Sunday, 11 November 2018 - 16:00
Featured image © Jens Hagens Fotografie (www.facebook.com/Jens.Hagens.Fotografie)
We have all been there - searching for a weekend city escape that is not too big to be strenuous, not too small to be boring, not too expensive, not too crowded; it should have noteworthy landmarks and an interesting history, beautiful parks, plenty of open-air cafés, good bars and restaurants, affordable spa hotels, and a body of water nearby. All accessible within the time frame of a weekend or a prolonged weekend. For me, the first city that comes to mind that literally fulfills all of the above criteria is Bremen in Northern Germany. Serviced by a good airport, the city on the river Weser is the capital of the oldest autonomous political entity in Germany and does not lack in things to do. Besides its rich history as a center of free trade, it offers its multitude of facets to visitors in a relaxed, warm atmosphere, perfectly suited for a weekend getaway in every season. Here are 10 reasons why.
1. The city's landmarks, including UNESCO world heritage sites, can be explored on foot in half a day
Every visit to Bremen should start in the Marktplatz, the center of the city since the 8th century. The Renaissance Town Hall and the Roland Statue (symbol of free trade), both erected in the 13th century, are included on the list of UNESCO world heritage sites. The Bremen Cathedral (Bremer Dom - a masterpiece combining Romanesque and Gothic elements) can also be found here, as well as the Statue of the Bremen Town Musicians, famous characters of the Brothers Grimm fairytale. Whereas most people are aware of the tradition to grab the front legs of the statue's donkey for good luck, not so many know that, on their birthday, unmarried men that reach the age of 30 are pressed by their friends to sweep the steps of the cathedral until a virgin kisses them.
For those inclined to spend some money, several shopping streets branch off near the Marktplatz, and you can also find a flower market and a produce market in the area.
From the Marktplatz, one can walk towards the Weser river through the Böttcherstraße, a medieval street restored in the 1900s in the expressionist style under the patronage of the coffee magnate Ludwig Roselius (owner of HAG and the inventor of decaffeinated coffee). Turning left at the end of Böttcherstraße, walking along the Martinistrasse and the Weser, and then turning left on Stavendamm one will soon discover the Schnoor, a medieval neighborhood of narrow streets with 15th-to-18th-century houses, which has preserved its unique character. Here you can find coffee houses, artisan and souvenir shops.
2. Several interesting museums for an afternoon outing
Right on Böttcherstraße is the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum, the first museum in the world dedicated to a woman, displaying the works of the early expressionist painter who lived in the artists' community in nearby Worpswede.
The Kunsthalle Bremen art gallery has an impressive collection of pieces from the Renaissance to the modern day, including works by famous French and German Impressionists. It also houses temporary exhibitions of great quality.
The Übersee Museum (left photo below), next to the main train station (Hauptbahnhof), is home to the Bremen Ethnological Museum, one of the most emblematic cultural institutions in Northern Germany. It displays ethnological and natural history artifacts, taking visitors on an unforgettable journey across the globe.
The Universum Science Center (right photo below) allows visitors to understand scientific phenomena by experiencing them up close through demonstrations and daily science shows (reachable via Tram 6 from Hauptbahnhof - Stop Bremen Universität-Süd).
3. Excellent acoustics concert venue for music lovers
The Bremer Glocke (The Bell) is a concert hall with out of the ordinary acoustics standing on the site of an octagonal bell-shaped building from the Middle Ages. Besides concerts, it hosts jazz events, readings, and cabaret performances, and it is definitely an authentic thing to experience during your visit.
