City Breaks in Germany: Part One – Lüneburg
This article is part of the series “City Breaks in Germany”City Breaks in Germany: Part One – Lüneburg City Breaks in Germany: Part Two – Celle City Breaks in Germany: Part Three – Hannover
Germany has featured regularly on the pages of Grown-up Travel Guide in the last year or two. As well as my regular visits for the ITB travel fair in Berlin every spring, who can forget the Wurst Adventure? My stomach will never forget it, that’s for sure…
Anyway the latter was a campaign created by the Nordic Travel Bloggers collective and following its great success the German Tourist Board for the Scandinavian market recently launched a new project to highlight the country’s potential as a city break destination.
As well as some of the major cities where the NTB bloggers will be discovering lesser-known areas and sights, the campaign has a major focus on other towns that are less familiar but equally worth a visit.
I was one of the first out the gate and travelled to three towns in Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) last week with Laura, a Finnish blogger.
The first place on the list was the rather lovely old town of Lüneburg. I had visited before but that was over 25 years ago so it was about time for an update…
Let me make it clear that my trip was sponsored by the German National Tourist Office for the Nordic region but also assure you that all opinions are my own, as they always are.
Since I was booked on the first flight out of Trondheim airport at 0600 I had to stagger out of bed at 0400, which is always unpleasant but I am getting more used to it. We do have direct international connections but I seem to be constantly visiting places that require a change of plane or two. Such is life, and I’m not complaining (well, not much).
After a quick and traffic-free drive to Værnes I took a flight to Copenhagen and basically went straight onto the next one to Hannover. No problems on the way and the weather on arrival was – as promised – fabulous. Germany was experiencing the same heatwave we had enjoyed in Norway the previous week but with the temperature control turned up to 11.
The forecast predicted highs of 32 degrees for Lüneburg this particular Thursday – suffice to say this is not exactly normal but it was going to be great to be able to extend the summer just a little.
From Hannover it’s a fair old distance to Lüneburg; the itinerary was a little unusual in its routing but we found out later that this was due to limitations regarding flights and accommodation. I thus headed for the train station at the airport and printed out my tickets from the machine using a code I had received.
With (fairly) typical German efficiency the journey was on-time and easy enough – I took a regular S-Bahn train a couple of stops and then changed for a double-decker version to Celle before switching to the ICE express to Lüneburg.
By the time I arrived, it was noon and swelteringly hot – especially emerging from the air-conditioned carriage. It’s not called ICE for nothing. Boom-tish!
Sorry about that. Anyway, like the proverbial mad dogs and Englishmen I went out in the midday sun, walking the fifteen minutes to my hotel for the night, the historic Das Stadthaus. This is both central and one of the closest hotels to the station, so I made it to my room without melting completely.
After having a welcome shower and unpacking I fired up Google Maps to search for a place for lunch. Recently my priorities on arriving in a new town are a) find my hotel, check in and dump my bags and b) find a brewery.
With priority a) successfully completed I soon found what I was looking for and was pleased to discover that there were a couple of options within five minutes walk. I got the impression I was going to like Lüneburg…
Mälzer Brau- und Tafelhaus
At the opposite end of Am Sande from my hotel, this place serves excellent food at a good price and more importantly excellent beer brewed on the premises. Centuries of tradition, strict laws governing ingredients and domination of the industry by a few huge companies combined to hold back the craft beer business in Germany.
The irony of not being able to taste a wide range of local brews in the country that is to many the spiritual home of beer has not been lost on thirsty visitors. Considering that the vast majority of the malt, wheat and hops used by brewers around the world comes from here just makes it even stranger.
Thankfully times are changing and microbreweries are popping up in most towns and cities, although Germany is way behind even Norway in this regard at the moment.
Malzer opened its doors – and taps – in 1997 so is quite well-established in German terms. They don’t brew a lot of fancy styles but what they do brew is excellent.
When I visited they had a pilsner (this is available year-round) and a seasonal wheat beer, and you won’t be surprised to learn that I chose the second.
It was very good too, and made a great accompaniment to a Flammkuchen.
Other seasonal brews include a Märzen and a Maibock, among many others. Chances are there will be something new each time you visit.
You don’t have to be a beerhead to visit, either – the food menu is extensive and good value and the outdoor seating is a bonus when the weather allows.
