Some years ago I re-visited Bremen, I used to live in a small town nearby for nine years and liked it there, in fact landscape-wise I’ve never liked it better anywhere else, I don’t cherish hills and mountains, I always feel they block my view. I want to see the sky!
My mother and I always went to Bremen when we had great acquisitions to make which wasn’t very often, but I used to know my way around up to some 30 years ago. Would I recognise the city and find my way through the centre without a guide?
What a sensation when I had stepped out of the station and walked about 300m in the direction of the centre and suddenly *knew* there would be a park to the right with a lake and a windmill on a mound - and all was there indeed!
On to the Sögestraße, a pedestrian precinct and the beginning of the centre proper. A bronze shepherd with his dog, six sows and four piglets welcome the visitor at the beginning (the word ‘Söge’ meant ‘sow’ in the times when there were still fields in that area). The Sögestraße is flanked by expensive shops, two side streets have got glass roofs thus creating small shopping malls - no problem to spend your money there.
I remembered that turning left I’d reach the Market Square, the ‘living-room’ of Bremen, to my surprise I found a fair there in full swing with old fashioned merry-go-rounds, lots of food stalls with bratwurst, waffles, candy floss and the like. It’s the small sibling of the ‘Freimarkt’, the annual autumnal fair held outside the city, (comparable to the Oktoberfest in Munich) a harvest festival originally, more than 950 years old.
The Gothic town hall with a Renaissance facade (building took its time then!) forms one side of the Market Square, its basement houses the restaurant ‘Ratskeller‘, famous for its good food and its collection of 650(!) different German wines, to the left of the entrance stands the statue of the world famous Bremen town musicians.
You remember The Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale? A donkey, a dog, a cat and a cock escape from their owners who treat them badly and decide to go to Bremen to become town musicians there. On the way they come to an inn in which some robbers have a feast, the animals succeed in chasing them away and like it there so much that they refrain from continuing their journey.
Notwithstanding the fact that they never arrived, the Bremers celebrate the four animals in all possible ways. Hardly a souvenir without them! And there’s always someone fumbling the bronze statue which was made in 1951, after 51 years of touching the donkey’s front legs are shining like gold.
A bit older is the Roland statue standing on the Market Square, the smiling, more than 5 m tall stone knight with sword and shield has been watching over Bremen’s independence and welfare since 1404. Bremen became one of the Hanse towns in the middle of the 14th century, a union organising the commerce mainly round the Baltic Sea. There were once lots of Rolands on those towns, now only 27 still exist, the Roland of Bremen is the most famous.
Today Bremen is the smallest of the 16 Länder of the Federal Republic of Germany, like Hamburg and Berlin Bremen is not only a city, but also a Land. It has nearly 600 000 inhabitants, but has preserved a small town feeling in its historical heart.
One of the streets off the Market Square is the Böttcherstraße (Böttcher = maker of barrels), a 110 m long narrow pedestrian precinct with exquisite shops, restaurants, a museum, a casino and a Glockenspiel of 30 bells made of porcelain from Meissen. When the bells ring on the hour, a piece of wall starts moving displaying the pictures of several conquerors of the ocean. The street itself, the shops and the goods on offer are tasteful, if you ever go to Bremen, buy your souvenirs here!
A walk of 5 minutes took me to the Schnoor, a quarter of cobble stone streets and tiny houses where originally poor people lived. In the 1960s artisans moved in, restored the houses and turned them into cosy restaurants, cafés and shops selling wonderful stuff, handmade dolls, wooden toys, glassware, jewellery, earthenware, expensive pipes, models of sailing ships in bottles and other fine things. You either only windowshop there or shorten your holidays!
Another short walk took me to the museum and the exhibition I’d come for, it stayed open up to 10 pm, quite unusual, but very convenient.
According to my guide book there’s an active night life in Bremen, the best in-pubs and meeting points are in the Ostertor quarter and in the Schlachte, an area along the bank of the river Weser near the port where old ships-turned-restaurants lie at anchor. But I decided to call it a day, my feet hurt, my brain was full of new impressions.
The following day was my Weser day. The Weser is a river without a source, it starts where two rivers, the Fulda and the Werra, meet. Bremen lies at the beginning of the last part, the so-called Lower Weser, from there it’s 67 km to the North Sea, ebb and flow reach up to the city.
It’s broader than the Thames in London, but too small for my liking, so I went by train and bus to the northern most outskirts of Bremen, the area where I spent my youth paddling and camping. I didn’t go to the town where I lived, there wasn’t enough time and I’m not interested in it any more, it’s the river I had come for.
I crossed over by ferry, had lunch in a nice restaurant on the bank of the river and just looked at my beloved Weser sparkling in the autumn sun. No ‘big pots’ were passing, however, as the ocean liners are called, I only saw a sailing boat, some small river barges and vessels which can cross the North Sea and go to Scandinavian countries, I was deeply disappointed. I love ships, rivers are so much more interesting than the coast, what can you see looking at the sea? Nothing much, I’m afraid, but on a river there’s always something going on.
The tide was at its lowest which is not uninteresting as you can see the ‘inner life’ of the river, the poles and twigs running parallel to the shipping line protecting the banks from being washed away, but I prefer the river full, it’s about 70 m wider then, all in all about 200 m wide, quite impressive. At it’s mouth the Weser is approximately 2 km wide.
But I could walk along the bank which is a beach at low tide with fine yellow sand. I did this until it was time to return, I wanted to catch a train to Göttingen, the town near which the Brothers Grimm collected all the fairy tales, the Bremen town musicians among them.