Several former colleagues of mine who were members of or connected with the US military were once stationed in Bremerhaven a long long time ago. Their job was related to the receiving and shipping of military equipment and supplies through the massive port at the mouth of the Weser River as it emptied into the North Sea. It was one major avenue for the US to deploy its forces in response to the old Soviet threat. But my colleagues did not remember the place fondly, as it was routinely cold and windy with really rough winters. Because I had heard so much about it, I decided that while in Bremen I would take an excursion to see this port city just to see what kind of environment those colleagues once worked in. But, of course, I went when the weather was favorable (it was windy, but at least it wasn't cold).
The city wrapped around the east bank of the Weser as it opened into a massive bay leading to the North Sea. Shipyards and harbors extended along most of the coastline. My first view of the waterfront was of a really nice yacht club harbor surrounded by what I gathered to be an apartment complex for senior citizens who were quite friendly. But after, I admittedly made the wrong turn upstream (left) to the mouth of the Weser, because that's where it appeared the center of town was. There was nothing there to see, as the waterfront was fenced off by industry. Lesson learned, from the yacht club, go right.
The first photograph shows one of the passenger harbors, taken from the Columbus Bridge located midway between the train station and downtown. The waterway shown was actually not the Weser, but the Geeste Canal that ran through the city and provided most of the commercial passenger docks. Off the photo to the left was a ferry boat chartered to take people across the bay to Nordenham and out to the islands in the North Sea (the popular Helgoland or the Frisian Islands, for example). This was a mid-morning shot, and the ferry boat was full.
Beyond the Bridge, I came upon the very impressive Bremerhaven Ship Museum. Some of the outdoor displays are shown in the second photograph, and they were plenty enough of them to capture my attention. There was a group of senior citizens on the sidewalk with me, and one of them was clearly an old tar who was knowledgeable about the history of each ship. There was a lot of history. Some were famous old warships or explorers, plus the U-boat shown at right in the second photograph. Beyond the museum building was a pathway out to the levee where one could see exhibits of ship's propellers and torpedoes. The levee rose some eight feet above ground level, providing plenty of protection against floods. The top of the levee had a walking path.
The scene from that levee was phenomenal. The view in the third photograph clearly shows the perspective of how wide the river mouth was at it opened to the sea. It was practically an ocean wide. My camera was pointed out toward the sea as this barge moved in. The aforementioned Nordenham was the treeline on the horizon. In the opposite direction was the entrance from the Geeste Canal, marked with massive buoy-shaped towers, one green and one red. I watched for about thirty minutes as ships went up and down the river. These ships ranged from the largest barges to some very small and old-fashioned fishing boats. Whoever was managing the river traffic was doing a good job.
The levee provided a long flag-lined promenade running from the museum to the edge of the city, probably a mile or mile-and-a-half long. The path was wide enough for it to be used by a number of joggers, though the winds were pretty stiff up there.
I took a break from touring in order to attend Mass, then concentrated on the business district. It was quiet because I went there on a Sunday, but I got a fair taste of the surroundings. Bremerhaven didn't really have an "old town" character, virtually all the shops were modern. Shown in the fourth photograph was Theodore-Heuss-Platz in the southern end of the pedestrian zone. The monument was of Theodore Heuss himself, and in the distance was the roundish facade of the City Theater. Following down the street to the right of this photo was the pedestrian boulevard leading to the Hauptplatz (main plaza) marked with the Stadtkirche (city church), a old-style (but clearly rebuilt) red brick church whose tower could be seen through most of the town.
For the final photo in this travelogue, I chose this statue of an old sailor (actually a Germanized version of Christopher Columbus) braving a chilling wind to look out over the Weser. It was at the top of a stairwell at Columbus Center overlooking the Museum with a clear view to the water. Considering how my old colleagues all separately agreed that the North Sea's winters could be harsh, this statue captured the type of hardened man that probably used to work on the ships and docks of Old Bremerhaven not many years ago. I rather liked it.
Given that I went on a Sunday and Bremerhaven was not a prime tourist destination, I wasn't surprised to find the city very quiet. However, the passenger ships were busy, as Bremerhaven was a primary naval transit point to several locations -- to the islands and upstream toward Bremen. In any case, it was good to lay eyes on a place that was so well remembered by some old friends, and know that it was still doing quite nicely.
Trips taken 6-7 September 2003 -- Page last updated 24 August 2006 -- (C) 2003 Tom Galvin