Affectionately known as the city with the seven golden steeples, Lübek shines as a perfect opportunity for a Christmas getaway.
As the holiday season approaches, surely it’d be much more pleasurable to hop on plane journey to an authentic German Christmas market, rather than face the disappointments you might endure at home? It was with a festive tune in our hearts and a craving for indulgent treats that we decided to discover Christmas in Lübek for ourselves.
One of the first things that greets every traveler as they enter the city is the world famous Holstentor, a towering gate house that adorns company logos, chocolates and even Germany’s Euro coins. This rather handsome structure acts as a focal point for your journey through the winding streets of the beautiful city. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, the two giant towers glint in the winter sunlight, and the words “concordia domi foris pax” – or “harmony within, peace without” – hail all who enter. Our enigmatic tour guide points at the words and explains that the Nazi despot Adolf Hitler hated Lübek because they refused to let him campaign in the city back in the 30s. He took his revenge by removing its 700 years of independence and incorporated it into neighbouring Hamburg – many affectionately refer to it as the Free City of Lübek to this day.
The old part of the city is enclosed by the Trave, a simply glorious river that meanders lazily past the stunning architecture, picturesque banks and selection of pubs and bars – no prizes for guessing which we spent most time checking out. If it takes your fancy you can muck about on the river with a cruise that takes in the city’s sights – these last for around an hour to two hours – or if you’re like us, a winter’s afternoon in the hazy sunshine, nursing some form of pilsner beer is the ideal treat during your Christmas break. If alcohol isn’t your thing, you can also partake in one of Lübek’s favourite soft drinks, the Mezzo Mix. A remarkable concoction of Coca-Cola mixed with orange Fanta. We can confirm it’s bizarrely tasty.
As you wander through the town, enjoying the Christmas atmosphere throughout, it’s nigh on impossible to tell how old the place is. Great swathes of buildings have had their frontages added, torn down and reapplied by wealthy traders to keep up with the popular passing trends, while other sections of the landscape have been rebuilt from scratch after British bombing runs during the Second World War.
One thing that’s certain though is the importance of the seven golden steeples. The churches dotted around the city themselves act as focal points to the eye and exceedingly handy places of reference if you’ve been indulging in a little too much hot spiced cider. Those with a stomach for heights, or a penchant for Instagram photo ops, can take a lift up the Petrikirche to take in the utterly stunning views of the old and new city.
If German culinary adventure is more your fare, drop in to Schiffergesellschaft, the town’s premiere restaurant. With a distinctly laid back and rustic feel, this fine eatery serves a whole variety of tempting morsels; from a perfectly cooked duck with a plum based stuffing that sings of Christmas dinners, to Labskaus – a meal choice for the adventurous who wish to impress their dining companions. It comprises of a purple purée with fried egg on top, served with herring and salted beef brisket. You only live once, right?
Our main motivation for visiting Lübek however – food, history and architecture aside – was to visit the world famous Niederegger marzipan factory – nothing says Christmas like marzipan, after all.
Alas, members of the public aren’t allowed inside the factory itself. But we were fortunate enough to find a golden ticket in a bar of marzipan, and went on a little tour with a selection of bratty children who mysteriously disappeared along the way to up-tempo musical numbers…
Joking aside, the process of making marzipan is a relatively simple one. Peeled, washed and crushed almonds get heated with a little sugar into a paste and flavouring is added. But it’s the 100-year-old top secret recipe and the foresight to cover the marzipan in chocolate that put Niederegger and the city of Lübek on the map for confectionary.
For everyone who didn’t get a Willy Wonka-style ticket, the Niederegger Cafe is open to all in the centre of town and is a must-visit – particularly if you’re hoping to pick up Christmas treats. On the ground floor every inch of the place sparkles with brightly coloured sweet wrapping paper, fruit shaped candy and other surreal marzipan shapes – zebras, trains, life size statues, you get the idea. While upstairs, visitors can indulge in a variety of tasty treats; including local cuisine and the largest selection of cakes we’ve ever seen. From marzipan tea and coffee, to marzipan pancakes, don’t pack any skinny jeans on this trip.
Lübek is a must vist for anyone this winter – from the stunning surroundings to the gorgeous Christmas markets, even the most miserable individual will find their festive spirit soar as they mill around the streets and indulge in a fourth glass of glühwein. It’s these little trips we seem to take for granted at the moment. Europe’s huge bounty of gorgeous and interesting cities, picturesque villages and rich and diverse cultures seem but a stone’s throw away. But how long will this last? Who knows for sure. But we urge you to embrace it, and enjoy it, while you still can.
Gay Times traveled with BA to Hamburg, britishairways.com, and visited the Niederegger factory and cafe, niederegger.de.