Bricks and Stones Breathe History in North German City A Medieval Powerhouse and Home to Literary Giant Thomas Mann Now Tells Its Tale as a 'World Heritage Site.' Series: Tourists Gather outside Buddenbrook, the Home of Novelist Thomas Mann in Lubeck, Germany. the City's Facades, Bricks, and Cobblestones Help Tell Its Story. BY RUTH WALKER

Article excerpt

It is not a bad idea for a journalist to take a break from the standard news agenda to take a longer look - a look over a period of centuries, for instance.

Thus the Monitor's Bonn bureau became, over a recent weekend, the Lubeck bureau. This north German city, in medieval times the headquarters of the Hanseatic League, was in its heyday the third-largest city in Europe, after Prague and Cologne. Its gabled-facade architecture was widely imitated within the countries along the Baltic and North Seas, especially in the Netherlands. In fact, the Dutch are credited with inventing the style, which rankles Lubeckers.

Ten years ago, the United Nations listed the entire old city, an egg-shaped island surrounded by rivers and canals, as a "world heritage site." It was a tribute not only to the city's historic preservation but its restoration as well, after damage from Allied bombing raids in World War II. Some houses have been partly redone - plain facades for the lower two or three floors, elegant gables above - and the world-heritage designation gives hope that at least in some cases the job may someday be completed. But a city as a theme park? Not quite. Even the old city has a pedestrian main street of soulless postwar chain stores that could be anywhere in Germany. Despite this mixed bag, or perhaps because of it, Lubeck is a good place to consider what the question of an architectural heritage, or cultural heritage generally, mean to the life of a city. Lubeck has another, more recent claim to fame. It is the birthplace of Thomas Mann, the literary giant of 20th-century Germany, and his older brother Heinrich, also a noted writer. …