If you read Grimms’ fairy tales, you might have heard about Bremen. This city in Northern Germany is known as the hometown of a highly peculiar musical band, comprising a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster. But there is much more to see in this Hanseatic city. Here, history, culture, and science are closely interwoven – and, the best part, they are a stone’s throw away from each other.
Originating as a merchants’ settlement along the Wesen River in the 8th century, Bremen had been an independent trading hub for centuries. Its guilds were at the center of the Hanseatic League – a commercial and military alliance that seemingly dominated all trade in the North Sea and Baltic Sea during the Medieval Age. The city was drawn into the German Empire in the 19th century, becoming one of the empire’s most crucial ports.
Under Hitler’s regime, Bremen lost its independence, and two-thirds of the city was leveled as a result of World War II. Yet the city regained its status as a free city not long after the war’s end, alongside Hamburg. These days, Bremen, together with the port town of Bremerhaven, forms the smallest federal state in Germany.
At first glance, Bremen doesn’t look like a tourist magnet. But as you set foot into its old market square adorned with a magnificent Town Hall, you will recognize that past charms are at every turn.
Independent and effervescent.
1. Market Square
No other place in Bremen is history as vivid as Market Square. Probably as old as the city, the square covers an area of about 3.500 m2 and it used to be the venue for the central market. Over the years, the place had undergone endless modifications. Hence, it bears the marks of different architectural periods, including Gothic, Hanseatic, and Renaissance.
Standing at the heart of Market Square is a 5.5-meter-high statue of a mythological knight called Roland. He is armed with a sword and a shield bearing the emblem of the Holy Roman Empire. The statue is more than 600 years old and it signifies the city’s trading rights and sovereignty. Together with the nearby Town Hall, the Roland statue has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 2004.
As soon as you turn into Böttcherstrasse, just south of Market Square, you enter the world of Expressionism. Only about 110-meter long, this street prides itself on its distinctive architecture, with most buildings being erected between 1922 and 1933. Ludwig Roselius, an affluent coffee trader based in Bremen, was behind this extraordinary project. He commissioned the German sculptor Bernhard Hoetger to supervise the artistic design.
Many of these red-brick buildings have now become restaurants, cafés, and galleries. There is also a marvelous carillon consisting of 30 Meissen porcelain bells. Mounted directly above the entrance to this architectural masterpiece is the Lichtbringer (Bringer of Light) – a striking bronze relief created in 1936. It depicts a youth falling from the sky. With a sword in his hand, he is fighting off a three-headed dragon.
3. Schnoor Quarter
Just a short walk from the Böttcherstrasse is the Schnoor quarter – a maze of cobblestone alleys lined with charming half-timber houses. Dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries, this neighborhood is among Bremen’s oldest.
The quarter takes its name from the fact that many of its pretty cottages were occupied to produce handicrafts associated with shipping, such as ropes (schnur in German). Today, these buildings house beautiful restaurants and cafés, art galleries, as well as craft boutiques.
4. Universum Science Center
Venturing outside the historic core, you will have the chance to dive into the science world at Universum Science Center. This eye-catching “grinning whale” is located on the ground of Bremen University, northeast of the city center. Designed by the Bremen architect Thomas Klumpp, it features 40.000 scales made of stainless steel.
The museum spreads over 4.000m2, with nearly 300 exhibitions indoor and outdoor. Here, visitors can experience many scientific phenomena up close, from mankind, and earth to the cosmos. And the best part is you can do that with all your senses.
5. Town Musicians of Bremen
Despite all the above-mentioned attractions, what makes Bremen popular beyond the German border is its unusual musicians. Who doesn’t know the story of a musical band comprising a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster? In this Grimms’ fairytale, the animals are on their apocryphal journey to Bremen to pursue their musician’s dream. But before they reach their destination, they find a cottage in the woods and decide to stay after chasing away robbers who wreaked havoc on the city.
Nonetheless, Bremen considers itself to be the home of these would-be musicians. And the peculiar quartet is honorary Bremen citizens. Therefore, you will repeatedly come across them when exploring the city’s historic core. For instance, in a courtyard of the Böttcherstraße, where they embellish a fountain, or outside a shop in Schnoor Quarter. Yet the most famous sculpture is made of bronze and is located just outside of the Town Hall. Personally, I prefer an artful version of them.
Tips for visiting Bremen
- Bremen is a compact city. Aside from the Universum, all other attractions are located in the city center and can be explored on foot.
- If you want to visit Universum, take Tram 6 to station Univesität. It takes around 15 minutes from Central Station. Bremen’s international airport is also connected to the center by Tram 6.
- One hidden gem of Bremen is the Himmelsaal (the Sky Hall) in the Radisson Blue. If the hall is not occupied, you can pay 2-3€ to the receptionist to get in.