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Lively Bremen

From street acrobatics to open-air classics

Cologne has its carnival, Munich has the Oktoberfest. In Bremen, the celebrations go on all year round. There’s something for everyone, from gravity-defying acrobats and graceful dancers to chart-breaking pop acts. Not a month goes by without some exciting event taking place in the city: the Freimarkt (the oldest funfair in Germany), the music festival and maritime festival, Europe’s biggest six-day cycle race, musicals and plays, prestigious art exhibitions and last but not least the traditional Christmas market, which also extends along the Schlachte Embankment.

Bremen fairBremen Theatre offers opera, dance and plays for discerning audiences. It covers four genres (music theatre, plays, dance theatre, and children’s and youth theatre) and has four permanent venues, Theater am Goetheplatz, Kleines Haus (formerly Schauspielhaus), Brauhauskeller and Moks im Brauhaus. In 1962 Kurt Hübner’s arrival in the city represented the beginning of a new era. Under his guidance, Bremen Theatre won widespread acclaim. The ‘Bremen style’ embodied by young directors such as Peter Zadek, Peter Stein and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, set designer Wilfried Minks and actors such as Bruno Ganz, Vadim Glowna and Hannelore Hoger broke new ground for German-language theatre. Still today, under the directorship of Michael Börgerding, Bremen Theatre is seen as a public forum for aesthetic and political reflection on the problems, risks, liberties and pleasures of modern urban life. The programme features more than 30 premieres every season, as well as concerts and parties. Series of talks, introductions to plays, and audience discussions after performances encourage a direct dialogue with the public.

Excitement, sensual delights, treachery and passion, Bremen Metropol Theatre has it all. The glass-fronted theatre near the main train station is one of the most modern in Germany. Each of its 1,450 comfortable seats is no more than 24 metres from the edge of the stage, so everyone has a fantastic view. Whether it’s Cats, Elisabeth, Dirty Dancing or Tom Jones – Bremen Musical Theatre is a venue for the big names from the world of entertainment.

Bremen maintains a strong musical tradition through companies such as the Bremen Philharmonic and the internationally acclaimed German Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra of Bremen. The latter received a special accolade at the German Business Founders’ Awards in recognition of the freedom it grants musicians to determine their own repertoire and the fixed-term contracts it gives to conductors. Estonian-born Paavo Järvi has the honour of being the incumbent head conductor for the orchestra. Under his direction, the German Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra of Bremen rehearsed the full set of Beethoven symphonies and performed them in places as far away as New York, Montreal and Tokyo.

Since 1990, the annual highlight for classical music lovers has been Bremen Music Festival, whose line-up of concerts features leading orchestras, acclaimed conductors and star soloists. The festival in late September traditionally opens with Eine grosse Nachtmusik, a series of three short programmes (classical, jazz or chanson) performed around Bremen’s market square. Audiences are treated to a journey through time based around a trio of musical genres. In addition to that, the German Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra of Bremen puts on a musical event of the highest calibre every year. For the Summer in Lesmona festival, Knoops Park in the north of Bremen becomes the backdrop for a feast of classical music with sunny skies and views of the Lesum river. People enjoying elaborate picnics is as much a part of the tradition as the screening of the film which gives the festival its name.

The great conductor Herbert von Karajan considered Bremen’s Die Glocke to be one of the best three concert halls in Europe, and Dame Margaret Price declared it to be “the finest hall in the world for singers”. Marvellous acoustics and original art deco auditoriums lend the venue its distinctive character, while the central location close to Bremen’s historical market square adds to its charm. Regular guests at Die Glocke include the Bremen Philharmonic, Bremen’s Coffeehouse Orchestra and the German Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra of Bremen.

In addition to all the playhouses and concert halls, Bremen can boast a great many exhibitions. Bremen’s Kunsthalle art gallery presents an ambitious exhibition programme featuring internationally acclaimed artists. It was the very first gallery to devote a show entirely to the ‘fields’ theme in Vincent Van Gogh’s landscape paintings. Starting with Van Gogh’s Field with Poppies, which the gallery acquired in 1911, fifty paintings, drawings and watercolours documented the artist’s most prolific phase in his final years. More than 320,000 people attended this spectacular exhibition – an all-time record in the gallery’s 150-year-plus history. The Kunsthalle reopened in August 2011 after extensive renovations. It has been given a 21st century makeover but has lost none of its classical elegance. Berlin architects Karl Hufnagel, Peter Pütz and Michael Rafaelian designed the museum’s extension, whose two side wings harmoniously bookend the Kunsthalle’s neo-classical building from 1849. The gallery continues to enjoy great success with special exhibitions such as ‘Sylvette, Sylvette, Sylvette. Picasso and the Model’.

Germany’s oldest and third biggest funfair, which every year attracts four million people. No other German city has a fair with more fairground rides than the Bremen Freimarkt, which always takes place during the latter half of October. On the Bürgerweide grounds, which cover 100,000 square metres, more than 320 fairground attractions are set up just a stone’s throw from the old quarter. This Bremen tradition is not to be missed. There’s also a quieter ‘little freimarkt’ on the market square. It’s a festival for the senses with piping hot doughnuts, roasted almonds and tasty liquorice set out on old-fashioned stalls that reflect the tradition of this market dating back almost a thousand years. One week after the fair opens, some 200,000 people line the streets for the grand Freimarkt parade.

From June to August, the city is livelier than ever because of the many free, open-air summer events that take place – whether it’s the shanty songs and nautical atmosphere of the Maritime Festival, street acrobatics in the city centre at La Strada, concert highlights on the banks of the Weser during the Breminale, or the musical diversity of the Bremen Music Festival.

Bremen Carnival

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