4. A famous wine cellar and many other great restaurants
The Bremen Ratskeller (literally - cellar of the city council), is one of the oldest in Germany, holding the world's largest collection of German wines. It hosts a tavern and a gourmet restaurant, and it is an absolute must-see for all wine lovers visiting Bremen. The word is that Johannes Brahms was among its famous guests, probably on the occasion of his debut as a pianist in 1855, or after the premiere of his Deutsches Requiem in the Bremer Dom in 1868.For a more cozy atmosphere, one could try the Beck's in'n Snoor or the Concordenhaus, both in the historic Schnoor district. Alternative traditional locations are Spitzen Gebel (located in the oldest townhouse of the city) and Kleiner Ratskeller, both on the way from Marktplatz to Böttcherstraße, as well as Knurrhahn, Bremen's oldest fish restaurant.
5. Bremen has known coffee long before Vienna
The first coffee house in the German-speaking world opened in Bremen in 1673. Since then, the city established itself as a main hub for the coffee trade and freshly roasted coffee is a trademark of Bremen. Taking a break from sightseeing, one can enjoy a cup of coffee at the Kaffeemühle, a restaurant located in a 100-years-old mill in Wallanlagen park (photo).
Coffee merchant and arts patron Ludwig Roselius established the process to obtain decaffeinated coffee in Bremen, at the beginning of the 20th century. Part of his business is now run by Lloyd Coffee, a company that still uses traditional methods for coffee roasting and offers public seminars and tours that are worthwhile for coffee aficionados.
6. Luxury hotels at affordable prices
We all want to be pampered every now and then, and we strongly suggest you do this in Bremen as it is more affordable in comparison to other touristic cities. For example, right in the city center are three wellness hotels with room prices between 70-80 euros (the Radisson Blue, the Atlantic Grand Hotel, and the Swissotel). If you are looking for a hotel on the river Weser, the northern suburb of Bremen Vegesack (a half hour train ride from the city center) offers beautiful options such as the Atlantic Hotel Vegasack, the Strandlust Vegesack, and a bit further away the Ringhotel Fährhaus Farge.
7. The Freimarkt in autumn
Ask any local, and they will tell you that Bremen has five seasons - winter, spring, summer, autumn, and Freimarkt season. Rooted in the centuries-old tradition that allowed the city of Bremen to hold a free market, the nowadays display of color and activity is the biggest festival in Northern Germany, attracting tourists and locals alike with its festive atmosphere. For the last two weeks of October there is nothing else to do in Bremen than enjoy and the correct local greeting is: Ischa Freimaak!
As soon as the Freimarkt is over, locals look forward to the next big event on the Marktplatz, the Christmas Market. Due to the characteristic fairytale atmosphere of the city center, this is one of the most beautiful and magical Christmas markets in the world, and to be very honest, my all times favorite. And I do say this after living in Vienna for 10 years. Alongside the Schlachte Magical Christmas Market on the Weser embankment, the Bremer Weinachtsmarkt will transport you to a world where miracles are possible.
The magic of Christmas in Bremen wonderfully captured by © Jens Hagens Fotografie (www.facebook.com/Jens.Hagens.Fotografie)
9. The Rhododendron Park in spring
Christmas is not the only magical time in Bremen. Wonderfully maintained gardens are the pride of all house owners, especially in spring during the blooming season. Distinctive for Northern Germany, the rhododendron blooms in a variety of colors and arrangements everywhere, making a walk along the street feel like a memorable thing to do in Bremen. One of the city's most famous parks is dedicated to this special plant, an unforgettable experience for those who visit Bremen in May.
10. A perfect base for day trips
Connections from the main train station (Hauptbahnhof) to neighboring cities are very good. If one has enough time, day trips to Hannover or Hamburg, Germany's second-biggest city, and a Lonely Planet recommended destination for 2018, are both worthwhile. For those wishing to explore the countryside, a visit to the artists' villages of Fischerhude or Worpswede is highly recommended. Worpswede can also be reached by a Weser cruise via Vegesack. The North Sea towns of Bremerhaven and Cuxhaven are also easily accessible from Bremen. For a thoroughly authentic experience, plan ahead to visit the Neuwerk Island by horse-drawn carriage from Cuxhaven when the tides are low.