Friday, May 5
Winds still not favorable, so on to our next Hanseatic port city: Bremen; but, first a sobering stop along the way outside of Hamburg. We wanted to see Neuengamme, a concentration camp we’d never heard of before.
I won’t belittle this site by calling it one of Max’s Disaster Tours. As a reminder of man’s inhumanity this huge complex spanning over 2km with exhibits on the SS guards and inmates stuns its visitors. When I asked one of the caretakers why it wasn’t as well known as other camps, he said there were very few original buildings remaining. Most of the camp had been repurposed beginning in 1945 when the British used it as a camp for displaced persons, then an internment for former members of the SS, Nazi Party, and Wehrmacht (the Nazis’ unified armed forces). Later, buildings were torn down and new ones constructed when Hamburg erected two prisons on the site after the property was turned over to the city.
After the prisons were closed in 2006, survivors of the WWII camp insisted that the one memorial pillar erected in 1953 be expanded to an exhibit encompassing almost the entire original grounds.
Similar to other concentration camps we’ve toured, we ran into groups of high schoolers. As a center for historical studies, the Memorial offers not only public tours but also paid, two-hour programs as well as multi-day projects. Conferences, workshops and seminars are available as well. In short, this Memorial works hard at keeping people informed of what did, and can, happen based on a political situation and the wrong person in charge.
Neuengamme Concentration Camp was established by the Nazis as a brick factory using slave labor. Hitler wanted to transform Hamburg into a model architectural city; to do so required hundreds of thousands of bricks made from Neuengamme’s clay pits. Additionally, inmates worked on digging a canal for the transportation of the bricks. These two work details–digging clay for bricks and digging canals–have been described by former inmates as the most onerous tasks in the camp.
By 1942 the camp’s production was expanded to include armaments. More than 85 satellite camps were set up over all of Germany to support this weapon production as well as clearing rubble and constructing bunkers and industrial facilities.
We began at the “House of Remembrance” with its scroll-draped walls listing those who died,
names taken from the detailed death journals the Nazis kept.
Just outside we saw a haunting sculpture. No words needed.
From there we viewed several exhibits, one featuring the SS, the other, the inmates. Some of the survivors’ drawings provide a terrorizing glimpse into an inmate’s life. These, along with children’s poems we’d read at the camp in Theresienstadt (near Prague), were amongst the most poignant testimony of inhumanity we’ve witnessed.
One memorial marks the spot inmates called simply “The Bunker” for its solitary confinement cells, the place where hangings and executions took place, and where on occasion the poison gas Zyklon B was tested. The site of the camp’s crematoria is located nearby.
We left the site in silence feeling fortunate we were leaving it on our own volition, as we thought of those who hadn’t.
An hour later we arrived in Bremen where we planned our excursions for the next day, which dawned bright and clear with a cool wind.
Saturday, May 6
Catching a train we landed in the historic center of the city. Being a Saturday outdoor markets were on display, some promoting activist messages, including a bakery booth supporting Ukraine.
By now you know one of our first errands is locating the Tourist Information Office where we typically purchase a self-guided tour map. Like Lubeck, Bremen featured a lot of historical buildings, so we decided to stroll around the area and then select several of the main ones to view inside.
The walking tour started outside of the Marktplatz (Market Square).
What surprised and delighted me were the sculptures and fountains along pedestrian walkways. These two appropriately stood on Sogestrasse (‘Street of Sows’) where they used to drive the pigs out to the common pasture.
Fountains spouted water so, at least, one would think it was a spring day in spite of the chill.
One of the most famous sculptures features a donkey, dog, cat and cock pyramid. It’s based on a Grimm’s fairy tale titled THE BREMEN TOWN MUSICIANS. Although ‘Breme’ and other towns have been used in the title, one reason why the Brothers Grimm (Jacob 1785-1863, Wilhelm 1786-1859) may have used ‘Bremen’ is their friendship with the city’s mayor Johan Smidt. Who knows but Bremen has adopted the tale and these four ‘musicians’ as a symbol of their city.
Rumor has it the wish you’re making comes true if holding onto the donkey’s forelegs.
With everyone attaching their hands to the ass It only made sense that Max try it out. I wouldn’t be surprised if his wish entailed sailing to a yet-to-be-named destination. Either that, or a new boat part.
