Bremen, Bremerhaven, Brunswick and beyond
While I was in Hamburg I had people ask me on social media where I was heading next, and when I told them, they suggested that I stop by Lüneburg on the way. Over the years I have received many fantastic suggestions from readers and followers, so if possible, I try to act on their recommendations. Interestingly, I was in a Lunenburg, Nova Scotia just last year, so not sure if there is a relation or not, but I do know that many Germans made their way to Nova Scotia in the 18th Century.
Lüneburg was a bit out of my way, but so worth the stop. I found a good place to park, right near a park in fact. I had no idea where to go, so I just started walking in a direction where I thought there might be something to see. Before long, I was in Lüneburg’s most beautiful square, Am Sande, which is where medieval merchants laid out their wares. Am Sande is framed by a host of tall ornate brick houses, which at the time, showed off Lüneburg’s wealth and status. Somehow, centuries later, these buildings look like they were just recently built. The oldest house actually dates to around 1400.
My time in Lüneburg was short as I needed to make my way to Bremerhaven to check into a hotel. I stayed at a brand new property called The Liberty, which is in a historic area of town located right next to the Emigration Museum, where more than 7 million Europeans left for the New World. One of those German emigrants I learned was Frank Trump, father of President Donald J. Trump (more on that in a moment).
After getting settled in my cozy room at The Liberty, which overlooked an inlet to the Weser River (that flows into the North Sea), I was off to Bremen for the evening where I had a walking tour and dinner scheduled.
After parking the car I made my way to the Bremer Marktplatz, the square in the city center where I met my tour guide, Guido. My walking tour was focused on the area around Bremer Markplatz, which is just an enchanting part of the city, where narrow cobblestone walkways lead to fascinating shops and cafes.
After the tour, Guido and I headed for dinner at the Bremen Ratskeller, which is a wine cellar underneath the Town Hall of Bremen. There are several extraordinary things about the Bremer Markplatz and Ratskeller cellar/restaurant. For starters, it’s been around since 1405! Can you imagine, I was dining in the same place where merchants 600 years ago ate, drank and did business. During WWII, the town came together and erected a fortification wall to protect the historic square from allied bombing raids. Thankfully, their efforts succeeded, because these historic buildings are quite striking and full of stories, such as the one I am about to share.
The Bremen Ratskeller cellar/restaurant is a large venue—in one direction there is a large room that seems to be a bit farther underground. In the other direction is the largest space where several massive old wine barrels are on display, along with dozens and dozens of tables for patrons. Along one side of the room is a series of six small alcoves with doors. These are private dining areas that seat 6-8 people are are called Priölke. These are highly coveted and difficult to reserve, but Guido was able to arrange it for me.
During our meal, Guido told me a story about the Priölkes. During the time when merchants would negotiate deals with suppliers, there were often disagreements on price…occasionally a fight would ensue. To eliminate future skirmishes, the establishment instituted a policy whereby if there were only two in the room negotiating prices, the doors had to stay open. If there were three or more (at least one witness), then the doors could be closed. What is interesting is that some six hundred years later, that policy is still in place. So, if a couple thinks they are going to Bremen Ratskeller for an intimate meal in one of these alcove rooms and decides to shut the doors, the server will immediately come by and open it back up. If you’re with the in-laws, shutting the doors is just fine.
After a lovely traditional meal and great conversation with Guido, I headed back to Bremerhaven (about a 60km drive).
The next day I explored Bremerhaven, which I did on foot from The Liberty hotel. There are many nearby attractions and museums, all very near the hotel. As I mentioned, the German Emigration Center/museum (Deutsches Auswandererhaus) is right next door to the Liberty. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this experience, at first blush I thought it sounded a bit boring, but many people talked about how interesting it was, so I went. I was so happy I had, as the experience was absolutely fascinating. Because Bremerhaven is a port city, it was one of the most popular emigration stations in Europe. One of the things that makes this museum so interesting is that they give you an RFID card to use at many of the exhibits. This special coded card will not only play information in your native tongue, but what you end up doing is following one of the emigrants through his/her life—prior to emigrating, and then after the arrival in the New World. This element of storytelling really connects you to the person, thus making the visit more emotional and connective.
