E.Tresmontant - 2009-11-12
Although still neglected by tourists, the north of Germany is home to many wonders, such as the old city of Bremen founded by Charlemagne in 787. Located 66 km (41 miles) from the North Sea, Germany's oldest maritime city is also the country's second largest port after Hamburg and the smallest of the 16 German Länder. Its monuments, style of living and dynamism make it a charming city that is definitely worth a visit!
We recommend spending at least three days in Bremen, which will give you time to visit the historic centre, residential district and Monet exhibition, and to sample its gourmet specialities, which are renowned throughout the country.
Exploring the historic centre
To explore the jewel that is the centre of Bremen, we recommend starting with Sögestrasse, literally “pig street”. In the Middle Ages this was actually a path which swineherds from the neighbouring countryside used to take when coming to sell their animals at the market place.
This pedestrian street is the longest in Bremen and is also the main shopping street, with famous shops such as the Knigge cake shop and Schlemmermeyer pork butcher's. It also contains the Katharinen Klosterhof shopping centre, with its jewellery shops and beautiful boutiques selling clothes and shoes.
Several 17th century houses of Flemish inspiration evoke the prosperous past of Bremen, which was the city of both cotton and coffee and which, from 1783, maintained trade relations with the United States of America.
Marktplatz, one of the most beautiful squares in Europe
Sögestrasse leads to the historic heart of Bremen, the vast Marktplatz, which in the 16th century was the seat of the powerful Hansa guild of traders and today houses the parliament of the Land of Bremen.
In winter, the inhabitants like to come here at any time of day to drink mulled wine, or snack on sausages or potato pancakes sprinkled with sugar. After the famous Christmas market in December, you will discover one of the country's biggest flower markets here.
Despite the bombings that destroyed it in 1945, the Markplatz remains an architectural jewel, just like its town hall, the Rathaus, which celebrated its 600th anniversary in 2005 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In order to rebuild the Markplatz exactly as it was, in the early 1950s the inhabitants of Bremen took façades from 17th and 18th century houses in other districts and transplanted them to replace the façades which had been destroyed.
Opposite the arcades, gables and gothic statues of the Rathaus, you can admire the gigantic statue of Roland, the emblem of the city. Despite its astonishingly modern appearance, it was erected at the same time as the town hall, in 1404.
If Copenhagen owes its reputation to Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid, Bremen is indebted to the Brothers Grimm who immortalised it in their tale The Musicians of Bremen. This story based on folklore recounts the adventures of a donkey, a cat, a dog and a rooster, who banded together to escape death at the hands of their owners. Embodying the desire for freedom and the resourcefulness that the inhabitants of Bremen like to identify with, they provided the inspiration for sculptor Gerhard Marks' bronze statue on the west corner of the town hall.
Böttcherstrasse, a unique street
Connecting Marktplatz to the Weser river, the other wonder of Bremen is without doubt Böttcherstrasse, coopers' street, which combines the medieval style with the expressionist style of the 1920s.
Between 1923 and 1933 this narrow medieval street was restored by Ludwig Roselius, the inventor of HAG decaffeinated coffee. Hitler attempted to have these buildings destroyed, because to his mind they fell into the category of “degenerate” art, but he came up against resistance from the city council.
Today, the tall brick houses contain art galleries, Roselius' collections (medieval Madonnas, works by Cranach and Picasso), a theatre, bookshops, and taverns. At the top of a tower, a carillon made up of 30 Meissen porcelain bells chimes at 12pm, 3pm and 6pm. Another curiosity, the Atlantis House (built in 1931) has an impressive spiral staircase, which leads to a room depicting the sky.
Founded near the Weser in 1200 by fishermen and craftsmen, the Schnoor is the most picturesque of vestiges. It was nearly destroyed in the 1950s on account of its insalubrity, before being restored in 1965 and subsequently listed as an historic site. Here you will discover some gems such as the city's smallest house, a hotel with just one room, miniature gardens, narrow alleys and a multitude of shops (including one specialising in barrel organs).
Like Montmartre or the Marais in Paris, the Schnoor has become a very popular artistic district. “poorly inhabited”, is listed as an historic site. It consists of superb 19th century bourgeois houses typical of Bremen architecture: gardens front and back, basement kitchens, and gabled façades of Flemish inspiration.
In good weather, you can ride around it by bicycle and, from the month of May, take the opportunity to visit the marvellous rhododendron park, which contains the biggest collection in Europe with over 450 species. The Universum Science Center nearby is also a must-see.
Bremen, city of science
How does a tornado form? Or an earthquake? Why do soap bubbles have a multicoloured sheen? Why is each human being unique? You will find out when you enter this superb whale-shaped building, the Universum Science Center.
This ultramodern site, created in 2000, is well known throughout Germany and attracts 1,500 visitors each day (many of them schoolchildren from the four corners of the country). Nearly 250 interactive terminals, simulation apparatus, video installations and fun presentations invite visitors to explore the earth, ocean floors, man and the cosmos. On board a submarine or spaceship, you will suddenly have the feeling of being confronted with the mysteries of nature: a unique way of making science attractive and accessible!
Nearby, you will see a strange tower that looks like a rocket: this is the Fallturm, a 146 m/479 ft-tall tower erected in 1985, which is used for experimentation under conditions of weightlessness. Bremen is in effect a renowned aeronautics and astronautics centre. The EADS factory here makes space stations and parts for the Ariane rocket, as well as aircraft wings for Airbus.
Where to stay in Bremen
With its 1,000 km (620 miles) of cycle paths and numerous green spaces, Bremen is a pleasant place to be, despite the winter harshness! We recommend that you stay in the Bürgerpark, created in 1865, which is the largest park in the city (140 hectares/346 acres). Opposite the very romantic Lake Hollersee, the impressive Park Hotel built in the 1950s is reputedly one of the 100 most beautiful hotels in the world. It is easy to get lost in the maze of stairways and corridors leading to its 177 rooms and 18 suites looking onto the lake... In winter there is nothing more pleasant than watching the snow falling through the tall windows in the lounge, which is topped by an immense dome and whose fireplace consumes whole tree trunks! In addition to the fitness centre and spa, the Park Hotel also boasts a gourmet restaurant which does not hide its ambitions (see our article Bremen, food capital of northern Germany).
Rooms start at €138** per night, and reservations can be made online.
More modest and affordable, the Hotel Residence is also located in Bürgerpark, 10 minutes by tram from the city centre. This 19th century villa, with an old English taxi parked out front, has a beautiful half-timbered bourgeois façade. The interior is cosy, with a family atmosphere. Rooms from €66 per night.
Bremen airport is 3.5 km (2 miles) from the city centre.
By taxi, the journey costs around €10 and takes 15 minutes on average, depending on the traffic. More economical, tram no. 6 (which stops outside the airport's passenger terminal) will take you to the railway station in 20 minutes. A one-way ticket costs €1.95.
In addition to its 1,000 km (620 miles) of cycle paths, Bremen has over 3,000 spaces where you can "park" your bicycle free of charge! Bicycles can be hired next to the left wing of the station for €9 per day, €35 per week. You have to pay a deposit of €100 which will be returned to you at the end of the hire period.
Opening times: Monday to Friday from 6am to 10pm, weekends and public holidays from 9am to 10pm. www.bremen.de
“Monet and Camille - Portraits of Women in Impressionism”
Tel.: 0049 (0) 421 320888www.kunsthalle-bremen.de