Experiences through the five human senses hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and touching have been found by tourism researchers to be particularly memorable. So let’s discover 5 unique places to visit in the Hanseatic city of Bremen in northern Germany through your 5 human senses…
1. See… a 600-year-old knight
As a Bremen tour guide I have seen this phenomenon many times: Whenever new visitors arrive in Bremen’s city center for the first time, their eyes light up and they look around them in awe.
Just like many other German cities, Bremen was severely bombed in the final years of World War 2. But despite 173 bombing attacks, Bremen very luckily managed to preserve a medieval town center with many historical buildings in close proximity.
On the medieval market square in Bremen, you will find:
- The Bremen cathedral, which was built around the year 1000 AD.
- The impressive Bremen Town Hall, which was first built in the year 1404.
- And finally, right next to the Town Hall, a 600-year-old knight named “Roland”. The Roland statue has also been standing on the Bremen market square since 1404. This year can easily be remembered because in 2004, exactly 600 years after they were first built, both the Roland and the Bremen Town Hall were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Roland and the emigrants
The Roland himself is about 6 meters (around 20 feet) tall. The whole statue gets to a bit more than 10 meters (around 33 feet). That doesn’t seem very high for most of us today. But for the people in former times, the Roland must have seemed as impressive and gigantic as the Statue of Liberty in New York (which is 93 meters or 310 feet tall) seems to us today. After all, there were no skyscrapers in those days.
Moreover, many emigrants that came to Bremen to start their emigration journey from here, came from rural areas. In fact, most of them were poor peasant farmers. As such, they had probably never seen anything else than their home village before they came to Bremen.
A Symbol of Freedom
And just like the Statue of Liberty in New York, the Roland was first erected as a symbol for the freedom and independence of the city of Bremen. Bremen looks back on a long tradition as an internationally important trading city. So when the Bremen merchants became very wealthy in the early medieval times, they wanted to have some say in the city’s politics, too.
At the time, the bishops of Bremen cathedral had the most power in the city. So the text written on Roland’s shield says that the city is free and independent from any clerical rule. Naturally, the bishop wasn’t so thrilled about that and some followers of bishop Adalbert allegedly destroyed the first wooden Roland. The second Roland made from stone, however, has lasted for over 600 years until today.
It is not a 100 % clear whether the Roland ever existed as a real person or was simply a legend. If he did, he was a Christian knight who lived from around 736 to 778 AD. He fought in the Pyrenees in the south of France and died in a battle against Arab Muslims. Thus, he is seen as a Christian martyr.
The people of Bremen say that the city will only remain free as long as the Roland is standing there. That’s also why they built a wall around the Roland to protect him from getting destroyed during the bombing attacks in World War 2. So far, it worked. 😉
2. Hear… the Bremen Town Musicians
What’s that sound? A cat? A dog? A rooster? Or a donkey? Well, it depends.
If you walk from the Roland statue towards Bremen cathedral, you will pass by a manhole cover. It doesn’t look that different from other manhole covers, so you might not notice it at first.
But: If you throw in a coin, you will hear one of the four animals that make up the famous Bremen Town Musicians: The donkey, the dog, the cat or the rooster. Their famous statue, by the way, is just around the corner from here (for more on that see tip 3 below).
Check out this short video to hear the Bremen Town Musicians yourself:
The so-called “Bremer Loch” (Bremen hole) has been here since 2007. It’s essentially a donation box for collecting money. This money is then used for helping citizens in need and for supporting community projects in Bremen.
Each year, up to 17,000 Euros are collected through the “Bremen hole”. Not bad for a manhole cover, right?
The inventor of the “Bremen hole” apparently patented his idea worldwide. So no other city can copy it. This ensures that the “Bremen hole” remains one of the truly unique places to visit in Bremen.
3. Touch… the legs of the donkey
While we’re at it, don’t forget to pick up your portion of good luck by touching the legs of the donkey at the statue.
The world-famous statue of the Bremen Town Musicians is just around the corner from the “Bremen hole”. Basically, you go a few steps back from the manhole cover towards the Roland and the Town Hall and cross the street to the right. The statue is just behind the Town Hall.
Free at last
The four animals (the donkey, the dog, the cat and the rooster) are the main protagonists of the Bremen Town Musicians fairytale. This fairytale was first written down by the Brothers Grimm in 1819. Too old to work, they were useless for their keepers. So, their keepers wanted to kill the animals. That’s when the four animals decided to emigrate to the city of Bremen. After all, they heard that in a city like Bremen, everyone can be free.
This element of the fairytale hints at the fact that in the 19th and 20th century, many people from rural areas in Germany emigrated to a different place in order to have a better life. Often because of the bare necessity to survive (particularly for poor peasant farmers).
Some did go to the cities, but some also went as far as North America. And perhaps your ancestors were among them?