That evening I had dinner at another well established restaurant, not as old as the Bremen Ratskeller, but a Bremerhaven institution. Natusch Fischerihafen Restaurant is family owned, and has been for three generations— it opened in 1949. The restaurant embraces the ship-building heritage of Bremerhaven, both the interior and exterior resemble an old ship. The inside bow extends to an outside patio. Natusch reminds me a bit of an old classic Chicago fine-dining restaurant, with more traditionally prepared dishes without all of the pizzazz of today’s modern interpretations.
I retired back to the comforts of The Liberty Hotel to a light-accentuated harbor with a lovely gift waiting for me. My friend and fellow travel blogger, Archana Singh with TravelSeeWrite, contacted the hotel after seeing one of my social media posts and arranged to have a birthday cake delivered. Yep, it was my birthday and this was one of the most thoughtful things anyone has done for me.
The next day I was off to Brunswick (Braunschweig). Along my northern Germany road trip several people asked why I was going to Brunswick? I got the feeling that Brunswick was not much of a tourist destination, and that may be the case, but that didn’t stop me. There were two reasons I selected Brunswick…first, it was about the halfway point from Bremerhaven to Berlin, where I would be departing. Second, I saw these extraordinarily colorful and creative “Happy Houses” and I just had to see them for myself.
I stayed at the Vienna House Easy, a more modest version of the Vienna House I stayed at in Berlin, but pretty cool nonetheless. My room was modest with a hip flair and quite spacious. The cool part of the hotel are the amenities. The hotel has a vibe a bit like a hostel with communal feel and energy. There is a large common area at the center of three wings that take guest to their rooms. In one area of the hotel there is a spa with dry and steam saunas. Another area has a sports center with squash courts, badminton, Kegel (German style bowling), gym and other activities. Then, there is an American-style pub to tip back a few with fellow guests. The Vienna House Easy in Brunswick was a really fun place to stay.
The hotel is not in the city center, so the next day I went off to explore, and, to see those Happy Houses. After a couple hours walking around one area of Brunswick, I was getting hungry. I stopped by several restaurants, but none of them had English menus. I was beginning to think that perhaps this was why people were asking me why I was going to Brunswick, that they don’t really cater to foreign visitors. It was getting late, so I hopped back in the car and thought I would get something to eat on the way back to Berlin, then, it dawned on me…I had not yet seen the “Happy Houses!” I put the name in Google Maps and let me phone direct me to the area of the brightly colored homes. It was just a matter of minutes away, and because it was Sunday and most places were closed, parking was really easy to find.
The photos I saw online of the Happy Houses were impressive, but seeing them up close, I was able to see so much detail. The artist/creator/builders have build a scene that I have no doubt will begin attracting lots of Instagramers to the area. Again, because it was Sunday, there were not many people around and I was having a great time photographing. My stomach pangs were telling me that it was time to find something to eat. I started walking around and was just enamored by this part of Brunswick. I came across a small French bistro that looked wonderful. Again, no English menu, but the owner/creperie’est was able to speak some limited English, so I was able to point and place an order.
A family of four heard me speaking English and engaged me, asking what I was doing in town, etc. I told them I was a travel blogger and they had a slew of questions for me. The first of which was “Why on earth was I in Brunswick?” I had to laugh and told them that they were not the first people to ask me this question. Come to find out, they had lived in the States for a few years. I had a lovely conversation with the family and the Petite Creperie owner and left with my stomach satisfied and a big grin on my face. It’s for these types of random and genuine experiences that make travel so special to me.
I completely lost track of time and had to hit the road in a hurry. I did not have much time to make it to the airport, return my rental car and get to my gate. The 2.5 hour drive to Berlin is a story you won’t believe, click here to read it, the last of my Road Diary entries from Northern Germany. Thanks so much for following along.