Bremen is one of the prominent cities in north western Germany. It is situated 60km south of the mouth of the Weser river mouth, which opens into the North Sea. Along with its cosmopolitan feel, its modern history dates back 1,200 years, while its marshes were settled about 14,000 years ago. Burial places can be seen that date back to the 7th century AD. For most of its history it was an independent city-state.
It is a Hanseatic city, and together with Bremerhaven, on the right of the mouth of the Weser River, it comprises the state of Bremen (officially Freie Hansestadt Bremen – Free Hanseatic City of Bremen).
Map of Bremen
Although it is part of Germany’s smallest state, it is the second most populated city in northern Germany, and the tenth most in Germany. Physically, it is a long, narrow city, lining both sides of the Weser. It measures about 10 km lengthwise, but is only 2km across. It is an industrial and commercial city, with a major port on the Weser River. As you can imagine, it offers a myriad of monuments to be seen and tales to be heard.
Best time to go
As noted above, Bremen is not far south of the North Sea. Consequently, its climate and weather should play a major part in your plans to visit. From November to March the average temperature is between 0 and 8 Celsius (46°F), and the rest between 21 and 23 Celsius (73°F). Spring and autumn are comfortable.
With an oceanic climate, it is susceptible to the ocean winds, much the same as Amsterdam, Seattle and Vancouver. The wind is usually around 16 kph, but gusting occurs, especially near the river and the canals. In 2007, a bad windstorm blew through northern Europe including Bremen at more than 200 kph, resulting in electricity cuts, downed trees, and broken windows.
It rains all year round in Bremen. June to December average 204 mm a month, with the lowest being between January and May, at 115 mm. It is only known to snow lightly in winter. The humidity is highly changeable, with up to 95% in the summer months. Spring and autumn are the most comfortable times for visiting.
Getting Around in Bremen
Bremen Airport is easily reached from the city centre by both tram and car, in about 10 minutes. It offers flights to most of the big German cities, and also some in Europe.
Most of Bremen can be walked, and indeed this is the best way of exploring the old parts of the city and its districts.
Bremen is the headquarters of the car sharing network, Cambrio, so a hire car is an easy choice.
If your choice is by bicycle, Bremen happens to be the most bike-friendly city in Germany. You can hire bicycles at the railway station; alternatively from one of a number of bike shops.
The tram and bus systems are highly evolved in the city, running both during the day, and almost all night. The trams run from the central station at half past every hour, and tickets can be purchased on board. Train tickets must be bought before you board; it also works out cheaper to buy day and/or weekly passes.
Taxis are of course another alternative, and bountiful, but as with most cases, you will pay more than public transport. They run around the clock, and advance bookings are not necessary.
Major Attractions and Sights
These are many and varied, so let’s look at them grouped according to type.
If history is your thing, the first stop would be the Focke Museum, People of Bremen’s Museum for Art and Cultural History, just outside the city centre.
Many of the sights in Bremen are found in the Altstadt (Old Town), an area surrounded by the Weser River, and the Wallgraben, the former moats of the medieval city walls, in the north east. The oldest part of the Altstadt is the southeast half, starting with the Marktplatz and ending at the Schnoor quarter.
The Schnoor is a small area of crooked lanes from the 17th and 18th centuries, now housing art galleries, artisan shops and cafes. Other interesting buildings in the vicinity of the Marktplatz are the Schütting, a 16th-century Flemish-inspired guild hall, and the Stadtwaage, the former weigh house built in 1588, with an ornate Renaissance façade.
Downriver from the Schnoor quarter, along the Schlachte Embankment, is Böttcherstrasse, a fusion of art and architecture created by Bremen coffee merchant Ludwig Roselius at the beginning of the 20th century. Roselius had the lane mainly built in the Expressionist style. It was damaged in the Second World War but rebuilt afterwards. On Böttcherstrasse is a carillon with bells from Meissen porcelain. The Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum was the first gallery in the world to be devoted solely to a female artist.
The town hall is over 600 years old, and it and the Roland Statue were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. In the Upper Hall, where ceremonies are held, there are model ships hanging from its ceiling, representing the importance of commerce and maritime trade to Bremen.
The Roland Statue near the town hall is carved from stone. It has been standing on Bremen’s historical market square for more than 600 years and is a symbol of freedom for the people of Bremen. He holds the “sword of justice” and a shield decorated with an imperial eagle.
The other statue near the entrance to the Ratskeller is Gerhard Marcks’ bronze sculpture Die Stadtmusikanten (Town Musicians) which portrays the donkey, dog, cat and rooster of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale. The animals have become an emblem; the story goes that anyone who touches the donkey’s legs will be granted a wish. The donkey’s legs must be rubbed lightly with both hands; using only one hand is a case of two donkeys shaking hands according to the locals.
Cathedrals to visit include the 13th century Cathedral St Petri, featuring sculptures of Charlemagne and Moses among others, the 11th century Liebfrauenkirche, and St Martin’s Church. St Peter’s Cathedral’s towers soar 99 metres into the air. It’s an unwritten rule that no building in Bremen should be higher than the cathedral. The cathedral’s origins hark back as far as 789AD, and it boasts a world-famous organ. Eight mummies in glass-topped coffins can be seen there. Among those on display: two Swedish officers from the Thirty Years’ War, an English countess, a murdered student, and a local pauper. The crypt has become the cathedral’s most visited attraction for more than 300 years.
If your tastes run to the more contemporary, there are many attractions for the tourist.
Museums include The Universum Science Centre, Botanika (a nature museum), the Kunsthalle Bremen (an art museum housing pieces from the 19th and 20th centuries), the Übersee Museum Bremen, the Kunstsammlungen Böttcherstraße, and the Weserburg Modern Art Museum located in the middle of the river.
After all that culture, Beck’s Brewery offers tours, which include beer tasting. Take note that tours need to be booked in advance.
Daytrips to Hanover, Hamburg, Bremerhaven and Hamelin (home of the Pied Piper) are made simple by rail connections.