Free Imperial City
This unstoppable rush for travelling continues now that we are halfway in the year, on what is going to be a record-breaking in all senses. Amount of kilometres travelled, number of flights taken, and number of countries been. Also marking the moment where I’ve travelled to the farthest place so far in my life from where I live, to Easter Island back in April. On this occasion, it is “just” here next door to London, the beautiful German city of Bremen.
Long ago are the £2 return tickets with Ryanair here, but unfortunately we kept postponing on behalf of going to different destinations on and on and. Now you have to pay at least 30 times over that amount, which in any case it is still quite cheap with more or less the same fares for pretty much the whole year. Quite a bargain bearing in mind the great flying times allowing us to be the entire Saturday and Sunday over there, time that we used for a much busier program than only visiting Bremen anyway. Also this was the summer solstice weekend and while many other destinations were really expensive, this was really competitive.
The city has been benefiting from being an independent city-state for much of its history, hence why it became to be known as the Free Imperial City. Nowadays it’s the capital city of the smallest of the 16 states that form Germany, Freie Hansestadt Bremen, which consists of only 2 cities, Bremen and Bremerhaven, the harbour city. The land in between both of these cities is the state of Lower Saxony.
Once a powerful member of the Hanseatic League because of its prime location and trading, it quickly became very rich and wealthy. Not only in trading but also in naval industry. This legacy can be still seen today at the many imposing houses, guilds and halls. Only during WWII the city was heavily bombed and as consequence much of it destroyed, but shortly after rebuilt and restored to its former glory following the same design as per the original buildings while using as many of the original fittings and materials from the debris. An incredible great reconstruction job that should be taken as example for future generations.
The old town is packed with historical buildings, most of which are listed monuments, being the City Hall and the Statue of Roland the iconic symbols, listed World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. But despite having a greatly preserved old town, and beautiful neighbourhoods, the city can be easily seen in full in just one day. A weekend could be even too much as it was in our case. After all, we are very well experienced in city breaks and manage quite good every possible minute in order to make the most and visit as much as possible. Perhaps could be that time to think about it and be a bit more relax in future trips where the city is small and the overall time longer than what is needed to fully explore the city?…arg, scrap that. For now I think we will keep seeing as much of the world as possible, and to continue with another good example, check the following travel guides that come after Bremen. This weekend we managed to include the UNESCO listed World Heritage Site of the Wadden Sea to the north of Bremen by the Baltic Sea right after visiting the city, and the beautiful cities of Lüneburg and Celle on Sunday before making the way back to the airport for the flight back to London.
Getting from Bremen to the Wadden Sea by car was really easy and took very short time all together. We set the direction to Neuharlingersiel, 130 kilometres to the north from Bremen, with the idea to take the boat to the island just across, Spiekoroog. Of course there are many other islands, this is in any case what is all about this place. This World Heritage Site Natural Park stretches over 500 kilometres between the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. The last section in Denmark was extended to be also included in the UNESCO list in 2014. But…something that might happen is that there is no water! Low tide, and this is what happened to us, so could not go to any island yet still, was well worth it to come here and walk by the beach and see the islands far ahead, the nature and the incredible landscape pictures we could take.
Not asking you to follow in doing a similar busy weekend maximizing to the limit the time in order to see as much as we can; but definitely you should take in consideration doing something extra when coming to Bremen. It is worth to take the chance since you will end up with spare time even if you come for only a weekend here in Bremen. The Wadden Sea is a nice option for example, -if the weather is nice. Otherwise, you have Hanover or Hamburg at around just 1 hour by train from Bremen, or visit Lüneburg or Celle, (or both), also easily accessible by train, or if by car then even better.
For more information about Bremen check the Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Germany’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Bremen and the Wadden Sea
- Old Town Centered around the Market Square is entirely filled with beautiful old gabled and guild houses. Badly damaged during the WWII it was cautiously rebuilt upon the original design using as much of the original pieces salvaged from the debris.
-Market Place Rathausplatz in German, is the heart of the historic city where majority of the landmarks located. It served as the main market square in the city since the 13th century, and all its gabled town houses around are listed historic monuments.
-Cathedral of Saint Peter With a history tracing back to over 1200 years, the current building is from around 1080 yet with many reforms afterwards that expanded and gave it its current look. The towers were built in 1253 and you can get to the top on one of them for the best views of the entire city for just 1 Euro.
