If Holstentor looks familiar, this might be because you have glimpsed it on a German 2 Euro coin. Built in the 15th century, Holstentor (also known as Holsten Tor or Holsten Gate) was part of the medieval defences of the Hanseatic city of Lübeck and is one of only 2 of the original 4 gates of the city, the other being Burgtor.
Today, Holstentor is one of a long list of buildings included as part of the UNESCO Hanseatic City of Lubeck site. Looking like it has come straight out of a fairytale, inside this medieval gem is the city museum of Lübeck.
In medieval times, Lübeck was one of the member-cities of the Hanseatic League, an important merchant bloc which dominated trade in the North and Baltic Seas. This status meant the rich city of Lübeck felt the need to protect themselves with strong fortifications.
What remains of the middle of increasingly strengthened gates is now known as Holstentor. The history of Holstentor is therefore that of 4 consecutive gates. In the 15th century, the entire gate construction was felt inadequate. Guns and canons had made the earlier fortifications seem useless, so funding was found and the city’s architect, Hinrich Helmstede, began construction in 1464.
Completed in 1478, the Holstentor was built on top of a hill raised to 7 metres. However, the south tower soon began to sag in the marshy ground. As a result, in the early 19th century the outer and inner gates were removed, leaving only the Middle Holsten Gate.
Lübeck’s citizenry petitioned to keep the final gate at a time when there was every-growing resistance to destroying old buildings and by the time the gate was restored in 1871, Holstentor was seen as as a symbol of a proud past. Unfortunately, this belief was shared by the Nazis, who turned Holstentor into a museum called ‘The Hall of Honor and Glory’ according to their ideology.
Today, the Nazi museum is long gone. Visitors approaching Holstentor will notice from the field-side there are few windows – incase of attack – underneath the imposing twin towers. Those approaching from the city-side are faced with a more intricately designed and windowed wall.
Inside, the museum now hosts an exhibition called ‘The Power of Trade’, tracing Lubeck’s Hanseatic history in Northern Europe. You can view the museum between 11am and 5pm each day of the week.
Getting to Holstentor
Holstentor is easily found on foot, on a road and within a park of the same name. Buses 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17, 21, 30, 31, 32, 39 and 40 all stop along Holstentorplatz, just seconds walk from the gate, and there is a parkplatz for cars just off the street on Wallstraße.
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