Remember: Always touch both legs of the donkey. Otherwise, a true local of Bremen will tell you: “If you’re touching just one leg of the donkey, it is two donkeys shaking hands!”
4. Smell… beer and coffee – what a mix! 😀
Beer and coffee might be a bit of a strange combination and I can reassure you: You don’t usually smell them at the same time. At least I never did.
But, depending on the wind, you can sometimes note the smell of brewing beer from the nearby Becks beer brewery or the smell of coffee from one of the coffee factories in Bremen.
Have your coffee and cake in Bremen
Bremen is quite famous for coffee as several well-known coffee brands are originally from here. In fact, the first ever decaffeinated coffee brand was invented just off the Bremen market square in the so-called “Böttcherstraße”. This was the street where the Bremen coffee merchant Ludwig Roselius had his office. Roselius’ father had died of a heart attack allegedly caused of drinking too much coffee. Thus, his son found a way to extract the caffeine from his coffee and create a new coffee brand in 1906. In Germany, his coffee brand is known as “Kaffee HAG”, in the US it is better known as “Sanka.”
If you’re a cover lover as well, make sure to add a coffee shop to your list of places to visit in Bremen. In German, these places are called “Cafés” and can be found all over the city. For example in the Schnoor quarter.
The so-called “Schnoor” quarter is the oldest part of Bremen with some houses dating back to the 16th or 15th century. It will only take you a few minutes to walk to the Schnoor quarter from Bremen’s market square.
In the Schnoor quarter, you can also have your coffee with a slice of “Schnoorkullertorte”. This is a cake made from “Schnoorkuller” – a hazelnut pastry that you can only get in the Schnoor quarter (not even anywhere else in Bremen or Germany!).
My tip: The Konditorei Café Amtsfischerhaus (Schnoor 31) in the heart of the Schnoor quarter is a nice place to visit for coffee and “Schnoorkuller cake” in Bremen.
Beck’s Beer: A Bremen original
Another worldwide famous brand from Bremen is Beck’s beer. The Beck’s beer brewery was founded by Heinrich Beck (alongside two other businessmen) in 1873. Heinrich Beck was originally from the South of Germany. More precisely from Großeislingen (today: Eislingen/Fils) near Stuttgart in Baden-Wuertemberg.
In 1854, he emigrated to Indiana in the US. But because he was apparently homesick and (among other things) really missed his German beer, he eventually immigrated back to Germany in 1864. When he came back, he chose Bremen in northern Germany as the strategic headquarters. Bremen and the river Weser and it was not far to the North Sea. So from here, Beck could export his beer into all corners of the world.
Up until this day, Becks beer remains one of the most exported beer brands worldwide.
Visit the Becks beer brewery
Although Beck’s beer today belongs to the Belgian beer corporation Anheuser-Busch InBev, the main brewery of Beck’s is still in Bremen. Apart from being a working factory, the brewery can also be visited on a tour.
The Beck’s beer brewery (Am Deich 20) is just about a 17 minute walk away from the medieval market square. The walk is also a nice one because it will lead you along the river Weser and over a bridge.
In non-Corona times, the Beck’s beer brewery tour in English takes place Monday to Saturday at 3pm (except public holidays) and lasts for approximately 3 hours.
For more tips about Beck’s beer activities and beer-related places to visit in Bremen check out these tips by the Bremen Tourist Information.
Have you ever the key on the Beck’s beer bottle? This was done to show the connection to Bremen as the beer’s home base. The city of Bremen also has a key as its symbol in both its coat of arms and the red and white Bremen flag.
Apparently, the founders first wanted to use Bremen’s whole coast of arms in their logo. This was rejected. Allegedly because the city did not want its coat of arms to be associated with alcohol. But in the end, the Beck’s brewers were allowed to use the Bremen key in their branding. They just had to make one tiny change: The key had to show into the opposite direction than the key on the flag of Bremen.
5. Taste… typical North German food
If the smell of beer and coffee has made you thirsty (and/or hungry), you have plenty of options in Bremen.
Since Bremen is located in northern Germany, the traditional cuisine here is north German cuisine. North German cuisine is in general very fish-based. After all, the sea is not far from here.
A good restaurant to get a taste for traditional (North) German food is the Ratskeller Restaurant (Am Markt). This restaurant is part of the Town Hall’s wine cellar, which in fact houses the largest collection of German wines worldwide!
The Ratskeller Restaurant is located right next to the Bremen Town Musicians. The Ratskeller is one of Bremen’s most traditional restaurants and one of the oldest restaurants in all of Germany. Plus, they offer set lunch deals, which differ ever week.
Also on the market square is the restaurant and cake & coffee place Classico (Hinter dem Schütting 1A).
