There were four things that I knew about Bremen before I visited. One, I’d eat far too much. Two, It’s February and I will freeze. Three, I’d love it. And four, even if I didn’t, I was going for some Schweinshaxe and hey, everything will be okay.
A week prior to my trip I’d convinced myself we were off to Cologne. Everybody was in Cologne; my Facebook feed was saturated with bobble-hatted selfies with a misty Cologne cathedral backdrop. I was bitterly suffering with a heavy case of FOMO and wanted in. In reality the flights were cheap enough but unless I was happy with a base in the back and beyond of no-where, accommodation was unusually extortionate for our chosen dates and we just couldn’t make it happen. Feeling miffed about hours of wasted research on ‘the hidden gems in Cologne’ I stumbled on the holy grail of budget travel; a six pound return flight to Bremen.
Uh, do I want to go to Bremen?
Typically, I spent three seconds too long dithering over Google images of the Schnoor district that by the time I’d committed myself to Bremen, the price tripled to eighteen pounds. Still, if a tin can, can fly me to another country and back again for less than the price of a Domino’s pizza, count me in.
So after booking a weekend break for the basement price of less than fifty flipping quid per person for our flight and hotel room, I was interested to find out a bit more about Bremen.
Find The Town Musicians
I think I can lovingly say that Bremen is erring just a touch on the side of quirky. Where else can you find a statue of a chicken on top of a cat on top of a dog on top of a donkey. Well, actually you can find an almost identical one in Riga, as we’d found out a few months before on our trip to the Baltics. De-ja-vu. As it figures, Riga is Bremen’s sister city but this one in Bremen is the original monument…
The statue plays tribute to the ‘Town Musicians of Bremen‘, a Brothers Grimm fairy-tale where the four animals break free of their terrible lives and set off in the direction of Bremen. They actually never reach their destination, and instead stage an attack on a gang of robbers and steal a house, but hey, Brothers Grimm stories have never been what you can consider, conventional. The ‘musicians’ have become the towns mascot and you’ll see many varying forms of the quartet everywhere in the city.
Café Hopping in the Schnoor Quarter
Previous trips to Germany have taken me to Berlin and Hamburg, so I’ve been used to a more modern industrial, and concreate style of German cityscapes, so Bremen was totally switching it up for me with the perfectly preserved medieval district, Schnoor. Everything was scaled down; tiny streets and tiny houses, home to some of the sweetest little cafes, boutique shops and restaurants. Credit the close to freezing temperatures for giving us a nudge into the cosy Café Tolke, a corner café on the edge of Schnoor, with all the quaintness and warmth of a great-grandmothers sitting room with steaming Chai Latte’s and Apfelstrudel. Divine!
Where to find the quirkiest alleyway in
Germany: Bremen’s Böttcherstrasse
This city is so fricking quirky! Böttcherstrasse is a historical street starting from the river bank, leading all the way towards the main square; one hundred metres of some weird-ass expressionist architecture and some pretty stunning art such as Lichtbringer (Bringer of Light) golden mural above the northern gate. The mural by Bernhard Hoetger was commissioned by Bremen local, Ludwig Roselius who invented decaffeinated coffee and founder of HAG. To really add to the weirdness, the mural is actually a nod to Hitler, symbolic of the “victory of our Führer over the powers of darkness”; that throws a whole new perspective on it. The street, along with this gaudy gold plaque was actually listed as ‘degenerate art’ and nowadays it’s a big draw for the tourists!
Where To Find A Windmill In The Middle Of The City
Am I in the Netherlands? I mean, what is this? Uh, no, just in a city park in the middle of a German town, just in case you were fed up of town living for a minute and wanted to take five and pretend you were in the depths of the Dutch countryside.
The Am Wall Windmill stands in Wallanlangen Park, which admittedly would be more of a postcard perfect view in the summer-time with all the flower beds blooming, but even in the February sun and frosty ground, it was a lovely walk, as long as your gloves keep doing their job.
Spotting Art Around The City
Can I talk about how quirky Bremen is again, just for one moment? On the face of it Bremen might seem like a sleepy city when compared to places like Berlin or nearby Hamburg, but every now and then you’d find a purple house with triangle windows, a statue of a man herding pigs in the high street, another crazy donkey-dog-cat-cockerel combo or an all year Christmas ornament shop.
