Basic Text: Buzzing Bremen
From street acrobatics to open-air classics
Cologne has its carnival, Munich has the Oktoberfest. 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. 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 six-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 offers opera, dance and plays for discerning audiences. It covers four genres (music theatre, plays, dance theatre, and children's and youth theatre) and has four permanent venues, Theater am Goetheplatz, Kleines Haus (formerly Schauspielhaus), Brauhauskeller and Moks im Brauhaus. In 1962 Kurt Hübner's arrival in the city represented the beginning of a new era. Under his guidance, Bremen Theatre won widespread acclaim. The 'Bremen style' embodied by young directors such as Peter Zadek, Peter Stein and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, set designer Wilfried Minks and actors such as Bruno Ganz, Vadim Glowna and Hannelore Hoger broke new ground for German-language theatre. Still today, under the directorship of Michael Börgerding, Bremen Theatre is seen as a public forum for aesthetic and political reflection on the problems, risks, liberties and pleasures of modern urban life. The programme features more than 30 premieres every season, as well as concerts and parties. Series of talks, introductions to plays, and audience discussions after performances encourage a direct dialogue with the public.
Excitement, sensual delights, treachery and passion, Bremen Metropol Theatre has it all. The glass-fronted theatre near the main train station is one of the most modern in Germany. Each of its 1,450 comfortable seats is no more than 24 metres from the edge of the stage, so everyone has a fantastic view. Whether it's Cats, Elisabeth, Dirty Dancing or Tom Jones – Bremen Musical Theatre is a venue for the big names from the world of entertainment.
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 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 German 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. In addition to that, the German Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra of Bremen puts on a musical event of the highest calibre every year. 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. People enjoying elaborate picnics is as much a part of the tradition as the screening of the film which gives the festival its name.
The great conductor Herbert von Karajan considered Bremen's Die Glocke to be one of the best three concert halls in Europe, and Dame Margaret Price declared it to be "the finest hall in the world for singers". 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 its charm. Regular guests at Die Glocke 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. Bremen's Kunsthalle art gallery presents an ambitious exhibition programme featuring internationally acclaimed artists. It was the very first gallery to devote a show entirely to the 'fields' theme in Vincent Van Gogh's landscape paintings. Starting with Van Gogh's Field with Poppies, which the gallery acquired in 1911, fifty paintings, drawings and watercolours documented the artist's most prolific phase in his final years. More than 320,000 people attended this spectacular exhibition – an all-time record in the gallery's 150-year-plus history. The Kunsthalle reopened in August 2011 after extensive renovations. It has been given a 21st century makeover but has lost none of its classical elegance. Berlin architects Karl Hufnagel, Peter Pütz and Michael Rafaelian designed the museum's extension, whose two side wings harmoniously bookend the Kunsthalle's neo-classical building from 1849. The gallery continues to enjoy great success with special exhibitions such as 'Sylvette, Sylvette, Sylvette. Picasso and the Model'.
The Weserburg 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 an island in the Weser river – makes it one of the most unusual art venues in Germany. Showcasing modern art from private collections of international calibre lies at the heart of the museum's artistic programme. To mark its 20th anniversary in 2011, the museum mounted a major exhibition on the multilayered 'Colour in Flux' theme, featuring works by Ai Weiwei, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol and other acclaimed artists.
Bremen also has an impressive track record when it comes to sporting events. For over forty years, the ÖVB Arena has hosted a top-class sporting event – Bremen Sixdays, which welcomes more than 60,000 spectators to the oval velodrome every January. Germany'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 everyone with partying until the early hours of the morning and superb food and drink. Trade fairs, concerts, sporting events and more: the ÖVB Arena and the city's six other exhibition halls provide the perfect setting for any occasion. The Bremen Classic Motorshow and the Music Show of the Nations are other annual favourites.
Werder Bremen football club is the city's most famous sporting institution under open skies. Fans throughout Bremen deck themselves out 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, a European Cup Winners' Cup and has played regularly in the Champions League. 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. No other German city has a fair with more fairground rides than the Bremen Freimarkt, which always takes place during the latter half of October. 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. This Bremen tradition is not to be missed. There's also a quieter 'little freimarkt' on the market square. It's a festival for the senses with piping hot doughnuts, roasted almonds and tasty liquorice set out on old-fashioned stalls that reflect the tradition of this market dating back almost a thousand years. One week after the fair opens, some 200,000 people line the streets for the grand Freimarkt parade.
From June to August, the city is livelier than ever because of the many free, open-air summer events that take place – whether it's the shanty songs and nautical atmosphere of the Maritime Festival, street acrobatics in the city centre at La Strada, concert highlights on the banks of the Weser during the Breminale, or the musical diversity of the Bremen Music Festival.
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, not least because of its location on the historical market square set against the backdrop of the UNESCO World Heritage town hall. 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.
For more information on Bremen and its many attractions, call the BTZ information hotline on +49 (0)421 30 800 10 or visit our website at www.bremen-tourism.de.