interested in two of the city's tastier products, Rotspon and marzipan. Rotspon is actually French red wine after it has spent time in the town's wine cellar under the Trave Canal. Rotspon dates to 1806, when Napoleon's officers found that for some reason the Bordeaux they stored during their occupation of Lübeck was better tasting than the wine they had left at home. The townspeople explain the phenomenon by saying that anything improves after a stay in their city.

Despite the fact that culinary history quite logically places the origin of marzipan in the almond-producing Arab world, some patriotic Lübeckers stubbornly insist that marzipan was created as an ingenious substitute for bread during the famine of 1407. Thomas Mann compromised by claiming that marzipan made its way from a sultan's harem to Venice and then directly to Lübeck's own Mr. Niederegger. Whatever the case, we spent a long time selecting edible souvenirs at the Konditorei-Café Niederegger (see review page 5), where the famous confection comes in every conceivable shape. We even found a marzipan rendition of the brand-new euro. Lübeck may be old, but it certainly keeps up with the times.

Hotels

Park Hotel am Lindenplatz

(Editor's Choice)

Our favorite accommodations in Lübeck are to be found at the Park Hotel am Lindenplatz, just 200 meters from the Holstentor and a short five minutes' walk to the inner city and train station. Klein, fein, familiär (small, fine, familiar) has been the stated motto here for 10 years, and based on our visit, we would guess the Behnck family does its best to exceed expectations.

Turn-of-the-century decor (German Art Noveau/Jugendstil) defines the hotel, inside and out. From the front door, a flight of marble stairs leads to a small and elegant lobby. We were shown to room Number 10, three stories above (there is a lift) and reported to be the favorite among regular guests for its small balcony which faces the garden below. A sloped ceiling and skylight in the bath are added features. Each room is uniquely decorated, but all in tasteful, contemporary colors and solid wood furniture.

The Behncks confess that their favorite room is Number 7, a double with a beautiful marble tile bath. Room Number 17 is a double with an additional pull-out sofa, and Number 3 is a smallish single, but features a double bed. Every room has a tub or shower, hair dryer, satellite TV, radio, and self dial phones. There are five non-smoking rooms.

The hotel sets out a lavish breakfast buffet and plans are afoot to renovate the breakfast room this year. There is ample street parking, or garage parking costs 8 DM ($4) per day.

Daily Rates: Singles 115 to 145 DM ($62-$78), doubles 145 to 195 DM ($78-$105)
Contact: Family Behnck, Park Hotel am Lindenplatz, Lindenplatz 2, 23552 Lübeck, tel +49/0451/97197, fax 87179-29. email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Internet: www.parkhotel-luebeck.de
Rating: Quality 17/20, Value 16/20

Klassik Altstadt Hotel

Travelers looking for a healthy dose of culture in Lübeck might consider the Klassik Altstadt Hotel. Owner Hilke Flebbe has cleverly branded the hotel, Das Theater Hotel, and promotes a variety of live performances by offering special packages and tours.

Wanderers through the narrow alleys of the old town, will readily spot the Altstadt's pale yellow front. Though its façade portrays a distinctly contemporary establishment, inside, the 28 guest rooms are styled with classic romantic accents, including high ceilings, delicate lace curtains, and dark wood furniture.

One evening around 6pm, we found Frau Flebbe busily looking after a group of theater-goers who were enjoying a pre-show cocktail hour in one of the private party rooms. She took a few moments to describe her concept of promoting theater and culture by offering special packages: for example, one of her arrangements includes two nights accommodations, a cocktail, breakfast buffet, a tour of city theaters, a ticket for a show, and dinner at the Theaterbistro. Cost is 299 DM ($162) per person.

Each guestroom is equipped with a phone, fax and modem connection, cable TV, radio and alarm clock. Two of the double rooms have bath tubs and the rest have showers. The entire complex was last renovated in 1997.

Daily Rates: Singles 125 to 155 DM ($68-$84), doubles 185 to 240 DM ($100-$130)
Contact: Klassik Altstadt Hotel, Fischergrube 52, 23552 Lübeck, tel. +49/0451/72083, fax 73778, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Rating: Quality 17/20, Value 15/20

Hotel Jensen

Though his Ringhotel Hotel Jensen is in an ancient patrician house built in 1363, owner Wilfried Rahlff-Petersson takes pride in blending Scandinavian tradition with modern comfort and high standards of hospitality.

