When the Holstentor was built in brick Gothic style on plans drawn by the town mason, it was designed to be a major part of the town fortification. The safety provided by the town walls and gates was important, as Lübeck used to be the leading town of the Hanseatic League (in short: Hanse or Hansa), a trade and defense union that stretched over most parts of the Northern European sea coasts and beyond. The city’s history however goes much further. A permanent settlement with the name “Liubice” existed as early as in the 8th century, but it was located a little off the site of today’s Lübeck. The city itself was founded in 1143. Having received imperial immediacy and far-reaching autonomy from the Kaiser in 1226, it quickly developed into the most important port and trade town in a wide area, a position it kept well into the 16th century. Even after the Hanse came to an end, Lübeck maintained close ties to the equally independent cities of Bremen and Hamburg. From 1806 and the occupation by Napoleonic forces until 1871, when the city joined the German Reich, Lübeck was formally independent. In World War II, it was one of the first German cities to be struck with air raids, with wide areas being destroyed by British forces in 1942. After the war and until Germany reunited in 1990, the city was a city on the inner German border. Contrary to other towns in similar locations however, Lübeck benefited from this location, becoming the main ferry port for connections from Western Europe to Finland and Sweden.
Lübeck attracts tourists with its city center, which in many parts allows a glimpse of what the town looked like in the Middle Ages. Narrow, often cobblestoned streets and many historic buildings mark the cityscape. There are several historic churches as well as the former homes of famous writers Thomas Mann and Günter Grass and a row of old warehouses which were used to store salt. Lübeck is also home to a famous annual Christmas market drawing many visitors from afar, most of whom will buy a piece of marzipan which according to legend was invented here. The town is surrounded by large forests and there are many bodies of water nearby, including the Trave and Wakenitz rivers, where plenty of outdoor opportunities are available.
For Lübeck’s economy, the port plays a major role. It is the largest German port at the Baltic Sea and handles large volumes of goods, mostly in trade with Russia and Scandinavia. Also, the port is Germany’s largest ferry terminal with about 100 departures per week and handles a considerable number of cruise ships. The city has however lost most of its shipbuilding industry. Instead, the food and beverage industry has a large presence in town as well as medical technology companies. There are four public universities in Lübeck, including the only Academy of Music in Schleswig-Holstein.