A housewith habits

Some houses are just a home, others a life's work: Architects Nicola Petereit and Jörg Haufe live with their children in a centuries-old craftsmen's house in Lübeck's Old Town that they have renovated on their own initiative - with rooms as small as a doll's house and not a single right angle.

Three rooms, kitchen, hallway, bathroom, anyone can do that. If, on the other hand, you like unconventional living, you should take a trip to the Old Town of Lübeck, for example to Fleischhauerstraße. It used to be home to butchers, but today the street is famous for its many listed buildings. Each of them has its own history and personality. This is also the home of the Petereit Haufe family we visit.

Corridors in coffin width

When we press the bell button at number 100/102, a cheerful Nicola Petereit opens the door. In the background, Jörg Haufe and the couple’s daughter Irma are waiting for us. Today the youngest of four children will be our guide and show us around. But before we follow the 9-year-old we learn something about the architecture of Lübeck’s Old Town. "The classic structure of the houses with the typical high-ceilinged entrance hall consists of a front building, a half-shifted side wing and often courtyard buildings," explains Nicola Petereit. While merchants or craftsmen lived in the front and stored goods on the floor above the entrance hall, journeymen and maids slept in the side wing. As a result of the population growth during the Hanseatic era and later during the times of industrialization, the living space on the Old Town hill surrounded by the rivers Trave and Wakenitz was densified. Passages were walled into the front buildings so that the backyards were accessible and could be built on. These passages were as narrow as possible to save precious space and as wide as necessary to allow at least one coffin to pass through. This is how the "alleys and courtyards" were created, today idyllic oases that are so unique that UNESCO declared the medieval Old Town a World Heritage Site in 1987. Around ninety of them have been preserved to this day and most of them can be explored freely.

The craftsman's house where the couple lives also has such a corridor, which today serves as a bicycle garage. The house was originally an ensemble of two buildings (numbers100 + 102), which were merged during the renovation. The result is a 200 sqm floor plan, with two entrances and staircases, a courtyard, countless steps, 13 levels and 17 more or less large rooms, leaving visitors somewhat disoriented at first. While Irma leads us through the house from front to back, we discover small niches, cupboards and many historical details from different eras everywhere. Just like the wooden coffers and stucco ceilings in the rooms of the two daughters, which the landlord used to live in. "Here you can clearly see that the craftsman who once lived here had a thoroughly representative claim," explains Jörg Haufe. "Although he was tied to the guild and was therefore not allowed to earn as much as he could have, this did not stop him from following suit with the merchant," he explains.

Creativity is a talent that Petereit Haufes shares with their predecessors, as the individual problem solutions reveal. In the kitchen, for example, next to the hammock stretched across the room, a highly visible rectangular acoustic panel was hung on the wall to reduce the sound in the room. It is made of an absorbent foam for acoustics and covered with red velvet. In the rooms on the first floor, the original box-type windows were left in place, and a second window was installed on the inside of each room, with a magnetic closing mechanism similar to that of a refrigerator. Among other things they serve as heat retention. When the couple of architects were awarded the contract for Fleischhauerstraße 100/102 in a forced sale in 1996, they had not even viewed the inside of their future home. "Was it something like love at first sight", we speculated during such an insane purchase. "No, it had nothing to do with that, more with a thirst for adventure," says Nicola Petereit. Both had just finished their studies in Aachen and wanted to turn the house into a private project. The offer for 119,000 DM seemed quite tempting. Nevertheless, the family had to contribute a considerable amount work and show a lot of patience.

It was not until 2002, six years after the purchase, that Petereit Haufes could finally move in. "One year we didn't enter the building at all, because we thought it was just too much to handle," the architect says looking back. For the "old lady", whose earliest parts date back to the 16th century, quickly taught both of them who sets the pace during the renovation period. "As an architect I am often surprised that these houses are still standing," says Nicola Petereit with a laugh and shows us the rotten stump of a roof beam in the small library, cleverly and stylishly supported by a steel girder. "They probably do it just out of habit." The "organism" of the walls is sensitive: even small changes in this tried and tested system could have undreamt-of consequences ¬- for example a floor that sinks or a sloping wall that causes the structural designer to panic. Not always beautiful, "but a very good school", as the architect says. The close cooperation with Lübeck's monument conservation authorities had taught her respect above all. "One must always remember how old such a building is and how short our time in it is."

The art of creating a community

After all the lessons they were allowed and had to learn in their home, they still haven't had enough. Already in spring, they will move to another house located a bit further up on Fleischhauerstraße. There they will move into a somewhat smaller craftsmen's house, also because two children have already left the nest. This time it’s a relatively young house from 1880 in the rear building of a painting shop. "Sure we are sad about this step," admits Nicola Petereit. It took her two years to warm to the idea, but she finally saw the many advantages. On the one hand, there is privacy and on the other, a large courtyard with sunshine. Due to the high building density, both aspects are in short supply in the Old Town. While the couple used to get their pinch of light on the terrace of Café Kandinsky, they want to do so in their own garden in the future.

But there is one thing quite obvious: They will definitely never want to leave Fleischhauerstraße. Because they are convinced that anyone who lives here is not only buying a house, but a community. The character of the neighbourhood that urban developers nowadays like to see everywhere, the short distances the close proximity of living together, were created by the people who lived here in the Middle Ages and later the industrialization era. Because only together were they strong against attackers. Today the threats from outside are history in the truest sense of the word, but the special way of living remains topical. It almost feels like being in a large shared flat. And the architect couple does not want to do without it in the future either.


The property of house no. 100/102 has a long and exciting history: In 1381 it belonged to the bone-cutter Ditmar Grundys. The butcher's profession was respected and brought a good income, but it did not give him a say in town politics. In 1384 the bone-cutters, including Grundys, rebelled against their low social status. Many of the rebels were executed. Ditmar Grundys was able to flee, but lost his land and property.

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