The city of Bremerhaven was founded as Bremen‘s access to the North Sea, and after some ups and downs, the city is now evolving into a Boomtown – as I prove in this complete guide to this widely underrated city.
After a changeful history, today the city is almost secretly evolving into a Boomtown.
The King And I
As soon as the gangway was put, the crowd behind the barrier got berserk. Women screamed hysterically, overwhelmed to tears, arms stretched out towards the troop freighter ‚General Randall’ – being, literally, a handful to the policemen who had to protect the King.
Yes, there he was, coming down the gangway among his entourage – the King!
„I am happy to be here“, he affirmed as soon as he set foot on German soil. Wooow, this voice: goosebumps!
Whenever he raised his voice, it sounded like ‚Love me tender’ – even here, at the quay on the docks of Bremerhaven, where on October 1, 1958, Mr. Elvis Aaron Presley, aka the King of Rock’n’Roll, landed in Germany to complete his military service.
As soon as the train doors opened, I stepped on the platform and looked around: No screaming, no tears, no outstretched arms.
The station’s bored security man chewed gum, eyeing the arriving and parting passengers with indifference.
„I am happy to be here“, I mumbled to myself – grabbed my bag, and headed for the Havenwelten, Bremerhaven’s newly built, posh neighborhood.
So while I was smart enough to spend the entire weekend at this cool’n’cozy place, the King left the same day on a train at approximately 1.30 p. m. to the Army base in Friedberg in Hessia.
I bet you think, now I’m just making things up, right!? By no means!
Indeed, there is a website by the German Elvis Presley Association and they’ve put together an incredible chronology of the King’s stay among the Germans – including his train schedule.
And you think I am the quirky one…
Another valid information I’ve got reading their page is that on October 30, 1958, hence, after 29 days in Germany, the King bought a poodle and named her Cherry.
I guess you’ll need a moment to digest this info so I give you a little privacy.
- The King And I
- Past Tense
- Present Tense
- Present Perfect
- Practical Information
- Pinnable Pictures
The city of Bremen was gaining its wealth from commerce and trade which, obviously, at that time was mostly proceeded by ships. Bremen was part of the Hanse League since 1358. The Hanse was a coalition of up to 200 cities with the main purpose of protecting trade routes for instance against pirating.
To learn more about this powerful league, read my post on Lübeck, the Queen of the Hanse.
The Dutch Builders
Bremen is on the shores of the river Weser and has no direct access to the ocean.
Therefore, in 1827, mayor Johann Smidt, decided that Bremen needed a harbor – a ‘Haven’. This, by the way, is a fine example for how close the German and English languages actually are.
Hence, Smidt bought a piece of land from the Kingdom of Hannover which today is the capital of the Federal State Lower Saxony. Here, Dutch engineer Jacobus Johannes van Ronzelen designed a city that was quickly constructed between 1827 till 1830. Bremen’s Haven was built – and eventually renamed into Bremerhaven.
Going to America
Especially the increase of emigration to the New World brought Bremerhaven lots of work and money. However, the cargo now was not only beer or coffee or commodities anymore, they got human freight. Between 1830 and 1971, about 7 million people left Europe via the port of Bremerhaven. Even more than through the much bigger city of Hamburg.
While the money from the living freight was initially made in Bremerhaven, with the construction of the railway in 1862, the passengers had quicker and easier access to the ships and did not need to wait right next to the docks. Hence, they now waited in the city of Bremen – and spent their money rather there.
Serving as Bremen’s port, consequently, most trades were about building and maintenance of ships. Another important industrial sector was deep-sea fishing and processing of the catch in factories.
Clearly, none of these jobs were somewhat glamorous or bohemian, so that Bremerhaven has had a rather hard-working, proletarian population.
To learn more about emigration through North-German harbors to the New World, go to the post Coming to America: From Northern Germany to the “New World”
Coming from America
Withal, the city had some pretty rich moments since in spring 1948, 23,000 boxes containing almost six billion freshly printed Deutschmark-bills had crossed the Atlantic and arrived in Bremerhaven. The US Army guarded the precious freight. It was the time of the post-war monetary reform, hence, Germany got its new currency.
