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The Hanseatic League came into being in the 13th century when merchant towns and guilds belonging to central and northwestern Europe came together to promote trade, protect mutual interests and protect each other from invasions and plunder. The league burgeoned over three centuries, and gradually declined and faded away by the late 16th century. Let’s take a look at the former German Hanseatic cities that have not only held on to their maritime flair but are also wonderful places to explore.
Back when Hanseatic League was in full swing, Rostock was among the most significant centers along the route for goods handling, a fact that earned it the title of ‘Gateway to Scandinavia.’ This 800-year-old picturesque port city and romantic seaside resort still retains much of its maritime charm. The Schiffbau und Schifffahrtsmuseum (Shipbuilding and Maritime Museum) is a great place to learn in depth about various aspects of shipbuilding and Rostock‘s rich maritime history. The town also hosts a massive maritime-themed festival every summer.
Hamburg‘s famous port, dating back over eight centuries, was a vital link during the Hanseatic League. Today, Hamburg is an immensely popular city-escape destination, delighting tourists with its stunning architecture, interesting museums and burgeoning art, culture and music scene. The most iconic sight of Hamburg happens to be the Speicherstadt, an ensemble of buildings standing on oak log foundations along the river, making up the the largest coherent warehouse district in the world.
Korbach was one of the few members of the Hanseatic League that were not located near a river or on the coast. Despite this, Korbach quickly rose as a significant link in the Hanseatic League thanks to its location at the crossing of two significant medieval trading roads leading from Cologne to Leipzig and from Frankfurt to Bremen. Today, travelers can walk down history along the Goldspur Korbach (Golden Path), connecting all the major historic and modern architecture in town. When in Korbach, do stop by at the award-winning Wolfgang Bonhage Museum housed in an ancient warehouse dating back to the Hanseatic era.
Lüneburg, on the river Ilmenau, achieved the status of an important Hanseatic town and an economically-sound city owing to its high level of salt production in the Middle Ages. Most of the architecture of this historic city have been maintained in an almost-original condition, which gives the city an impression of being untouched by time. The German Salt Museum in Lüneburg is the perfect place to learn all about the rich history of salt production in town.
Wismar is a former Hanseatic city on the Baltic coast with a unique maritime flair. The main attraction of Wismar is its red-brick Gothic architecture, a specialty of northern Germany. The most significant landmarks in Wismar‘s skyline include Wasserkunst (a beautiful Renaissance welling house), the Classicist city hall, remains of Baroque fortifications and beautifully-preserved merchants’ houses. The annual Harbor Festival celebrates and honors the admirable maritime history of the town.
Lübeck enjoyed the status of being among the most important Hanseatic League cities back in the day, and earned the title of Queen of the Hanseatic League. European Hansemuseum in Lübeck is hands down the best place in the world to learn about the thrilling 800 years of the Hanseatic League. Alongside, this beautiful city promises excellent architecture (especially the iconic Holstentor) and pure, delicious marzipan.
Quedlinburg, a prosperous town and a prized member of the former Hanseatic League, is today the very picture of a quintessential German medieval town. A thick air of romance hangs about its 1,300 timber-framed houses of Wilhelminian and Art Nouveau styles, lining cobbled alleys.
When you visit Stralsund today, you can get a clear picture of what a prosperous Hanseatic city looked like many centuries back, as the city has remained largely unchanged in its layout and spirit since then. The medieval old town of Stralsund is a treasure trove of brick Gothic-style architecture. Being located practically on the water, the old town very much enhances the maritime feel of the city.
The River Weser, flowing right through the heart of the bustling city, was the reason that Bremen graduated to the status of a Hanseatic powerhouse. The 1,200-year-old city today draws tourists with its charming maritime flair, pristine urban oases, an old town center steeped in history and stories and the promise to take travelers back to their childhood along the footsteps of the Town Musicians of Bremen.