After reading reviews from Lonely Planet and the Independent, Bremen piqued our interest. Like Hamburg, it is a former Hanseatic shipping city near the North Sea. Pairing these two Stadtstaaten (city states) over a long weekend was a perfect balance, they are uniquely different from cities in Bavaria –and from each other– and just an hour apart by train.  Beer drinkers might recognize the name, the city is home to Braureri Beck & Co. –  Beck’s.  It is also known for another household beverage, decaffeinated coffee, and for the children’s fairytale The Town Musicians of Bremen. We checked out the famous sculpture near the Rathaus where the legs and nose are shiny from being touched for good luck.

Bremen is a city where a tourist can see many of the main sights in a weekend —  it was charming, small-scale and walkable within several distinct quarters.  After our whirlwind in metropolitan Hamburg, Bremen’s quaint center felt truly old; It was an incredible medieval style square — and I think– one of the most architecturally cohesive that we’ve seen.


We ate the most amazing potato salad at Martin Keifert’s walk-up bratwurst shop. Yup, we’d consider another trip to Bremen for potato salad.


1200 year old Dom St. Petri

Like many European squares, the Altstadt is anchored by the towering Bremen Dom. This Protestant cathedral is perhaps the oldest building we have seen, built in 789 AD.   A portion is a museum where they have a complete collection of church relics: first edition books printed on the newly invented Gutenberg press, archived 800-year old bishop attire, ornaments and fine art all under the watchful eye of a dedicated gallery attendant. He lifted his arm and summoned us over to the glass case he was protecting and slowly pulled back the cloth cover and revealed… the oldest book in the archive!!  He motioned that it would be alright to photograph it without my flash. (of course!) For a euro you can also visit the leaded cellar where they have the mummified remains of eight bodies. Derek is adventurous, but not in any way a fan of dark, dank medieval buildings—-  we passed on the mummy viewing.



The narrow alleyways of the former red-light district, the Schnoor, are converted shops, restaurants and galleries.



Das Viertel

By luck, the apartment we rented was in Das Viertel– the Arts Quarter.  The neighborhood contains the kulturmeile–  a street that is home to Bremen’s theater, Kunsthalle, and the eclectic shops and restaurants in this area (we stopped for a drink at Engel ‘Angel’ cafe ).

We discovered a HAY furniture store nearby and I fell completely head over heals for their clean Danish modern aesthetic, and one piece in particular:  ‘about a chair‘ <– click here to see the chair.

Before departing Bremen, we wanted to stop by the small antique shop we had seen tucked into a house across the street.  The owner of the shop is a lifelong resident of Bremen and told us about his childhood, growing up in the city, and how the house was once his father’s milk shop.  Now it is a space for his collection of 20th C. china and porcelain, mostly salvaged from estates.  For us, he suggested a cup and saucer set from Arzburg, designed in the 1960’s.




While Bremen isn’t a stop on most  tourist itineraries – it could be. It was a unique spot.  It makes a great side-trip from Hamburg and it is actually only a 3-hour drive from Amsterdam.

Read about our visit to Hamburg here.


Free and Hanseatic Hamburg (!)

We’ve been enjoying a few days of warm fall weather and it is nice to revisit some of these summer weekends. Our visit to Hamburg and Bremen was in early August, two Hanseatic shipping cities in the north.  Both cities were autonomous until about the 20th C. when they were governed by a guild of powerful merchants– which may help explain the official name, Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. There is a ton happening in Hamburg, we only saw a slice of it, it is very edgy and fun!

It is the #2 largest port in Europe (Rotterdam is #1)

Hamburg is a Stadtstaaten– It is a city and a state

  • It is the #2 largest city in Germany 
  • It is the news & media capitol of Germany
  • Prostitution is legal on the Reeperbahn
  • Everybody visits Miniatur Wunderland
  • Fritz Kola, My second favorite german beverage is made there


Here we go! 36 hours in Hamburg

We settled in for a 7-hr ride via Meinfernbus, a long distance travel bus with awesome low fares. The bus stopped in four other cities along the way and a dinner break at a rest stop Burger King. In Hamburg, we checked in with the night porter at our hotel and went out.  We were headed to an area that promised at least one all-night kitchen— Sternschanze . We visited this neighborhood once and it was scattered with cool shops, apartments, fun bars, and Hamburgers! (in this case, locals)


Altstadt (Old City)

We pushed an early start the next morning. Most of the activity we found in the Altstadt was in the square of Hamburg’s Rathaus (City Hall).



