Following on from my yuletide reminiscence yesterday I thought you might like to learn a little more about St Mary’s of Lübeck (Marienkirche), another of the city’s most recognisable emblems and the host of the fairy-tale forest for several decades.
While the Christmas Market is held by the City Hall and was first mentioned in 1648 in an official document, the fairy-tale forest by St Mary’s church is a 20th century addition to the overall yuletide festivities held in the city.
Constructed between 1250 and 1350, St Mary’s still ranks as Germany’s third largest church and its arrogant spires still look down on the scurrying shoppers and worshippers below, quite safe in the knowledge that no other building outshines them with regard to height or the affection they can command from the city’s inhabitants.
Larger than even than Lübeck Cathedral, St Mary’s plays host to many classical music recitals and has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage central cityscape since the 1980s.
As a Lutheran, protestant church, St Mary’s is quite unadorned inside, lacking the wealth of gold leaf and paintings Catholic churches display in abundance. Its magnificence lies in its architecture: at 38.5 meters (125 ft) St Mary’s boasts the highest brick vault in the world and the church’s towers, including the fetching weather vanes on its spires, measure 124.95 meters (406 ft) and 124.75 meters (405.5 ft) in height – not bad for early medieval builders, don’t you think?
As a Free City (a status acquired in 1226), Lübeck’s architecture had to reflect the wealth, power and influence of those who were not born with blue blood running through their veins but who’s enterprising spirit had prompted this small town to rise to predominance in Europe simply because of ingenious trade and shipping.
The charming fairy-tale forest I referred to yesterday was photographed by someone who kindly posted his pictures on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pepecito/3065541213/
The medieval market on the main market square by the Rathaus (City Hall) is a favourite of mine. here you’ll get umpteen different kinds of barbequed sausages in all shapes and sizes, find toffee apples and spiced gingerbread hearts, stalls with gorgeous wooden Christmas decorations handcrafted in Bohemia as well as mouth-blown baubles, each and every one a piece of art.
There are stalls selling liquorice, spices and leather goods, sheep’s pelts and warm socks, merchants offering yummy bread rolls filled with smoked delicacies like salmon, eel and halibut (my own particular favourite), stalls selling fresh coconut slices and hand-made jewellery, and if you get cold, why not buy a beaker of spiced, mulled wine with a shot of rum and take up position by one of the fire-cans, where you can defrost your toes and hands by a cheerful log fire?
If your feet are still cold, you can get hot under your muffler and bobble hat by taking to the dance floor. Medieval music is at hand thanks to students from Lübeck’s very own academy of music. There are zillions more markets with yuletide cheer, just look at the website (available in English) and plan your trip for next year (nearest airport is Hamburg-Lübeck, which is still being used by Ryanair, methinks).
Christmas market in St. Mary’s churchyard
28th Nov. – 23rd Dec.
daily 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.,
Fri./Sat. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Fairy-tale forest in St. Mary’s church courtyard
26th Nov. – 30th Dec.
Mo. – Sat. 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.,
closed 24th and 25th Dec.
The Maritime Christmas Market is a new thing and I haven’t visited that but it looks amazing. It’s being held in the former maritime district, which is located in the north-west of the historic city centre against the backdrop of St Jacob’s church, the Hogehus and the Seafarer’s Guild building (together they form part of the Koberg district). From the Rivers Trave and Wakenitz cogs used to sail out all over the Baltic and North Sea, trading with Russia, Scandinavia and all the areas that form today’s Baltic States.
26th Nov. – 30th Dec.
daily 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Fri./Sat. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.,
Fri. 30th Nov. 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. for late-night-shopping
24th Dec. 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., closed 25th Dec.
When I was little my grandparents occasionally ran a sausage-grilling stall with some friends of theirs to make some extra money. Their stall was not located in the centre of town, but on the main site were all the large fairs are being held, a site that attracts several hundred thousand visitors each year. Should you visit the city and indulge in a few grilled Christmas sausages, spare a thought for the stall holders…it’s freezing cold standing there; while your eyes water thanks to the sausage smoke, your feet are screaming “frostbite, frostbite” all day long.
German Christmas markets are a great way to get a feel what medieval markets must have been like generally. If you’re a writer of medieval mysteries or write for children and plan a time-travelling adventure into the past, you could do worse than visit one of the many yuletide markets held all over Germany at this time of the year.