Bremen Bike It - hills and whales
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Dignified living in the freshness of summer, industrial relics, pearls of landscape gardening, shipping and nature – the Bremen-Nord tour has it all, taking you not only through the centuries, but also through different thematic worlds. The tour is rich in variety, exciting – and not even as flat as you might think. These coastal moorlands, or ‘Geeste’, formed during the Ice Age, are also colloquially known as the ‘Bremen Alps’. So check your brakes before you start, then dive into this green and maritime district of Bremen.
1. Vegesack Harbour
As long ago as the Middle Ages, the silting-up of the River Weser made goods transport to the city increasingly difficult. In the 17th century, the merchants of Bremen decided to build a harbour basin further downriver, so in 1622, Vegesack harbour was inaugurated as Germany’s first artificial harbour facility. The old harbour is now an open-air museum with historical and traditional ships. The ‘Deutschland’, a three-master training ship built in 1927, is just around the corner. It is open for viewing, or one can stay the night, or even sail into the harbour of marriage – meaning, anyone with the heart to do so can get married on board the ship!
2. Whaling and seamen’s women
In the 18th century, Vegesack was an important whaling port. In those days, up to 25 whaling ships a year would head for Arctic waters from here. The tons of whale oil thus obtained were used as lamp fuel, and whalebone was used to make corsets. Many a captain decorated the doorway to his house with whale jaw trophies. The first building on the square is the ‘Havenhaus’, built in 1648 – formerly the harbour master’s office, now a restaurant and hotel. In the old days, the seamen’s women would wave farewell to their menfolk from the ‘Utkiek’ (Lower German for ‘look-out’ or ‘crow’s nest’) in front of it.
3. Shipping and gardens
In the 19th and 20th centuries, shipbuilding became increasingly well established in Vegesack. The Lürrssen shipyard, founded in 1875, is still in existence. In the past, the shipbuilders at the yard were well-known as specialists for racing boats, but nowadays luxury yachts and navy ships are launched from the slipway. These impressive ships can sometimes be seen from the ‘maritime mile’, the Weser Promenade. The Stadtgarten park along the maritime mile also provides some wonderful views. It was here, in 1800, that a physician by the name of Albrecht Roth created a flowering monument to himself when he turned sandy wasteland into a botanical gem on the slopes of the coastal moorland.
4. The Bremer Vulkan shipyard and Wätjens Park
The end of the Promenade marks the site of another traditional shipyard, the ‘Bremer Vulkan’. Until its closure in 1996, the yard was the most important employer in Bremen-Nord. New companies have meanwhile invested here. Wätjens Park, close by, was awakened from its slumbers by the dedicated efforts of local citizens and is now flourishing again. A Bremen merchant and shipowner by the name of Wätjen showed ‘very British’ taste when he had an English garden laid out around his summer residence in 1830. The crowning glory is the summer house itself – a building in the style of a neo-Gothic castle. An artist resides there today.
5. Bremer Wollkämmerei and the ‘Valentin’ U-boat bunker
The site of what used to be the Bremen ‘Wool Combing Works’ lies in Blumenthal. Wool was processed here for the textiles industry for 125 years. The past splendour of the building cannot conceal the fact that many forced labourers worked in the plant during WW2. A few kilometres further down the River Weser, there is a monument of gigantic proportions – the ruins of the ‘Valentin’ U-boat bunker, a monstrous relic of a Nazi armaments project. Thousands of forced labourers died here. A new concept has been developed to open the bunker as a memorial to the injustice and suffering that happened there.
6. Burg Blomendal and Schloss Schönebeck
True, Burg Blomendal seems rather unostentatious for a castle, and its turbulent history sounds a bit like a seaman’s yarn, yet it’s true: the castle was built by plundering knights in the year 1354, but the Bremen Council bought it off the troublemakers as a precaution. Various councillors have temporarily ruled from here and were able to live well in the countryside from the income and from cart services. Continuing along some beautiful vales and through residential areas, one finally reaches Bremen’s only ‘Schloss’: today, Schloss Schönebeck, built in a water meadow landscape in 1682, is municipal property and home to a museum.
7. The ‘Lehnhof’ estate and Haus Kränholm
The ‘Lehnhof’ estate dates from the year 1951, but is built in a style reminiscent of 1930s country homes. ‘Back to the roots’ is an apt way to describe the approach taken by Eberhard Gildemeister, the architect of the estate, whose thatched hipped-roofed villas also remind one of simple moorland cottages. His father, Eduard, was less enamoured with understatement when he built Villa Kränholm. The house of the daughter of Baron Knoop originally stood elsewhere and was meant to be demolished. Only some parts of the upper floor could be saved and brought to the present site. Art, culture and good food provide compensation today for the loss.
8. Baron Ludwig Knoop and his park
Ludwig Knoop was one of the biggest textile manufacturers of the 19th century. The title of Baron was conferred on him by the Tsar on account of his successful business dealings in Russia, but Knoop’s homeland was still Bremen. The family always spent the summer on its estates overlooking the River Lesum. Knoop’s garden was landscaped by Wilhelm Benque and today is one of the most beautiful public parks to be found. A number of other villas in the neighbourhood are built on the moorland ridge, such as Haus Schotteck or Haus Lesmona. The latter was made famous by the novel ‘Summer in Lesmona’, which was filmed with Katja Riemann in the star role.
9. The beautiful River Lesum and Raschen’s shipyard
The last leg of the tour is one of the most beautiful in Bremen. It takes you through the park, past dignified villas on the riverside slopes and along the meandering River Lesum, Germany’s second-shortest river. The historical half-timbered building of Raschen’s shipyard, founded in 1776, presents some surviving traces of shipbuilding along the Lesum. Around 100 ships were built here, including large sailing ships for the Atlantic. Having already reached our point of departure, we cast a final glance from the Lesum river barrage over a virtually unspoilt river landscape, small sailboats and passing flocks of birds.