We’ve been living in Bremen for two years. I can’t believe it. Where has the time gone? It really has flown by. But I’d say that reflects well on my new home town of Bremen.
I come from Stuttgart and, I’ll put my hands up right now, Bremen is a complete unknown to most of my fellow Swabians. Yeah, OK, we’ve heard of the Bremen Town Musicians, and of course we know Werder football club, but that’s pretty much it. To your average Swabian, anything this side of Frankfurt is, well, it’s just north Germany. Admittedly, these are fairly sweeping generalisations. So, here’s my honest Swabian perspective on what makes Bremen stand out.
The dialect. Or the ‘schnack’, as the locals would say
I should begin by saying that the German spoken by the people of Bremen is as crystal clear as a glass of the local mineral water. To Swabian ears, it sounds sophisticated – Hanseatic, you might say. Suddenly, you become aware of the inelegant provincial drivel you’ve spoken all your life, without ever realising. But Bremen locals have their own distinctive dialect too. Take tüdeln, for instance. A very useful word that I’d never heard before, but I’ve now fully embraced into my own vernacular. If I’ve understood it correctly (and please correct me if I’m wrong), tüdeln means doing something that doesn’t really get you anywhere. Not doing anything particularly bad, but not doing anything useful either – a bit like ‘faffing’ in English. You might say hör mal auf rumzutüdeln (‘stop faffing’) to get someone back on track.
Other favourites of mine include um den Pudding gehen (literally ‘to go around the pudding’) meaning to go for a walk, klönen meaning to chatter, and simply ‘Brem’ as a short form of Bremen. One expression I’ll never get used to, however, is nach seiner Tante gehen. Translated literally, it means to go and see one’s aunt, but in fact it is a euphemism to say you are going to use the toilet.
The beauty of flat ground
I’ve discovered a completely new side to myself in Bremen: it turns out I love cycling! In fact, I now love my bike so much that I hardly travel by any other means these days. There are of course a few reasons for that: firstly, Bremen is so flat that you barely ever need to change gear. A huge bonus in my book! Secondly, the cycle lanes here are so well-maintained – the city respects cyclists and encourages people to get on their bike. You only have to look around the streets: I think there’s something refreshingly progressive about seeing so many cyclists out and about. In the motor town of Stuttgart, however, only the most hardened cyclists would brave the traffic, the exhaust fumes and the absence of decent cycle lanes.
A slower pace of life
…and there’s a certain charm to that. We’re not in Hamburg, Berlin or Munich. Bremen isn’t a trend-setting city and it doesn’t try to be. It’s relaxed here: people in Bremen don’t seem so desperate to be noticed, so obsessed by fashion, so fixated on being different. Instead of worrying about whether their outfit meets the dress code, or wondering if it’s cooler to be seen drinking Hugo or Aperol Spritz this summer, the people of Bremen kick back by the river, Hemelinger beer in hand and simply enjoy life. Very civilised – save a spot for me!
Bremen is also valiantly holding out against the homogenisation of shopping districts through the global store chains. I love walking through Bremen and looking in all the individual shops. Our street in the district of Walle, for example, has small greengrocers and specialist retailers in electricals, shutters, lighting, hats and books – all of them owner-managed. I always think to myself that Bremen’s shop owners are tough, but fair. Actually, if nothing else, they’re certainly good at chatting – I’ve always been given great advice. When my electric razor stopped working, the chap in the electrical store ordered a spare part for €7, rather than talking me into buying a new one. I was quite moved – one of those big electrical discount stores would never have done that for me. Since then, my razor has been happily buzzing away, and I make sure to give them a friendly wave through the shop window whenever I walk by. I would encourage anyone to support these sometimes overlooked shops in the neighbourhood, as they add so much to the character of the city.
City of contrasts
Bremen is colourful and diverse. That’s what makes the city so special. It never ceases to amaze me how easy-going the people are here. The pubs in Findorff are meeting places for chess enthusiasts, Neustadt (and elsewhere) are hotbeds of urban gardening and Walle regularly hosts get-togethers of short-film buffs. The list could go on. The city provides creative spaces for its inhabitants, enabling people from all backgrounds to pursue their particular interests. And they tolerate each other. Even as a Swabian I feel very welcome. I’ve already survived a tram ride to the Weser Stadium wearing my red VfB Stuttgart scarf without incident. Sure, I had to put up with people making fun of me, but you just have to rise above it. And yes, I’m aware that VfB are now playing in the second division (edit: promotion is in the bag. Yes!).
Food that reflects the city
This post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning rollos. These falafel wraps are Bremen’s culinary trademark, and they’re great at any time of day. They’re almost as much part of Bremen as the Roland statue. I’ve not encountered rollos anywhere else, but in Bremen they’re on virtually every menu, and everybody loves them. Any decent night out in Bremen culminates in a rollo with friends. It’s probably no coincidence that the people of Bremen so readily identify with this dish: it might not be the fanciest of creations, but it’s down to earth, honest and you know what you’re getting. And that sums up Bremen.
A guest post by Stefan Krieger
About the author
Stefan Krieger loves travelling and writing. Ideally, he likes to combine the two. Together with his wife, Aylin, he has written the book 101 things that a globetrotter should know. He also regularly blogs about travel on www.todaywetravel.de.