20 August 2011

Busy Bremen

Bremen, like Malmo before it, was chosen as a convenient resting point on the leisurely train journey back from Oslo and then turned-out to be a fantastic place to spend a day exploring.

Let's start with the Town Square.

Many European cities have town squares much like this and while Bremen's is not exceptional it is rather lovely. It has the usual grand buildings, secular and sacred, street cafes, statues and fountains, and it has a tram running through it too.

Smaller squares and other interesting spaces cluster around it and many lanes compete for the right to lead you gently away from it.

For reasons that I'll come to later, the square is still in the centre of the town, unlike, say, Prague, so you find yourself passing through it several times a day as you explore other parts of the town. Each passage through reveals something new or something old from a new angle.

One of the statues in the town square is this one of the Town Musicians of Bremen taken from the Brothers Grimm tale of the same name.

The story is short, inconsequential and has very little to do with Bremen (the animals were headed that way but never got there) but the city has taken the tale to its heart and celebrates the connection with unrestrained fervour.

The town is litter with images of the four animals, usually in this pose forming a pyramid to scare the robbers away.

The front hooves of the donkey are made shiny by the consistent touching by visitors happy to believe for a moment that doing so will bring good luck.

The old town contains within it a still older quarter.

This consists of just a few narrow lanes in the southern tip of the town squeezed in between the river Weser and the outer defences.

I am sure that these buildings have an honourable history housing craftsmen and worthy labourers but now they have all conceded to commercial temptation and have become gift shops, cafes and bars all eager to tempt money out of your pocket.

And it worked. I sat in one of the cafes to enjoy a slow latte and to savour the age and stillness of the area.

The old town is bound by water.

The river Weser curls slowly on one side and on the other a jagged moat once defended the town but now it is at the heart of a garden that wraps itself around the town.

A narrow and sometimes wet path follows the moat as it zig-zags its way around the town providing a reasonable walk for the explore despite the point to point distance being quite short, around 1.5 km.

Most of the walk is shrouded in lush greenery but there are a few splashes of vibrant colour and even a windmill.

Heading back in to the town we find the musicians again.

This particular statue has been mass produced and there are several versions across the town, including a vivid red one outside the Tourist Information office in the central station.

The four musicians are having a good time reading a book. That book is, of course, the Town Musicians of Bremen.

The heady mix of decorative buildings, cobbled lanes, unusual statues and abundant water was exactly what I hope to find in Bremen and what a cursory look at the map had led me to expect.

A busy day's exploring had proved unusually varied and rewarding but there was still more to come.

Refusing a rest back at the hotel I headed out of the city passing through the central station and on to the central park.

This was jaw-dropping amazing.

It was much much larger than I expected with vast open spaces, broad waters and inviting copses.

But it was all the other things that made it so special; the many well-equipped playgrounds for children of all ages (and their parents), the formal gardens, the open-air theatre filling a corner of the park with Shakespeare and the many mysterious paths that guide you from one delight to another.

I only wish that I had had more time to explore it all but I was only there for a day and the old town had to take priority.

If Bremen is reasonably typical for North Germany then I've got a lot more exploring to do in future years.

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