Neustadt (New City)

We stepped into a coffeehouse in the Neustadt for a recharge. I ordered an espresso and started to shift my bag for loose coin. The barista responded “you should enjoy first”, meaning that we should pay when we were ready to leave. I am accustomed to a certain pace when it comes to prepared food.  Here I’ve noticed that people will sit at the same cafe with a single kaffee and Stück Kuchen in the middle of the afternoon like they have nowhere to be for days. I am starting to come around to this sort of thinking.  I tried to sip my espresso as slowly as I could. We motioned that we were ready to bezahlen and headed toward the S-Bahn to spend the rest of the day in St Pauli.



St Pauli:  Reeperbahn, Port of Hamburg, Elbtunnel, Stadtstrand


The most infamous part of St Pauli, and perhaps all of Hamburg, is the Reeperbahn; where street prostitution is legal at certain times of the day. Most of the action is on GrosseFreiheit (freedom street), and one sidestreet —- Herbertstrasse, which restricts boys under 18 and all women. Everybody is sorta curious about the red light districts in Europe, right? This district is fairly regulated. The Reeperbahn is mostly bars and [strip]clubs and felt somewhat like an amusement park— we didn’t see anyone standing in windows like we did in Amsterdam, and nothing as swanky as the Moulin Rouge.

There is a lot more to St Pauli than the Reeperbahn. One of Hamburg’s city soccer clubs, FC St Pauli, in the bundesliga 2, has a loyal following. A couple of years ago they published a set of left-leaning principles focused on social responsibility and attracted even more fans.  We made a quick stop at the team store to browse the goods and pick up some souvenirs.





Port of Hamburg

We left the Reeperbahn and walked toward the Elbe. The city is about 70 miles from the North Sea but a confluence of river channels make it an ideal transport hub. One cool way to get around in Hamburg is by water taxi! You can buy a single ticket for 1.50€ which works for subway, bus, or boat.

Below the Elbe is an old narrow tunnel (Alte Elbtunnel) that was constructed below the water table of the river in 1911. It is modern thoroughfare for tourists, bikes, pedestrians — and, wedding photography! Derek willingly/unwillingly took this picture of me holding my FritzKola at the entrance.  Afterwards we ate fish sandwiches along the wharf, we tried the northern staple, a Bismarck– pickled herring on brotchen (a bun).  This is as close as we got (not very close at all) to the original hamburger, or frikadelle.


Summer in the City (Beaches)

I cannot believe that I haven’t mentioned the city beaches yet!  What better place to relax than on the water.   Germans live along rivers.  What’s missing.  SAND! Sand is missing.  The cities in Germany have the most ingenious outdoor summer bars– Stadtstrand, white sand city beaches. 🙂






The iconic red brick warehouses of the Hamburg skyline are in the Spiecherstadt.  The warehouses are along a network of canals that allowed shipping vessels to unload and store goods before distribution.  Interesting (to me), the signage in this area is in deutsch and chinese. This is also home to the:

Miniature Museum.

The top recommendation from every source we encountered was that everyone must visit the miniature museum.  Initially were were on the fence, take it or leave it, but after seeing the crazy line out the door we thought ‘there must be something good in there’.  Well, well– we soon learned that you just can’t go on a whim. People reserve tickets days in advance, it is quite popular and they admit maybe only 100 patrons/hour. They were booked until 10pm!  At the end of the day we just couldn’t resist the magnetic pull of Miniatur Wunderland.  We came back at 10:30pm, and we got in! We were not alone. It is open until midnight – this is a bigtime operation!!!



One room told the story of Berlin over 1500 years– this replica shows the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989.


A high level of detail conveys not only landscape and architecture, but also a civic element: scenes of protest, leisure, festivals (Oktoberfest!) family life and a lot of commerce.  Multimedia and automation are integrated too– planes take off and land, the lights dim and brighten (day/night), and trains are on the move.  They had a temporary installation where they asked the leaders of Germany’s numerous political parties to describe their ideal community– then the key principles were translated in miniature scenes. Really cool!


And, we bought a car.

Not a full size car.

This is the model that Derek drives everyday, a VW Passat wagon.  Until next month when the lease is up.  After that it will be just a little piece of history and a toybox model. Crossing our fingers for another station wagon.

On to Bremen—-