Next to this statue stands the Liebfrauen (Our Lady) Church built around 1229. Normally I’m not a huge fan of modern, religious stained glass but this I liked… probably due to my not recognizing any come-to-Jesus element in the design by the French artists Alfred Manessier, only the fantastic colors swirling about.
An interesting tidbit about this church relates to its cemetery: When Emperor Napoleon and his troops occupied the city (1811-15), he had the graveyard destroyed because he thought it unhygienic. Just one of those extraneous factoids that I like.
In the Marktplatz stands a 15th-century statue, one a bit more dignified than the four musicians. Roland, a knight who died in the Battle of Roncevaux Pass serving Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Great (aka Charlemagne), represents Bremen’s independence and freedom. Why Roland as the symbol no one really knows, but, since 1404 thar he be.
The statue faces St. Peter’s Church sending a message that city rights trump any prince-archbishop’s claims (a wooden Roland was burnt in 1366 by Prince-Archbishop Albert II). Evidently, a lot of Rolands populated town squares back then representing civic liberty and freedom. However, Bremen’s Roland is the oldest surviving one and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
He just didn’t represent Bremen’s freedom but also a one-Bremen-ell measurement: housewives used the two spikes on his knees (riders used them to stab others’ mounts) to measure their cloth at the market. And, if you’re wondering like I did what length is an ell, it was based on a person’s radius or lower arm. According to some websites an ell equals two feet.
Depending on which way you face away from this stately knight, you’ll see four main buildings, the oldest being St. Peter’s Cathedral.
In 789 Charlemagne designated a wooden church to be built. Below is a statue of him gracing the front of the current cathedral…
while another one is of the cathedral’s namesake, St Peter, who holds a key.
Speaking of which, the key is Bremen’s symbol on their flag, and one you see throughout the city such as on manhole covers (photo for Ellen :).
In the 9th century the Bishop Ansgar of Hamburg used the site as his bishopric and began missionary work to convert the northern pagans. This establishing of ties to the Scandinavian countries is credited with serving as the Hanseatic League’s intro to their commerce up north.
By the middle of the 11th century the current cathedral was constructed in place of the older wooden one.
When the Reformation occurred in the mid-1500s, the cathedral became evangelical. From the modern displays throughout the church we quickly saw that current church members take spreading the gospel seriously. Although, some of the exhibits promoting confirmation and type of gifts seemed a bit odd. And, yes, once again the heathens show their true colors…
We looked for a mini-MDT (Max Disaster Tour) of some mummies located next to St. Pete’s but didn’t find it. Just as well for the brochure made a big deal out of saying the eight mummies on display are now under glass ever since “… an American tourist once took a thumb home…”. Ouch.
By far the most magnificent site for us was the Rathaus (Town Hall), another UNESCO World Heritage site.
Built between 1405 and 1409 the Town Hall served as a meeting place for the councilors, those being the wealthy merchants running the city. We opted for a tour of the second floor, which took one’s breath away when you walked from the more ‘modern’ banquet hall to the original upper chamber.
Allegorical paintings adorned the walls reputed to be by one of Rembrandt’s apprentices
and elaborate carvings covered the walls
while four model ships from the 1500-1600s hung from the ceiling. Our guide told us the miniature canons (you can just make them out in two rows on the first ship below) really worked as tested by centuries of partiers.
Portraits of 33 past rulers looked down from the ceiling
while a Golden Chamber, an art nouveau room, represented the new age.
In the mid-1600s the town started hosting a traditional meal. This annual occasion funded insurance for shipping widows and their children. Called “Meal of Brotherhood” (or some say Schaffermahl) and by invitation only, this event still occurs on the second Friday in February with 300 guests from all over Germany attending.
Bremen was a major German port and hence an important target for Allied bombing. With 60% of the city reduced to rubble (some due to pilots not recognizing specific targets during the night), I can only imagine the sighs of relief to find Roland and the Rathaus still standing after the war.
Outside again we looked across at the Schutting or House of Merchants crowned with a statue of Neptune perched above a painting of a Hanseatic ship.
The one modern building gracing the Market Place is the 1960s Parliament. Before the war the Stock Exchange stood in its place. Although controversial when erected, this “glass house” symbolizes that all political discussion should be transparent (think we could use some of that?).
