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Articles Blog

Hamburg, Germany

Karyn Planett

History All Around

This notable region is so rich with tidbits and factoids, this’s and that’s, that we’d best roll up our dirndl sleeves and get right to work.  Let’s just begin by realizing that this trio of northern German cities has much more to offer than your time allows, so plan wisely to sample its magic.

The City of Kiel and its Famous Canal

With a population approaching 70,000, Kiel is the capital of one of Germany’s 16 states, Schleswig-Holstein, and is found on the Jutland Peninsula.  This finger of land between the Baltic and the North Sea is a patchwork of rural farms punctuated by drifting sand dunes that serve as a summer destination.  The town of Kiel features Germany’s largest passenger port and is the kick-off point for the Kiel Canal, a 61-mile-long, man-made waterway opened by Kaiser Wilhelm II on June 21, 1948.  Should you visit London’s Science Museum, you’ll be able to see some grainy footage shot by Britain’s director Birt Acres of this event, the result of 9,000 workers who labored on the project for eight rough years.

Considered by local authorities to be the world’s busiest man-made waterway, the canal cuts off 280 nautical miles for vessels traveling between the two seas.  More than 40,000 ships pass through yearly.  It also affords yachties some challenging sailing.  Non-sailors can simply take in Kiel’s Holstenstrasse, a colorful walking street, or one of the many parks including Schrevenpark or Schliksee Lake.  Use the Rathaus’ (Town Hall’s) 67-metre-high tower as your landmark guide.

Lubeck’s Place In History

Covered in a medieval veneer, this former capital of the Hanseatic League speaks to its rich past.  The towering brick buildings create bold facades where powerful men and women once wove the web of trading partners across Northern Europe into the powerful Hanseatic League.

Founded in 1143, Lubeck is considered to be the first western city along the Baltic coast.  Important remnants from centuries past include its famous main gate and signature structure, the Holstentor, with its cone-peaked towers that once appeared on the 50 Deutsche Mark note.  Men toiled between 1464 and 1478 to erect these city walls and towers, in places 10 feet thick.

Though in the direct crosshairs of Allied bombers, approximately 1000 structures from the 12th and 13th centuries survived wartime destruction.  Lubeck’s Old Town, or Altstadt, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.   Passing through the Holstentor, your exploration should begin at the 13th-century Rathaus, or Town Hall, a display of black glazed bricks, peaked windows, and gilded touches.  The Marktplatz itself dates back to 1230.  And the Marienkirsche, St. Mary’s, is the country’s third largest church featuring the world’s biggest mechanized organ.  It seems only fitting that this setting inspired two Nobel Prize winners for literature – Thomas Mann and Gunter Grass.

Need a “sugar hit” after all this wandering.  Lubeck is touted to be the town where marzipan was invented.  The story goes that during a 1407 famine, bakers used the only ingredients they had – almonds, sugar, egg whites and rosewater – to bake.  JG Niederegger is considered the most famous marzipan maker and his salon of the same name has been serving up this sweet treat for two centuries.  For the record, some historians dispute this claim and theorize, instead, that sea captains brought this delicacy to Lubeck from the Middle Eastern harems they diddled about in while overseas.

And Speaking of Hamburg..ers

Ray Kroc, step aside!  The “Father” of the hamburger was none other than, you guessed it, Genghis Khan.  His army, traveling and tromping about on horseback, often stayed in the saddle for days on end.  And much like today’s mobile population, they ate on the go—often only a mere patty of “scraped” meat that spent a bit of “curing” time under the saddle to make it more palatable.

The great warrior’s son, Kublai Khan, took this delicacy to Moscow when he invaded Russia.  There it became known as “Steak Tartare” after the Russian name for Mongols.  In the 1600s, ships from Hamburg began trading with Russian ports and brought the concoction back to Germany where it eventually became known as “Hamburg Steak”.

Waves of German immigrants in the 18th and 19th centuries packed a burger or two as they made the treacherous crossing to America, to the back alleyways of New York.  Low-grade cuts of beef were shredded, mixed with spices and cooked as a dietary staple for the poorer immigrant classes. The graduation of the “hamburger” to fast food madness is a good deal cloudier and frankly, less interesting.

Hamburg, for the record, is Germany’s second largest city after Berlin.  Draped on the banks of the Rivers Elbe, Alster and Bille, it’s laced with 2300 bridges, even more than Venice as the town fathers proclaim.  A boat ride around the Docklands will introduce you to this aquatic city.

Important “land”marks include the Renaissance-style Rathaus (City Hall), a trio of churches including St. Michael’s, St. Peter’s, and St. Nicholas’s, which was the world’s tallest building in the 19th Century.  Do grab a burger and stroll about this glorious city.