With 2018 drawing to a close and a couple of days of annual leave still to use up, Laurence and I headed over to Northern Germany for a long weekend, dividing our time between fairy tale-esque Bremen and industrial Hamburg. Admittedly, Bremen wasn’t really on my radar until we plugged various dates into Ryanair’s Fare Finder, and discovered that we could fly into Bremen and out of Hamburg for a little over £25 each, and thereby see two places, albeit briefly, in one trip.
Overcast skies and chilly temperatures greeted us; the teeny-weeny room for passport control was too small to accommodate everyone on the flight, so we waited outside on the tarmac, edging ever closer to the heated waiting room. Passports checked, we hopped on a tram: it’s only a few stops to the city centre, a journey that takes all of ten minutes.
Our first stop was St. Petri Dom, a majestic medieval edifice in Marktplatz. Over the centuries, the aesthetic of the cathedral changed from Romanesque to Baroque to Gothic; extensive restoration in the late 1800s, which by and large was done in the Gothic style, means that the cavernous interior visitors see today belies the stylistic changes of years gone by. Inside, we gazed up at the vaulted ceilings, admired the ornate, carved pulpit and ventured into the crypt. I particularly liked the stained glass windows; besides the traditional religious scenes, there were a couple of windows depicting all creatures great and small.
Marktplatz, arguably the city’s historic hub, is also home to Bremen City Hall, which is widely considered to be one of the finest civic buildings in Germany. Built in the late Middle Ages, it’s the only European town hall to have survived in its original form since its construction. While Allied bombs destroyed nigh-on sixty percent of the city, the boarded-up city hall escaped unscathed. We’d hoped to take a tour of it, but it was unfortunately closed for a function when we were there.
Standing tall outside is the city’s six-hundred-year-old figure of Roland, an emblem of freedom and trading rights. Just around the corner is Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten – or the ‘Town Musicians of Bremen’, a statue based on the popular fairy tale of the same name by the Brothers Grimm and a symbol of the city. Contrary to what the title of the fairy tale may suggest, the town musicians – who were, in fact, four ageing domestic animals – didn’t make it as far as Bremen. If you touch the donkey’s hooves, your wishes will supposedly come true.
Next, we wandered along Böttcherstraße, a quaint street lined with red-brick buildings and home to the Haus des Glockenspiels. Thrice daily, thirty porcelain bells chime familiar tunes and sea shanties, while wooden panels in a tower to their left rotate, displaying pioneering seafarers and aviators.
After browsing a few of the independent boutiques on Böttcherstraße, we ambled over to the Schnoor quarter. Bremen’s oldest neighbourhood is a maze of narrow streets and half-timbered fifteenth-century houses, shops and cafés. We ducked into Becks in’n Snoor (the well-known brewer’s HQ is in Bremen), a quaint little inn, and tucked into platefuls of hot schnitzel, washed down with some distinctly tangy water (akin to the aftertaste you get with spring water). Appetites sated, we meandered round the quarter, up and down back alleys, in and out of chocolatiers and souvenir shops.
With the afternoon ticking by and the light fading, we wandered along Schlachte, by the River Weser, before looping up to our hotel to check in. We’d opted for the ibis Styles, which fitted the bill (in both senses) nicely: it was reasonably-priced and centrally-located, so we could get around easily on foot. Bar a short snooze on the plane, we’d been up since 02:00 that morning, so we had a short rest before venturing out to the Christmas markets.
Love Actually’s ‘Christmas Is All Around’ sums up my experience of Bremen’s Christmas markets: with the twinkling fairy lights and the scent of glühwein lingering in the air, Christmas really did feel all around us. Clustered around Marktplatz were some hundred-odd stalls, selling everything from bratwurst and poffertjes (think bite-sized fluffy pancakes, in our case smothered in Nutella and dusted with icing sugar) to mugs of steaming hot kinderpunsch (fruit juice) and hand-crafted festive decorations. After much deliberation – there was a lot of choice, after all – I came away with a pretty wooden Christmas tree decoration, in the shape of a tree.
At the edge of Marktplatz stood one of the largest Christmas trees I’ve ever laid eyes on, bedecked with lights and red-and-gold wrapped presents.
Down by the river, the Schlachte-Zauber Christmas market was in full swing, transporting visitors back to the Middle Ages with spit-roasted meats, mugs of mead and craftsmen (and women) peddling their wares. By this point we were feeling the cold, so we made a beeline for one of the drinks stands, warming ourselves up with mugs of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream.
- When you exit Bremen Airport, turn right and you’ll see the tram stop just across the street. Buy your ticket from one of the machines before you board; fold your ticket in half lengthways and, once on the tram, stamp it in the red box to validate it. A single ticket to the city centre is €2,80 (as of November 2018).
- Swing by Haus des Glockenspiels at 12:00, 15:00 or 18:00 to catch the display, which lasts for around ten minutes.