Lübeck: A small but devilishly tasty German city


The instant I took my first bite of the just-made and still warm chocolate-covered marzipan, I knew I had made a good decision in choosing a weekend jaunt to Lübeck in northern Germany. For this wasn't any old marzipan, this was Niederegger's marzipan, made from three-quarters almond, and one-quarter sugar - plus a secret rosewater-like ingredient.

I had managed to blag my way into the factory that has been churning out this Persian delicacy for more than a century and although it was a short tour, it was indeed very sweet - like the rest of this compact city.

The old town is enveloped by the river Trave and connected to the mainland by bridges.

At just 82 square miles, it is smallish, yet a major port that gives over to the Baltic Sea. Red-brick Gothic buildings and mercantile homes have been lording over the town for the best part of a millenium.

Getting there is easy, just an hour's flight from London to Hamburg and a whizz down the Autobahn 1.

Getting there

Fly: British Airways flies direct to Hamburg from Heathrow.

For centuries Lübeck was autonomous. It had a leading role as one of the founders of the Hanseatic League and was dubbed "Queen of the Hanse".

The Second World War saw it flattened during an RAF raid but its medieval glory was so well restored that Unesco made it a World Heritage Site.

Any tour (walking, of course) should start with a peep at the skyline. It is punctuated with a crown formation of seven spires that belong to red brick churches. Nipping to the top of the Petrikirche (St Peter's) church means getting a stunning view over the town and the Baltic. You can get your orientation too - the cathedral (der Dom) in the distance marks the edge of the old town.

Then walk through the arch of its landmark gate, the red- brick Holstentor, and you'll find a myriad of cobbled streets. These are hemmed by medieval homes with stepped gables, and easy-to-miss narrow alleys. The latter lead to incredible hidden squares of pretty homes that look about big enough for hobbits yet they are premium properties.

It's worth taking a moment to note three things about Holstentor. Firstly, its Latin inscription "concordia domi foris pax", which means "harmony at home and peace abroad".

Secondly, it has two bloated towers that appear to lean slightly inwards holding up a three-tiered gable. It's an image captured by Andy Warhol that you can see inside its museum.

And thirdly, there is an unsettling plaque in the museum that states, ironically, that it was restored by the Nazis before the last war.

The irony is that Lübeck was not on Hitler's list of favourite places.

In fact he hated the city for refusing to give him permission to campaign there in 1932.

Consequently, as soon as the opportunity arose, he unleashed his anger in 1937 by ending the independence it enjoyed for 700 years and made it part of Hamburg.

Incidentally writer Thomas Mann hails from here - his novel Buddenbrooks was set in 19th-century Lübeck. You can still see his home right next door to the 13th-century Gothic Marienkirche (aka St Mary's Church).

The latter has the tallest spire in the region and a museum. It is a major symbol of power of the old Hanseatic city and sits on the highest point in town. If you walk around it you will come across a small statue of a devil.

The story goes that when they were building the church, the devil stopped by and asked what was the purpose of the structure.

The builders told him it was to be a pub. The devil thought he may have easy pickings for capturing souls but soon realised he was duped.

The 13th-century Hospital of the Holy Spirit in the town centre and its oppulent town hall (das Rathaus) is a little piece of eye candy worth having. Hidden under the arches in its former cellar is the Ratskeller zu Luebeck, a lovely vaulted restaurant to take dinner.

It would be plain wrong to leave Lübeck without some marzipan.

And there's plenty of choice at the Cafe Niedergger. The cafe's shop dazzles with brightly wrapped sweets and figurines. Upstairs is their restaurant where you should sup the marzipan cappucino and sample the cakes.

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