There are many reasons to visit Bremen, one of Germany's most important port cities. For starters there's a rich seafaring tradition, historic buildings, lively arts scene and some really good coffee.
The statue of the "Bremen town musicians" in front of the town hall
Situated on the Weser river some 43 miles (70 kilometers) from the North Sea, Bremen is one of Germany's largest ports as well as one of northern Europe's major industrial cities.
Its origin dates back to its establishment as a diocese by Emperor Charlemagne in 787. Market rights, including customs and coinage, that were conferred on Bremen in 965 brought increased mercantile activity, and the young city soon became one of the commanding religious and economic centers of northern Germany, especially after entering in 1358 the Hanseatic League -- an economic and political association of the rising urban mercantile cities.
Bremen, with its 556,000 residents, is one of Germany's three city-states. It is Europe's second oldest city republic still in existence, the other one being San Marino.
The Bremen Town Musicians
The market square is one of the first stops for visitors. Here the sculpture of the city’s symbol, the donkey, dog, cat and cock perched on top of each other from the famous German fairy-tale "The Bremen Town Musicians" by the Grimm brothers is a major draw.
According to the story, the animals were threatened with death at home and fled to Bremen where they hoped to find freedom. The sculpture was created by Gerhard Marcks in 1953. The "Bremen Town Musicians" theme is echoed in the brickwork architecture of the city's picturesque Böttcherstrasse and the Schnoor district.
The market square also has a collection of historic buildings. It includes the town hall dating from 1405, St. Peter's Cathedral, the "Schütting," Bremen's historic chamber of commerce built in 1537 and the statue of Roland, a symbol of market rights and freedom, erected in 1404. Visitors will also find merchants houses that were built during the so-called Weser Renaissance era, around 1600.
Seafaring tradition, modern industries
The "Space Center" in Bremen
Centuries ago, the people of Bremen traveled the world's waterways in search of trading partners. Today, the people of Bremen are proud of their seafaring tradition and history, which is reflected in relics such as fluttering sails, rustling anchor chains and whirring ship motors.
During the city's heyday, merchants brought back many exotic goods from their travels. They poured their wealth into building along the banks of the Weser river and turned Bremen into one of northern Europe's most prosperous cities.
One of the more exotic imports was coffee, which turned the city into the coffee roasting capital of Germany. Half the coffee imported to Germany today is still traded in Bremen -- a fact that's not easy to overlook given all the cafes and delicious smell of freshly ground coffee.
From shipyards to aerospace
Mercedes SLK production in Bremen
One of the city's biggest industries was shipbuilding but when the Weser shipyards were forced to shut down through lack of work, the city went through an economic slump and a sharp rise in unemployment.
Since the 1990s, Bremen has concentrated on developing news sectors, one of the most important of which is aerospace.
The aerospace industry in Bremen, one of the largest in Europe, has contributed to the building of satellite systems, manufactured essential parts used in creating the Airbus and played a role in the building of the "Ariane," the civilian European rocket.
Bremen also builds the luxury vehicle line of Mercedes-Benz and produces top-notch German beer.
Paradise for culture vultures
Apart from its rich history and thriving industries, Bremen's cultural life also has a lot to offer.
The city is home to a slew of theaters, museums and concert halls. The city's carnival is not as large as the more famous ones of Cologne and Düsseldorf, and is less overrun with tourists. But, visitors do get a great chance to enjoy the boisterous atmosphere as the city turns into one big party with parades and theme concerts.
The Schnoor is full of charm
Visitors, especially art lovers, will be thrilled with Böttcherstrasse and Schnoor district. Böttcherstrasse is a street packed with small artisan shops and workshops selling treasures from all over the world. It was initiated by the coffee merchant, and art patron, Ludwig in 1904. The project was carried out by architects, Scotland and Runge and the sculptors Bernhard and Hoetger, and was completed in 1934.
The Schnoor district is a picturesque neighborhood that has survived from the old city. It is made up of a medieval network of winding alleys and narrow streets. In the old days, this part of the city was used by fishermen, artisans and traders. It has been refurbished and is one of Bremen's most popular tourist attractions. Today it is home to exclusive shops, nostalgic pubs, cafes and restaurants. This part of the city dates back to the 13th century and the houses still standing here were built around 1500.