How it all began

Castle Monastery & Castle Gate in Lübeck

Hanseatic history and modern life behind old walls

Everything began on Bucu hill in the North of the town. This was where the “Queen of the Hanseatic League” was born for it was here that Adolf II von Schauenburg built a castle in 1143 and founded Lübeck as the first German harbour town on the Baltic Sea. In 1229, a monastery was built to replace the castle in the form of a Dominican monastery in honour of its patron saint Maria Magdalena. There were 4 monasteries in Lübeck in the Middle Ages. The Castle Monastery is considered one of the most important medieval monastery complexes in North Germany and forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lübeck.

The Castle Gate is Lübeck’s oldest city gate

The Castle Gate is Lübeck’s oldest city gate of what were formerly four gates forming part of the medieval town fortifications. Along with the Holsten Gate, it is the only one that has been preserved to this day and still actively used as an entrance to the Old Town. And although it is a few years older than the Holsten Gate, it has always played second fiddle to the Holsten Gate in terms of fame. Quite unjustly as the Castle Gate is full of history and unique stories. As the Gate to the North, even in the 13th century, it guarded the only land link to the “Queen of the Hanseatic League” against invaders as the channel dug between the Wakenitz and the Trave that made the town an island only came several centuries later. It was named after the old castle complex situated high above the Trave that was converted to a monastery in 1227.

The most beautiful view

The landmarks of the city are even more impressive from the waterside.

> On the water

The castle monastery becomes a place of culture and Hanseatic history

Until 2011, in addition to the Kulturforum, the archaeological museum with the famous Lübeck coin treasure was located in the Castle monastery. In 2015 the restored Castle monastery was integrated into the modern ensemble of the European Hansemuseum and brought to new life through the exhibition on the history of the Hanseatic trading league. Explore the unique history of the castle monastery on your own or discover the eventful past with the help of an audio guide.

 

Journey through time in the European Hansemuseum

The European Hansemuseum invites you on a thrilling journey through 600 years of Hanseatic history. It tells all you need to know about the former international trading alliance of the Hanseatic League – of the courage of the merchants, life in foreign lands, wealth, pomp and circumstance, piracy, sickness and death. Tip: The roof terrace of the Hansemuseum offers you a magnificent panoramic view over the harbour and in the summer, it represents a social meeting point and a cool event location with its restaurants.

Awards

The European Hansemuseum has won multiple awards for its outstanding, modern architecture; among other awards, architect Andreas Heller won the DAM prize in 2017 for the Hansemuseum as a “natural synthesis of archaeology, conservation orders and new architecture with his plausible, fixed staging of the exhibition”. In 2019, Andreas Heller won the Schleswig-Holstein BDA award for the European Hansemuseum. Besides the blending of the new building with the castle hill, the jury praised the way in which the integration of the historical castle monastery with the museum seemed “self-evident”.

Did you know?

From monastery to court building

With the onset of the Reformation, the monastery was dissolved in 1531 and a poorhouse moved into the medieval premises. At the end of the 19th century, it was converted to a court building with adjoining remand centre. Two cells of the prison and a lay judge courtroom bear witness today to this stage in the castle monastery’s history. The castle monastery is thus at the same time a reminder of the time of National Socialism in Lübeck and the victims who were imprisoned and sentenced here.

Another spire

Lübeck, the city of the famous seven spires, even used to have an eighth spire. It belonged to the former Maria Magdalena church of the Castle Monastery, but it was torn down with the church in 1818. What a pity!

Thanks be to Mary

When the Danish King Waldemar II and his army were rampaging at the gates of Lübeck in order to capture the town, the princes around Lübeck and Lübeck’s citizens got together and the crucial battle took place near Bornhöved on 22 July 1227, the holy Maria Magdalena’s day. For a long time, the battle raged and the alliance was slowly losing ground because its soldiers were dazzled by the sun. There was a reason for this as on the morning of the battle, Lübeck’s councillors had assembled to pray to God and the holy Mary for help. In the event of winning the battle, they promised to build a monastery in honour of God and the holy Mary with the latter to be its patron saint. Their prayers were apparently answered as the holy Mary Magdalena appeared, held her cloak in front of the sun and darkened the sky. So the Castle Monastery was named after Mary Magdalena.

MON DIEU

The Castle Gate is indeed the only one of the four city gates to be attacked and overrun by enemy soldiers in battle over the centuries. For example, Napoleon’s French troops succeeded in entering the city in 1806 and occupying it for some years. This was the beginning of a tough time for Lübeck.

Doing their business

One special rarity from the time of the Napoleonic wars and the painful period of French occupation in Lübeck is a chamber pot with a picture of Napoleon at the bottom of it. When answering a call of nature, Lübeck citizens were thus able to express unmistakably what they thought of the hated occupier Napoleon, albeit in the dark.

An end to the stench

Although the people of Lübeck definitely resented Napoleonic rule, it wasn’t all bad from today’s perspective as the French introduced new, even revolutionary methods. For example, the French prefect introduced an official death register in 1811, and in 1812 a decree was issued banning burials within the city walls. Previously the dead – apart from victims of the plague, leprosy or cholera – had usually been buried in the churches, churchyards or within the walls of a monastery. There were good reasons for doing so as people were aware of their fallibility, saw themselves as weak sinners and felt threatened by Satan and his machinations. The fear that the Devil could seize their soul on their death was very real, and in spite of prior confession and absolution, people simply felt safer on ground over which Satan had no control. This led to a considerable shortage of space at the beginning of the 19th century and to problems of hygiene. Although the new directive on burials was initially rejected by the people of Lübeck and lifted again one year later when the city was freed, reason finally prevailed with the inauguration of the Castle Gate cemetery outside the gates of the city in 1832.

If you would like to immerse yourself in the exciting story of the medieval Castle Monastery, you can visit the European Hansemuseum and explore this historical monument that has been integrated with the modern architecture of the Hansemuseum.

The Lübeck Martyrs

In 1942, the Catholic chaplains Johannes Prassek, Hermann Lange, Eduard Müller and the Protestant pastor Karl Friedrich Stellbrink were imprisoned in the Castle monastery. Together they took a firm stand in public and among the parishioners entrusted to their care against the crimes of the Nazi regime.

 

Zu den Lübecker Märtyrern

NEW LIFE IN THE OLD CUSTOM'S HOUSE

To the right of the Castle Gate is the old customs house built of brick in the Renaissance style in 1571. When the nightly locking of the gates was lifted in Lübeck in 1864 and people arriving late were no longer charged an unlocking fee, the customs house lost its original significance and was used for other purposes. Last century, the well-known author Ida Boy-Ed, among others, lived in the customs house for some years as she had been given lifelong right of residence by the city for special achievements. Today, the “Drumburg” is located in the customs house, a drumming school with a music studio which breathes new life into the old walls. Tip: Below the city walls lies the small Ida-Boy-Ed garden that invites visitors to take a break in green surroundings.

 

Our Tip

Multicultural food in a unique historic ambiance on Koberg

> To Café Camino

Adjoining the Castle Gate on the left are the stables which also used to be part of the old town fortifications. Lübeck’s police guard was based here and there were stables in the inner courtyard. Today, a modern youth centre with students’ café, concerts and creative workshops bring young life and new energy to the medieval building.

Contact

Hinter der Burg 2-6

23552 Lübeck

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