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.
63 thoughts on “What to see in the Hanseatic City of Bremen?”
The musician’s tale can be interpreted in a few ways!
And Bremen is indeed beautiful to visit too we can see.
I think the message behind the tale is: “Being old does not necessarily mean being useless”. The animals were cast off by their owner just because they are old. But at the end, they proved that they are not useless at all by chasing away the robbers. I must admit, it took me years to understand this story 🙂 The message is so well hidden.
Len, your lovely photos brought back memories of my stay here. I remember these colourful four of Bremen. It was inside the information centre if I am not wrong. They were all over town in some form or the other – in all kinds of souvenirs too. And the Schnoor was my favourite area to spend time over the wonderful pastries and coffee in the chocolate shops. Did you go to the Kaffeehaus Classico there? They had exquisite cakes that made me want to ransack the cake counter. I did a looong post on it. In the early days of blogging I used to write stupendously long ones but there is never enough to write about such beautiful places as Bremen.
Your memory indeed serves you well, my friend! I found the sculpture inside the information. There is even a public lounge where you can rest (something that Hamburg really needs haha). Unfortunately, I did not try any cáfe at the Schnoor because I spent too much time playing at the Universum and looking for the Himmelsaal 🙂 But exquisite cakes sound reasonable enough for a day-excursion. Thanks for the information!
You will want to try each and every one of them. There are some photos in my post of those beauties (https://thetravellingdiaryofadippydottygirl.com/2016/08/03/bremens-fancy/). Just to give you an idea (you have to scroll down the post a fair bit because I rambled a fair bit). The Himmelsaal is fascinating and the way the Glockenspiel chimes everyday is so special too. The chiming was a surreal experience for me. For those few odd minutes, people gathered almost entranced and left as abruptly when it stopped. Almost as if we were all bound by a thread of magic.
In Indonesia, people at my age learned about Bremen in primary school. I remember the city was depicted as an important port for tobacco trade from Indonesia to European markets. It’s interesting to see how it actually looks today. The colors and comicality of four Bremen musicians somehow remind me of Niki de Saint Phalle’s statues at Paris’ Centre Georges Pompidou and the old city center of Duisburg in Germany. And the “giant clam” actually looks quite neat!
There is still a debate until now about the shape of the building. Some said it is an UFO landing on the water (you cannot see the lake in my photo though), while other argue that it looks like a grinning whale. And of course there are those like me who call it a clam 🙂
You are right! As a member of the Hanseatic League, Bremen was quite powerful in the past. Although the power is not there anymore, Bremen today is still a very important port. The Bremerhaven is the fourth-largest container port in Europe, just behind Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg.
It’s one of those structures which can be wildly interpreted. 🙂 I wasn’t aware of the fact that Bremerhaven is the fourth largest container port in Europe. Now I’m really intrigued.
This is so perfect because I am leaving today to Bremen. Thanks for the tips, there was a few that I hadn’t yet added to my plan. And I was going to skip Universum because it seemed more like place for children but if you recommend it I think I will go and see if I will like it 🙂
You certainly will meet a lot of kids there 🙂 But if you have time to spare, Universum is a fun place to go. I remember there is a mini tornado which you can touch. And there is a dish where you can create a desert landscape by yourself. But if you only have time to visit the centre, you may check out this post of Dippy-Dotty-Girl: (https://thetravellingdiaryofadippydottygirl.com/2016/08/03/bremens-fancy/). She wrote a really good article about Bremen’s centre 🙂 Enjoy your time there!
Mmm when I went to Hamburg on a trip I wanted to go to Bremen, but didn’t have time finally… seems nice, but maybe the historical centre isn’t too big??
It is quite compact. I think you need maximal 3 to 4 hours to see all the attractions in the city centre. It took me longer, because I was seduced by the exhibitions in the Universum 🙂 If you have time, the Bremerhaven is also an option.
Thank you very much for the tips! 😉
Nice photos Len!