Mälzer Brau- und Tafelhaus, Heiligengeiststraße 43, 21335 Lüneburg, Germany
Zum Alten Brauhaus
I still had some time to kill before meeting our guide so I nipped into this place round the corner. This is (as the name suggests, assuming you can read German) a much older establishment. In fact, having been in business for over 500 years it is one of the oldest pubs in the country.
They serve a couple of house beers from their own brewery, but I believe these are produced in a different location rather than on the premises. I didn’t have time to check but that seems to be the case.
Regardless, they are unique to the restaurant and very good – I recommend the Kellerbier. The food here has a good reputation, too.
Suitably refreshed, I made my way to the tourist office to meet Laura and our guide to Lüneburg, Susanne.
We then set off on a walking tour of the town, which began with some background information.
Lüneburg is a town built on salt – both figuratively and literally. The white stuff brought wealth and expansion and parts of the old town are built upon a dome of salt which resulted in subsidence problems after large quantities were mined.
Tradition tells us that the salt was first discovered by a hunter who chanced upon a wild boar bathing in a pool of water, shot and killed it, and hung the skin up to dry. When it was dry, he noticed white crystals in the bristles. Lo and behold – sodium chloride.
The first production of salt allegedly commenced right there shortly afterwards and tradition also tells us that said wild boar has since been known as Lüne. There is even a bone on display in the town hall which is supposed to have come from the poor chap.
Lüneburg maintained a monopoly on the supply of salt to the region for decades and was rapidly incorporated into the Hanseatic League – soon becoming one of its richest and most important members.
When the Hanseatic League collapsed Lüneburg lost its best customers and its wealth. After this time (around 1560) almost no new construction took place which explains why the appearance of the town has been largely unchanged since.
More recently Lüneburg gained recognition when the German Instrument of Surrender was signed that brought the Second World War in Europe to an end just south of the town. Heinrich Himmler killed himself in the town while being held by the British Army and is buried in an unmarked location in a nearby forest.
The town was in a sorry state after the war but thankfully has been carefully restored since the early 1970s. Initially the idea was actually raised to destroy the old part and put up new buildings but thankfully this met with protests and was scrapped.
Nowadays the restored buildings are one of the biggest tourist draws to Lüneburg.
Another is the Lüneburg Heath, a 7400 square kilometre paradise for lovers of the outdoors. Being just over 50 km from Hamburg with excellent rail and road connections, Lüneburg is easy to reach, too.
The salt mine closed in 1980, marking the end of a thousand years of salt mining. The university opened in 1989 which boosted the population, which currently stands at around 72,000.
A lot of pubs
One more fact worth mentioning – Lüneburg has the highest concentration of pubs in Europe after Madrid. So there’s that, too…
You know what? I filmed the tour with my new toy (a DJI Osmo) and added some explanatory text and cool jazz music. Sounds good? Check it out and let me know what you think!
We started our walk at the town hall, which is a splendid building on the market square. Actually it’s a complex of buildings and is still in use today. The tourist information centre is located here and has plenty of material about Luneburg and its surroundings.
The pregnant house
Just across the road from the tourist office you’ll find a house with a bulging wall. This illusion of pregnancy was caused by the bricks used in construction expanding after years of absorbing moisture.
A large area of the historic old town is built on a salt dome, and when new techniques allowed the mining of bigger volumes of the stuff this caused instability. The situation is monitored continuously and civil engineers in Lüneburg are highly experienced in saving buildings…
A lot of the decor on the old buildings is in the roof – so it’s a good idea to keep looking up so you don’t miss the typical ‘rope’ design and ‘step’ shapes.
I was hardly going to miss this off the list, was I now? All though I have a confession to make – I didn’t get to visit as it wasn’t included on our itinerary due to some incomprehensible error. But I’ll definitely give it a look when I return and suggest you do too.
Brauereimuseum, Heiligengeiststraße 39, 21335 Lüneburg, Germany
This has to be the first time I’ve included a McDs in a list of sights, but there is some justification in this case and you don’t have to eat there. That, I do not recommend.
The reason for its inclusion is that in order to open in such a prominent position at the top of Am Sande, the Americans had to adapt. The ‘M’ sign is considerably toned down and the beautiful Baroque ceiling inside has been preserved and is worth seeing.
But you can see it from the outside, which saves a little time, then you can turn your attention to to other side of Heiligengeiststraße…
Chamber of Commerce
The Chamber of Commerce building at the western end of Am Sande is quite something, as you can see. It was beautifully restored and has perhaps one of the most attractive facades in Luneburg.
