These past couple of years, whenever I’ve had the urge to go away for a couple of days with my partner and we’ve not had anywhere specific in mind, we’ve searched for cheap flights using Skyscanner. It’s a really useful travel website and app that has taken us to Gdańsk, Brussels, Marbella and now Bremen using low-cost airlines. Thanks to having worked away from home for a couple of years on what was essentially an all-expenses paid sinecure, I’ve acquired a decent chunk of Accor hotel points that I’ve put to lively use on these trips, keeping our accommodation costs down.
I love Germany, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Bremen; of course much of northern Germany is beautiful and rich with history, but all we really knew of the city before we left Scotland was that the airport is very handy, being just outside the centre, and that the city is home to Beck’s Brewery. I also knew that I would be completely exhausted, having been at a two-day beer festival in Scotland immediately before flying out. However, our main aim was just to relax, wander, and sample as much local colour (and beer) as we could in two short days, so this didn’t present a problem to us.
Arriving at the small, rather spartan Ryanair terminal at Bremen airport, the first thing I did was ask the border guard in my politest German if he could stamp my passport (see top of page. Success!). Second, we tried to locate a cafe of some sort; not only are all of the cheapest Ryanair flights we’ve taken from Edinburgh seem to be very early morning ones, I’d been up since 3am by this point of our trip and had nursed a raging hangover throughout the previous day. Keen for some proper European-style coffee, we found a relatively nondescript but nonetheless pleasant place attached to the main terminal, and we enjoyed a large coffee with cream whilst a resident of the nearby pond sauntered past.
By this point it was just before lunch and too early to check in to our Ibis yet, so we took the tram from the haltestelle across from the terminal (€2.50 a single ticket) into the city centre. Alighting at the Domsheide stop opposite the cathedral with its huge towers shooting into the heavens, we walked across the square, through the market with stalls selling spargel (asparagus) and other fresh produce, as well as the ubiquitous German sausage and pork vans.
The city centre really is striking. Bremen (along with nearby Bremerhaven on the coast) forms its own city state in Germany’s current federated system, but was historically a member of the Hanseatic League. Consequently much of the architecture around the city is Brick Gothic, which can also be seen in former Hansa cities like Lübeck and across the north of Germany, Poland and the Netherlands. Wandering around, we came across a very pretty little street that looked very much in this style, called Böttcherstraße, but although seemingly very old was actually only built in the 1920s.
After we’d had a wander around these nice bits of the old city centre it was time for luncheon, or more specifically, an authentic German döner kebap! I found an imbiss place that sold a variety of Turkish and Balkan delights and ordered two mixed kebabs with garlic sauce and salad. For people who’ve never had a kebab in Germany before, it may seem strange that I got so excited over something most commonly eaten in the UK when absolutely hammered after a night out – but those who have will know exactly why. The style of döner kebap ubiquitous across Germany was invented by a Turkish migrant worker to West Berlin in 1971, and in 2014 it’s the number one seller in the German fast food market, surpassing even McDonalds.
After demolishing the delicious flaky meat covered in crunchy salad, creamy knoblauch sauce encased in a crispy toasted bread roll, we decided to have a casual saunter to our Ibis hotel, to see if I could get us in early even though it was before check-in time. Luckily I wangled it and we had a bit of an afternoon sleep. I usually avoid naps when I’m travelling as I feel it wastes precious time abroad that could be spent enjoying wherever we are, but having been awake so early that morning and me still feeling the after-effects of innumerable pints of ale the previous weekend, we decided to have a couple of hours’ slumber before we headed back out around 5pm. We’d heard about a bar that I felt we should take a look at, seeing as I was trying to keep the purse strings relatively tight.
The Schüttinger Braueri proclaims that it’s Bremen’s first craft brewery; most importantly for our purposes, Happy Hour is every day between 5pm and 8pm, which means a fairly large glass of their own beer (dunkel or helles) for €2, or €1 for a smaller glass. The helles was pleasant enough, but fairly bland; the dunkel was sweeter and hoppier. For €2 a go though, we weren’t complaining.
After having enjoyed around six beers each over the three Happy Hours, we decamped to a bar across the road called the Spitzen Gebel. Originally dating from 1400, we’d heard of this place before arriving due to it being a listed building, being infamously small, but mainly due to it being the only vendor of a very strong, peppery schnapps called sluk ut de lamp, poured from a bottle fashioned to look like an old-fashioned gas lamp. A curious mix of tastes, rather like Chartreuse and absinthe combined, it’s nevertheless interestingly pleasant and we had two tiny glasses of it across the next couple of hours along with more beers, this time the local Beck’s variant, Haake Becks pilsner.
The Spitzen Gebel is definitely recommended for those who enjoy old-fashioned drinking like us; it was small, smoky (the smoking ban in Bremen state only applying to bars that serve food) and welcoming. The barmaid gave me a leaflet explaining the history of the sluk ut de lamp, and assisted me in getting some more Marlboro from the cigarette machine by giving it a well-placed punch when it refused to work for me.
By this time it was around 11pm and the town was almost dead; we found another bar, Cotton’s Pub, and had a couple more rounds of beer and cigarettes before heading back to the hotel around 1am. All in all, a lovely first evening in Bremen.