I sometimes wonder what a city would be without its murals, and then I realise that it should be ‘what would Bremen be without its murals?’ After all, murals may not be as common in other cities as they are in our Hanseatic city on the river Weser. In the 1970s and 1980s, in particular, a whole host of murals were commissioned, some of which are still around today. I set out on a mission to find them and discovered quite a few new ones along the way.
If you ask a Bremen resident whether they can think of any local murals, they will often reply: “Grandma and grandpa by the Remberti roundabout.” This mural is officially known as ‘Blick aus dem Fenster’ (looking out of the window) and was painted in 1976 by Peter Krüger, who I’ve written about before.
Of course, I’ll be passing many more murals on my tour, so I make a little list before I get on my bike. This proves to be sensible and yet somehow unnecessary at the same time. As I set off on my bike and leave the Ostertor quarter heading out of the city, I realise I could stop at every corner to take photos of murals. It was probably a good idea to make a list beforehand, I think to myself. But in the end it turns out that wasn’t necessarily the best approach. I arrive in Hastedt at my first destination to find that the mural I was aiming for, Flutkatastrophe (flood disaster), supposedly to be found on the corner of Fleetrade and Drakenburger Strasse, is no longer there. I do a few turns at the junction to be sure, but I simply cannot see it. That’s a real pity. When I checked the mural out online, it was a really strong image of the extreme floods that affected parts of Hemelingen in 1981 and caused plenty of damage. In his mural, the painter Jörn-Peter Dirx borrowed Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai’s famous image of a wave.
Fortunately, the next destination on my list isn’t far away. On the corner of Auf der Howisch and Fährstrasse, there’s a huge classroom scene from the 1950s on the wall of school. The title of the mural is ‘Frère Jacques, dormez-vous?’, and it was painted in 1987 by Jub Mönster, a name I will come across again on my tour. The building houses Bremen’s School Museum, to which the mural alludes to, among other things.
Scenes from years gone by
I’m now moving towards the city centre again and heading for my next stop. Making my way along a couple of side streets, I reach the eastern edge of the Westfalensiedlung estate between Stader Strasse, Bismarckstrasse, Bennigsenstrasse and Bei den drei Pfählen. Many locals refer to the estate as Little Mexico. I come to a stop by a rectangular building on the corner of Bennigsenstrasse and Ruhrstrasse. It appears to be a bunker, of which there still are a few throughout Bremen. Many of them have been painted in the past decades, and so has this one. Although the colours are fading, you can still recognise scenes from the local area. The title of the mural is ‘Eine Siedlung stellt sich vor’ (an estate introduces itself), and a small sign tells me that it was painted in 1987 by Gisela Köster and Uwe Oswald. I stroll along its long side and discover a whole host of objects and scenes.
My next stop is on Hemelinger Strasse in Peterswerder. Here, the aforementioned Jub Mönster created the mural ‘Double’ in 2006. It recalls the sporting success of the city’s football team, Werder Bremen, who were German champions and cup winners in 2004. I recognise former players such as Ailton, Johan Micoud and Tim Borowski. The wall on which the three metre high and twenty metre long mural was painted is part of the football club’s indoor sports facility. The other external walls have also been painted with scenes from the world of football.
An encounter with famous faces
From Peterswerder, my route takes me along St. Jürgen Strasse and Humboldtstrasse, past the dove of peace in Bohnenstrasse and on to the Remberti roundabout, where I stop at number 30/32 Auf den Häfen. Here, the well-known old couple, with a friendly if slightly sceptical look on their faces, look out of their window towards the main train station. She in a flowery blouse, he in a waistcoat and shirt. Their slightly sceptical look probably relates to a bypass which was set to cut a swathe through the quarter when it was proposed in the early 1970s. The plans were abandoned in the end.
The colourful west of Bremen
There are plenty more murals to the west of the city centre, some of which have been around for decades. When I’m in Walle, I sometimes see one of my favourite murals. ‘Die Waller Jungs’ (the boys from Walle), on the side of no. 8 Haferkamp, shows a scene from the 1920s. The five boys are sitting on an archway with their feet dangling down, looking straight at you. Klaus Halfar is the artist who created this artwork not once, but twice. He first painted it in 1994 based on a photo of the five boys. In 2009, external insulation was added to the building and the mural disappeared, much to the regret of residents, passers-by and tram passengers who came past every day. Once the renovation work was completed in 2012, the artist was persuaded to recreate it.
Another highlight in Walle is a tall bunker with a huge person looking at me through binoculars from all four walls. The title of this work by Victor Ash couldn’t be more apt: ‘Look at me, look at you’. The 25 metre high mural was created in 2009 for the 32nd German Protestant Church Festival, held under the banner ‘Where are you, man?’.
I also make a stop in Findorff to look at a large mural painted on – yet another – bunker, this time at the eastern end of Admiralstrasse. The title of this piece by Jürgen Waller is ‘Den Gegnern und Opfern des Faschismus’ (to the opponents and victims of fascism). It was created in 1984 and serves as a memorial to the victims of the Missler concentration camp in Bremen, which was built at this location in 1933. Here too, individual scenes were combined to create a huge collage. I can see executions, interrogations and arrests. Listed all around the image are the names of women and men who were persecuted, abused and murdered.
Mixing aesthetics, remembrance and history
On my final route, I think about the significance of art on the walls of houses. Murals often convey the history of the places and buildings where they were created. They capture scenes from days gone by, until the ravages of time consume the murals too. Some last longer and become landmarks of particular districts and quarters. Others stay only briefly before the facade is changed and the picture vanishes. Some are created as a memorial, or to capture a moment or even to provoke, while others aim to be easy on the eye. What they all do is add more colour and facets to the city, and some even add more depth and dimensions.