Another good spot for fish dishes is Fisherman’s Seafood (Am Wall 201). This restaurant is about a 10 minute walk from Bremen’s marke square and a little bit hidden inside the building, which also houses the City Library.
If you are a sausage lover, you can of course find several “Imbissbuden” where you can also have “Pommes” (French fries). For example CKTs (Obernstraße 76 and Bahnhofstraße 35). This place offers a lot of different choices for sausages and French fries, among them sweet potato French fries.
These days, of course, you can also find lots of vegetarian and vegan options in the city. In fact, nowadays you can get food from all over the world in Germany and Bremen is no exception.
Dine on water
There are also two Restaurant ships which are permanently docked in Bremen. You will find these along the river Weser and the old harbor of Bremen called “Schlachte”. This area, again, is only a short walk away from the medieval market square.
One of the Restaurant ships is called Alexander von Humboldt (Schlachte 1a) and serves traditional North German food. The other one is called Pannekokenship Admiral Nelson (Schlachte 1). “Pannekoken” is the Dutch word for “pancakes”. Thus, on this ship, you can eat all kinds of giant Dutch pancakes (sweet and savory).
Here, you can also get a little “taste” of what it must have felt like for your ancestors to emigrate to America on sailing ships. But of course, this experience is much more comfortable these days than it would have been for your ancestors.
Along the “Schlachte”, you will find many other options for food from all around the world. For example:
- Traditional North German food at Feldmann’s Bierhaus (Schlachte 19 – 20)
- Bavarian / South German cuisine at Paulaner’s (Schlachte 30)
- Italian at bellini (Schlachte 41)
- Mexican Fusion at Enchilada (Schlachte 26)
- or a young take on German “Hausmannskost” (home cooking food) at Ma (Schlachte 31).
If the weather is nice in the summer time, you can also sit outside here. Almost every restaurant at the Schlachte has a “beer garden”. Because the restaurants’ beer gardens are side by side, some people even say that the longest beer garden in Germany can actually be found in Bremen.
In the medieval Schnoor quarter, you will find several good restaurants, too. For example the Becks in’n Snoor (Schnoor 34-36) located in a cosy old house that’s typical for the Schnoor quarter.
The Teestübchen (Wüstestätte 1) might be called “tearoom”, but it serves much more than just all kinds of very good tea. Located in an equally quaint old building, this restaurant also offers fabulous German breakfast, lunch and delicious cakes.
If you are a sausage lover and find yourself in Bremen, you should try a “Pinkel” Wurst. “Pinkel” sounds an awful lot like “pinkeln”, which is the German word for “peeing”. There are in fact several explanations why the “Pinkel” Wurst is called that. One of them is that the sausage is hung to dry out. While it is hanging, it loses water and thus it looks like the sausage “pees”.
A Pinkel Wurst is traditionally eaten with green cabbage. This, in turn, is a typical winter dish. In non-Corona times, you will see many groups of friends going on “Grünkohlessen” (green cabbage walks). This is only a tradition in northern Germany, so you will not find that in southern Germany. While people are on their way to a restaurant, many play a game, which is similar to bowling. There is usually a lot of alcohol drinking involved, too. So when people finally reach a restaurant for their meal, a lot of them are probably very drunk.
Ready to see, hear, touch, smell and taste Bremen?
Well, here is the bad news: At the time I am writing this post (April 21), no-one knows when and how we are going to reopen after the Corona crisis. Right now, the numbers of infections are rising again in Germany. At the same time, vaccinations are moving forward very slowly, which is partly due to not enough vaccines being available in the EU at this time.
I will try to update this section as often as possible. Perhaps traveling to and in Germany will be totally fine again by summer 2021 (as it was in the summer of 2020). Perhaps by fall 2021 or winter 2021 or it might take even longer than that… no-one really knows that right now.
However, the good news is: You could still start planning your trip to Germany and Bremen now. It’s never too early to start planning a trip and sometimes it can be even be just as exciting than going on the actual trip. After all, there is a saying in German which goes “Vorfreude ist die schönste Freude” (The greatest kind of joy is the anticipation of joy).
You could also get a first taste of things to see in Bremen on a virtual tour.
This tour has an emigration theme. So if your ancestors came through Bremen / Bremerhaven, you might find this 1 hour Bremen virtual tour particularly interesting.
Either way, whether you decide to visit virtually or in-person, I am looking forward to welcoming you to Bremen soon! 😉
COVID-19 Travel Updates: The regulations change all the time. So check out the latest information about Germany travel restrictions on Germany’s official Tourism COVID-19 webpage.
Over to you: Are you planning a trip to Bremen in the near future? Do you have ancestors that emigrated from Bremen / Bremerhaven? What would you like to see once you are here? Let me know in the comments below.
Unless otherwise credited, all photos by © Sonja Irani | RevisitGermany.com