The Hanseatic City of Lübeck (Low German ) is the second-largest city in Schleswig-Holstein, in northern Germany, and one of the major ports of Germany. Situated on the river Trave, it was for several centuries the "capital" of the Hanseatic League ("Queen of the Hanse") and, because of its Brick Gothic architectural heritage, is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. In 2005 it had a population of 213,983.
The old part of Lübeck is on an island enclosed by the Trave. The Elbe–Lübeck Canal connects the Trave with the Elbe River. Another important river near the town centre is the Wakenitz. The Autobahn 1 connects Lübeck with Hamburg and Denmark (Vogelfluglinie). The borough of Travemünde is a sea resort and ferry port on the coast of the Baltic Sea. Its central station links Lübeck to a number of lines, notably the line to Hamburg.
Around AD 700 Slavic peoples started coming into the eastern parts of Holstein which had previously been settled by Germanic inhabitants who had left in the course of the Migration Period. In the early 9th century Charlemagne, whose attempts to Christianise the area were opposed by the Saxons, moved the Saxons out and brought in Polabian Slavs, allied to Charlemagne, in their stead. Liubice ("lovely") was founded on the banks of the river Trave about four kilometres north of the present-day city centre of Lübeck. In the 10th century it became the most important settlement of the Obotrite confederacy and a castle was built. The settlement was burned down in 1128 by the pagan Rani from Rügen.
The modern town was founded by Adolf II, Count of Schauenburg and Holstein, in 1143 as a German settlement on the river island Bucu. He established a new castle which was first mentioned by Helmold in 1147. Adolf had to cede the castle to Henry the Lion in 1158. After Henry's fall from power in 1181, the town became an Imperial city for eight years. Emperor Barbarossa ordained that the city should have a ruling council of twenty members. Being dominated by merchants, it meant Lübeck's politics were dominated by trade interests for centuries to come. The council survived into the 19th century.
The town and castle changed ownership for a period afterwards and were part of the Duchy of Saxony until 1192, of the County of Holstein until 1217 and part of Denmark until the Battle of Bornhöved in 1227.
After its defeat in the Count's Feud, Lübeck's power slowly declined. The city managed to remain neutral in the Thirty Years' War, but with the devastation caused by the decades-long war and the new transatlantic orientation of European trade, the Hanseatic League and thus Lübeck lost importance. However, after the Hanseatic League was de facto disbanded in 1669, Lübeck still remained an important trading town on the Baltic Sea.
In the course of the war of the Fourth Coalition against Napoleon, troops under Bernadotte occupied the neutral Lübeck after a battle against Blücher on November 6, 1806. Under the Continental System, the bank went into bankruptcy and from 1811 to 1813 Lübeck was formally annexed as part of France until the Vienna Congress of 1815.
In 1937 the Nazis passed the so-called Greater Hamburg Act, whereby the nearby Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg was expanded, to encompass towns that had formally belonged to the Prussian province of Schleswig-Holstein. To compensate Prussia for these losses (and partly because Hitler had a personal dislike for Lübeck after it had refused to allow him to campaign there in 1932), the 711-year-long independence of Lübeck came to an end and almost all its territory was incorporated into Schleswig-Holstein.
On 3 May 1945, one of the biggest disasters in naval history occurred in the Bay of Lübeck when RAF bombers sank three ships - the SS Cap Arcona, the SS Deutschland, and the SS Thielbek - which, unknown to them, were packed with concentration-camp inmates. About 7,000 people were killed.
Lübeck's population grew considerably from about 150,000 in 1939 to more than 220,000 after the war, owing to an influx of refugees expelled from the former Eastern provinces of Germany.
Lübeck remained part of Schleswig-Holstein after the war (and consequently lay within West Germany) and was situated directly on the inner German border during the division of Germany into two states in the Cold War period. South of the city the border followed the path of the river Wakenitz that separated both countries by less than in many parts. The northernmost border crossing was in Lübeck's district of Schlutup. Lübeck's restored historic city centre became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
Lübeck was the scene of a notable art scandal in the 1950s. Lothar Malskat was hired to restore the medieval frescoes of the cathedral of the Marienkirche in Lübeck, which were discovered inside the walls after the cathedral had been badly damaged during World War II. Instead he painted new works which were passed off as restorations, fooling many experts. The West German government printed 2 million postage stamps depicting the frescoes. Among Malskat's additions were wild turkeys, unknown in Europe during the Middle Ages. Some experts considered this evidence for the early discovery of America by the Vikings. Malskat later exposed the deception himself. The incident plays a prominent role in Günter Grass's novel The Rat.
On the night of January 18, 1996, a fire broke out in a home for foreign refugees, killing 10 people and severely injuring more than 30 others, mostly children. While most of the shelter's inhabitants considered a racist motivation for the attack obvious, the police and the local court have been accused of having ruled out racism as a possible motive before even beginning preliminary investigations. The incident has not been elucidated to this day.