Every one of the 42 newly-renovated rooms is decorated differently in contemporary color schemes and dark wood accents. Room 202 has a view to the Holstentor; in fact 18 rooms have desirable views of the surrounding city-scape. Five rooms have bath tubs, instead of showers. Room 203, a double facing the Holstentor, is the largest and features a luxuriously large bathroom with tub. For a special occasion, request the suite, which features old fashioned lace drapes, a table for four, a sofa with a view to the river, plus a palatial bath with ivory tile.
Amenities include radio, phone, hair dryer, cable TV, minibar, and modem connections. There are no non-smoking rooms. With its dark beamed ceiling, deep blue carpet, heavy wood doors, and fireplace, the breakfast room is inviting.

Daily Rates: Singles 125 to 155 DM ($58-$84), doubles 160 to 210 DM ($86-$114).
Contact: Wilfried Rahlff-Petersson, An der Obertrave 4-5, 23552 Lübeck, tel. +49/0451/71646-47, fax 73386  hotel-jensen-luebeck.de/en/index.php
Rating: Quality 15/20, Value 15/20

Hotel Alter Speicher

Despite its friendly staff, the adequate accommodations found in this hotel in Lübeck's Altstadt didn't quite offer the special charm we are searching for.

All 42 guestrooms have been recently renovated and come with telephone, TV (some rooms have cable), radio, safe, minibar, and hairdryer. Rooms in the older part of the hotel have separate bath and shower rooms, and there are seven designated non-smoking rooms. Highlights include a sauna/solarium and fitness room, three suites with whirlpools, a quaint garden and a sun terrace.

Daily Rates: Singles 120 to 190 DM ($65-$103), doubles 140 to 240 DM ($76-$130)
Contact: Hotel Alter Speicher Birgit & Jrgen Lentz, Beckergrube 91-93, D-23552 Lübeck, Tel +49/0451/71045, fax 70 48 04
Rating: Quality 12/20, Value 12/20

Mövenpick Hotel

Though hardly gemütlich, the Mövenpick is a reliable European chain. And, as mentioned below, travelers should visit at least for the Sunday brunch. The location is convenient to the Holstentor, and some rooms have river views.
The hotel offers modern, but somewhat worn, accommodations. Common areas were decorated with Picasso reproductions. Our room, Number 292, was a double with a small window and rather appalling, mismatched furniture. The small bath was decorated in a bright red tile, with glaring florescent lighting. There are non-smoking rooms.

Daily Rates: Singles 170 ($92), doubles 178 to 270 DM ($96-$146).
Contact: Beim Holstentor, 23554 Lübeck, tel. +49/0451/15040, fax 1504-111
Rating: Quality 12/20, Value 10/20

Lübeck Tasting Notes

Restaurant Lachswehr

(Editor's Choice)

An evening at Restaurant Lachswehr, one of the oldest as well as newest restaurants in Germany, is almost sure to be an unforgettable experience. The restaurant was first established in 1188 as a private fishing spot and public drinking place by Emperor Frederick I, also known to history as "Red Beard." Two years ago, a human dynamo named Lothar Tubbesing bought the graceful, historic structure and renovated it. The result is a first-rate contemporary restaurant serving exquisite, flawless food in an absolutely lovely setting.

Lachswehr is simply an extension of Lothar himself, the embodiment of his philosophy of food and hospitality and the art of eating. He even designed the interior, creating a simple but sophisticated dining room softened with cheerful striped blinds that drape walls of old glass windows.

Part chef, part showman, Herr Tubbesing is a businessman with the heart of a revolutionary and the soul of a poet. In addition to running his restaurant, he is a founding member and president of the German Slow Food movement, an international society of professional chefs, artists and epicures dedicated to preserving and promoting local culinary traditions. If he were to have his way, every McDonald's in the world would have to shut down for lack of business and we would all spend our energy in the pursuit of a slower, more contemplative lifestyle.

While Lothar worked the front, personally seeing to the comfort of his guests and expounding on the connection between food and the meaning of life, his wife was busy in the kitchen, sending out dish after dish. She never joined the conversations, but her food spoke volumes: a salad of tender baby greens, an unusual, frothy hazelnut-lemon soup, poached salmon with a Gorgonzola sauce, a mousse of bright tropical fruits in the middle of winter. The food reflects the Tubbesings' passion for impeccably fresh ingredients prepared to order and with a fidelity to regional tastes. Their cooking style is simple and light, avoiding overly complicated sauces and preparations that can muddle the palate. Most importantly, the menu - which changes every two weeks - was designed to showcase the personally-selected Riesling wines of which the Tubbesings are so proud.