Since the Bremerhavians are good eggs, they didn’t keep this fortune for themselves but shared it with the rest of the republic which was actually founded only the following year.
And as I explained above, it was here where Elvis Presley set foot on German soil to do his military service in one of the US military bases in Southern Germany.
By the way, today, at that very spot, there are many setting foot on German soil since this is the spot where huge cruise liners are docking. Bremerhaven is getting really big in the cruising industry.
As a matter of fact, Bremerhaven is getting pretty big in general. After having been kind of Bremen’s backyard for the longest time, the city finally has been booming. The old – and old-fashioned – shipping industry changed dramatically over the past decades – undoubtedly, not for the better.
An Industrial Port
Bremerhaven’s answer is the quarter Havenwelten uniting the area of the old and the new harbor. It includes elegant apartments, big shopping malls, fantastic museums, luxurious hotels, and a posh yacht harbor.
It’s amazing that all the superlatives the Federal State of Bremen has to offer are to be found in this often neglected exclave.
Bremerhaven’s container wharf measures over five kilometers – world’s longest container wharf at one stretch. There is space for 120,000 cars which probably also makes it world’s largest parking lot; and probably the best guarded one, too. Of course, visiting is only possible on a guided tour – see the HafenBus below. Also, you have to bring your ID or passport and taking pictures is strictly forbidden.
Things are still quite fishy in Bremerhaven: It is world’s largest producer of fish fingers. Frozen Fish International is producing 1.5 billion fish fingers per year.
And then there is the Museum Harbor with amazing historic ships and the Emigration Center with its prize-winning exhibition and….hey, you know what, let me take you on a grand tour of this small city.
It’s possible that you arrive by a cruise liner. But it’s probable that you get there by regional train from Bremen. A walk from the station to the center is neither long nor very scenic so you might consider taking bus #505 to this tour’s first stop which is the Historisches Museum, the historic museum.
So we start our visit at the Historisches Museum, the Historic Museum, where you get to know Bremerhaven’s entire history and development over the epochs.
There are many interesting pieces, there is a huge ship for the technophiles, there are a cooper workshop and a fish store. There are photographs and a movie showing film clips on different topics. It’s very educational and pretty entertaining at the same time – and certainly a great place to visit with kids.
Historisches Museum Bremerhaven
An der Geeste
Phone: +49 – 471 – 30 81 60
The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and entrance is free.
From the museum, walk across the Alte Geestebrücke and continue on Fährstraße* to the Theodor Heuss Platz. Here, you are greeted by a – literally – great man. It’s Mr. Johann Smidt, Bremen’s mayor who commissioned the construction of Bremerhaven.
There are also the city theater and the Kunstmuseum, Bremerhaven’s art museum, at this square – but in all honesty, and this is coming from a huge art enthusiast, you do not miss out on much if you don’t visit this venue or the Kunsthalle, the art gallery around the corner. Both entrances are adorned by sculptures by Jan Balkenhol. And to be honest, these are actually the best pieces they have to offer.
Let’s rather stick to the maritime attractions since they are definitely Bremerhaven’s strong suit.
Walk one block to the Columbusstraße and cross to the imposing Maritime Museum.
There are various old ships to admire like a light vessel from 1909, a polar research vessel from 1867, or a submarine from 1945, the last days of WWII.
The museum is open from 10 a. m. to 5.45 p.m.
Actually, all these wonderful antique ships are part of the Deutsches Schifffahrtsmuseum – the three fs are not a typo, the word is a combination of Schiff, ship, and Fahrt, trip – the German Maritime Museum.
The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Klimahaus: The Climate House
Indispensable should be a visit to the Klimahaus, the climate house.
Opened in 2009 by no less than Sir Bob Geldof, this venue is much more than just some museum. It is a unique space where you can actually experience the weather and its impact as well as the change and development of the world’s climate.
While we always rather focus on the latitude, these clever people introduce the longitude, namely 8° East where also Bremerhaven is located. Nonetheless, also Switzerland, Niger, Antarctica, Samoa, Alaska, and others.
