Editor's note: Below is the second in a series of three guest posts about the German Fairy Tale Road. Please click here, for part one. All photos are Amanda White's.
The German Fairy Tale Road, or Deutsche Märchenstrasse, is full of tiny villages
all boasting some claim to the tales of the Brothers Grimm. But the brothers also
stopped at larger towns to gather their stories – bustling cities established long
before fairy tales made them infamous. Bremen and Hamelin are two such places
that exceed the tourist enthusiasm for folklore. Certainly they have a claim to the
Grimm fame, but they also have a culture all their own. For travelers, this can be a
welcome change – at least in the way of food, shopping, and a little artistic immersion.
|St Peter's Griffin|
The last stop on the official Märchenstrasse map, but my point of arrival, boasts
more than just the Bremen Town Musicians. This Northwest hub of Germany is ripe
with sights upon every turn of a cobbled lane.
|Bremen Town Musicians|
The Marktplatz, or Marketplace, resides at the heart of Bremen. Here, one can view
what many other cities in Germany no longer boast – history. So many beautiful
architectural sights have been destroyed throughout this country, especially where
religious monuments are concerned. But Bremen is one town that didn’t bear the
brunt of much wartime destruction. Old stone buildings tower on each side of the
Marktplatz Square, decorated in gilt and gold that showcase its origins during
the time of the Holy Roman Empire. Statues, such as the UNESCO World Heritage
monument of Roland, adorn not only the streets, but also guard the ancient walls
that line the sidewalks. The Marktplatz is also where one can find the Bremen Town
Musicians, located just around the corner from the incredibly ornate St. Peter’s
Cafes fitted with innumerable sidewalk tables and umbrellas give rest to foot-weary
pedestrians, while souvenir shops sell Bremen Town Musicians figurines in every
shape and size. Getting off this well-trodden route proves a gold mine, however.
Gone are the cookie-cutter storefronts – in their place are lanes so narrow the
buildings literally touch from up above.
This is the Schnoor area, or Old Town, and it may be the most intriguing aspect
of this sprawling city. Begin your search for the hidden area by taking one of
many smaller streets north from the Marktplatz. The cobblestone lanes, which
are much too small for anything but foot traffic, hold little gems like candy shops
and chocolateries, making the journey part of the experience. Indeed, everything
seems to be magical in the most historic part of Bremen, for when we stopped for a
drink at an unassuming pub we discovered in an alleyway, we found it was actually
a well-known sight due to the Bremen Clock that entertains passersby every day
at 6pm. Not only does this three-story timepiece have a full choir of bells to greet
the evening, but the brick wall also turns to reveal various historical scenes from
The Schnoor is where food enthusiasts and shoppers alike can find common ground.
Here one will unearth authentic shops that sell more than cheap products meant to
trap a wandering tourist. The Bremer BonBon was one such establishment. Every
confection is handmade, tempting the eye and the nose both as you travel past
its large picture window. For dinner, try a candlelit table and dine alfresco at the
Katzen Café, which proved excellent and receives consistently high marks for quality
Hamelin lies approximately two hours south of Bremen, depending on how many
stops one makes on the journey through storybook land. The town differs from
Bremen in that most activities center around rodents – at least of the fairy tale
variety. The legend of the Pied Piper made this town famous, and everything from
Inns to trinkets tell of his story.
|Pied Piper House|
We chose to stay in a small Bed and Breakfast only two streets away from the city
center. Hotel Altstadt-Wiege is quirky in all the best ways – every room is themed
according to the famous town legend. The staircase boasts a different painting of
the Pied Piper at each landing, and down the hallways are small touches like rocking
horses and hand painted furniture. The room in which we stayed was absolutely
lovely, with stained glass windows featuring scenes from the story, as well as a bed
that was shaped like a piece of cheese! As I said, quirky in all the best ways.
The town itself is entirely dedicated to the Grimm tale that made them famous. The
city center holds theatrical events, there is a Pied Piper House where the legendary
man is rumored to have actually stayed, and a Pied Piper city tour can be taken
either with a guide, or independently using a guide map freely given in any store.
Although some locations on the “Pied Piper Route” are merely souvenir shops,
others are more authentic. Follow the painted white rats that lead the way from one
location to another on the cobblestone street and a map will hardly be necessary.
One thing of note is Hamelin’s overabundance of ice cream shops. While I had –
perhaps naively – thought that German’s specialized in beer and sausages, the Pied
Piper’s home town showed that they also know their desserts. Any shop front with
Eiscafe in their name is fair game to those with a sweet tooth. There were no less
than ten just in the city’s center.
The Old Town is surrounded by buildings dating from the 16th century. While
many of them now hold souvenir shops and restaurants – such as a half-
timbered McDonalds – others function as museums historical monuments. The
Rattenfängerhaus, or Rat Catcher’s House, is the former town hall that still bears
a plaque describing the true events that surround the legend. The Church of St.
Nicholas was destroyed during World War Two, but go into the new building and
you will find many photos and memorabilia showing how glorious the Gothic
structure had been.
For those that would like a historical experience while dining, there really isn’t
anything better than the Rattenkrug, or Rat’s Tankard. This is the oldest restaurant
in town, with portions of the building dating back to 1250. The “new” structure
is Renaissance, and was constructed in 1568. I went for the name alone, but the
building is not to be missed.
Before we left Hamelin and started back onto the Märchenstrasse, we sat down to
breakfast with the only other visitors that the Bed and Breakfast had at the time. Not
only was the table set with the standard European breakfast fare of many varieties
of breads, meats, cheeses, and jams, but each item was in its own mouse-shaped
container. Even the breadbasket had a tail, and of course the cheese was set up on
a wedge-shaped block complete with Swiss cheese holes. The gentlemen we dined
with turned out to be professors at Canterbury University in England, and we had a
delightful conversation regarding literature and history over toast and boiled eggs.