-Rathaus Is the name in German for City Hall. One of the finest in Europe, listed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO together with the Roland statue at the front. Dating from 1410. You can take part of one of the 3 daily tours organised by the Tourist Information to visit the inside of the building at either 11.00am, 15.00 or 16.00pm.
-Bremen Roland This statue is the symbol of the city. Built originally in 1404 depicts Roland, paladin of the first Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne and hero of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass; protector of the city.
-Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten The Musicians of Bremen statue from the Brothers Grimm fairy tale is another of the well known landmarks in the city. Located next door to the City Hall.
-Schütting From 1539, used to be the guild house for merchants and tradesmen of Bremen. Since 1849 is the Chamber of Commerce. Designed by Antwerp architect Johann den Buschener hence the Flemish style, mix of late Gothic and Renaissance.
-Rathscafé The Town Council Café, now named Deutsches Haus is another of the landmark buildings in the square. The original building dated from the 17th century but was demolished in 1900. Shortly after a competition was launched to create the new building, that in fact resembles to the old.
-Raths-Apotheke Literally German meaning for Council Apothecary. Those almost twin buildings are located right next door to the Rathscafé and date from 1830.
-Haus der Stadtsparkasse The Rococo style Stadtsparkasse Building completes the entire side of the square together with the Rathscafé and Raths-Apotheke while one of it sides lies onto Langenstraße. Originally built in 1755, was rebuilt after WWII, in 1958 with many of the original materials and fittings that were safeguarded from the debris.
-Cotton Exchange Built in 1902 in neo-renaissance style becoming the first steel-framed building in Bremen. Today is pretty much out of its original shape after much destruction during WWII although the interiors remain untouched.
-Old Stock Exchange Only the round house survives today as the main building was destroyed in WWII.
-Langenstraße Is one of the most beautiful streets in Bremen entirely surrounded by historical buildings, starts on the west of Market Square and runs parallel to the river.
-Kontorhaus am Markt Is the first building in this street, with one side facing the Market Square. Built in 1912 in neo-Renaissance style was one of the headquarters of a Berlin bank, nowadays a shopping center. Of special architectural interest is the main portal.
-Stadtwaage Was the weigh house as its name translates where merchants and tradesmen had to weigh their goods. Built in 1588 in Wesser Renaissance style was like most of the city almost entire destroyed in WWII but rebuilt afterwards.
-Essighaus Was the city’s finest example of Renaissance architecture, built in 1618 and completely destroyed in WWII. Only the entrance with the flanked windows has been reconstructed with the rest a newer construction matching with the architecture of the surroundings.
-Suding & Soeken Building Was one of the few merchant houses to survive the war undamaged. It has an imposing facade with renaissance bay windows.
-Böttcherstrasse This street is famous for the large amount of art-nouveu buildings (known in German as jugendstil). It links the Market Square with the river. All of the 9 buildings along this street of only 100 meters length are listed as historic monuments, built between 1922 and 1931 upon initiative of Bremen-based coffee-trader Ludwig Roselius (producer of HAG coffee).
-Lichtbringer Gate Is the main entrance to the street, with a work of art that translates as: Bringer of Light by Hoetger that was intended to glorify the victory of the Führer.
-Glockenspiel House Is one of the major landmarks with its famous carillon with its 30 bells of Meissen porcelain that play 3 times a day at noon, 15.00 and 18.00pm. Once the carillon is on, a carousel of 10 wooden panels depicting famous seafarers and aviators is displayed.
-Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum This impressive brick building in pure art-nouveau style with its rounded corners and tower is one of the masterpieces from the era.
-House of the Seven Lazy Brothers Designed upon the legend about the sons of a local farmer who were considered lazy. The seven brothers can be seen engraved near the entrance and at the roof.
-Atlantis House Although from the outside it cannot be guessed, the interiors are art-deco with a fine staircase and a room called Himmelssaal (sky room) with a ceiling decorated with white and blue glass blocks. Nowadays the building belongs to Radisson Hotel but the sky room accessible to the public.
-Robinson Crusoe House Right next to the Atlantis House was design to depicting the fictional hero Robinson Crusoe
-Church of Our Lady Is the oldest church still standing in the city, from the 11th century although majority rebuilt after WWII. Not far from the Market Square, to the north.
