Cities / Towns Visited: 36
Countries Visited: 11
Steps Taken Today: 14,128
Steps Taken Around the World: 1,335,700
After a stressful end to the day yesterday, we attempted to leave the house on the day’s adventure in a more relaxed mood. Heading off to the station once more, it was not Hamburg we would be exploring, but instead its neighbour; the historic town of Lubeck. Alighting the train, we quickly scurried off to the ticket office to pre-purchase our ticket to Copenhagen the following day. With the formalities out of the way we stepped out into the hot mid-morning sun. A short walk found us at out first attraction, and one of the most noteworthy landmarks of this little town, the Holstentor Gate. This old fortification was one of a number of old city gates, which filtered the comings and goings through the, no longer existent, town walls. Looking at the beautiful old brick structure it was hard to supress my slight OCD tendencies. You see, like many old buildings created when engineering was somewhat less of a thing, the two towers of the gate are leaning in towards each other, as they slowly sink into the marshy lands on which their foundations are built. On top of this the entire structure as a whole is leaning to the right. If you can look past this though, it is stunning to look at.
Buying tickets and heading up the right tower we began our exploration of the museum within its medieval walls. Lubeck used to be one of the most important trading ports in Europe, and was home to the Hanseatic German merchants who had trading strongholds not only here, but also in Russia, London, and Bergen. This deep connection with trade brought great wealth to the town, hence its need for strong gates to protect it. Along with their strongholds, they also had many trading outposts, and their merchants travelled far and wide around the continent even reaching as far as Constantinople (now Istanbul), and trading with merchants from Asia. One of the rooms in the museum looks at the kinds of products they traded, from dried fish in Bergen, to wool in London. The room houses examples of these everyday necessities, as well as more exotic and expensive items, like intricate gilded religious statues from Italian artists.
Now of course these merchants had to have access to ships, in order to move their wares and purchases, and thus another room looks at both the military and trading fleets which navigated the waters surrounding Europe, both seas and rivers. Finally, as the gate itself is a fortification, there is plenty of examples of the kinds of medieval weapons which would have been used to protect the entrance to the city, including guns and cannons (including the original iron rings to which the cannons were attached in order to catch the weighty artillery in its recoil). Another beautiful addition to the museum is a wooden model of the town as it used to appear in yesteryear, when it was within the security of its walls. The sign beside it pointed out that it was put together by primary school students. Now looking at the detail of the buildings, I’m going to assume they mean that they put them together from prefabricated pieces and under heavy supervision. Still, my main thought process simply led me to think, ‘In primary school I was in class with kids who ate paste! There is no way they were making anything remotely as cool as this’. Having gained a brief but insightful look into the history of the town we trod back down to street level.
Feeling a little peckish, and with almost two hours up our sleeve until the 1pm tour of the town hall, we wandered off in search of food. After scoping out the options, we rightly decided that, although we were not technically in Hamburg, we should, in fact, have hamburgers; thus we found ourselves at the punnily names Peter Pane. With the sun shining, and the glow of successful sightseeing rounding off the general sense of joy, we ordered a couple of burgers and fries from their rather extensive menu (which they kindly gave to us in English), and a couple of cocktails, because what is the point of spending all of this money to be here if you only live off meagre home cooked meals all of the time. By the way, the food was delicious, and the drinks were so good, we ordered a second round.
With the buzz of a few midday drinks coursing through our veins we headed off and rounding the corner we were delivered into a town square which looked like it was torn straight from a fairytale. The town hall (or Radhaus as it is called in German) built in charcoal grey bricks, sits proudly in the corner, its façade decorated with a line of coats of arms, and a may pole sits just off to the right. It all looked so surreal, you almost expected a group of young children to run out and start dancing round the pole to the upbeat sounds of a lute. Walking through the door of the town hall we were faced with an absolutely stunning interior; the kind of grandeur you would expect in the house of a royal, or at the very least a lord, but then I guess it is a workplace for the mayor (or as Germans refer to them, much to my approval, burgermeisters). The foyer presents with gorgeous vaulted ceilings, black hand-moulded bricks along the edges, and hand-painted floral motifs. Unfortunately, as we found out, the tour only runs in German, however as we were allowed to take photos we figured that the entry fee was small enough that the fact we wouldn’t be able to understand the dialogue wouldn’t be a problem as there was still much to be seen and appreciated without it. Thus we hooked in with the other awaiting native speakers and off we went with our guide.
