History of 800 years
The name of Lauenburg comes from „Lavenburg“, a castle high above the River „Lave“ (= Elbe), built in 1181 under Duke Bernhard von Askanien.
The remarkable structure of the town in a lower and an upper part is the result of the geological formation of the River Elbe Valley during the last glacial epoch. The border of the coastal sandy moorlands was the bank of a 30 kms broad river of meltwater towards the North Sea.
The historical center is located in the lower part of the town on a narrow riverside terrace between the foot of the high and steep slope of the moorlands and the River Elbe bank. High above is situated the former castle and a fortified tower, dated 1477, and the upper town with the shopping center and expanding residential areas.
In Lauenburg, the Elbe-Lübeck-Kanal joins the River Elbe. The channel was completed in 1900 in order to replace the older Stecknitz-Delvenau-Kanal built in 1398. The old channel made it possible to transport salt, the white gold of the Middle Ages, from Lüneburg to Lübeck by water.
The sailors settled mainly in the eastern part of the town, whereas the craftsmen preferred the former moat where people were allowed to build houses since mid 16th century. North of the castle, in the modern shopping center of today, people settled who made their living mainly from farming and lodging.
The citizens of Lauenburg owe Duke Erich IV the so-called “Elbeschiffahrtsprivileg“ („River Elbe Shipping Privilege“) from 1417. According to this privilege, all goods shipped via the River Stecknitz to Lauenburg for further transportation on the River Elbe, had to be handled and further shipped by the sailors of Lauenburg only. Due to it, Lauenburgs harbour became an important center for the movement of goods in this region. In the course of three following centuries, it brought a certain prosperity to the citizens of Lauenburg which is still demonstrated by a number of well preserved old town houses.
A fire in the castle in 1616, the relocation of the ducal residence to Ratzeburg after the death of Franz II, and the Thirty Years’ War affected the town severely.
At the end of the Askanier Dynasty in 1681, Lauenburg became part of the Electorate Braunschweig-Lüneburg. After the Vienna Congress of 1815 until 1865, the Duchy of Lauenburg was linked with the Danish Kingdom in personal union, followed by the annexation to Prussia. This marked the end of the economic and social order of the guild system and the beginning of the industrial era.
A better traffic connection from Lauenburg to other places encouraged a number of industrial firms to settle there, in particular shipbuilding companies and factories for the production of matches played an important role. Also other projects were started, e.g. the construction of a railway bridge across the River Elbe and the completion of the Elbe-Lübeck-Kanal.
Because of the Second World War and due to the many refugees from the former German eastern parts and the arrival of those Hamburg citizens who have been bomed out of their homes by the allies, Lauenburg’s population increased drastically from 6,010 (in 1939) to 11,207 (in 1950).
As a consequence of this increase in population, the essential expansion of the town was carried out on the high plateau of the sandy uplands.
The restoration of the lower part had a stimulating effect on tourists: Since 1996 Lauenburg is a recognized place for recreation.