10 July 2015

Lövely Lübeck - Travels in Germany - 5

A little bit of devilry in the night....

It's midnight, and I cannot sleep.  A Schnapps too far, perhaps. Outside there are noises, like the squeaking of rodents.  I draw back the curtain of my hotel room on the third floor above An der ObertraveLübeck.  I stagger back, clutching at my palpitating chest, as though a stake had struck my heart. Across the water, framed by a window high in the brick façade of the restored salt warehouses, a figure is waving at me - Count Orlok? aka Max Schreck, aka Nosferatu, aka Count Dracula.....

Or is it Klaus Kinski?

Actually not, as Werner Herzog, in his 1979 remake of the film, used a different window, and Isabelle Adjani a different door.....

Count Orlok takes his coffin home

Lucy Harker sleepwalks with white rats

The moment passes.  I blink and the building is blank again, the sixteenth century salt stores, symbols of the lucrative trade that helped form the Hanseatic League, now filled with clothing, though this is a fairly recent development.

I find a picture of the building from some time in the twentieth century - not that long ago judging by the modern-looking bridge to the right:

And then I check another still from F W Murnau's 1922 film Nosferatu, this time the view from Renfield's office, as the malignant agent tells Jonathon Harker he has to travel to Transylvania to sell the building to Count Orlok (renamed in an attempt to get away without paying Bram Stoker's estate any royalties....)

This is pretty much the view from my window, with glassless blurry eyes. I try to sleep, though the two spots on my neck don't help..... Then the cock crows, and the rising sun illuminates the rooftops of the Salzspeicher, and the gaunt spectre of my dreams vanishes.....

I rise, and scratch the itch just by my jugular, but avoid the mirror for the moment.  It is time to breakfast on marzipan (one of the few foods available here) and explore this World Heritage site (a little older, since its designation in 1987, than the Forth Bridge).

The first stop is at the Western Gate to the city.  It's called the Holstentor [keep taking the Pils], and was built in the fifteenth century.  Actually in real life it is rather wonky, but with the help of Photoshop I have managed to straighten it a bit so you can see how it should look....

The gate [the words inscribed on it mean something like Don't Try and Fly Concord through this Hole] doesn't really stop anyone getting in the city, as there are roads all round it, but it is a statement of the power of the Hanseatic League, of which Lübeck was Queen from the 14th century until the disbanding of the league (following the 30 years war and a Greek referendum) in 1669....

Nevertheless it is still marked by great brick buildings, some of which were warehouses:

Some other types of houses:

Some convents:  

And some churches:

This last image is of the nave of the Marienkirche, which was built between 1250 and 1350 by the town council, who had fallen out with the local Bishop.  It was therefore designed to dwarf the cathedral, and certainly did so, still having the tallest brick vault in the world (126ft, or 38.5m) and being the third largest church in Germany.

The Antwerp Altarpiece in the Lady Chapel (1518)

From 1668 to 1707 Dieterich Buxtehude was organist here, and in 1705 J S Bach walked here from Arnstadt (320 kilometres away) to hear him.  Buxtehude was (probably) born in Helsingborg in 1637, which was then in Denmark (and is now in Sweden, following tectonic plate movement and a referendum).  For reasons now lost to us, Buxtehude was not born in the town of Buxtehude, which has the distinction of being a place Germans use in a phrase meaning to send someone very far away.....

I had the honour of dining in the Buxtehude cubicle in the Ratskeller restaurant (the wine cellars of the Rathaus that is, nothing to do with Dracula's rats), and found this illuminating picture on the wall....

Unfortunately the buildings in the photograph, as well as much of the church, and Buxtehude's Totentanzorgel (Danse macabre organ), were destroyed on the night of Palm Sunday, 1942.

About one fifth of the city's Altstadt was destroyed, and it might have been far worse had not Carl-Jakob Burkhart, Swiss President of the Red Cross, persuaded the Allies to use Lübeck as a port of entry for gifts to British Prisoners of War. 

During the bombing, two bells, weighing about nine tons between them, fell 200 feet from the south tower.  These have been left where they crashed as a memorial to the death toll [ouch!]

According to some, the Allies were not the only ones to damage Lübeck....  Thomas Mann  [aka Heinrich Mann's brother] spent his first sixteen years here (then forty years in Munich and one in Palestrina, before exile in Switzerland and the United States) and wrote one of his major works (Buddenbrooks, 1901) about the place and its inhabitants.  This epic novel was based on his own family experiences, and traces its decline over three generations.  The author's description of Lübeck as a mediocre trading centre on the Baltic did not go down well with everyone. Later, a lavish film version was described as the world's most expensive sleeping pill.... 

Buddenbrookhaus - (photography is not permitted)

I have not read the book, but I am working my way through Doctor Faustus, slowly.  I take heart from an article in the Observer about the novelist David Mitchell.  He recommends The Magic Mountain, but he is reading it in real time - ie it will take him three years to read, which is about the time span of the story. Using that as a yardstick, I will be long dead before I finish Dr F..... 

It is now twilight, and the town begins to look lovely (the original settlement was called Liubice, which means lovely), with church spires reflected in the river (despite the intrusion of a canal cruiser....)

Time for a drink, chez Kandinsky, a downtown bar with a kindly staff and faded clientel:

Then something to eat, chez Im Alten Zolln, where the staff treat their guests like favourite grandparents (or so it seemed):

Then a wander through the narrow courtyards that add much to the charm and character of the older parts of the town (I am beginning to like the dark, and I love the idea of Handel belonging to a Gang):

And then, in contrast, passing by the twin peaks of the romanesque cathedral, a huge launchpad of brick aspiration, giving a fresh meaning to the idea of a Bishopric:

Before mingling again with the people who populate this inspiring place:

And, feeling emboldened by the dark, sitting for a while to watch the world go by An der Obertrave, a Schnapps and a Weissbier chaser.... or should that be the other way round?

And then finally, full of the spirit of the place, feeling almost as if I am being watched, and only a tad irritated by the sore on my neck, up the cobbled strasse to Schleswig-Holstein:

It's late when I get back to my hotel, the squealing of rats and squeaking of unoiled bats like creaking floorboards underfoot..... and I have to fumble my way upstairs.....

In the morning, at cock-crow, when it's time to leave, everything seems topsy turvy....

Dear Mum,

I'm in the city of 
Lübeck, in Germany, which is very nice.  The World made it a Heritage Site about thirty years ago, but it was important a long time before that.

By the way, I've made a new friend.....


  1. The Truth of the World and life and thoughts growing and developing helps us all! Thanks so much xxx

  2. Ask not for whom the bell toll tolls...
    Fascinating stuff. Thank you.