Holiday Destinations - Lübeck

Lubeck's Christmas Market in the cathedral square
Photo: Olaf Malzahn

Lubeck's Christmas Market in the cathedral square Photo: Olaf Malzahn - Credit: Archant

24 hours in Lübeck: this pretty German city is but a quick skip from Manchester and offers much to do for the curious traveller.

Enjoy a Niederreger Torte in the Niederreger Cafe

Enjoy a Niederreger Torte in the Niederreger Cafe - Credit: Archant

Lübeck is on Germany's north eastern coast, directly below Denmark. The closest airport is Hamburg, and it's an early start from Manchester, but the joy of this is that it gives you a decent full day in Lübeck, which you will appreciate, I promise.

It's a very pretty place. The old town is completely surrounded by the river Trave, and is actually one of the earliest planned towns, built on the command of Adolf II, Count of Schauenburg and Holstein, in 1143. From 1181 Lubeck became an Imperial city, with a governing council of 20 members. With the council dominated by merchants, financial and trade interests shaped Lübeck's politics for centuries and money poured in, resulting in a building frenzy that still shapes the skyline today, with glorious Medieval townhouses, the towering green spires of the churches, a grand town hall and the very imposing, long defunct gateway to the city though which all trade would have passed.

We arrived mid-morning and hustled straight to the hotel - The Radisson Blu, which is rather nice I must say - to drop off our bags, before strolling into the town to investigate lunch options.

German food tends to err rather on the side of… big. Our lunch, which was delicious, was of considerable proportions and needed some serious walking off. Luckily we had booked ourselves onto a guided tour, with a fluent English-speaker and passionate historian. We started at the Holstentor, the original main gate to the city. It's quite the eye-catcher, with its two imposing red brick turrets, topped with dark, witches-hat roofs, and an archway in between - it would have most certainly made a few jaws drop at the very size of it, back in the day. We then wandered through the town, learning about how the merchants kept their workers handy by building them teeny-tiny homes packed into the alleyways that ran between the grand houses. You can still walk along many of these alleyways and admire the compact properties. The grandest of the churches of Lübeck is Marienkirche (Saint Mary's) and it stands next to the medieval town hall, forming two sides of a square that at this time of year contains just one of Lübeck's eleven fabulous Christmas markets. At this time of year, the whole city is awash with festive decorations, and with stalls selling delicious treats, gorgeous decorations and unusual gifts, it's a great time to visit.

Lubeck at night

Lubeck at night - Credit: Archant

Just around the corner from the markets lies the Niederegger Café, an Aladdin's cave of marzipan delights downstairs, a wholly satisfying café restaurant above and a museum on the top floor. Yes, that's right, a marzipan museum, because Lübeck is to marzipan is what Modena is to balsamic vinegar and Melton Mowbray is to pork pies.

While the sweet almond paste may have been invented in ancient Persia, Lübeck has certainly made it its own. Before I went there, I didn't like marzipan. I am now obsessed. Niederegger was founded in 1806 and is now run by the seventh generation of the founding family. Niederegger marzipan is nothing like the firm, smooth, yellow paste I knew, and disliked. Marzipan quality standards are officially defined by sugar content - the marzipan we know so well is around 68% sugar, with the resultant drop in almond content often 'fixed' by the addition of almond flavourings. Niederegger has a sugar content of just 35%, the rest being almonds, not crushed to a powder, but left with some texture. It's light, soft and takes on other flavourings really well. I fell hard for the Espresso marzipan, but the strawberry shortcake also gets my vote, as does the caramel, the pineapple… and oh, those cinnamon stars! If you fancy trying it yourself, you can find it at Waitrose and at Amazon.

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While at the Niederegger Café, I recommend you dive into their very own Torte Niederegger, with a pastry base, a thick layer of sweet cream and traditional marzipan topping, it's an absolute dream - and definitely one for sharing, or you will pop!

We dined that night at a restaurant with considerable history. The Schiffergesellschaft was founded on December 26, 1401, as a boatman's society, and apart from being rather smashed up by the RAF in WWII, has served the city and its residents as a meeting place ever since. The food is, mostly, traditionally German, with many dishes that were wholly new to us. We enjoyed (much to my surprise) a basket of bread and lard to start, a new one on me. For my main course I opted for roast pork with baked fruit sauce, red cabbage and napkin dumpling. It was pretty awesome and were I a 17 stone stevedore needing to refill after a hard day on the docks, a perfectly judged portion size too. I am not, however, and it beat me, despite my best efforts. The pork was so tender and the cabbage so luscious I just kept dipping in, again and again, till I was at risk of being rolled out of the restaurant à la Violet Beauregarde. For once, pudding was a no, but as I had eaten my own bodyweight in marzipan already, that's perhaps not a bad thing.

You could do Lübeck in a day, the flights fall just perfectly, but to truly appreciate this very pretty German town, take two, it's absolutely worth it.