I recently had the great opportunity to revisit one of my favorite cities in Germany, and one that is perennially underrated, Bremen. Perhaps best known for their link to the famous fairy tale the Town Musicians of Bremen, over two visits I’ve learned that there are many other reasons to love spending time in this remarkable city. Bremen has a very unique personality, one that is completely unlike any other city I’ve visited and I confess that I have absolutely fallen under its spell. Best when combined with a longer trip exploring Northern Germany, today I want to share a few reasons why spending two or three days visiting Bremen should absolutely be near the top of your travel to-do list.
Bremen has been a rich and powerful city for a very long time, and that history is seen throughout the city. Most notably it’s hard to miss the city’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, Bremen City Hall and the statue of Roland. Recognized by UNESCO for its “exceptional testimony to civic autonomy and sovereignty,” the town hall isn’t only one of the finest civic buildings in Germany, it’s also the only European town hall built in the late Middle Ages that hasn’t been destroyed or altered. It’s impressive from the outside but, with a guide, visitors are also allowed inside this massive and elaborately decorated landmark.
Next to the Town Hall is the curious statue of Roland; a 600-year old work of art also protected by UNESCO. Its meaning took me a little longer to figure out, but as it turns out Roland means a lot more to the city than just a nice looking statue. An important figure in the times of Charlemagne, he has come to symbolize civic liberty and freedom, both at the heart of the Bremen experience as our friends the animal musicians can testify. Together, the two landmarks are gorgeous to see in person and a highlight of any visit to the city.
Incredible Food Culture
Germany’s regions are famous for their own special meals and dishes, unique to individual cities and towns and are an important aspect of learning about the culture when traveling in Germany. Trying these new-to-me dishes is something I always enjoy doing in Germany, and while in Bremen that meant ordering something a little different, a rollo. The roots of this hand-held meal come from Turkish immigrants who opened small restaurants throughout the city, but especially in the university quarter. Like all great foods, the rollo is deceptively simple and consists of a thin flat bread – not a pita – that is then filled with donar kebab meat, vegetables and garnished with a special sauce that is completely unlike anything else I’ve tried. While you can now find these hearty meals throughout Germany, they got their start in Bremen and ordering up an original is a must do culinary experience.
I also have a fierce sweet tooth which was why I was thrilled to discover a locally made chocolate to which the people in Bremen seem slightly, but happily, addicted. Family owned since it was founded in 1890, Hachez Chocolate is a Bremen institution and with good reason. Using a special recipe that has been handed down through the generations, the chocolate is milky, light and sweet in a unique way I haven’t tasted before. It’s a delicious treat to pick up after a long day of sightseeing and makes for the perfect gift to take back home. I eat a lot of chocolate all around the world, and this is easily one of my new favorites.
Given its size, Bremen is very much a city of neighborhoods and one of the most interesting to visit is also one of the city’s oldest, the Schnoor. For centuries, this working class part of town was very much one of the poorer areas of Bremen. Near the water, the Schnoor was all about shipping, and ropes, cables and chains were all manufactured in or close to the neighborhood. It’s also the only part of the medieval core of Bremen that has preserved its traditional look and feel and most of the homes and shops date back to the 18th, 17th and even 15th centuries. Today it’s a trendy part of Bremen and thanks to its classic architecture is also one of the most popular for tourists to visit. A very easy walk from the town center, spending the afternoon strolling the small streets and alleys, discovering cafes, ice cream shops and stores was an ideal way to better understand the history of the city.
I love a great museum, especially if it involves history or anthropology, so as soon as I heard about the Overseas Museum I knew I couldn’t miss it. Conveniently located next to the main train station, this modern and well-curated institution surprised me in almost every way. The museum is just what it sounds like, it presents different regions around the world through stories, artifacts, short movies and immersive exhibits. For a traveler like myself, walking around was a fascinating look at the world and a fun place to visit. The museum is actually a very old one, first opening in 1896. At that time it very much represented the ethnological approach of the 19th century in presenting strange curiosities and stuffed animals. Since then the museum has undergone a comprehensive facelift and it’s one of the most modern museums I’ve ever visited. Be sure to give it enough time though, it’s large and there’s a lot to see and enjoy.
If you’re a luxury traveler like me, then in Bremen there’s really only one choice – the Dorint Park Hotel. Walking up to this 19th-century mansion, I felt like I was checking into a palace and not just a hotel. It makes sense really, the Dorint Park is Bremen’s only 5-star hotel, an accolade they take very seriously. Enjoying a picture perfect spot on Holler Lake at the end of the Burgerpark, it honestly doesn’t get much better than this. Inside the hotel is just as impressive, with large and inviting spaces and rooms that are meticulously decorated. It’s also a modern hotel, so in addition to those older touches of refinement the Dorint Park enjoys every convenience the modern traveler could want, and since they’re currently going through a refurbishment those touches will only improve. I couldn’t imagine a better hotel experience in Bremen and I know my first stay won’t be my last.
No matter what you decide to do in Bremen, I’m positive that you’ll fall in love with the city just as I have.