Basic Text: Maritime Bremen
Of peat barges, pirate ships and container terminals
Flowing through the heart of Bremen is the Weser river: an old trading route that was the driving force behind the city's emergence as a proud Hanseatic centre. Bremen's seafaring traditions are still alive and well today and have a big part to play in its unique tourist appeal. The Schlachte Embankment runs right beside the Weser and is a magnet for locals and visitors alike. There are always people milling around by the water, especially when the sun is out. Among Bremen's more unusual locations with a maritime flair is the fast-growing Überseestadt district, where the former city docks are being transformed into a vibrant community for the 21st century.
Trade via the Weser still has a major role to play in Bremen. The city has maintained its leading position among the North Sea ports despite some stiff competition. Bremen's ports have long since ceased to be the stuff of seafaring romance; nowadays they are highly specialised, modern components of a high-tech maritime economy. Shipping and sightseeing are on the agenda at busy Neustadt harbour in Bremen and the gigantic container terminal in Bremerhaven, which encompasses Europe's biggest car transshipment terminal. The former emigration centre on Columbus Quay is now a hub for some of the world's finest cruise liners.
In good weather, Bremen's Schlachte Embankment is a popular waterside rendezvous for locals and tourists. The terraces and gardens of restaurants and pavement cafés command wonderful views of the river. Historical and modern ships line the quayside and add to the holiday mood. In summer, the beer gardens and outdoor areas along the embankment have seating for around 2,000 people and are open until midnight. Bremen food and drink can also be enjoyed on the water: the ships moored on the Schlachte offer a wide range of culinary experiences, including dinner in pirate-themed surroundings on the three-masted Admiral Nelson.
St. Martin's quay is where the river tours depart: every day in summer, boats take passengers up and down the Weser on short trips or long cruises. There are tours of the Weser river and the harbour, breakfast or candlelit dinner cruises, tours themed on Bremen's delicious kale and pinkel dish and Weser riverboat parties.
Further downriver is a place that unites the historical and the modern aspects of maritime Bremen. In Überseestadt, one of the largest regeneration projects in Europe, the old Bremen docks are being transformed into one of the most modern parts of the city. The Hanseatic quarter of this growing district is linked to the area around St. Stephen's church via the extended Schlachte Embankment. This means that Überseestadt is only a riverside stroll away from the centre of Bremen. Cyclists are also able to make the short trip along the Weser and a river shuttle is set to open in the near future.
The flagship projects for this dockland renaissance are modernised red-brick warehouses such as Speicher I and Speicher XI, which today offer an innovative mix of art, culture and office space. Numerous creative companies have moved into Speicher I, while historical Speicher XI can count among its tenants the University of the Arts, the harbour museum, various businesses within the creative sector and the Überseestadt information centre. A host of new construction projects, such as the Porthäuser offices which overlook the Europa harbour, underline the appeal of the Überseestadt district.
The next phase is the addition of leisure attractions and residential areas. A variety theatre, hotels and apartments are all in the pipeline. This will ensure a steadily increasing flow of customers to restaurants which have already opened, such as Feuerwache, Hudson Loft and Speicher XI.
In days gone by, ships, docks and the bustle of the port set the pattern of life for the Überseestadt district and its people. This makes it the perfect location for the Speicher XI Harbour Museum. Adjacent to a reclaimed harbour basin, the museum focuses on the past 120 years of Bremen's port. It brings to light historical events, personal recollections and raw human emotion in an exciting way that is easily understood.
Bremen's seafaring traditions are particularly well preserved in the Vegesack district, situated further north along the Weser river. Charming captains' houses, the harbour quarter, maritime festivals and charter cruises on the Weser and Lesum rivers: a visit to Vegesack promises so many new experiences. The Schulschiff Deutschland – the only tall ship remaining from Germany's naval history – has been moored here since 1996. This training ship for naval engineers now also serves as a venue for conferences and weddings and offers overnight accommodation.
A number of events with a maritime theme are held in Vegesack through the year: the oldest man-made harbour in Germany, once the home of the largest German herring fleet and a whaling fleet, is now the setting for the traditional Vegesack Harbour Festival. Seagoing vessels of all sizes, most notably the Schulschiff Deutschland, provide the main focus for the event. Tours of the ships, cutter rowing and a packed programme on land with music on three stages, shanty choirs, street performers and a good choice of food and drink make this festival an unmissable maritime experience.
Casting off for catchy numbers is the motto at the annual Maritime Festival in August. This musical extravaganza in the north of Bremen features seafaring ditties, shanties from all over the world and a blend of entertainment, culture and fun. For three days, bands from Germany and around the globe as well as local shanty choirs transform the Vegesack district into a maritime open-air stage.
A boat trip on the Jan von Moor, which sails through north and north-east Bremen, offers a more leisurely experience. From Findorff harbour by Bremen Bürgerpark, the peat barge tour follows a centuries-old route through marshes and wetland that are otherwise inaccessible. It's a great excursion to go on with friends and allows plenty of time to admire the passing scenery.