Industrial port and capital of the Land (administrative region) of Bremen, Germany, on the River Weser 69 km/43 mi from the open sea; population (2003 est) 527,900, urban agglomeration 1,006,300. Germany's largest port after Hamburg, it is a commercial and industrial centre trading in cotton, wool, tobacco, and copper. Industries include iron, steel, oil refining, the manufacture of chemicals, aircraft, and cars, ship repairing, marine engineering, and electronics. The Bremer Vulkan Shipyards, which had been the city's largest employer, closed in 1996. Nearby Bremerhaven serves as an outport.
Germany's oldest port, Bremen was a leading member of the Hanseatic League trade federation from 1358, and a free imperial city from 1646. It became a member of the North German Confederation in 1867 and of the German Empire in 1871.
Bremen is divided by the Weser into two parts: the Altstadt (old town) on the right bank, with narrow, winding streets and irregular houses; and the Neustadt (new town) on the left bank. The cathedral of St Peter (begun in 1043) stands on the site of an 8th-century wooden structure. There is a beautiful Gothic Rathaus (town hall, 1405-09) with a Renaissance facade, and the Schütting guildhouse. A 9-m/30-ft high statue of the medieval hero Roland (1404), nephew of Charlemagne, stands beside the Rathaus, symbolizing the city's freedom. The city has a modern umiversity.
The harbours, which have no locks, have a depth of 12 m/38 ft, but cannot accommodate large vessels, and so the outport of Bremerhaven was built.
Bremen first rose to be a town of importance when Charlemagne made it the seat of a bishopric in 787. It was made an archbishopric in 845, and under Archbishop Adalbert (1043-1072) included all of Scandinavia, Iceland, and Greenland. Commerce brought prosperity and it became in time one of the chief towns of the Hanseatic League. In 1646 it became a free city of the empire. During the Napoleonic Wars it passed into the hands of the French, but regained its independence in 1813. It joined the North German Confederation in 1867, and became part of the German empire in 1871. After World War I, there was a short-lived (1918-19) socialist republic of Bremen. During World War II the city was severely bombed by the Allies. The dockyards were active throughout the war and were the centre of construction of U-boats (submarines). The Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler made Bremen his headquarters in April 1945 to organize the final resistance of the SS, the Nazi elite corps. It became the American forces supply point after the war.
Since the decline of Bremen's traditional marine-related industries, the city has diversified its economic activities; it now is the site of a Mercedes motor plant, and has facilities for research and development and high-tech activities.
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