Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A word about Luneburg

Although I knew nothing about it before, I feel fortunate to have landed Luneburg as an assignment with USAC. It is a an interesting and beautiful and relatively small town.

The big driving force in the community seems to be the university and its roughly 10,000 students scattered across three campuses. There are lots of international students – our 50 or so Americans, another 60 or 70 who have arrived with the Erasmus program that come from many different countries, including the US. And there are others involved in other programs. Right now, as I write in the Mensa or dining room, there is a table of Americans nearby who I can hear talking who seem to be faculty.

I am not exactly sure of population, about 70,000 perhaps, but the downtown old city area is very busy with pedestrians walking everywhere. On Saturdays, it is positively crowded, much unlike any American city I have experienced. You find loads of people just walking around for the pleasure of it.

The center or altstadt (old city) of Luneburg, with which I am most acquainted, is an area filled with centuries old buildings that have been continually refurbished while keeping their original appearance. I am going to figure out in coming weeks how to post photos on the blog. The buildings have that northern European look, that I have usually associated with the Netherlands, that include peaked facades. A key advantage Luneburg had in maintaining the integrity of the old city is that it was not bombed during WWII. While not being an important military target did not save some cities, it did work for Luneburg. But in the middle ages, it was an important economic center.

Luneburg’s medieval riches were built on the salt on which the city sits. And now parts of the city have subsidence problems, much like parts of Butte, Montana. With all the earth taken out from under the city, some of the buildings have sagged. There is one interesting old building that has a huge plate bolted to the side of it to keep it together. It is amazing how much brick will flex without breaking.

There are two main squares in the old town, Am Sande, which has a lot of businesses around it, and the square that is in front of the Rathaus or city hall. Am Sande is a bit more commercial but along streets leading out of both squares there are many businesses. One of the striking things about the town is large number of bars and restaurants in the old town. There are lots of great places with good German beer, some brew their own and there is a Luneburger Pilsner with which I have become familiar. Very tasty. The food, too, is good and I have been getting more daring ordering things. At first, it was the old reliables, pizza and pasta. There are, of course, fall back places, like the Subway and McDonald’s on Am Sande.

Luneburg was a Hanseatic city in the 1200s and 1300s and it thrived. The Hanseatic League was a consortium of north German and Baltic communities that joined together to control regional trade to their own advantages. Luneburg’s salt was a tremendously valuable commodity. The Elbe was used to transport the salt to Hamburg, another big Hanseatic city, and there to be shipped abroad. There is a small harbor in Luneburg where there is still a medieval crane that has been preserved that was used to load the ships. You can overlook the harbor from numerous sidewalk cafes today whereas in the middle ages it would have been a bustling little port.

I live at Wall Strasse 31, a small apartment building. It is called Wall Street because that is where the wall used to be. Today you can still walk a stretch of the wall for a distance of about two blocks but that is all that is left. Most of the homes and businesses in the old city are brick, another indication of the city’s past wealth.

I have found Luneburgers to be uniformly friendly and they have been helpful with my inability to speak German. The few phrases I am learning should make a difference. I also checked out the local Irish pub, The Old Dubliner (ironic since the Dubliner used to be the name of the Irish pub in my old neighborhood in Cincinnati). Max, a Belgian, the manager, is a very friendly character and regaled me of tales of his visit to San Francisco a few years ago

One of the great advantages of teaching the World War II class here is that we are going to have walking tour in a few weeks of "Luneburg under the Nazis," courtesy of the local historical society.

Another advantage of Luneburg is that it is close to Hamburg and a number of other interesting cities, including Lubeck and Bremen. We are going on a group trip to Bremen this Saturday. More about that famous Hanseatic city coming up!


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