IF YOU CAN, take the train to Lubeck from the Hauptbahnhof. It costs 30DM (pounds 11) and takes only 40 minutes, during which you cross from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea and pass over the Kiel Canal.

Lubeck shows you what Hamburg must have been like before the fire of 1842 and the bombing raids of the Second World War destroyed it. The old capital of the Hanseatic League, it is a very beautiful and well-preserved north German medieval city. Its wealth was founded on the surrounding salt marshes: salt was dug up in watery bucketfuls and then boiled off for several hours and used to preserve herring. You can still see the Salzspeicher where the salt was stored, and the vast brick churches, endowed by the merchants, still cast up their spires on gunmetal horizons. There are cobbled streets, gabled merchants' houses from the late Middle Ages, and the buzz of cafe life brought by students at the old and venerated university.

Lubeck was always a place of culture and letters and you can visit the Buddenbrooks house, off the main square, where Thomas Mann and his brother Heinrich were brought up. Mann so thoroughly lambasted the burgerlich greed and stolid conservatism of the Lubeckers in his novel Buddenbrooks that the city could not forgive him and published disparaging pieces about him for years in the Lubecker Gazette. In 1955, however, it finally relented and decided to award the by now Nobel prize-winning author "freeman of the city" status, a decision that was carried by only one vote. In one of those reciprocal ironies of life, Mann, who had fled his country in 1933 to settle in the United States and had not returned to his native town in all the intervening years, died but a few months after finally revisiting it.