Heading for Northern Germany? Here's a easy daytrip from Hamburg that really brings the Middle Ages to life, taken from my guidebooks Daytrips Germany (7th Edition) and Daytrips Berlin and Northern Germany. Enjoy!
A Daytrip from Hamburg
It was salt that made Lüneburg rich. This well-preserved medieval town dates from the discovery of its saline springs at least a thousand years ago. In those days salt was needed for food preservation, especially in Scandinavia — which has no deposits of its own and borders on a distinctly un-briny sea, the Baltic. From Lüneburg, the Old Salt Road led to Lübeck, where the white gold was put on ships headed for ports as distant as Russia.
Lüneburg joined the Hanseatic League in the 14th century and became immensely wealthy. Fine homes, churches, and public buildings were constructed, mostly of brick. Then, in the 16th century, trade began to decline. After that the town remained a poor, backwater place until fairly recent times, when new industry and the development of its spa brought a measure of prosperity. Today, the town remains much as it was in the 15th and 16th centuries, a living museum of life in the late Middle Ages. This trip can be combined in the same day with one to Celle.
Trains depart Hamburg's main station frequently for the half-hour trip to Lüneburg. These same trains can also be boarded a few minutes earlier at Hamburg's Altona and Dammtor stations. Return service operates until late evening.
By Car, Lüneburg is 58 km (36 miles) southeast of Hamburg via the A-7 Autobahn and the B-4 road.
Lüneburg may be visited at any time, but avoid coming on a Monday if you want to see the museums. The local Tourist Information Office (Lüneburg Marketing GmbH), T: (04131) 207-6620, W: lueneburg.de, is in the Rathaus on the Market Square. Lüneburg has a population of about 70,000.
FOOD AND DRINK:
Some choice restaurants are:
Hotel Bergström (by the Old Mill at the Old port) International cuisine in a most romantic setting. T: (04131) 30-80. €€ and €€€
Ratskeller (in the Rathaus on the Market Square) Local specialties highlight a well-rounded menu, served in an Old-World atmosphere. T: (04131) 317-57. X: Wed. €€
Bremer Hof (Lüner Str. 13, a block east of St. Nikolaikirche) Comfortable dining in an old hotel. T: (04131) 22-40. €€
Kronen Brauhaus (Heiligengeiststr. 39, 3 blocks west of St. Johanniskirche) A popular brewery restaurant with a beer garden. T: (04131) 71-32-00. € and €€
Brau-und-Tafelhaus Mälzer (Heiligengeiststr. 43, 3 blocks west of St. Johanniskirche) Meats, pastas, and beer, beer, beer — indoors or outdoors. T: (04131) 47777-240. € and €€
Numbers in parentheses correspond to numbers on the map.
Leave the train station (1) and follow the map to the colorful *Old Port (2) in the Wasserviertel quarter on the Ilmenau River. On your left, looking like a fantastic bird, is the Alter Kran (Old Crane), a strange wooden contraption built in 1797. Similar cranes have stood here since at least the 14th century. There are some ancient warehouses in the same area and, across the harbor, a group of 16th-century merchants' houses. Stroll along Am Fischmarkt and cross the tiny footbridge over the millstream. One of the old watermills here is now part of a major hotel.
Walk straight ahead and turn right on Rotehahnstrasse. Midway down the block, at number 14, is the Roter Hahn (3), a medieval old-folks' home. Step into its very lovely courtyard, then continue on to the St.-Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas' Church) (4), consecrated in 1409 and noted for its star-vaulted ceiling.
A left on Bardowicker Strasse leads to the Marktplatz (Market Place) (5), with its Luna Fountain of 1530. Outdoor farmers' markets are held here on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The splendid *Rathaus (Town Hall), facing the square, has an ornately decorated façade. Actually a complex of buildings dating from the 13th through the 18th centuries, it is considered to be among the finest in Germany. Guided tours through its magnificent interior are held daily. For specific times, ask at the tourist office located on the side facing the square.
Now follow the map to the Michaeliskirche (St. Michael's Church)(6) on Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Platz, where the great composer is supposed to have gotten his start as a boy soprano at the age of 15. It was built between 1376 and 1418 as a Benedictine convent.
From here you can make a pleasant side trip to the Kalkberg (7), a small mound that offers a good view of the town. Originally some 70 meters high, it has shrunk to 57 meters as a result of gypsum mining. A 13th-century fortress stood here until 1371.
Continue down Auf der Altstadt and Schlägertwiete. This ancient part of town has slowly subsided as the salt deposits below were worked until recent decades. Some of the houses lean at odd angles, and cracks develop in their walls. An interesting little side trip can be made to the former salt works, now home to the:
DEUTSCHES SALZMUSEUM (8), T: (04131) 450-65, W: salzmuseum.de. Open May-Sept., Mon.-Fri. 9-5, weekends 10-5; rest of year daily 10-5. €.
Here you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about this precious mineral, and see how it was refined throughout the ages.
Heiligengeiststrasse leads to the Brauereimuseum (9), where beer has been brewed from 1485 until recently. It's free, so pop in for a look. T: (04131) 448-04. Open Tues.-Sun. 1-4:30. Another nearby attraction, on Ritterstrasse, is the Ostpreussisches Landesmuseum (10), which explores the history and culture of East Prussia. T: (04131) 759-950, W: ostpreussisches-landesmuseum.de. Open Tues.-Sun. 10-5. €.
You are now at Am Sande, a large open area lined with some beautiful old buildings. The most outstanding of these is the St. Johannis-Kirche (St. John's Church) (11), a 14th-century brick structure with a slightly skewed tower. Go inside for a look at the fine altarpiece and choir stalls, and especially at the partly 16th-century "Bach" organ.
At this point you might want to amble around the picturesque streets between here and the market place, or follow the map to the Museum für das Fürstentum Lüneburg (Museum of the Principality of Lüneburg) (12), whose superb displays are concerned with local history and culture. T: (04131) 438-91, W: museum-lueneburg.de. Open Tues.-Fri. 10-4; and on weekends from 11-5. €. The train station is only a few blocks away.
Text and map copyright © 2009 by Earl Steinbicker. Photos courtesy of Lüneburg Tourist Office.