( Originally Published Early 1900's )
In the evening the train carried me to Lubeck, across magnificent cultivated lands, filled with summer-houses, which lave their feet in the brown water, overhung by spreading willows. This German Venice has its canal, the Brenta, whose villas, tho not built by Sanmichele or PaIladio, none the less make a fine show against the fresh green of their surroundings.
On arriving at Lubeck, a special omnibus received me and my luggage, and I was soon set down at the hotel. The city seemed picturesque as I caught a glimpse of it through the darkness by the vague light of lanterns; and in the morning, as I opened my chamber-window, I perceived at once I had not been mistaken.
The opposite house had a truly German aspect. It was extremely high and overtopped by an old-fashioned denticulated gable. At each one of the seven stories of the house, iron cross-bass spread themselves out into clusters of iron-work, supporting the building, and serving at once for use and ornament, in accordance with an excellent principle in architecture, at the present day too much neglected. It is not by concealing the framework, but by making it distinct, that we obtain more character.
This house was not the only one of its kind, as I was able to convince myself on walking a few steps out of doors. The actual Lubeck is still to the eye the Lubeck of the Middle Ages, the old capital. of the Hanseatic League. All the drama of modern life is enacted in the old theater whose scenery remains the same, its drop-scene even not repainted. What a pleasure it is to be walking thus amid the outward life of the past, and to contemplate the same dwellings which long-vanished generations have inhabited ! Without doubt, the living man has a right to model his shell in accordance with his own habits, his tastes, and his manners; but it can not be denied that a new city is far less attractive than an old one.
When I was a child, I sometimes received for a New Year's present one of those Nuremberg boxes containing a whole miniature German city. In a hundred different ways I arranged the little houses of painted wood around the church, with its pointed belfry and its red walls, where the seam of the bricks was marked by fine white lines. I set out my two dozen frizzed and painted trees, and saw with delight the charmingly outlandish and wildly festal air which these apple-green, pink, lilac, fawn-colored houses with their window-panes, their retreating gables, and their steep roofs, brilliant with red varnish, assumed, spread out on the carpet.
My idea was that houses like these had no existence in reality, but were made by some kind fairy for extremely good little boys. The marvelous exaggeration of childhood gave this little parti-colored city a respectable development, and I walked through its regular streets, tho with the same precautions as did Gulliver in Liliput. Lubeck gave back to me this long-forgotten feeling of my childish days. I seemed to walk in a city of the imagination, taken out of some monstrous toy-bog. I believe, considering all the faultlessly correct architecture that I have been forced to see in my traveler's life, that I really deserved that pleasure by way of compensation.
A cloister, or at least a gallery, a fragment of an ancient monastery, presented itself to view. This colonnade ran the whole length of the square, at the end of which stood the Marienkirche, a brick church of the fourteenth century. Continuing my walk, I found myself in a market-place, where awaited me one of those sights which repay the traveler for much fatigue: a public building of a new, unforeseen, original aspect, the old Stadthaus in which was formerly the Hanse hall, rose suddenly before me. -
It occupies two sides of the square. Imagine, in front of the Marienkirche, whose spires and roof of oxydized copper rise above it, a lofty brick facade, blackened by time, bristling with three bell-towers with pointed copper-covered roofs, having two great empty rose-windows, and emblazoned with escutcheons inscribed in ' the trefoils of its ogives, double-headed black eagles on a gold field, and shields, half gales, half argent, ranged alternately, and executed in the most elaborate fashion of heraldry.
To this facade is joined a palazzino of the Renaissance, in stone and of an entirely different style, its tint of grayish-white marvelously relieved by the dark-red background of old brick-work. This building, with its three gables, its fluted Ionic columns, its caryatides, or rather its Atlases (for they are human figures), its semicircular window, its niches curved like a shell, its arcades ornamented with figures, its -basement of diamond-shaped stones, produces what I may call an architectural discord that is most unexpected and charming. We meet very few edifices in the north of Europe of this style and epoch.
In the facade, the old German style prevails: arches of brick, resting upon short granite columns, support a gallery with ogive-windows. A row of blazons, inclined from right to left, bring out their brilliant color against the blackish tint of the wall. It would be difficult to form an idea of the character and richness of this ornamentation.
This gallery leads into the main building, a structure than which no scene-painter, seeking a medieval decoration for an opera, ever invented anything more picturesque and singular. Five turrets, coiffed with roofs like extinguishers, raise their pointed tops above the main line of the facade with its lofty ogive-windows—unhappily now most of them partially bricked up, in accordance, doubtless, with the exigencies of alterations made within. Eight great disks, having gold backgrounds, and representing radiating suns, double-headed eagles, and the shields, gules and argent, the armorial bearings of Lubeck, are spread out gorgeously upon this quaint architecture. Beneath, arches supported upon short, thick pillars yawn darkly, and from far within there comes the gleam of precious metals, the wares of some goldsmith's shop.
