Have you ever heard the expression “worth your weight in salt”? Did you ever wonder where this came from?
I’m not exactly here to answer that question specifically — but, these inexpensive white crystals weren’t always so cheap. Salt mining and transportation was medieval big business.
The Old Salt Road (Alte Salzstrasse) is a relatively short route (only about 110km) from Lüneburg in Lower Saxony to Lübeck in Schleswig-Holstein, but it often took about three weeks to make the trek during the Middle Ages. The necessity (and money) created from the salt trade was more than enough incentive to take this arduous journey.
Today, the Old Salt Road can be traveled in less than about two hours. HOWEVER, if you followed the route in that short period of time, you’d miss out on some pretty spectacular towns.
The salt that was transported along the Old Salt Road was mined in the town of Lüneburg, just north of the Lüneburg Heath. In fact, the entire Old Town is built right over the mined Salt Dome. Seems like the perfect place for the German Salt Museum and the Lüneburg Salt Works then, right?
The Salt Works is now the location for the town’s annual Oktoberfest and Spring Market. Sounds good to me!
Lüneburg isn’t (wasn’t) all salt, it had quite a few breweries in its heyday; and it’s where Johann Sebastian Bach went to school as a child. For a piece of 20th century history, Lüneburg was where Heinrich Himmler killed himself in 1945 — buried in an unmarked grave in the forest.
After transporting the salt over land, medieval workers brought the “white gold” to the town of Artlenburg on the Elbe River, then transported it over the canal. Artlenburg, a town of only a handful of residents, isn’t too different from how it was five centuries ago.
Geesthacht was another town along this route; and where it meets up with the Elbe Cycle Track. Sorry, there’s no historic Town Hall but, its Geesthacht Museum is located within a fantastic half-timbered house and its St. Salvatorius Church is utterly charming.
Schwarzenbek might not have been a significant stop along the Old Salt Road. But, it’s a great place to practice your Low German, take in a game of tennis, and enjoy the Daffodil Festival (March), Europe Week (April), and the Wine Festival.
Mölln, another important stop along the Salt Road, is still a town with little winding lanes and where the St. Nikolai Church still stands. But, it’s also quite modern with miniature golf courses, a game park (Tierpark), and there are paddleboats over at the town lake. Art lovers will no doubt love the Eulenspiegel Museum, housed in a framework house built in 1582 and filled with German literature, paintings, and sculptures.
Ratzeburg is the next town on the Alte Salzstrasse. Its Old Town is an island and once the former East German border. Historians will love the Ratzeburg Cathedral, the 11th century church of St. George, and the 15th century Ansveruskreuz still stands today. More of Ratzeburg’s history can be learned at the Regional Museum. The Domhof is also a museum (and concert hall), but it was once just a Baroque mansion for some duke.
Thousands of visitors flock to Ratzeburg every year for the Rowing Regatta, the Fencing Tournament, and its outdoor cinema — so not just for the salt! ;-)
Would you believe that you reached Lübeck, the last town on the Old Salt Road already? No medieval salt trader would believe you did it this quickly!
Lübeck has the largest port on the Baltic Sea; and its significance on the Salt Route had something to do with it. Salt was transported from this port to places as far away as Scandinavia, Russia, and the Baltic States. Seems like a proper place for a Port Museum, so good thing there is one!
Other museums in Lübeck is the St. Annen Museum and a Theater Puppet Museum. One of the most gorgeous sites in Lübeck is the Holstentor, a massive city gate built in a Brick Gothic style now a UNESCO World Site.
Next to the Holstentor is the Salzspeicher, brick salt storehouses from the 16th to 18th centuries. If these large storehouses don’t show the scale of how big the salt industry was, I don’t know anything that will.
So the next time you’re sitting at the dining table think about all the work that used to go into bringing it!