If you like contrast, go to Bremen, Germany, which is both the country’s smallest state as well as one of its larger cities, with a population of around 660,000. For Bremen’s appeal lies in its surprising blend of old and new, where historic neighborhoods filled with charming, age-old buildings are juxtaposed with newer high-tech sites that typically draw a wired, younger crowd.
And for first-time visitors to Bremen, here’s a primer, the top five attractions of the city that one should not miss.
1. Bremen’s Marktplatz
This should be at the top of any visitor’s list. Located in the heart of Bremen, this historic square is dominated by the city’s huge Rathaus (Town Hall), considered to be one of the loveliest civic buildings in Germany. Originally a Gothic building dating from 1410, it nevertheless features a Weser Renaissance facade that was worked in during the 17th century. The statues here are of Charlemagne and the seven electors, and an 18-foot (5.5-meter) one of Roland, believed to be the tallest of the 26 statues of Roland still in existence in Germany. There is also a 1951 Gerhard Marcks bronze here, the ‘Street Musicians of Bremen’.
Worth visiting at the Rathaus too, with its entrance at west wing of the building, is the 600-year-old Ratskeller (Council Cellar), with its magnificent vaults, ancient wine vats and quaint drinking cubicles, which sells exclusively German wine. The cellars are open daily from 11 in the morning to midnight.
2. St Petri-Dom
The St Petri-Dom (St Peter’s Cathedral), with its tall spires, is also located on the Marktplatz and predates the Rathaus. It was originally built in the 11th century and subsequently altered, a bit at a time, in the 13th, 16th and 19th centuries. However, much of its interior is original, and it houses a small Gottfried Silberman organ that is the only such piece outside Saxony. As an added attraction, the cathedral’s Bleikeller (Lead Cellar) has eight well-preserved mummified bodies in glass coffins.
Bottcherstrasse is a 330-foot (110-meter) pedestrian street that heads off from the Marktplatz and leads to the River Weser. Transformed between 1923 and 1931 by Ludwig Roselius, inventor of decaffeinated coffee, it boasts architectural surprises that run the gamut from local styles to the more audacious Expressionist ideas of Bernhard Hoetger which were used to create Art Nouveau and Art Deco masterpieces. The Nazis, it is believed, hated the gaudy displays as they considered it to be degenerate art, but the street was largely spared the Nazi wrath. There is a church of interest here, St Martini-kirche, located at the end of the street, which is actually a 1960 replica of the 1229 original that was destroyed during the war; as well as two museums, the Roselius Museum, filled with period furniture and works by Lucas Cranach, and the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum, dedicated to works of the artist.
4. Schnoor Viertel
Okay, if it’s the old, gabled, characteristically ‘Bremen’ buildings you wish to see, this is the place to see them. Schnoor Viertel is the oldest surviving neighborhood in Bremen, where most of the buildings date from the 15th and 16th centuries. And typically, it is filled with artists’ studios and galleries, and cafes and restaurants. One of its centerpieces is the Kunsthalle Bremen (Art Museum) on Wall Street, where you can see an astonishing array of works, from the old masters to the post-war and even more contemporary collections that include German and French Impressionists of the 19th century.
Another museum to be recommended here, not far from Schnoor Viertel, at Schwachhauser Heerstrasse 240, is the Focke-Museum which has an impressive display of exihibits depicting Bremen history, all the way from the prehistoric period to the present.
5. Beck’s Brewery
And finally, there’s Beck’s Brewery, one of Germany’s largest and most famous breweries, located at Am Deich 18 in Bremen. The brewery offers two-hour guided tours of its premises, which include both a visit to its beer-making facility as well as its tasting room where you can sample a half dozen Beck beers, notable among them the Hakke brand that is available only in the Bremen area. The tours are 7 euros per person, and well worth it.