Before leaving the main square we enjoyed a brockworst and spotted the spitting stone where the murderess Gesche Gottfried, responsible for killing 15 people, was executed in 1831. People still spit on it, but I didn’t.
While walking around the Market Place a narrow alley with a golden relief aptly entitled ‘Bringer of Light’ beckoned us to a brick rabbit warren.
In the 1900s the guy who sold caffeine to the chemical industry, Ludwig Roselius (1874-1943), used some of his wealth to renovate this alleyway called Bottcherstrasse. Bernhard Hoetger (1874-1949) designed buildings in expressionism architecture repurposing the old bricks. Art galleries, crafts and coffee shops (Roselius also sold coffee under the brand name HAG), and statues decorate this street where coopers (barrel-makers) lived during the Middle ages.
More sculptures decorated the walkways…
with Max finding a favorite. In his words, he didn’t want to dishonor the locals; when in Rome …
Curiously a glockenspiel is part of Roselius’ art where we gathered along with other tourists to hear sea chanties (didn’t recognize any) played on 30 Meissen china bells.
While the bells are chiming, a section of the tower wall slides open revealing ten pictures carved in wood featuring men who have ‘conquered the ocean, captains and pilots, pioneers in their field.’ We caught sight of aviator Charles Lindbergh (1902-72) when peering up.
A bit anticlimactic as Max commented after the tinkling.
Moving to another neighborhood close to the Market Square we explored the Schnoor. The area’s name comes from the Low German word for string, ‘snoor’; and, it’s called such due to rope makers once living here and the houses strung along the alleys like pearls on a string. Filled with restaurants and shops we simply wandered around enjoying a treat from the bakery (moi) and a refreshing soda (Max) while spotting even more sculpture
Our last stop was on the waterfront where we enjoyed not beer but glasses of German wine at one of the outdoor cafes.
Followed by an excellent Turkish Doner (which has become one of our favorite go-to street meals) and then the train back to hotel.
Sunday, May 8
Sunday morning we packed up and headed to Bremen’s sister city 31km due north on the North Sea. Remember Johan Smidt, the mayor that the Brothers Grimm liked? Well in 1827, he had the foresight to purchase the territories at the mouth of the Weser because of the silt threatening Bremen’s shipping trade. Since then Bremerhaven has been a thriving port and home to a special exhibition, the Klimahuas (Climate House). (Bremerhaven is also the port where Captain Von Trapp was going to be sent as Max likes to announce.)
This space-like building features one man’s solo circumnavigation of the world, but not the usual horizontal route but a vertical one. Axel Werner left Bremerhaven and traveled along Longitude 8º 34’ E down one side of the globe and up the other ending back where he began.
With his photos, videos and notes
Werner documented various cultures and the effects of climate change. The Klimahaus features eight of his stops: Switzerland, Sardinia, Niger, Cameroon, Antarctica, Samoa, Alaska, and two places in Germany, the last being Bremerhaven.
Visitors explore the world through interactive screens, replicated environments (including temperatures similar to those environments),
animal displays including aquariums,
and tons of factoids concerning the featured sites’ geography and cultures.
In some instances he made some rather unusual observations.
When we asked at the tourist office what the typical touring time was, the young woman said four hours. We enjoyed two hours and called it quits. Not only was it packed with families (this place is perfect for kids) but we could only take in so much of each featured location.
However, some parts were difficult to leave such as the Niger exhibit with the Tuaregs. We had read about these fascinating people awhile ago in the non-fiction book called SKELETONS OF THE SAHARA. Below is a shot from one of the videos of the Tuaregs, which you viewed lying on a mat.
One of the most memorable sights was of Werner playing a piano while floating next to ice. How he did it, we don’t know, but the music was hauntingly lovely.
Once through the exhibit we sat in the sun for a quick lunch before starting our journey back. Spending the night just outside Groningen our ETA was Monday mid-afternoon, back to JUANONA in Terschelling via car, train, ferry and feet.
Another road trip was coming to an end. With a potential favorable forecast for our three-day passage to Norway on the horizon it was time to head home.
And, with just a wee bit more waiting (fingers crossed) on the next island over (Vlieland) we’ll soon be on our way to our next adventure.
Signing off until Norway!