BLOG #46, SERIES 7
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WE DISCOVER NORTHERN EUROPE #6
November 16, 2016
During our cruise, our ship, the Zuiderdam, stopped in two ports in Germany: Warnemünde and Kiel. We had been to other parts of Germany during previous trips to Europe, but these two ports were new to us.
At Warnemünde, many passengers took the train to Berlin. But since half the day would be spent on the train, we opted for just walking around and savoring the little port town of Warnemünde.
When our ship returned to Germany the second time, we docked in Kiel. This time, we decided to visit the medieval city of Lübeck. Every so often we’d see, outside our bus window as we were riding along, the blinding yellow fields of rape (a variant of the mustard family used for bird-food, rapeseed oil, or canola oil). But finally, we arrived at Lübeck, the most important town in the Baltic basin by the end of the Middle Ages. Today, it is a magnet for fans of Backsteingotic (Gothic brick architecture). In Lübeck (beautifully rebuilt after World War II), church interiors, facades of buildings, the famed city gates, and even the Medieval hospital add up to illustrated pictures of historic architecture. Fans of its most important literary figure, Thomas Mann come here as well.
We were able to spend some time exploring the Holstentor, the only entrance into old Lübeck, constructed 1466-1478. We also gazed upward in amaze in Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church), a brick modification of a Neo Classical French cathedral. Its vast interior boasts the highest vaulted brick ceiling in the world (131 feet). It dates back to the early 1300’s.
As a historian, I have long been aware of that powerful trade organization called the Hanseatic League. Now we were in Lübeck, the capital city of that merchants trading power that dominated Baltic trading for hundreds of years. It all started in 1241 when Lübeck and Hamburg agreed to join forces in order to safeguard German trade in the North Sea. Other towns, such as Lüneberg, Wismar, Rostock, and Stralsund, joined them in 1256.
Because Germany was so fragmented, the Hanseatic League, as it added more and more cities, became as powerful as were political states, trading in Flanders, England, Russia, etc. In the charter of 1226, the Emperor Frederick II elevated Lübeck to an imperial city., The merchant princes who represented these Hanseatic cities (eventually around 72) wielded great financial power. That power lasted for several hundred years, then gradually the Hanseatic League lost its trading monopolies. Even so the League, even in diminished power, held on for almost half a millennium until closing shop in Bergen (1775), London (1852), and Antwerp (1863).
What a run!