Land capital KIEL around 90km from Lübeck on the Baltic side is a gritty urban sprawl in this region of coast and cows. Over ninety raids in 1945 alone unleashed such devastation on what was Germany’s principal submarine base that the port at the end of a deep firth had to start from scratch when the smoke cleared. Its lumpen concrete blocks built at speed in the 1950s are not the place to look for history – when brochures flag up the first pedestrian street in Germany (Holstenstrasse in 1525), you know tourist authorities are struggling.
Though lacking the looks of Lübeck – the more obvious candidate for capital – Kiel has instead the port which made its fortune. It became the imperial war-port in 1871, and when the Kiel canal (Nord-Ostsee-Kanal) opened to link the Baltic and North seas in 1895, Kiel controlled what was the biggest man-made waterway in the world. It remains the busiest, and shapes modern Kiel: workaday and resilient, with a knockabout, unpretentious air, especially during international sailing regatta Kieler Woche in late June, a must for any sailing fan if only for the chance to sail aboard historic windjammers (booked via tourist information; note also that accommodation reservations are needed at this time). The town’s few museums will pass a morning, but the self-styled “Kiel Sailing City” is at its best around water: seen from the Kiellinie footpath or on cruises on the Kieler Förde and canal.
The city centre is unlovable but unavoidable along pedestrianized high-street Holstenstrasse two blocks back from the harbour.