The J.S. Bach Tourist

6. Lübeck

Bach went to school in Lüneburg between 1700 and 1702 and spent several months in Lübeck in 1705. One thing I didn't realize before I became a J.S. Bach tourist is that Lüneburg and Lübeck were historically connected. The salt from Lüneburg was brought along the salt route to the harbor of Lübeck, from where it was exported to Scandinavia and other areas. In today's Lübeck, you can still see the impressive salt warehouses next to the famous Holsten Gate, which has become Lübeck's landmark. Since there were so many contacts between the two cities, Bach, in his Lüneburg period, must have heard a lot about Buxtehude's famous Abendmusiken (evening music) in the Marienkirche. Because Lübeck was also a very lively big city in those days, it must have been a major attraction for young Sebastian.

When we left Lüneburg for Lübeck, we tried to follow the old salt route (road 207, through 209). There was not much to see and what there was to see (Ratzeburg) we skipped because of time pressure. Due to slow traffic, it took us a while to reach Lübeck and upon arrival there, the downtown section was officially barely accessible for cars. Since I recognized the twin towers of Buxtehude's Marienkirche (picture on the right) and since I knew that there was a parking garage in its vicinity, I ignored several "no entrance" traffic signs and took what I thought was the shortest route to the church. We found the parking garage closest to the church and there happened to be plenty of room.

The two towers of the Marienkirche are not like the typical Gothic church tower you see elsewhere in Europe, but gigantic versions of towers you usually only see with village churches. Standing in front of these towers is a really overwhelming experience and I am sure these are among Europe's biggest twin church towers. The Marienkirche is squeezed between the Mengstrasse with Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks House and Lübeck's characteristic Gothic town hall with its series of minaret-like towers.

The Marienkirche is a 5-nave Gothic brick church, like Böhm's Johanniskirche in Lüneburg. However, the Marienkirche is truly gigantic in comparison. It is in this impressive setting that Bach attended Buxtehude's evening concerts and, possibly, even participated in it as a performing musician. Lübeck, a harbor and commercial center, organized the concerts as an attraction for businessmen. Times have changed, because nowadays businessmen are no longer attracted by church concerts, but by skyboxes in soccer stadiums at best.

Anyway, the interior of the Marienkirche is not the same as in Bach's days. On March 28-29, 1942, the church was badly damaged by Allied bombs (picture on the left), presumably dropped by young British or American war heroes who had never heard of Bach, let alone of Buxtehude. The church has a small photo exhibit of those events. In the chapel next to the southern tower, one can find the bells, smashed on the ground and left the way they fell during the bombing. All of this is very shocking and during our subsequent walks through the streets of Lübeck we couldn't forget the catastrophes that had happened to the frightened citizens of Lübeck in 1942. The streets of downtown Lübeck are very pretty, and in part well-restored. We walked in the Breite Strasse, from the town hall and Konditerei Niederegger, famous for its marzipan, to the Jacobikirche, famous for its organs and Bach concerts. The Jacobikirche also is a 5-nave Gothic brick-church, but much smaller than the Marienkirche. Traditionally, it was Lübeck's church for sailors, and it is really worth a visit.

We walked back through the König-strasse, to the Katharinenkirche with its lovely side street and then towards the town hall again. The famous town hall does not look very authentic and, frankly, I think the way it has been restored is a joke, as if it comes from Niederegger's marzipan store. In spite of its partially recovered beauty, Lübeck is a town in which the J.S. Bach tourist cannot really forget the ugly face of German history.

In the car, on our way back to Holland, I was thinking of Lübeck's most famous son, Thomas Mann and how right he had been by connecting Martin Luther and Adolf Hitler in his novel Doktor Faustus. Post-war Germany has been an admirable democracy and the people seem to have successfully liberated themselves from their catastrophic past. But what I will never understand is that Martin Luther still is honored as a moral hero and an accepted founding father of German culture. All those Bach churches we visited still call themselves "Lutheran". Given Germany's recent history, this is alarming because Luther was a man full of hatred and what he wrote about the Jews is almost indistinguishable from what Julius Streicher or Hitler wrote (and also, Jews were already being killed in those days, as I learned in Mühlhausen, and expelled from German lands under Luther's direct influence). It's one of the paradoxes of history that Bach wrote his heavenly music within the framework of a tradition established by the man who gave Germany it's particular brand of paranoic anti-Semitism and xenophobic hatred for other creeds.

Like in Leipzig the year before, I discovered in Lübeck that traces of Bach's time in Germany can only be found through a filter of destruction as left by Europe's near-apocalypse. At the end of this tragic century, there is hope again, but at least one Bach tourist would have felt more comfortable if he had found more appreciation of Thomas Mann's shocking insight (in Germany and the Germans) that Bach's Martin Luther and his mentality were at the root of so many German, and therefore European, catastrophes of our times.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 2. Eisenach 3. Ohrdruf
4. Lüneburg Heath 5. Lüneburg 6. Lübeck 7. Arnstadt
8. Dornheim 9. Mühlhausen 10. Weimar
11. Köthen 12. Leipzig

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