I’ve referred to this a few times; it’s just a wide street where you can catch buses, but the fact that it has been kept free of private cars at most times of the day is a boon and allows pedestrians to enjoy the by-now-habitual act of ‘roof-watching’.
Old Hamburg road
It’s a little hard to believe, but Kleine Bäckerstraße used to be the main highway to Hamburg. Not exactly the Autobahn, let’s put it like that. You’ll need to watch the video to see this though.
Samowar Tea & Records
Presumably combining two of the passions of its owner, this eclectic store does actually have more than just tea and vinyl – you can also shop for home decor items or simply enjoy a coffee, tea or (more realistically, in my case) a craft beer in its rather cute courtyard out the back.
Samowar Tea & Records, Am Sande 33, 21335 Lüneburg, Germany
PraLüne Schokoladenmanufaktur & Caféhaus
Remember the legend of Lüne, the wild boar that led the hunter to the salt? Well, this local chocalatier was rather clever, creating the PraLüne, as opposed to a praline. It works better in German. But yes, as you would expect this is a chocolate and salt combo and the chocolates here are hand-made, too.
PraLüne Schokoladenmanufaktur & Caféhaus, Am Berge 26, 21335 Lüneburg, Germany
If you buy a PraLüne or three, might I suggest popping over the road to buy a coffee as an accompaniment? Here at Ratzsch they grind and roast on the premises, and the machines seemed to be constantly spinning whenever I walked past…
Kaffeerösterei Ratzsch, Am Berge 19, 21335 Lüneburg, Germany
The old crane
Am Stintmarkt, by the Ilmenau river, is probably the most touristy street in town but worth a wander nevertheless.
One side is almost exclusively devoted to restaurants and bars, most of which afford a nice view of both the water and the Alter Kran (old crane) on the opposite bank.
This contraption was used to load and unload boats and dates from 1346, believe it or not. The crane is in superb condition and actually works – we got a peek inside (tourist guides have the key) and I can confirm that making it move is a labour-intensive process.
Alter Kran, Am Fischmarkt, 21135 Lüneburg
Another essential sight in Lüneburg is the old water tower. Something of an architectural wonder, the tower is over 100 years old and boasts spectacular views of the town.
Once able to hold half a million litres of water, today it houses several exhibitions about its history and water-related topics.
Entrance costs EUR 4 and there is a lift most of the way up, with a spiral staircase taking you to the open roof on the 6th floor.
You can walk down, taking in the displays on the way (unfortunately these are all in German only.)
Wasserturm Lüneburg, Bei der Ratsmühle, 21335 Lüneburg
Dinner – Das Kleine restaurant
For dinner in the evening we had a table booked for us at Das Kleine in the aforementioned Am Stintmarkt, and we were lucky enough to be seated right on the riverside.
With such beautiful weather, this was perfect on a warm summer’s evening.
Food was mostly traditional, local specialities and we were both impressed with our choices. After being basically an involuntary vegetarian for months (due to pressure from our teenage daughter) I decided to go a bit nuts and went for crispy black pudding.
It was lovely.
Das Kleine, Am Stintmarkt 8, 21335 Lüneburg, Germany
Hotel – Das Stadthaus
Our accommodation was this hotel that originally started business in 1880. As noted earlier, it is in a very convenient and central location in Lüneburg and has a cozy cafe with garden area out back.
I was given a large room on the third floor (there is no lift so it’s bit of a drag if you have heavy bags but you’ll cope). One of Lüneburg’s churches is very close so you will be hearing its bells every 15 minutes – but don’t worry, they stop at night.
A well as an excellent bed, there was a decent-sized desk and ample storage space.
The bathroom was compact but had everything I needed and the shower was great.
Here is a video of the room:
Breakfast was excellent, with a wide selection served in the cafe.
You can eat out in the garden if you wish, too.
To conclude, I would highly recommend Das Stadthaus when visiting Lüneburg for its facilities, style and location. It is also good value.
Das Stadthaus, Am Sande 25, 21335 Lüneburg, Germany
So that was all the time we had in Lüneburg – after less than 24 hours we were off again. I very much enjoyed the town and will definitely return – and as a supplement to a stay in Hamburg it is ideal. It’s easy to focus only on the big cities when visiting Germany but it pays to veer a little off the beaten track – and Lüneburg is a great place to start.