Thanks a lot! 🙂
You really make me want to visit Bremen now! 🙂
That science centre looks like a UFO… Very futuristic. So many places to see! No wonder young people these days can’t save… 😭
Bad place, isn’t it? 🙂 All these places keep “harming” our bank account.
Excellent entry with the musicians and the statue of Roland both reminding me of my own trip to Riga, Latvia where both also feature.
Thank you! 🙂
The Schnoor and Boetkerstrasse, and in general the Zentrum of Bremen, are really cool. I first went there in Christmas, when its even more cool. Literally.
Lovely series of photos!
Thank you! 🙂
Thank you! 😀
The photographs you have taken are breath-taking.
Splendid article, Len!
Many thanks! I am glad that you like it 🙂
Last time I went to the Universum I couldn’t get in!
Such a pity! Was there an event or something? If you have a chance to visit Bremen again, make sure to check the place. It is a really entertaining, even for adults 🙂
Forgive my flippant pun. I’ve never been to Bremen. I was hinting at the clam-like shape of the building. Your post is great, by the way.
Many thanks! 🙂
Very interesting and informative thank you!
My pleasure! 🙂
Mine too, I thoroughly enjoyed your article!
looking forward to visit science center…or take a photo of it…it’s interesting
Or do both 😉 If I remember correctly, the outdoor area is free of charge.
that’s good to know..thank you so much
Universum science center has over 300 exhibitions? Impressive.
Indeed. If I remember correctly, there are about 5 to 6 themes, ranging from physics, biology to astronomy. And you are encouraged to touch the exhibited objects 🙂
Really nice article man.. I just loved it.
keep the nice work on. thanks
My pleasure! And thank you for the very kind words 🙂
This was a really good post! It is cool to learn the history of the places you travel. It is a great experience being immersed in a new culture.
I am glad that you like it. Thanks for the very kind words 🙂
My pleasure! And thank you for your very kind words 🙂
I was thinking it looked like a crashed spaceship or a macaroon.
True! There are many ways to interpret the peculiar architecture of this museum. If I remember correctly, a newspaper even called it the “grinning whale” 🙂
Sensational photo. I was born in Bremen but I living in Hessen. 🙂 Regards Alexander
Many thanks! 🙂 In which city of Hessen do you live? I have been in Kassel and Erfurt.
Yes I live near Kassel. A beautiful city surrounded with lots of forest. A nice weekend to you 🙂 Greetings Alexander
Thanks, that was interesting. The Universum reminds me of the Evoluon in Holland, more info @ https://www.holland.com/global/tourism/destinations/more-destinations/eindhoven/evoluon-eindhoven-1.htm
The Evoluon is a real space ship 🙂 There is no other way to interpret its shape. The NEMO in Amsterdam is also interesting, their exhibitions are as interesting as those in Universum.
Hahaha! Only Bremen would build houses in the shape of seafruit! Hahaha
The Universum Science Center looks cool. We didn’t see it 😦
What a shame! Now you have a reason to re-visit the city 😉
I’m visiting Bremen on Saturday so a very interesting read. Thank you! 🙂
You welcome! I am glad that it can help 😉
A very interesting read, thanks for posting! And the old quarter is gorgeous, such pretty buildings 🙂
My pleasure! 😀
Although I’ve been to Germany a lot, I’ve never made it to the north. Looks like a lovely place. Thanks for the tour.
My pleasure. In my opinion, North Germany’s beauty is similar to those in the Netherlands or Scandinavian countries. You rarely see fairytale castles in this region, only brick houses (lots of them) 🙂
Bremen looks delightful! I haven’t seen nearly enough of historic Europe to yet be remotely jaded by it, so I see your lovely photos and immediately want to go there.
My pleasure, Alison. Happy Easter! Wish you a great holiday 🙂
Intriging, and perfect photos to compliment your journey. donna
Thank you, Donna 🙂