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City Sightseeing

A Day Trip to Bremen

Bremen, Northern Germany’s second-largest city, is probably best known for the fairy tale about its town musicians, who actually never made it to town but who lived happily ever after anyway. Bremen prides itself on being a Hanseatic city, and one can still find plenty of traces of its prosperous past, especially around the market square, where its political, economic & religious powers are represented by the medieval town hall, noted for its lavishly decorated Weser Renaissance facade (1608), the Schütting (1538), a guildhall in Flemish Renaissance style, and St Peter’s Cathedral. In front of the town hall is the Roland Statue (1404), an emblem of the city’s independence, and around the corner is a bronze of the Bremen Town Musicians (1953) by Gerhard Marcks. Down the alley alongside the Schütting you’ll find the Böttcherstraße, a 110-m-long lane with buildings in expressionist style dating from the 1920s, featuring a carillon made of Meissen porcelain.

Bremen Market Square
Bremen’s town hall & cathedral at the market square

Bremen’s must-see museum is the Kunsthalle, a 10-minute stroll from the market square. Its permanent exhibition had an overhaul last year, a ‘remix’, and now provides a compelling overview of art history ranging from the Middle Ages to the present day, and, endlich, accompanying texts in English. Of special interest here is the work of Paula Modersohn-Becker, a pioneer of expressionism whose paintings are also on view in the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum in the Böttcherstraße, just around the corner from the Ludwig Roselius Museum, which houses Northern European fine & decorative art. Some 25 minutes by tram (№ 4) from the centre of town lies the Focke Museum, which is dedicated to the history of the city, and some 1½ km further away is Rhododendron Park, which is especially pleasing in springtime, when thousands of rhododendrons & azaleas blossom luxuriantly. Its indoor Asian garden, Botanika, is very pleasant the year round.

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In the early 17th century, the revamp of the then-200-year-old Bremen Town Hall produced one of Europe’s most beautiful Renaissance facades. A design by Lüder von Bentheim, who previously produced the front of the city hall in Leiden, the opulent & imaginative facade is a masterpiece of stonemasonry, containing stirring images reflecting political & religious themes. The richness of figures & images adorning the frontage is hard to appreciate with the naked eye — from street level it’s difficult to see the bizarre scenes from a world alien to us, figures with symbolic meanings, as well as reliefs, angels, fabled beasts, flowers, vases, and bouquets of fruit.


Bremen’s Böttcherstraße is the brainchild of Ludwig Roselius, founder of the HAG Coffee Factory, architects Alfred Runge & Eduard Scotland, and sculptor Bernhard Hoetger, who together created an unusual architectural ensemble in expressionist style. The large bronze relief over the street’s entrance, a 1936 design by Hoetger titled Lichtbringer, depicts the archangel Michael fighting a three-headed dragon. Roselius advertised the relief as follows: ‘Die dort jetzt angebrachte große Bronze stellt den Sieg unseres Führers über die Mächte der Finsternis dar’. But the Führer was not at all a supporter of what he called ‘Böttcherstraßenkultur’, and in 1937 he had the entire street listed as a deterrent example of degenerate art. Today, the Lichtbringer is the only surviving public artwork in Germany paying tribute to Hitler.


The Ludwig Roselius Museum in Böttcher Street holds Roselius’ collection of medieval, Renaissance & baroque art from Northern Europe, which supported his völkisch ideas about the excellence of the Nordic race. Highlights include several paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder & a sculpture by Tilman Riemenschneider.


Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907) is probably best known for her portraits of women & girls, especially the many self-portraits that she made in numerous variations, seeking to reinvent the representation of women in Western art history. Her distinct style & daring subject matter made her one of the leading artists of her generation. Her two paintings that I like most are the portrait of Clara Rilke-Westhoff (1905) and her distinctive self-portrait with two flowers (1907).


Also of interest is Bremen’s oldest district, the Schnoor Quarter, which is a maze of lanes lined with picturesque half-timbered houses dating from the 15th & 16th centuries, featuring many quirky shops & eateries.


Some 35 minutes by train from Bremen, its seaport Bremerhaven houses three exciting museums: the German Maritime Museum, the largest of its kind in the country, the German Emigration Center, which tells the stories of the German emigration waves of the 19th & 20th centuries and of immigration to Germany today, and the Climate House Bremerhaven, a science museum about weather, climate & climate change.

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