Visiting Lübeck, Germany was one of those lucky coincidences that sometimes happen when traveling.
But inside the famous Holsten Gate, we discovered a wonderful, history-filled city that lights up when night falls.
Walking under the arch into the ancient walled city, we noticed that the side of the gate facing the city is dated 1477, which is the year it was made.
Another date, 1871, commemorates the year that the town voted to save the gate instead of tearing it down with the rest of the walls.
The story we heard is that the restoration resolution passed by only one vote, leaving the gate as one of the last remnants of the walls that once protected the city.
The refurbished gate, with its distinctive towers, went on to become the symbol of the city, and actually became quite famous, appearing on several stamps and the old fifty Deutsche Mark bills.
Now, the German version of the two euro coin proudly displays the gate.
After walking a few blocks into the city, we came to the pedestrian mall in the center of town.
Hanging a left took us to the Lübecker Rathaus, a pleasant surprise if there ever was one.
This is the town hall by which all other town halls should be judged.
Construction began in the year 1230, and was completed in 1308.
Over time, additions were added to the hall to accommodate the Supreme Court for the region and a Danzelhusand (dancehall) for community events.
Before too long, the structure covered an entire city block.
There are a number of intriguing details about the building that popped out on closer inspection.
The glazed bricks, vaulted ceilings inside, and figures decorating the little balcony were all eye catching, but for us the different-sized doors for exiting the courthouse were most fascinating.
It turns out that the taller doorway was for those of the accused found to be innocent, while the shorter was reserved for the guilty.
The incredible building served as a meeting place for the Hanseatic League, a powerful alliance of Baltic and North Sea traders that lasted for over five centuries.
The presence of the league gave Lübeck a stature well beyond its size, and it became the de facto capital for the area.
By the 14th century, Lübeck became known as Queen of the Hanseatic League.
In fact, although it is part of Germany now, for most of its existence it was an independent city-state, the Free and Hanseatic City of Lübeck.
As compelling as this jaunt through history was, we were ready to eat.
On the recommendation of our hotel desk clerk we popped in to Potter’s, known for serving traditional regional fare.
The little cafe sits on the banks of the Trave River, which splits to form a natural moat around the old city center.
This provided us with a feeling of safe haven while having our dinner without the threat of any invading hoards.
The specials on the menu were completely unknown to us – which is always right up our alley.
The first, päron, bönor och bacon, was well described as pears, beans and bacon with potatoes, but also included the quote:
“vad var där för att Mormor redan,” which the menu told us meant:
“What gave grandma already to pears.”
Our old friend Google also informed us that this was not in German, but Swedish.
We asked our server for an explanation and got no farther in our understanding, but ordered it anyway.
We figured if it’s good enough for grandma…
The other special, Labskaus, seemed clear enough; mashed potatoes, corned beef, onions, beets, cucumber, egg, and a herring fillet, but when we asked about it the answer took an unlikely turn.
Our server explained that it tastes good, but looks terrible. Oh, and yes, we should definitely try it.
Her exact words were, “It looks like scheiße.”
Now we don’t claim to sprechen sie Deutsch, but we do know just enough German to know what that meant.
We ordered it anyway… and beer, just in case we needed to wash it down quickly.
When the dishes arrived we found that grandma, and our server, didn’t steer us wrong.
The pears, cooked with bacon and green beans, were certainly different and new, but really worked extremely well together.
On the other hand, the Labskaus fit the less than appealing description given to a T.
Without a doubt, the meat mashed into the potatoes gave it a distinctively less-than-appetizing — dare we said it scheiße look — but it tasted good, sort of like corned beef hash with a fried egg on top.
We couldn’t really discern what the herring was doing alongside, nor the beets and gherkins.
It was very much like there were two completely separate dishes served on the same plate.
However, we were happy to add another couple of new local favorites to our epicurean adventure list, and we certainly weren’t leaving hungry.
In fact, we were fairly certain that we might never be hungry again.
That notion was short-lived though, we put it thoroughly to the test as soon as we discovered a genuine Swedish smorgasbord in Stockholm a few days later.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
YOUR TURN: Don’t you love those unexpected stops while traveling? Aren’t you glad that they didn’t tear that beautiful city gate down? How ’bout that food?