Walking down The Weser
Much like Hamburg, Bremen is centred around its port on the Weser. A wide promenade stretches down a large part of the northern bank and to the west you can see the Becks beer logo across the water. The section nearest to the Market square, Schlachte Embankment is where you can find all the beer gardens, modern bars and restaurants.
Where To Catch Willy Wonka Vibes:
For the kids that grew up with Dahl’s Wonka, I think there’s always something a little magical about a traditional sweet shop. Bremer Bonbon has two shops in the city, one in Bottcherstrasse and the other in the Schnoor District. Both have open kitchens where you can watch sweet makers stretch, blend and mould a rainbow of hard boiled lollies and jars full of tiny different flavoured confectionary. You can even sign up to your own sweet making masterclass or just indulge in tasters and then fill your pockets with candy. I walked off with this lemon lollipop!
Where To Warm Up And Dodge The Winter Chill
With Bremen’s history with HAG coffee and the sheer amount of coffee manufactures in the city, it was quite easy to fuel my mild caffeine addition with the many cafes and coffee houses. They say that in Germany, at least, there’s a good chance your coffee has passed through Bremen and sixty years ago there were around one hundred coffee roasting houses in the city, so these guys have a solid history with the coffee bean, and absolutely know their stuff.
Bearing in mind we visited in February, when Europe is deathly cold and ‘sans’ any Christmas cheer, we were required to take more than the recommended amount of coffee stops to prevent our extremities fading to blue. We grew fond of the coffee shop adjacent to Kiefert (where you can go for a Wurst!) on Bremer Marktplatz where the barista allowed me to practice my basic conversational German without laughing in my face, and Büchlers Beste Bohne on Böttcherstrasse (which is clearly my new favourite tongue twister) that serves some of the finest coffee this side of the continent.
Where To Eat, Drink and Dance On Tables
You know me. German beer halls and I go together like Pork and Sauerkraut, and what a beautiful pairing that is. Schüttinger Gasthausbrauerei is right next to the entrance of Böttcherstrasse and just off the main square. You enter by walking part way down a rather dingy tunnel which seems to lead onto an underground car park, but once you’re through the door, Schüttinger Gasthausbrauerei is a cosily dim-lit delight; all wooden tables, smells of roasting pork and a sea of half-pissed customers. The was all the hearty-goodness I was hoping for; pork knuckle that falls off the bone and the Bremer Knipp, which I can only describe as being a slightly spicier, flat fried haggis, which was delicious. They also offer an XXL Currywurst which is probably longer than your forearm and hangs off both sides of the plate. Amazing.
Where To Simultaneously Be Sloshed And Cultured
When you think about having a good time in Germany, straight away I look to German beer, which is second, in my eyes, only to the Belgian varieties. But when I found out about Bremer Ratskeller; one of Germany’s oldest wine cellars who were established over 600 year ago, it didn’t take too much convincing to get me over the threshold and thumbing through the wine list.
It’s a little touristy, sure, but the whitewashed cellars still have certain charm that coincidently gets better with every glass… Who’d thought? Wine connoisseur, I am not, but it’s always fun to pretend!
Where To Head To Next?
Bremen is just a train ride away from the city of Hamburg. Often visitors to Hamburg will head to Bremen for a day trip as the city serves to be a welcome contrast from Hamburg’s industrial port and typical cityscapes. In can work the other way, of course, and when visiting Bremen, you can extend your trip to explore Hamburg. Hamburg is having a real ‘moment’ right now, with no signs of slowing, and it now counts me as one of it’s many fans. I spent four days last summer, walking to streets of the delightfully seedy Reeperbahn district, chewing on a fish sandwich at seven in the morning washed down with two pints of beer, marvelling over the architecture in the Elphilharmonie and chocking over how much it eventually cost to build, finding sunny terraces and coffee spots in HafenCity and watching the kayaks in the Alster.
You can be in Hamburg in less than an hour if you take the train from Bremen, and head off to discover another part of Northern Germany.
The Figures: Total cost of a trip to Bremen
Flight: £18 return from London to Bremen with the ol’ faithful of budget airlines, Ryanair. We stayed at the Ibis Bremen City for one night only for a grand total of £53. We brought along £150 in spending money, which was by no means scrimping, all of which went on food, drink and the tram transfer to and from the airport.
So I got a return flight, a bed for the night, the experience of a new city, medieval architecture, great food, fantastic drink, sweets, coffee and art all for £119. Bargain of the year!