German Renaissance shows in world-heritage Hanseatic cities

beautiful cities & towns germany hanseatic cities historic monuments renaissance cities Jul 15, 2023
Lubeck Renaissance

Germany's Renaissance started later than Italy's and prominent buildings did not appear until well into the 16th century. The survivals are few and prized.

There are beautiful Renaissance buildings in several German cities. The central Georgenbau of Dresden's Residenzschloß palace has an impressive facade gable and courtyard from the period and the 16th century Johanneum still stands. Heidelberg's half-ruined castle is another famous example.

Munich's Jesuit St-Michaels-Hofkirche is the largest of Germany's Renaissance churches, its Residenz has a long Renaissance facade, and the arcaded Alte Münze courtyard is a rare specimen. Wittenberg's town hall and Lutherhaus, Stuttgart's Altes Schloß and Spandau's Zitadelle are other examples.

Renaissance facades appear on several Nuremberg, Görlitz, Weimar and Meissen town houses. Nuremberg's Altes Rathaus has an impressive facade from the period.

Apart the design of a handful of palaces, the Renaissance in Germany coincides with the rise of commercial wealth, so it is to the banking centre of Augsburg in the south, and the Hanseatic cities of the north, that travellers should look for a suite of Renaissance buildings. The most interesting in northern Germany are Bremen and Lübeck, where the architecture is world heritage listed by UNESCO.


Lübeck's influence faded after the late medieval period, but it was still a force to be reckoned with during the Renaissance. Four of the six red-brick Salzspeicher buildings, along the Trave waterfront near the Holstentor, belong to the period. They are plain and utilitarian, as befits the purpose of salt storage. But their significance lies in a trade that prolonged the city's trading influence through the Baltic.

The city's Altes Rathaus complex of buildings, for centuries the centre of the Hanseatic League, has several Renaissance components. Most prominent are the arcaded sandstone loggia facing Markt (1570) and the entrance steps (1594) above Breite Straße, which had to be rebuilt after World War II bombing. Inside, visible on tours, is the curious asymmetric late 16th century carved door to the Audienzsaal showing the judgment of Solomon. The opulent Rococo hall inside was formerly used as a court.

There is also a chancery building extension along Breite Straße behind the Marienkirche and an arcade facing Marienkirchhof.

The two buildings now called the Schabbelhaus on Mengstraße represent the bourgeois red-brick Renaissance houses common in Lübeck, among residences of other periods. Many of these were lost forever in the bombing of March 1942. The Zöllnerhaus, the Customs officer's house built into the east side of the late medieval gate complex Burgtor, is a good example but has an unusual a terrcotta frieze. Renaissance town houses are also part the waterfront street An der Untertrave.

The city's arsenal at Domkirchhof, the Zeughaus, has a Dutch Renaissance north facade and portal but has lost its former stepped gable. A niche figure above the portal depicts Mars.

The alleys and courtyards of Lübeck provide insights into the existence of the lower classes. Glandorps Hof shows the red-brick style of an early 17th century social housing for widows and orphans. A different view is available in the inner courtyard of the Füchtingshof, although the street facade is early Baroque. Both run from Glockengießerstraße. No doubt they are more appealing today.

For Renaissance interiors, and a taste of the period's art by Lucas Cranach and his pupil Hans Kemmer, visit the superb St-Annen-Museum in a Gothic former convent complex.

But one Renaissance treasure is rarely shown publicly. Behind a Neogothic facade at Breite Straße 6 are the interiors of the Haus der Kaufmannschaft, including the Renaissance wall panels, alabaster figures and ceiling of the Fredenhagenzimmer. The more than 1000 figures are biblical and allegorical, shaped from oak and pear wood. It can be seen by prearrangement on Germany's annual Tag des offenen Denkmals in September, or at bi-monthly showings by arrangement with the Kaufmannschaft. Otherwise, it can be appreciated only online or in books.

A few buildings to the north is the Schiffergesellschaft, a classic red-brick Renaissance facade. It retains the stepped gable of the Gothic period that is characteristic of Lübeck.






Bremen’s characteristic architecture has been called Weser Renaissance. This was realised in red brick in the Altes Rathaus, the old city hall, and the weighhouse, but also in stone on the twin-gabled Gewerbehaus and the Schütting, each representing the prominence of commerce.

The flourishes on the stepped gables of these buildings are naturally more in keeping with Dutch and Flemish patterns and provide a contrast with buildings of the same period in Lübeck or other Baltic cities.

The Altes Rathaus was a Gothic building, updated with an ornate early 17th century main gable that is Flemish-inspired. The richly patterned facade facing Am Markt includes friezes, sculptures and a balcony supported by an arcaded walkway underneath. The sculptures include the Holy Roman emperor and his seven electors, representing Bremen's position as a free imperial city. Some of the red brick is patterned and glazed. On other facades are figures interpreted as either apostles or philosophers, and biblical prophets.

The main upper hall features murals and ship models representing Bremen's maritime trading power and intricate carvings.

Memories of earlier Renaissance buildings, drawn by the engraver Mattäus Merian about 1650, face south-east.

The sandstone Gewerbehaus, a centre for the city's cloth guild and later small merchants and craftsmen, is a generation later in design and shows some Baroque elements. Its asymmetrical twin gables facing Ansgarikirchhof were named for Venus and Mercury and other figures above the portal represent Classical gods. There were originally two buildings at right angles and, for much of the building's history, it has been divided inside. A side gable faces Hultfilderstraße. Extensive reconstruction was needed after air raids.

The weighhouse, known as Stadtwaage, has perhaps the most intricate and impressive stepped gable among northern German cities. Rescued from war rubble, it represents a period when ever-increasing volumes of trade demanded bigger scales and a more imposing structure. It stands on Langenstraße, the old commercial street, where there are other hints of Renaissance ornament in the street-level facade of the Essighaus, dated to 1618, at No.19.

The Schütting, a guild house for city merchants facing the Altes Rathaus and Am Markt, was built in stone and has a Weser Renaissance main facade, with the portal offset to one side. The building was made over with a grand central entrance in the 18th century and again late in the 19th century. The east gable is regarded as purer in form and the earlier west side has Gothic stepped elements. A fragment of a sculpture of St Peter from the earlier Gothic building has been set into the east side on Schüttingstraße.



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