- North District Right outside of the once fortified city, you can still see the curse of the former walls in ziz-zag style with the river, all turned into a nice park.
-Wallanlagen Park Is the green belt encircling the entire north side outside of the old city.
-Central Train Station Built in 1891 is listed a historic monument. Beautiful murals from 1950 depicting Bremen’s port are inside the main hall.
- Schnoor District South of Market Square. Is the only are of the city to retain the medieval configuration of the streets. Back during the Hanseatic time of the city, it was a degraded and poor district, but nowadays is a very popular tourist sight for its many timber houses perfectly restored and the narrow bending alleys. Among the important buildings are:
-Shipper’s House One of the oldest houses in this district, tracing its origins to 1630 from when some timber beams are still in place. The last extension was carried over in 1920, and ever since retained as it was.
-Schnoor Number 37 From 1601.
-Concordenhaus From 1630.
-Kaiser Friedrich From 1630.
-Amtsfischerhaus From 1759.
-St John’s Church Although the current building is of newer construction, the origins go back to the 14th century. It’s listed a historic monument.
- Viertel District To the east of the Market Square adjacent to Schnoor. It is known as the city’s cultural mile.
-Theater am Goetheplatz Is the main theater in the city, dating from 1913 in neoclassical style.
-Kunsthalle Bremen The main art museum from 1849, recently enlarged in 2011.
-Gerhard Marcks House Is a museum of contemporary sculpture from inspired by sculptor Gerhard Marcks.
-Wilhelm Wagenfeld House Just across the road from the Gerhard House is this museum depicting household object designs.
- Schlachte District Located to the west of the Market Square is one of the former harbours of the city along the east bank of the River Weser near the old town. Nowadays the former warehouses are restaurants, cafes and bars with a thriving nightlife.
-Cog Roland von Bremen Is a copy of a 14th century cog ship discovered in 1962.
-Becks Beer Brewery Across the River Weser over the Bürgermeister Smidt Brücke is one of the most famous German beers. Tours of the brewery are available for 10.90 Euros. To check timings see on their website here.
- Wadden Sea As explained above in the introduction, it is a stretch of over 500 kilometers shared between The Netherlands, Germany and Denmark and designated World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is a series of artificial islands, now home to an incredible large number of fauna. When at low tide you can walk between the islands through the sand beaches, while the islands itself are interconnected to mainland by regular ferry services. Be careful with the jellyfish. If the water is high, they will be swimming in the water, and when a low tide, they will be in the sand, easy to spot as they are purple. For a full description check this Wikipedia article.
Bremen airport is located to the south west of the city, really near the center at only around 10 minutes by tram, line 6, making it one of the major cities with an airport as near as that. Flight across Germany and many European destinations are served notably by low cost carriers Ryanair and Easyjet. Finding a good deal from London is for most of the year an easy task with fares as low as 20£ return and even less if you are a bit more flexible with your days.
By train from anywhere in Germany is fast since the city is a major rail transit with ICE high speed trains calling here.
Within the city there is a good network of trams and buses, but for majority of the sights within the old city center there is no need to take any public transportation since it’s very compact and distances short for what walking is the best and only option through the pedestrianized streets.
Should you get a rental car, then it will be the best way to reach the Wadden Sea. Heading towards Neuharlingersiel for example is 130 kilometers on an easy and nice drive. Once there there are boats that take you to the islands just across, but bear in mind this depends on the low/high tides.
I must say it was a bit hard to find any good deal in this city. Probably because it was already end of June, the summer solstice weekend meaning high season time, or otherwise I don’t understand why the higher than average prices even at the more modest hotels. The choice, in any case, is really big and good so it’s just the matter of selecting what better suits your needs. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
Try to stay near the city centre or at least near a tram stop. As always, there is nothing better than not needing to depend on any public transportation to/from the hotel but being walking distance to the city centre. Not only this will save you some money and time, but will also allow you to be more flexible and independent should you go out in the night.
We stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott, in Theodor Heuss Allee number 2. Next to the main train station and meters away from the Burgerpark. Not more than 15 minutes walking to the old town, could not be at any better location. Also with direct tram line to the airport round the corner, you cannot ask for any better and easier convenience. It was very comfortable, with large rooms in great shape and friendly and helpful staff. We selected the option to have breakfast included which was also really nice and great choice and variety of food. Definitely comes highly recommended.