The Four Musicians of Bremen

Trip Start May 31, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, September 8, 2007

At least every small European city or town is well-known for something. Jerez in Spain is famous for its sherry, while Limerick in Ireland is famous for naming those witty 5-line poems. Bremen, in North Germany is famous for its musicians. The Brothers Grimm, best known for enchanting us with tales such as Snow White, Rapunzel, and Cinderella, also wrote The Town Musicians of Bremen.

The story tells of four farm animals, a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster, all of who were mistreated by their masters. They decided to flee together to Bremen, a town known for its beauty, its freedom and its art. On their way they stopped at a little cottage with four thieves inside. Standing on top of each other's back, they decide to grace the robbers with a song in hopes of receiving food. The 'music' the four animals make is so horrible that the men run out of the house, frightened.

This folk tale created semi-deities of these animals, and when we reached Bremen, we saw how. Reaching the famous Bremen Marktplatz, or town square, we stumbled upon a large bronze statue of the Musicians. One standing on top of the other, on the corner of the old Town Hall, were the characters of the folk tale which made Bremen famous. Tourists grabbing a hold of the horse's hoofs were posing for photographs while 4 people disguised as the animals posed with children.

We ignored the musicians for the time being, hoping to find something else that might characterize Bremen other than fairy tale characters. We looked beyond the side of the Town Hall and walked into the town square. Boasting to be one of the most beautiful in Germany, the square was large and open, surrounded by incredibly ornate buildings. The town hall's façade was particularly stunning, with its rich late Gothic spires and its three renaissance-style gable tops. The building itself is more than 600 years old and today houses a restaurant which possesses the 12 oldest wines in the world.

To the right of the Town Hall stands St. Petri, the 11th century cathedral built with early Romanesque elements, like the two squared towers and the continuum of Roman half point arches. Local legend says that when a man reached his 30th birthday and he is not yet married, he must sweep the cathedral steps until a maiden kisses him.

Under St. Petri's cathedral through a small garden, is a small cellar, or Bleikeller, where 8 mummies can be seen encased in glass coffins. An English countess and a soldier left with his mouth open in a silent scream are amongst others in this macabre exhibition. Apparently the bodies were discovered when the room was opened up preserved perfectly as a result of the lack of air.

Back in the square, cafes and restaurants standing out with big canvas umbrellas populated the eastern side. It was windy and drizzly but people were still out enjoying coffee and tall glasses of beer. It was only 11am. But if you live in a city which is home to a brewery, would you drink anything other than beer before noon? Bremen is the home town of Beck's beer. More popular nowadays for its alcohol-free lager, Beck's hit it big in the 90's with the rise in popularity of bottled beer. If you want a guided tour of the Brewery in English, you should get there at 2pm, as only one English tour group is arranged per day. The rest are all in German.

One thing we noticed about Bremen is that is doesn't seem to be a city destined for international or English tourism, but rather for local German tourism. Menus were in German, brochures were in German, the explanations below every painting at the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum were in German. Everywhere we went we needed to rely on our pitiful German vocabulary, or ask for a translation.

A little street, almost hidden away, leads you to Bottcherstrasse, a tiny alley way transformed from a medieval street to an Art Nouveau gem by a coffee magnate Ludwig Roselius. Or so Lonely Planet said. I must say I was a little disappointed when we walked the entire 100 meters of it. I was expecting beautifully organic buildings and decorations, with quirky designs as was common in French or Belgian Art Nouveau. If there were any Art Nouveau elements I had to look hard for them. A few stained glass windows, verandas, and brick designs were visible, but not notorious to the untrained eye. It still had its medieval feel to it but it felt it had been 'added on', instead of 'transformed'. Nonetheless it made for a nice little stroll.

Out of Bottcherstrasse we came upon the Schnoor district. Looking out upon the River Weser was tree-topped walkway hosting a market. Stands sold everything from gherkins to hotdogs, veggie shredders, every type of scissors and cutting element, leather hats and belts, and an array of cleaning brushes and liquids. We stopped at a small van-turned-café where a nice German man was selling coffee. Ed and I ordered an amaretto coffee with hazelnut syrup and sat by the stone steps facing the river. I don't normally drink coffee but I have to say that if all coffee tasted like this, I would.

Not too far away a band was playing in the style of Clearance Clearwater Revival to a disinterested audience. Nonetheless Ed and I swayed and skipped along the walkway to the happy country 70's tune and began to enjoy the light drizzle that sprayed our faces.

Heavier rain and the lack of ideas on what to do next led us to a popular Bremen eatery for dinner. German cuisine consists mainly of sausages and beef, as is well known, so for two vegetarians it might not be easy. We decided that we would go ahead and try the speciality of the house, pork sausages and all, and commit to the entire German experience. May not have been the best of ideas, considering the plate of food was enough to feed a small African nation.

Feeling like we had eaten a plate of rocks, we dragged ourselves back to the Town Square whose buildings were generously lit in the night sky. In the center, the tall statue of Knight Roland, stood dignified with his sword of justice and his shield bearing the imperial eagle, perpetually watching over the Bremen. The tower bells of St. Petri chimed 9 times, echoing across Bremen the end of another Saturday. The lime green sloping rooftops of faded copper seemed to stand out against the bruised sky of swollen rain clouds. And just past the Town Hall the four town musicians of Bremen spilled their shadows on the stone street, resting after a day of many children and tourists, photographs and rain, finally enjoying the freedom and peace they came looking for in Bremen.

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Jacqueline on

Wow, all this is beautiful, i'm a writer but due to lack of money i can't travel to the places i write about. Thank goodness i found this, you took great pictures and i really think i can make my story more accurate because of you. Thanks :)

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