First we were taken into the high courtroom, as this town hall used to also double as the town courthouse. The interior is beautiful, and reminiscent of a palace with its gilding, chandeliers, massive stove, and colourful murals filled with gods, goddesses, and cherubs. It also had a fascinating door, one side of which opened much lower than the other. With the fashion of wearing tall Spanish hats back in the day it meant that the guilty man would have to bow his head to pass through the low door, whereas a free man could pass unhindered with his head up on the other side. Just outside the door stand two medieval, carved, wooden statues; one depicting a lady holding up a mirror to the person who would face her, thus signifying that the condemned must stop and look at themselves and their acts. The other figure is of Lady Justice, with her sword and scales. The most fascinating detail is that Lubeck is one of the only places in the world where she stands unblindfolded. As we continued, the interiors remained just as intricate and ornate, with lush furnishings and fixtures. Walking down the corridor filled with the portraits of the former burgermeisters from as far back at the 1500’s, it was hard not to feel the history within these walls. Our guide, completely of his own volition, was even kind enough to translate the tour to us as best he could, as the other attendees were taking photos. It is these small random acts of kindness that restore my faith in human kind, and reminds me that there is good to be found in every corner of the world. Leaving this ornate public office, I couldn’t help but think two things; if I was able to have a workplace like that I might consider being a public servant; and that if these are the surroundings of the ones in charge of the budgets, no wonder those in power are oblivious to the plight of the poor and unfortunate.
The tour concluded and we wandered off towards our final attraction; the Marienkirche. Like almost every other building in the old town, this red brick church towers up through the cityscape with its bronze topped spires. We entered out of the searing afternoon sun into the cool, quiet sanctuary of this house of god. Much like the town hall, the vaulted ceiling here is also decorated with delicate hand-painted floral motifs, on its clean white surface. To one side, hanging non-chalantly on one of the walls sits a massive and beautiful astronomical clock, its blue faces, and gilded digits and star signs reminiscent of the night sky. The near empty church offered a moment of clarity to quiet ones mind, which I can confidently assure you is very welcome for an introvert who now spends most of their life wading through hoards of tourists way too far into her personal space. The interior is light and airy, not just from the whitewashed walls, but also the pale stained glass windows. Unsurprisingly this church suffered the same fate as many during WWII, and was severely damaged, evidenced not only by the lack of intricate biblical scenes in the glass, but also the broken remains of the old bell from the tower, which sits in one of the bays exactly where it fell on that fateful day. A stark reminder of the scars we inflict on ourselves when we engage in conflict.
Finally it was time to make our way home, but first we paused briefly to purchase some of the towns famous marzipan from a business which has been making it since 1806, because, lets be honest, of you’re going to buy some you should buy it from people who have been successfully producing it for over 200 years. Picking a selection of flavoured, chocolate covered treats we made the journey back, before a quick wander around the old town of Hamburg. After Lubeck though, its hard to be that wowed by its historic buildings, dotted amongst more modern constructions.
A quick home-cooked meal and the entirety of our delicious box of marzipan, and it wasn’t long before we were in bed. As I drifted to sleep, I smiled at the success of the day, and our brief moment of relaxation we had basked in while we had lunch. It was in a brief moment of recognition as I sat there, drink in hand, able to finally take a deep breath, that I realised that I haven’t just been lacking this during my time on this trip, but haven’t really taken many moments to just breathe over the past year or so. Between work, planning the trip, editing our novel, and fulfilling the social and boring domestic responsibilities of an adult, I had forgone fitting in time to just sit and enjoy my surroundings; to stop and acknowledged that although its a struggle sometimes I lead an incredibly fortunate existence. It has almost been ten years since I finished high school, but I have been living my life as an endless run of tertiary education, then full time work; the gaps filled in with denial of extras and extravagances with the end goal of being here, on my dream trip. I have forsaken past fun, in order to afford this year of unemployed galivanting, and yet I am just as tired as I have always been by the pace. Therefore I will endeavour to fit in, even a few, short moments for personal reflection and quiet meditation both during this trip and into the future. The body can be rested, but it takes a conscious effort to protect our souls from growing weary. In my head I still feel mentally the same as I did ten years ago, and yet the years have flown by. My emotional memory is often too acute, and thus I feel the trials and tribulations of my past as if they were fresh, but when I think about it, maybe I also haven’t allowed myself the time to heal, to grow, to forget, and to realise what people wanted or want from me is not what I am obligated to do. While I watch those my age around me celebrating engagements, marriages, and the birth of their children, these things are not even on my radar. In the end we all must live our lives at the pace which suits us, without feeling pressured to fit into the mould we are told we must. We, and we alone, must live with the decisions we make, and only we will regret the dreams we deferred. I will fulfill my dreams in spite of society’s view of what I should want at this point in my life, and I will take these moments of peace to reinforce that in my heart.