It is not every day you get to take a ride in a breakdown tow-away truck and discover that the Town Musicians of Bremen actually made it all the way
21.10.2011 - 23.10.2011 14 °C
The Duke has just commenced our weekend by filling up our lovely diesel car with 50 litres of petrol. Having realised his mistake just after the petrol stand dial approached 52nd litre, he displayed the yet most sheepish face I have seen him wear and immediately forbade me mentioning it in our blog. Right, would I ever.Despite the near sub-zero temperatures, we exercised just enough self restrain and resisted turning on the engine and thus the heating. Instead, we called a breakdown company and fled into the station shop to eat our sorrows away, nibbling on an overpriced box of pistachio nuts.
Although it was almost midnight on Friday and instead of enjoying a nice drink in a cosy bar in Bremen, we were stuck at a petrol station thirty kilometres away with a potentially ruined car, I found the whole situation strangely entertaining. After half an hour wait, a slightly rude breakdown service man arrived at the crime scene and we got to drive in one of these tow-away trucks to a garage near Bremen, from where we treated ourselves to a taxi ride to our hotel. Happy we finally arrived and not yet ready to call it a day, our tracks led to the hotel bar for a couple of drinks. The clock was approaching 2am when we finally hit the sack.
The main reason we planned a weekend in Bremen was that we had a couple of tickets for a Cirque du Soleil show. Having not been to Bremen before, I was happy to make a weekend out of it. Needless to say, our initial plans of exploring the town on Saturday fell victim to Duke’s filling-up experiment the previous night and so instead of romantically strolling hand in hand through the cobble-stoned streets, the Duke went on a quest to retrieve our car whilst I set off, direction old town.
When travelling, without intending to we generally happen to visit places that have some kind of celebration or festival going on. This happened a few times previously and was also the case this weekend. First sign that something was up was right outside our hotel – a huge fun fair with hundreds of stalls, rides and of course, people. My suspicion grew when walking through the main train station subway I met a procession with live band, dancers and other dressed up people. The final straw, however, was a long train of allegorical carriages blaring German and international pop songs with dressed-up crew waving to the rowdy crowds lining the streets and indiscriminatively bombarding onlookers with selection of hard candy.
Brief visit to the tourist information confirmed the town was in midst of an annual Frei Markt ‘free market’ celebration and so following the theme - ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’, I took it upon myself to explore the little stalls selling anything from leather cloaks and pottery to magic potions and sample some of the traditional German ‘festival foods’ such as tiny pastry balls sprinkled with powder sugar called Schmalzkuchen. This is also when I came across one of the town’s landmarks – a statue of the original Town Musicians of Bremen as immortalised in the Brothers Grimm folktales. Initially I found it rather curious that that statue was in Bremen, since the musicians had actually never made it that far. My reservations, however, dissolved a couple of hours later when we came across a sign near the Böttcherstrasse street informing us of a recent house reconstruction which saw the excavation of a leg bone belonging to the donkey from the Town Musicians. A conclusive proof the musicians made it to Bremen, not that their sheet existence was ever in question.
Despite the crowds, street closures and candy rain, I enjoyed soaking up the festive atmosphere whilst browsing through the old town. The city hall, Dome, statue of Roland of Bremen and plenty of other historical sites are all dotted around a pretty square, making Bremen ideal for being explored on foot. Whilst I initially agreed to meet the Duke somewhere around the centre, the closures and crowds would make this hardly doable so instead, around 2pm I set off on a walk around the river towards the main train station. The Duke, in the mean time, managed to reclaim our poor car and slowly but surely navigated his way to a nearby car park, after almost despairing trying to find a way around the street closures. So it came to pass that mid afternoon, we gloriously reunited and set off to explore the old town (again) but this time together.
Walking around the old town square, I was easily tempted to yet another sample of local fast food - this time a bratwurst. As I already saw most of the area around the city hall, we headed to the oldest part of the town called the Schnoorviertel.This part of town is ideal when you want to get a feel for what Bremen was like in the 15th and 16th century - narrow cobble stoned streets, skewed houses, cosy restaurants, quirky shops and the occasional remainder of the original ornamental stone decoration of the house facades. Despite the sun, it was rather crispy so we did the only sensible thing in that situation and anchored in one of these cosy restaurants with traditional Bremen cuisine. Never ones to turn down food, we ordered a couple of tasty dishes and slowly defrosted our stiff fingers. An hour later, we were fed, watered and ready for some more sightseeing.
Following the marked round trip through the Bremen old town (little metal studs in the pavement lead you around the main sites), we decided to head out of Schnoorviertel towards the river, where the original merchant harbour used to be during the hay-day of Bremen as a Hanse town. A number of old boats are still harboured there so we took our time chilling in the sun and enjoying the surroundings. On our way back towards the city hall square, still following the round walk, we joined the Böttcherstrasse street, which is where we discovered not only that the Town Musicians DID make it to Bremen but we also came just in time to hear the famous Bremen Carillon with 30 Meissen porcelain bells.
Thanks to the annual Frei Markt, which is actually a tradition going for almost thousand years, instead of going to museums and spending lots of time indoors together with a substantial mass of other eager peeps, we opted for walking around the town instead. Normally we like to mix it up but it was nice just browsing around in the sun. The one thing that was dumping our enthusiasm though was a headache we both managed to contract (presumably) from drinking far too much wine the previous night. Or rather, unbeknown to us at the time, not that good a wine. Feeling tender and once again getting cold, we decided to head back to the hotel before walking to the arena for 8pm Cirque du Soleil performance. Using the spare hour we even managed to squeeze in a short afternoon nap.
Cirque du Soleil was performing their Alegria show and it was fantastic! We saw a couple of their performances in London over the past few years and every time they manage to come up with something new and exciting. Slowly recovering from our headache, we got ourselves a couple of glasses of sparkly to enhance the experience even further. Courtesy of the Frei Markt, the fun fair was at its best when we left the arena and determined to enjoy our 2nd and last night in Bremen, we gone loose on a couple of rides and sampled yet another of the festive nibbles – this time mozzarella sticks. After a good walk around and sufficient adrenalin kicks where the Duke earned some brownie points for overcoming his nervousness (read ‘fear’) of high funfair rides, we ended up in a Bavarian style beer tent for what else than a couple of drinks. We stayed until the fair started closing for the night around midnight and after a quick top-up at our hotel bar, retired to bed.
Sunday morning was in sign of decadence. A little bit ‘tired’ from previous night we had a lie-in until almost lunchtime, when we concluded there was no other way but to get up if we didn’t want to pay for an extra day in the hotel. Sampling more culinary delights on the fun fair on the way to the car park, we were all set for the day. Reunited with our ailing car, we promptly found a petrol station and filled-up with the expensive type of diesel that you only buy if you are feeling particularly guilty about abusing your car or someone else is paying for it. Since I am working ‘out of town’ again, we decided to set off on our way home so that I could re-pack my suitcase and enjoy few hours of our cosy flat in Dusseldorf before being shipped back to Frankfurt for the week.