Susi and Austin's

Travelling the Rivers and

Canals of Europe


Bremen and Hamburg

Sunday 3 September 2023 1:08 AM

Bremen is the last stop on the Weser and also the beginning of tidal waters. (See the marina at high and low tide! 4.5-metre difference) A long pontoon on the so-called “Schlachte” embankment adjoins historic and modern barges set up as restaurants and bars. As one of our German friends (via AIS) noted, our boat was moored directly opposite the "Becks Brewery” which produces the well-known Bremer beer. From the marina, it was a 10-minute walk to the tram or a 25-minute walk to the old town. The walk passes the regional radio and television station, "Radio Bremen". A sculpture of a lounge with one of Loriot’s loved pugs stands in front of the building. It is a copy of a plush, green sofa inside the station, where the cartoonist and writer Loriot used to sit while working on a series of television cartoons.

The old town of Bremen is charming. No wonder the donkey, dog, cat and rooster decided to quit their country jobs and come here to become "The Town Musicians of Bremen” aka “Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten” from Grimm’s fairy tale. Today they would have to compete with a few other street musicians on the market square. However, there is a golden slot in the pavement, and if you throw in a coin, you can still hear them braying, woofing, miaowing and cockadoodling.

Looking up from the middle of Market Square, we marvelled at the beautiful Town Hall and the towering “Roland statue”. Both were first erected in 1404 and have UNESCO Heritage status. Roland was a warrior of Charles the Great and statues of him stand on the marketplaces of several Northern German towns as a symbol of their medieval market and city rights.

The one in Bremen though is special as it was also used as a measuring tool. The distance between Roland's knees is exactly one "Bremen Elle" (approx. 55cm), which was used to measure fabrics, hence the pointy knees. Interestingly the LMR (Length Measurement Roland) is still used today in aeroplane construction and space travel. 

Just off the marketplace is St. Peter’s Cathedral. Again we met Charles the Great, who in 780 AD established a diocese here, and so effectively founded this city. Since then Bremen has come a long way. 

The Hanseatic city became a leader in international trading and shipping with its busy harbour at the time. As ships grew bigger and the mouth of the Weser became shallower, the harbour was moved closer to the sea to what is now Bremerhaven.Landeswappen Hamburgs – Wikipedia Bremen with Bremerhaven and the 40 km in between built a federal state on its own and they are very proud of it Bremer Wappen – Wikipediatoo! There is always a little competition with the other city-state, Hamburg. Bremen has St. Peter’s key as their coat of arms, while Hamburg’s coat of arms is a gate, they call "the gate to the world”. But the picture is of a closed gate, and so the Bremers say: “Hamburg might have the gate, but we have the key!"

Böttcherstraße is one of the busiest tourist thoroughfares. The golden light bringer above its entrance lures people into the narrow pedestrian arcade and its multiple little shops. It also contains museums and a Glockenspiel (carillon) of 30 bells made from Meißner Porcelain.

One of my favourite areas is the “Schnoor”-Quarter with its 15th and 16th-century tiny houses leaning together like threaded on a cord (“Schnoor"). We found a cosy restaurant in one of the tiny alleys with some typical North German food. Naturally, Captain Austin chose the “Captains Plate" with smoked salmon, prawns, calamari and pickled herring, and I, as a mere deckhand had the traditional “Labskaus”, a beef and potato stew with pickles, rollmops and an egg on top. All was washed down with a Beck beer, of course.

Austin was in such a North German swing, that on the spur of the moment, he said: “Let’s catch a train and see the competition!” So off we went to Hamburg.

 We saw the bad side of town first, as you do arriving at many railway stations: lots of homelessness and addictions. But only a street away one can find luxurious hotels and shops. Crass contrasts!

We took two walks, one through the new and one through the old city. Both started at the town hall. Close by is the “Jungfern Steg”, an esplanade along the Binnen Alster, a dammed part of the river Alster which widens to a beautiful lake surrounded by one of the nicest, green leisure areas and most luxurious living areas in town. Legend says that if a virgin walks along the “Jungfern Steg” meaning “Virgin Pier”, a bell would ring. Funny enough, the bell never rang, until that day, when Austin tricked me by setting his phone to a “chime”. You could see that the Hamburgers around us weren’t conned. They just responded with “Moin!”, a word from the Northern dialect and used as a greeting everywhere.

Our way led us to the Stadthöfe and Stadthausbrücke, an area of courtyards with fine cafés and arcades at the Bleichenkanal. Yet this area and especially the bridge has a dark history, as it was used to interrogate and torture the “Unwanted" in the Nazi regime. Under the Stadthaus bridge is the so-called “Seufzergang”, one of the remaining tunnels Jews and anti-Nazi prisoners were led through from the nearby prison cells to the" interrogation rooms”.Today one can listen there to their haunting stories and experiences.

Of course, every tour through Hamburg has to include a visit to the “Michel”, that’s what the Hamburgers call their most beautiful baroque church, St. Michaelis Kirche. We were lucky to attend a lunchtime service with lots of music from not only one but all three of the church's organs, which were partly played by the organist via an electronic keyboard, from where he could activate one, two and all three of the organs at the same time. The sound was amazing, and I’ll never know how Austin could fall asleep in the midst of it!

Near St. Michaelis is the old “Krameramtswohnungen”, housing for widows in the 17th century.

Hamburg has too many sites, museums and places of interest to see on a hop, but we weren’t going to miss seeing a “real” harbour! We jumped on a two-hour harbour cruise and were taken through the old Storage Areas with its red brick warehouses. In the olden days goods were taken from or to the big ships in low tubs being dragged through the old canals by hooking a long stick into iron handles fitted at close distances on the walls of these warehouses. Nowadays the old warehouses harbour all kinds of tourist attractions, from Madame Tusseau to the Hamburg Dungeon, and from Escape Rooms to Miniature World.

The most exciting part was the working harbour for us: Giant Cargo ships being loaded and unloaded by giant cranes, shipyards with floating slipways building huge luxury cruisers and painting and repairing commercial giants, cruise ship terminals plus an interesting sports boat harbour. Truly amazing is how the tug boats turn the cargo ships around so they face bow to current, before “parking" them in!

One of the harbour attractions is the new “Elbphilharmonie”  a modern concert house opened in 2017 and standing 110m high at the edge of the harbour. It contains 3 concert halls, a restaurant, a hotel of 244 rooms, a park house and 45 apartments.

A little more modest are hostels and churches for various nationalities of seamen at the so-called “Landungsbrücken” - the landing piers of the old harbour. St. Pauli is the suburb that cared for seafarers and has been sung about in many old songs. The red-light district and quite a few of Hamburg’s entertaining venues and theatres are part of this area, of which the main road is called “The Reeperbahn”. One of our thoughts went to the workers on those huge modern cargo ships, who are often at sea for most of the year without contact with their families. We heard that the only Germans on these ships are the captains and first officers who are 4 months at sea, and then have 4 months at home, a much easier work schedule.

All we can say about the harbour is “wow”! See the video below.

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