Turning back toward the square again, I notice, rising above the houses, the green spires of another church, and over the head's of some market-women, who are chaffering over their fish and vegetables, the profile of a little building with brick pillars, which must have been a pillory in its day. This gives a last touch to the purely Gothic aspect of the square which is interrupted by no modern edifice. The ingenious idea occurred to me that this splendid Stadthaus must have another facade; and so in fact it had; passing under an archway, I found myself in a broad street, and my admiration began anew.
Five bell-towers, built half into the wall and separated by tall ogive-windows now partly blocked up,. repeated, with variations, the facade I have just described. Brick rosettes exhibited their curious designs, spreading with square stitches, so to speak, like patterns for worsted work. At the base of the somber edifice a pretty little lodge, of the Renaissance, built 'as an afterthought, gave entrance to an exterior staircase going up along the wall diagonally to a sort of mirador, or overhanging look-out, in exquisite taste. Graceful little statues of Faith and Justice, elegantly draped, decorated the portico.
The staircase, resting on arches which widened as it rose higher, was ornamented with grotesque masks and caryatides. The mirador, placed above the arched doorway opening upon the market-place, was crowned with a recessed and voluted pediment, where a figure of Themis held in one hand balances, and in the other a sword, not forgetting to give her drapery, at the same time, a coquettish puff. An odd order formed of fluted pilasters fashioned like pedestals and supporting busts, separated the windows of this aerial cage. Consoles with fantastic masks completed the elegant ornamentation, over which Time had passed his thumb just enough to give to the carved stone that bloom which nothing can imitate.
The Marienkirche, which stands, as I have said, behind the Stadt-haus, is well worth a visit. Its two towers are 408 feet in height; a very elaborate belfry rises from the roof at the point of intersection of the transept. The towers of Lubeck have the peculiarity, every one of them, ,of being out of the perpendicular, leaning perceptibly to the right or left, but without disquieting the eye, like the tower of Asinelli at Bologna, or the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Seen two or three miles away, these towers, drunk and staggering, with their pointed caps that seem to nod at the horizon, present a droll and hilarious silhouette.
On entering the church, the first curious object that meets the eye is a copy of the Todtentanz, or Dance of Death, of the cemetery at Basle. I do not need to describe it in detail. The Middle Ages were never tired of composing variations upon this dismal theme. The most conspicuous of them are brought together in this lugubrious painting, which covers all the walls of one chapel. From the Pope and the Emperor to the infant in his cradle, each human being in his turn enters upon the dance with the inevitable terror. But death is not depicted as a skeleton, white, polished, cleaned, articulated with copper wire like the skeleton of an anatomical cabinet: that would be too ornamental for the vulgar crowd. He appears as a dead body in a more or less advanced state of decomposition, with all the horrid secrets of the tomb carefully revealed.
The cathedral, which is called in German the Dom, is quite remarkable in its interior. In the middle of the nave, filling one whole arch, is a colossal Christ of Gothic style, nailed to a cross carved in open-work, and ornamented with arabesques. The foot of this cross rests upon a transverse beam, going from one pillar to an-other, on which are standing the holy women and other pious personages, in attitudes of grief and adoration; Adam and Eve, one on either side, are arranging their paradisaic costume as decently as may be; above the cross the key-stone of the arch projects, adorned with flowers and leafage, and serves as a standing-place for an angel with long wings. This construction, hanging in mid-air, and evidently light in weight, -notwithstanding its magnitude, is of wood, carved with much taste and skill. I can define it in no better way than to call it a carved portcullis, lowered halfway in front of the chancel. It is the first example of such an arrangement that I have ever seen. .
The Holstenthor, a city gate close by the railway station, is a most curious and picturesque specimen of German medieval architecture. Imagine two enormous brick towers united y the main portion of the structure, through which opens an archway, like a basket-handle, and you have a rude sketch of the construction; but you would not easily conceive of the effect produced by the high summit of the edifice, the conical roofs of the towers, the whimsical windows in the walls and in the roofs, the dull red or violet tints of the defaced bricks. It is altogether a new gamut for painters of architecture or of ruins; and I shall send them to Lubeck y the next train. I recommend to their notice also, very near the Holstenthor, on the left bank of the Trave, five or six crimson houses, shouldering each other for mutual sup-port, bulging out in front, pierced with six or seven stories of windows, with denticulated gables, the deep red reflection of them trailing in the water, like some high-colored apron which a servant-maid is washing. What a picture Van den Heyden would have made of this!
Following the quay, along which runs a rail-way, where freight-trains were constantly passing, I enjoyed many amusing and varied scenes. On the other side of the Trave were to be seen, amid houses and clumps of trees, vessels in various stages of building. Here, a skeleton stranded whale; there, a hull, clad with its planking near which smokes the calker's cauldron, emitting light yellowish clouds. Everywhere prevails a cheerful stir of busy life. Carpenters are planing and hammering, porters are rolling casks, sailors are scrubbing the decks of vessels, or getting the sails half way up to dry them in the sun. A barque just arriving comes alongside the quay, the other vessels making room for her to pass. The little steamboats are getting up steam or letting it . off; and when you turn toward the city, through the rigging of the vessels, you see the church-towers, which incline gracefully, like the masts of clippers.