The city of Bremen is in Northern Germany, just a 1.5 hour drive from Friesland, the North-Eastern area of the Netherlands. From the Randstad region, it’s about a four hour drive or train journey to reach Bremen.
Bremen was made famous by the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale, “The Town Musicians of Bremen”. I read this story out loud to the kids in the car on our way to Bremen, which was fun. In the story, a donkey, a dog, a cat and a rooster, were all getting older and feeling useless on their farms. So one by one, they left their homes and set out on an adventure together to go to Bremen, known for its freedom, to live without owners and become musicians. They ended up saving the town from thieves and lived happily ever after of course.
But why, in the story, did the animals choose to go to Bremen? The Brothers Grimm were said to be good friends with the Mayor of Bremen at the time, Johann Smidt (1827-1857). So it is thought to be possible that the animals’ desire to get to Bremen was a gesture of appreciation for him.
We chose to go to Bremen simply because a photo on Instagram had caught my eye, and I instantly felt the need to visit this historic city. The photo showed a narrow cobble-stoned street, lined with traditional Bremen houses and a little, cosy-looking restaurant. I was determined to find the location where the photo had been taken, which, I had discovered before our visit, was to be found within the Schnoor district in the Old Town of Bremen.
Most of the historical sights in Bremen are found in the Old Town (Altstadt). The oldest part of the Old Town is the southeast half, starting with the town square (Marktplatz) and ending at the Schnoor quarter. We knew we wanted to find accommodation as close as possible to the old town so we booked a room (which could accommodate a family of four) at a hotel in the city centre, just outside the old town area. I’m glad we did this, as driving into the city we couldn’t help but notice that the outskirts of the city did not give a great first impression. We were keen to get to the old centre and our hotel was very close by. After checking in, we set off on foot to explore Bremen.
The blue dot was our hotel and everything inside the red circle is what you want to see when you go to Bremen. You can even see the old town moat that still exists. We really enjoyed walking along the inside of this moat, which is a lovely park area with pretty gardens and a windmill.
From here, it’s a short five minute walk to the old town square which is just stunning. Surrounded by buildings all mostly constructed in the 13th century, you can’t help but just stare at them in awe of the details; the town hall, the Bremen St Peter Cathedral, the old weigh house and even the private residences. The buildings surrounding the town square were the first in Bremen to be restored after World War II by the citizens of Bremen themselves. We climbed the 265 steps up to the top of the cathedral for a great view over the town square and surrounds.
The Town Hall of Bremen (1405), on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, nowadays hosts a beautiful restaurant, ‘The Ratskeller’ in the cellar (no rats so don’t worry LOL) with gigantic wine barrels, and is also home to the twelve oldest wines in the world, stored in their original barrels.
Right beside Bremen’s beautiful gothic styled town hall, a bronze sculpture can be found of Die Stadtmusikanten (the Town Musicians), showing the donkey, dog, cat and rooster.
In front of the town square is the 10m high statue of Roland. Roland was a knight who protected the city in his day and still ‘stands watch’, protecting the city and its people today.
The Böttcherstraße runs from the town square down to the river and is lined with stunning buildings containing shops, museums and theatres. It’s a great little street! Directly across from the Glockenspiel (bells clock) was our favourite place to get a drink and/or meal, the Standige Vertretung. Such a great building, full of character and great meals at a great price! The grilled pork knuckle, schnitzel and curry sausage were are amazeballs! Look for the little yellow owl.
The river Weser runs right through Bremen and the promenade, Schlachte, is lined with beers gardens and river boats. However, we were there on a public holiday and just seemed to be filled with young drunk people (at 3pm). It certainly was the place to be if you are looking for a big night out (but as we were with the kids, we much preferred walking along the old moat/river).
Our favourite part of Bremen was the old Schnoor district, which could actually easily be overlooked if you are not specifically looking for it as, although it is close to the town square, you have to cross a main street to get to it. The unique and crooked buildings, small family run businesses (boutique shops and restaurants), cobblestones streets and narrow alleyways made it picture perfect! Just what we came to Bremen to see.
Bremen is also home to the Universum Science Centre, which, although we did not get to, I have heard that this mussel shaped, interactive science museum is well worth a visit.
Bremen holds a traditional German Christmas Market every year, where the old town square is transformed into a winter wonderland from the end of November to the end of December. More information on this annual event can be found here.
We really enjoyed our stay in Bremen, it is a great German city to visit during any season of the year, either with or without kids. Spend your time in Bremen within the red circle shown above, as outside of this area, it is not the prettiest city to look at. You need to get to the heart of Bremen to be able to appreciate all it has to offer and it is definitely doable in 1 or 2 days.
If you plan to visit Bremen with your children, I’d suggest you read them the story of the Bremen Town Musicians before you go 🙂
“City air makes you free”
In the Middle Ages (approx. 500-1500 AD), from the second half of the 12th century, European cities held the promise of a new life for serfs, giving rise to the saying “city air makes you free”. Much like the Bremen Town Musicians, a great many peasants attempted to escape their feudal lords by heading for the city walls in the hope of leading an independent life. Those who were not found and retrieved after a year and a day were free for good.
“Der Alltag im Mittelalter” by Maike Voigt-Lüerssen, published by Books on Demand, 2006, ISBN 978-3833443541