THE SWEET ESCAPE

FORGET EASTER EGGS – CHARLIE BOND HEADS TO LÜBECK IN GERMANY TO FIND OUT WHY MARZIPAN IS WHAT YOU SHOULD BE ASKING THE BUNNY FOR THIS MONTH…

Just a hop, skip and jump (or 40 minute car ride) away from Hamburg lies the German town of Lübeck. Founded in 1143 as the first ‘western city on the Baltic coast’, the medieval centre is a UNESCO world heritage site, boasting a rich history, vibrant culture and is also famed for being the birthplace of marzipan.

We arrive on a sunny spring day, and are informed that we’ve brought the good weather with us. Driving into the town and over one of the 230 bridges that lie within, we arrive at our hotel, the Park Inn by Radisson and head straight to the on-site Italian restaurant to refuel before our adventure truly begins. (Although, for lunch we use iPads to order our food and drink – some could argue the adventure has well and truly begun).

Fresh from the giddy iPad excitement, we head out into the fresh air, and led by our tour guide for the afternoon, cross the road to our first tourist site – Holsten Gate – one of Germany’s most photographed monuments. Gothic in style, its impressive towers and charming structure makes it almost Disney-esque, and it’s no wonder that the gate, which was built in 1464 and marks the entrance of the town has become such a recognisable landmark.

Travelling through the winding streets of Lübeck, this charming town has so much to discover. We take a walk up to St.Petri, a 13th century former church, which is now used for exhibitions, Christmas markets and events. 50 metres up, there’s a viewing platform, where for three euros, visitors can look out over the town and beyond. Thankfully, there’s a lift, and within seconds we can see for miles – some days, we’re told, you can even see as far as the Baltic Sea.

Once safely back on ground level, our tour takes us through the market square to the Town Hall – a large and stunning building dating back to 1230 which is still very much in use, serving as the seat of administration and the Senate, as well as hosting meetings and social events. From the red carpet leading up the stairs, to the crystal chandeliers and the stained glass windows, this building emits a real sense of grandeur.

By now the sun has set and it’s time to eat, so we head to Schiffergesellschaft, a restaurant honouring local maritime history, and formerly used as a meeting place for seafarers and sailmakers. Considered by some as the ‘oldest pub in the world’, inside it’s as if you’re dining on a vessel, with long wooden benches, ambient lighting and nautical memorabilia at every turn. Aesthetics aside, the extensive menu offers a range of local drinks, seafood, meat dishes and a selection of north German delicacies.

I veer away from the fish dishes and opt for something altogether different for my meal – the local dish of Labskaus – salted beef mixed with beetroot, potato and onion, topped with a fried egg and accompanied by a herring fillet and gherkins. Labskaus might be a regional speciality but it’s by no means pretty. However, the taste and range of textures are interesting and not at all unpleasant. It might not be a dish I’ll recreate at home, but it’s certainly one I’m glad I tried.
With our hotel only a ten minute walk from the old town, we opt to walk off our meal with a stroll along the river Trave – at night everything looks postcard-picturesque with the lights from the buildings refl ecting in the water. In the summer months you could easily extend your walk along the river for miles, taking in the different architecture and stopping for al fresco drinks en route.

As well as its bridge count and impressive architecture, Lübeck is also famed for something else – marzipan. In 1806, Georg Niederegger founded the now world-renowned Niederegger company, opening the factory and headquarters in Lübeck. The company is still owned by the family, and in one day they can produce as much as 30 tonnes of marzipan – much by hand, and all made to a top secret recipe. Unlike the very sweet marzipan we often get in the UK, this is 70% almond and only 30% sugar, making it much more delicious than the sugary paste we often associate with wedding cakes over here.

On our second day in Lübeck we’re given rare access inside the factory to see how these sweet treats are made, so donning our white coats and hairnets, we head from room to room. I’m amazed at how much is made by hand or with very little machinery – at the beginning of the process, almonds are shelled in a machine, and then each checked by hand for traces of contaminants, and the marzipan Easter bunnies, teddy bears and other creatures are individually carefully hand-painted by a team of women.

Naturally my favourite room is where the chocolate meets the marzipan – the room smells incredible, and I could stand for hours and watch the various shapes make their way along conveyor belts to receive a glossy coat of Belgian chocolate. Of course – no touching is allowed, so I have to refrain, for fear of a Willy Wonka-esque punishment occurring.

Our tour takes several hours and is a fascinating insight into how this product is produced. Once safely away from machinery and contamination dangers, we’re given a selection of freshly made confectionery to try – from espresso to pistachio marzipan, and the indulgent traditional nougat they’re impossible not to love, and knowing all the hard work that goes into creating them makes me savour every bite that little bit more.

You might think that with all that indulgence we couldn’t possibly eat more, but apparently that isn’t the case – our final stop before heading home is a visit to Café Niederegger back in the centre of Lübeck, where after visiting the museum upstairs, and admiring a shop filled with marzipan fancies, we sit down and sample a range of decadent cakes, sip coffee flavoured with marzipan and tell ourselves we’ll try to share the Niederegger treats we’ve bought with family when we get home, although we can’t make any promises…

In an ever-growing culture of short city breaks taking precedent over fortnight-long beach holidays, this charming town should definitely be on the list. From romantic riverside strolls to sweet treats, there’s plenty to see, do and eat. Lübeck is a real gem, and one that I’ll be keen to revisit soon (mostly for my marzipan fix!)

www.niederegger.de www.britishairways.com  www.luebeck-tourism.de  www.parkinn.com/hotel-luebeck