Basic Text: Buzzing Bremen
From street acrobatics to open-air classics
Cologne has its carnival, Munich has the Oktoberfest, but in Bremen, the celebrations go on all year round. There's something for everyone, from gravity-defying acrobats and graceful dancers to chart-breaking pop acts and science exhibitions. Not a month goes by without some exciting event taking place in the city: the Freimarkt (the oldest funfair in Germany), the music festival and maritime festival, Europe's biggest 6-day cycle race, musicals and plays, prestigious art exhibitions and last but not least the traditional Christmas market, which also extends along the Schlachte Embankment.
Bremen Theatre, which comprises the Theater am Goetheplatz, the Schauspielhaus and the Braukeller, has been overseen by artistic director Hans-Joachim Frey (formerly of Dresden's Semper Opera House) since the 2007/2008 season. The programme he curates is themed on countries around the world. After Hungary and Israel it is currently the turn of France and Turkey. On the subject of France, Bremen Theatre staged the European premiere of the Marie Antoinette musical on 30 January 2009, while issues such as assimilation and integration will be explored by a line-up focusing on Turkey. The world premiere of the opera based on Fatih Akin's film Gegen die Wand (Head-On) is the main attraction in this category. Bremen Theatre has also added a twist to the theatre-going experience with its floating lakeside stage. Against an industrial, maritime backdrop, this waterfront venue lends an air of magic to sensational evenings of opera. Its inaugural season in 2008 attracted more than 16,000 people to six sold-out performances of Wagner's Flying Dutchman. A production of Verdi's Aida followed in 2009. Bremen Theatre is also redrawing the parameters of the theatre experience with its recently opened gallery, where the fine arts meet the performing arts. The exhibitions encourage people to visit even if they are not watching a play. Works by Oscar-nominated actor Armin Mueller-Stahl, Israeli artist Daniel Ben-Hur and István Háasz from Hungary are among those that have previously been on display.
Excitement, sensual delights, treachery and passion, Bremen Musical Theatre has it all. Evita, Cats, The Rat Pack and Grease have all been brought to the stage in this former municipal swimming pool. Located in the city centre, this is one of the most modern musical theatres in the world. Bremen's largest auditorium with a self-supporting ceiling seats 1,400 people and is especially well suited to major theatrical productions.
Bremen maintains a strong musical tradition through companies such as the Bremen Philharmonic and the internationally acclaimed German Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra of Bremen. The latter received a special accolade at the German Business Founders' Awards in 2008 in recognition of the freedom it grants musicians to determine their own repertoire and the fixed-term contracts it gives to conductors. Estonian-born Paavo Järvi has the honour of being the incumbent head conductor for the orchestra. Under his direction, the Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra of Bremen rehearsed the full set of Beethoven symphonies and performed them in places as far away as New York, Montreal and Tokyo.
Since 1990, the annual highlight for classical music lovers has been Bremen Music Festival, whose line-up of concerts features leading orchestras, acclaimed conductors and star soloists. The festival in late September traditionally opens with Eine große Nachtmusik, a series of three short programmes (classical, jazz or chanson) performed around Bremen's market square. Audiences are treated to a journey through time based around a trio of musical genres. Every year the Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra holds a musical event of the highest calibre. For the Summer in Lesmona festival, Knoops Park in the north of Bremen becomes the backdrop for a feast of classical music with sunny skies and views of the Lesum river. Charming picnic ceremonies are as much a part of the tradition as the screening of the film which gives the festival its name.
Dame Margaret Price declared the Glocke to be "the finest hall in the world for singers" and the great conductor Herbert von Karajan considered it to be one of the three best concert halls in Europe. Marvellous acoustics and original art deco auditoriums lend the venue its distinctive character, while the central location close to Bremen's historical market square adds to the charm of an evening at the Glocke. Regular guests at the concert hall include the Bremen Philharmonic, Bremen's Coffeehouse Orchestra and the German Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra of Bremen.
In addition to all the playhouses and concert halls, Bremen can boast a great many exhibitions. The Weserburg, for example, is one of Germany's largest museums of modern art with some 6,000 square metres of exhibition space. The museum's setting – four brick-built warehouses on the Teerhof peninsula – makes it one of the most unusual art venues in Germany. Modern art from private collections of international quality lies at the heart of the museum's artistic agenda. Art objects were even displayed in public spaces as part of the Jörg Immendorf exhibition in summer 2007. His two Monkey Gate sculptures can still be admired today outside the main train station and a branch of the Sparkasse bank (am Brill). One year later and the walls of the Weserburg are adorned with shapely curves, stilettos and long legs. A private collector from Bremen has donated works by master photographer Helmut Newton for an exhibition of his photography. The display includes Charlotte Rampling as Venus in Furs, Monica Bellucci and life-sized copies of Newton's 'Big Nudes'.
When it comes to sporting achievement, Bremen has a proven track record. For over 40 years, the ÖVB Arena has hosted a top-class sporting event – the Bremen 6-day cycle race, which welcomes more than 125,000 spectators to the oval velodrome every January. Europe's biggest six-day cycling event provides a perfect mix of sport and entertainment with a guaranteed fun factor. While the elite cyclists race around the velodrome, many spectators will be getting out of breath themselves as they dance the night away in the four other halls. There is something for all tastes with partying until the early hours of the morning plus superb food and drink.
Werder Bremen football club is the city's most famous sporting institution under open skies. Fans throughout Bremen deck themselves in green and white when their beloved team plays at home. Before heading to the stadium, they congregate in the Ostertor and Steintor districts that locals know simply as "the quarter". From here it's just a short walk to the game. Since being founded in 1899 Werder Bremen has won four German championships, six German cups and a European Cup Winners' Cup. In the all-time Bundesliga standings the club is in second place. The Werder name derives from a term which either describes an island in a river or land that is created by the floodwaters of a river.
Sport gives way to more exhilarating activities at Germany's oldest and third biggest funfair, which every year attracts four million people from Bremen and beyond. On the Bürgerweide grounds, which cover 100,000 square metres, more than 320 fairground attractions are set up just a stone's throw from the old quarter. No other German city has more fairground rides than at the Bremen Freimarkt, which always takes place during the latter half of October. This Bremen tradition is not to be missed. But if that all sounds too raucous, head for the city's market square and the 'little freimarkt'. This is truly a festival for the senses, with piping hot doughnuts, roasted almonds and tasty liquorice set out on traditional-style stands. One week after the fair opens, some 200,000 people line the streets for the grand Freimarkt parade.
The city's delightful Christmas market is held on the historical market square surrounded by the town hall, the cathedral, the Church of Our Lady and the Schütting guildhall. Glittering illuminations, the glow of candlelight and the sea of decorated stalls create a special atmosphere that enchants more and more visitors every year. The air is full of delicious aromas – freshly roasted almonds, gingerbread and glühwein. There's no doubt about it: Bremen's Christmas market is one of the most delightful anywhere in Germany. The Schlachte promenade along the Weser river also joins in the seasonal fun, when markets of Christmas past are brought to life at the Schlachte Magic. Traders in medieval attire offer historical wares, and traditional food and drink can be sampled at a wide choice of stands. The marquees and booths beside the river are beautifully decorated in winter themes, while a range of events on board the ships caters for maritime entertainment.