German Chancellor Angela Merkel has officially opened the European Hansemuseum this Wednesday. It focuses on 500 years of history of the Hanseatic League. And what place could be a better location for it than Lübeck?
Lübeck is a proud, old city. The Holsten Gate is known around the world, as is marzipan from Lübeck. The Old City is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site that is also home to museums dedicated to the city's three Nobel laureates, authors Thomas Mann and Günter Grass and the politician, Willy Brandt. The European Hansemuseum is another jewel in the crown of the city on the Trave River. Devoted to the Hanseatic League's legacy, the museum is expected to draw even more tourists to Lübeck.
The new museum building stands next to the Castle Friary in the Old City. The cultural complex, planned originally in 2004, blends traditional brick and functional modern architecture. The exhibit's aim is to tell the story of the one-time trading power. Visitors will get to see replicas of historic scenes set in Novgorod, Lübeck, Bruges and London.
From shipping to a great power
The Hanseatic League was established in the 12th century as a loose association of merchants who were trading along northern European routes, primarily in the Baltic. Founded in 1143, the port of Lübeck played a prominent role in this development. This is where boats called Hanseatic cogs unloaded their cargos and set sail for associated ports as far away as Portugal and Russia.
Over time, commercial interests came to be represented more and more by the towns than the merchants themselves. Representatives of the Hanseatic convention convened for the first time in 1356. Known in Low German as the Dudesche Hense, they met to coordinate their commercial interests. At its high point, the Hansa represented 200 towns. The trading union profited from population growth in Europe. It caused increased demand for goods and secure transit routes. The clout of the Hansa as a protective force can be seen in the fleet it assembled to combat piracy in 1398.
A presentation and staging challenge
The boldness of the Hanseatic merchants, foreign traders living abroad, wealth and ostentation and splendor are as much a subject of the exhibition as is the dissolution of the trading network in the 16th century. Visitors are to be given the opportunity to explore key significant events in Hanseatic history in reconstructed scenes.
They can, for example, witness how an early meeting of merchants in Novgorod on the Neva river in 1193 may have unfolded. At that time, traders from Soest, Münster, Groningen and Lübeck sailed in cogs to northwestern Russia. "All the reconstructed scenes are based on the latest research and great effort as been devoted to making them as historically accurate as possible," says Hansemuseum Managing Director Lisa Kosok.
Gold hoards and city history
Many original items, rare documents, paintings and other objects in the collection illustrate how the Hanseatic merchants lived and worked. Among these are gold and silver coins from the so-called Lübeck hoard that had been buried beneath the city since the mid-16th century.
One special part of the exhibition is the archeological site within the museum complex. The excavation reveals evidence of the start of settlement around the year 800 AD and of the later founding of the town of Lübeck. The archeologically significant exploration repeatedly delayed the museum's completion. On Wednesday German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already officially opened European Hansemuseum, and it will open the doors to the public on May 30, when visitors are invited to come and discover it for themselves.