Posted in answer to Wander Essence’s prompt to pick a book, turn to page 79, 4th line down and write a travel piece based on that. The book is New Finnish Grammar (a novel) by Diego Marani trans. by Judith Landry and the sentence is: She was pressing her hands together desperately thinking of something to say.
‘Don’t mention the war’ they said, when I told them I was off to Bremerhaven. But Max behaved impeccably when the subject came up.
‘Shame the old cobble stones were dug up’ I said, as he showed off his immaculate town. ‘Oh, we didn’t dig them up,’ he said, casually, ‘They were destroyed by bombing during the war.’ Oops. I couldn’t think of a thing to say.
I’d come to Bremerhaven to visit Max and to see for myself if a port could be as pretty as it looked in the photographs he kept sending me.
It’s the largest fishing port in Europe and a major seaport for world trade, but it’s also a fun place. Art Nouveau styled houses with brightly coloured façades lend a cheery air to the serious merchant area. Street musicians, a pedestrianised shopping paradise along the waterfront, sleepy cafes and tree lined boulevards, – all this plus beaches!
In this flat land, somewhat reminiscent of Holland, even I could look proficient on a bike and it wasn’t long before Max and I were mounted on comfortable cycles. The banks of the River Geeste and the surrounding forests are ideal for hiking and cycling and large parks within the city are havens of quiet when you want a rest. We sat on the banks of the Weser for a while and watched the ships go by and then we took ourselves off to Bremerhaven’s own beach, the Weser Lido, for a spot of sunbathing with the locals.
Just a short train ride away was the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, the pulsating heart of Northwest Germany. With more than 1200 years of history in its streets and buildings there is enough architecture here to keep the hungriest culture vulture well satisfied.
Centre of the city is Market Place, where the Schutting, seat of Bremen’s merchants for four centuries, St. Peter’s Cathedral whose towers give stunning views over the city, and the The Rathaus, dating back to 1405, are a reminder of Bremen’s glorious past.
We lunched in the Town Hall cellar (the Ratskeller), which has served as an eating place for more than 500 years, sitting under a low barrel-vaulted ceiling in a cloister-like atmosphere and choosing a wine from one of over 600 fine German wines they keep in stock. Dark wooden cubicles lined one wall (doors kept open by law!) and huge crested barrels dominate the centre of the room. I decided on the pigs knuckle with sauerkraut, fried potatoes and pickled cucumber but I wish I had been forewarned about the size of the pig’s knuckle. German pigs are BIG!
Max suggested a visit to the vaults beneath the Cathedral to see the mummified bodies but post lunch squeamishness made me refuse. Instead we wandered through Bremen’s oldest area, the medieval Schnoor district, once home to fishermen and sailors but now housing artists’ studios and craft shops selling unusual things like life size puppets, designer kites and dolls’ houses. Also worth noting are the top class restaurants and shops that crowd the area. The district was renovated in the late 1950’s, but fortunately the developers didn’t destroy the medieval charm of the district or make the place into a Museum.
There were craft shops too, in nearby Bottcherstrasse, where the zany house fronts with carved wall panels brought a smile to my face and the carillon made of Meissen porcelain made me marvel. The inventor of decaffeinated coffee, one Ludwig Roselius, commissioned these buildings on the tumbledown alley he had purchased early in the 19th century.
Evening saw us in Das Viertel, the centre of Bremen’s nightlife and cafe society, the like of which I’d only seen before in old Montemartre. Moroccan and Turkish snack bars vied with beer joints and shady looking clubs, and Dali-esque people in designer clothes clogged the pavements. Too rich a mix for me after such a hard day’s sightseeing, so we wandered back to a quiet tavern in Schnoor for a satisfying tankard of Bremen’s best.
Yes, Bremen was different. ‘You know, Hitler never came here’ Max said as he saw me off at the station. ‘We were always anti-fascist and he knew that.’
That’s how different they were: they mentioned the war.
Best time to go is for the Freimarkt in October, Bremen’s answer to Munich’s Octoberfest, a huge celebration of food and drink, beer tents and sausage kiosks. Be warned, outrageous behaviour is the order of the day.
Beck’s inn Snoor is the place to sample the local draught beer. They also serve good seafood. There are plenty of snack bars round and about and the food is always good and plentiful.
Restaurants: Do keep enough dosh to eat at Natusch Fischerihafen Restaurant in Bremerhaven for great fish served almost straight from the boat. The place is full of hearty eaters, and they often come around to ask if you want more. Fish dishes from €25 Euros, Grills from €21. Table d’hote Menu from €31.50 for 3 courses. Very large portions so check what other are eating and maybe settle just for one course. Wines by the glass very reasonable.