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 leading city of the Hanseatic League ("Queen of the Hanse"). Because of its extensive Brick Gothic architecture, it 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 railway 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; the latter had moved on in the course of the Migration Period. In the early 9th century Charlemagne, whose efforts to Christianise the area were opposed by the Saxons, expelled 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 as a German settlement in 1143 by Adolf II, Count of Schauenburg and Holstein, on the river island Bucu. He built 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. With the council dominated by merchants, Lübeck's politics were led by pragmatic 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 as part of Denmark until the Battle of Bornhöved in 1227.
In the 14th century Lübeck became the "Queen of the Hanseatic League", being by far the largest and most powerful member of this medieval trade organization. In 1375, Emperor Charles IV named Lübeck one of the five "Glories of the Empire", a title shared with Venice, Rome, Pisa and Florence. Several conflicts about trade privileges were fought by Lübeck and the Hanseatic League against Denmark and Norway with varying outcomes. While Lübeck and the Hanseatic League prevailed in conflicts in 1435 and 1512, Lübeck lost when it became involved in the Count's Feud, a civil war that raged in Denmark from 1534 to 1536. Lübeck also joined the Schmalkaldic League.
After its defeat in the Count's Feud, Lübeck's power slowly declined. The city remained neutral in the Thirty Years' War, but, the combination of the devastation from the decades-long war and the new transatlantic orientation of European trade, caused the Hanseatic League and thus Lübeck to decline in importance. But, after the Hanseatic League was de facto disbanded in 1669, Lübeck still remained an important trading town on the Baltic Sea.
The great Danish-German composer Dieterich Buxtehude (born in what is present-day Sweden) was appointed as the organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck in 1668 and served in the post until at least 1703.
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 6 November 1806. Under the Continental System, the bank went into bankruptcy. 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), Hitler ended the 711-year-long independence of Lübeck, and ensured that 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 ethnic German refugees expelled from eastern Europe, the so-called former Eastern provinces of Germany.
Lübeck remained part of Schleswig-Holstein after the war (and consequently lay within West Germany). It was situated directly on what became 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, which separated the Germanys by less than in many parts. The northernmost border crossing was in Lübeck's district of Schlutup. Lübeck spent decades restoring its historic city centre. In 1987 this area was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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, which were discovered after the cathedral had been badly damaged during World War II. Instead he painted new works which he 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 initially considered this evidence for the early discovery of America by the Vikings. Malskat later revealed the deception himself. Günter Grass featured this incident in his novel The Rat.