Harmony Within: The Hanseatic City of Lübeck

The port city of Lübeck in Northern Germany is located 20 kilometers inland and is connected to the Baltic Sea by canal. It was built in the 12th century as a Baltic maritime trading centre, ruled directly by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Merchants gained power under the protection of the Emperor and started to claim their autonomy. In the 13th century the Emperor granted Lübeck the status of an Imperial Free City. Holsten gate was built to defend the city against invaders. It is the symbol of the city. Constantly threatened by neighboring states and pirates, the merchants of Lübeck decided to form an alliance with other cities for security.

These Latin words mean Harmony within, Peace without. With Lübeck as its center, the City League expanded steadily and became the Hanseatic League. Hanse means group or community. The number of member cities reached 100 at its peak during the late 14th century. The elegant Gothic architecture shows how prosperous the city became. Merchants built their houses with front-facing stepped gables as a way of making the buildings appear taller and thus show their wealth. The city hall dominates the city centre. It was built just after Lübeck became a free city. Stone was scarce in Lübeck and most of the buildings were made of brick.

Lübecks wealthy citizens raised funds to build the Hospital of the Holy Spirit. It is the first social welfare facility in Germany. Sick, Poor and Homeless people were accepted here. 170 beds were simply laid out on the floor then in the 19th Century dividing walls were built. Each room was equipped with the basics for everyday life. The hospital was built by the citizens for the citizens.

The Hanseatic League lasted for more than 400 years and faded away in the 17th century. Lübeck ceased being a leading force and disappeared from the historical stage. Today, the beautiful townscape of the once-called Queen of the Hanseatic League is the only remnant of its glorious past.

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