Lothar is an entertaining and accomplished storyteller, so when visiting Lachswehr try for a table in the charming glassed-in back porch and don't be surprised if you find a poetry reading or dramatic performance going on. (Lothar plays a game called LiteraTisch where he invites writers and actors to perform. A meal is included in the price of the program.) You won't go wrong striking up a conversation and asking him to order for you. Once he gets started, there's no telling where the evening will end. Dinner with Lothar is not just dinner it is an experience.

Three-course a la carte dinner for two without drinks: 124 DM ($67). Three-course set menus, and special lunch menus are also offered.

Contact: Restaurant Lachswehr, Lachswehrallee 38, 23558 Lübeck, tel. +49/0451/84114, fax +49/0451/8400.
Rating: Quality 17/20 Value 14/20

Konditorei-Café Niederegger

Everyone knows that Lübeck's premier marzipan confectionery is a required stop, but savvy travelers will plan their visit to coincide with breakfast, lunch or tea time. That way they can savor luscious nut tarts, fruit pancakes, and marzipan pastries with freshly squeezed orange juice and tea or coffee while eyeing the tempting displays of treats piled high in the windows. At lunch, the café serves daily specials using meat and vegetables fresh from the nearby market. Marzipan-molding demonstrations are also available by appointment.

The café, which consists of two salons behind the pastry displays, has been a popular meeting place since it opened in 1880. In those days, men held power breakfasts in the first-floor salon before the stock exchange opened, and the Niederegger was one of the few restaurants where ladies could feel comfortable without a male escort. Today, it still draws a diverse crowd. At one table a group of affluent dowagers in black dresses and hats nibbled on cakes; at the next, four teenagers, waiting for a friend to show up, lounged in chairs without ordering. We tried to remember the last time we saw North American teens and seniors hanging out at the same place.

Our sweet tooth forced us to pass over the veal cutlet special and skip right to dessert. We ordered an apple pancake and quark-filled raspberry crêpes, both of which arrived piping hot, feather-light, and very sweet. After a few cups of tea, we felt up to the task of deciding which of the thousands of marzipan shapes to take home. Lunch for two was 15 DM ($8).

Contact: Konditorei-Café Niederegger, Breitestr. 89, D-23552 Lübeck, tel. +49/0451/5301126. Open M-F 9am-7pm, Sat. 9am-6pm, Sun. 10am-6pm.
Rating: Quality 14/20, Value 16/20

Mövenpick Hotel Lübeck-Restaurant

Although breakfast in a drab modern tourist hotel is usually none too inspired, we were in for a surprise the first time we went down for our morning coffee and rolls. An authentic Scandinavian buffet awaited, and the serving tables fairly groaned under the weight of so much food - eight kinds of cured salmon alone, not to mention a riot of salads, cold cuts, sausages, and herring dishes. For 42 DM ($23) per person, the Mövenpick serves up made-to-order omelets and hot dishes, about 30 different pastries and preserves, pickles of all kinds, fruits, cheeses, and even champagne. The menu was ambitious in scale and scope, but each dish was carefully executed and thoughtfully presented.

Heavy doses of fish and meat for breakfast are not usually appealing, but we couldn't resist the opportunity to sample so many new things. And even though we took only a bite of this and a taste of that, we still weren't able to try everything.

Clearly, Sunday brunch here is a local favorite. The dining room was crammed with Lübecker families, who outnumbered the hotel guests at least two to one. During the week, the chefs put on theme buffets: New Orleans Jazz night and happy hour, Europe buffet, Endless Noodle Night, and a Wellness buffet with health-conscious food. Prices for weekday buffets range from 22-36 DM ($12-$19) per person.

Contact: Mövenpick Hotel Lübeck Restaurant, Willi-Brandt-Allee 3, Lübeck 23554, tel. +49/0451/1504 470 or 150 40.
Rating: Quality: 15/20, Value 16/20

Lübeck Info

Population: 215,000

Altitude: 15 meters/49 feet

Tourist Information: Holstenstr., Postfach 12 05, D-23502 Lübeck, Web: www.luebecker-verkehrsverein.de/, tel. +49/0451/72300, fax 704890, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Distance from:

* Berlin 263 km/164 miles
* Copenhagen 255 km/159 miles
* Frankfurt 544 km/340 miles
* Hamburg 67 km/42 miles
* Munich 817 km/511 miles

Coming Events:

* November: Nordische Filmtag, premiers of new Scandinavian and Baltic films; Bereich Kunst und Kultur, Buddenbrookhaus, Mengstrasse 4, 23539 Lübeck, tel. +49/0451/122 4105
* November-December: Kunsthandwerkmarkt, handmade arts and crafts, Buddenbrookhaus.
* December: Christmas Market, Rathausmarkt, tel. +49/0451/122 717

August 1999