They let you actually experience each one of these individual climate zones.
Visiting the Klimahaus should be on every Bremerhaven visitor’s to-do list.
The Klimahaus is open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. (weekends from 10 a.m.)
The next attraction is actually a posh 4* Atlantic Hotel. The building, the SAIL City, is designed in the shape of a blown sail and stands 140 meters/460 feet tall.
Being the city’s tallest building, there is an observation deck on the 20th and 21st floors. Even if you are not a guest, for 3 €uro – very well spent – you can still go up in Summer between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. and from October to March from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and enjoy a fantastic view – on some days actually all the way to the North Sea.
The Auswandererhaus: The Emigration Center
Crossing the bridge Alter Hafen, originally built in 1851, you get to another fascinating exhibition, the Deutsches Auswandererhaus, the Germany Emigration Center; by the way, initially the main reason for my visit to Bremerhaven – little did I know how many more attractions were expecting me.
Everybody knows Ellis Island and knows that it was the designated destination of a journey full of hardship and hope. But hardly anybody seems to care what all these people went through before finally arriving on the American east coast.
This is very well sketched in the fantastic, award-winning exhibition. After all, between 1830 and 1974, seven million people went to new shores via the port of Bremerhaven. More than through the much larger city of Hamburg.
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…
Most of these people came from Eastern Europe or from Southern Germany. Before they continued across the ocean, they had to wait for their ship to be ready; sometimes for days.
From these passengers, no matter how poor, money was rolling in. In 1857, the Norddeutscher Lloyd was founded, importing goods from America and exporting emigrants. Recruiters went to East Europe to drum up customers by promising them a great future across the ocean. But as a matter of fact, reasons to leave Europe into an insecure future were as varied and individual as the passengers themselves.
I cannot spare you a last fun fact: In 1885, a certain Friedrich Trump from Kallstadt, today located in Rhineland-Palatinate, migrated via Bremerhaven to the United States of America, probably to evade military service. He lived the American dream: In 2017, his grandson became President.
The museum is open daily from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m. from March till October and from 10 a. m. to 5 p. m. from November to February.
For a comprehensive overview of emigration through North German harbors to the New World, go to the post Coming to America: From Northern Germany to the “New World”
No visit to a harbor would be complete without a boat cruise, right?! So at the bridge next to the Auswandererhaus, you can hop on board one of the launches, and off you go on a one-hour cruise through the industrial harbor.
Let me tell you, you’ll feel pretty small in your nutshell gliding next to the ocean liners, the tugboats, pontoon cranes, and wharves.
There are daily trips, but the schedule varies with the seasons, so please check their website for convenient hours.
In case you have more time to spend, I strongly recommend a day trip to the island of Heligoland, supposedly Germany’s only deep-sea island.
During the summer season, usually between May and the end of September, the MS Fair Lady leaves from Bremerhaven to Heligoland at 9.30 a.m. and comes back at 7 p.m. While the crossing itself takes about three hours, you have about two and a half hours to explore the island. A day trip sets you back around 40 €uros roundtrip.
A Tour by HafenBus: The Harbor Bus
Another great activity is to visit the industrial harbor which is very impressive.
There is space for 120.000 cars, but they are not remaining there for long. More than 1,400 car freight ships are coming to Bremerhaven every year, carrying 2.3 million cars. Oh yes, and there are bananas and other stuff, too.
So if you want to see all this but don’t feel like going on a boat trip, you can take a tour by the HafenBus, the HarborBus, which doesn’t take you as close to the ships as the boat tour, but you get really close to the heavy machinery onshore – and that’s amazing, take it from me.
The tour takes two hours and you can board the bus at three stops: At the Schaufenster Fischereihafen (Window Fishery Harbor), in front of the Deutsches Schifffahrtsmuseum (see above) and at the Zoo (see below).
Did I just mention the zoo? Yes, there is a zoo in Bremerhaven, and it’s a reversed superlative. It is home to 800 animals from 107 species, however, Germany’s smallest scientifically managed zoo.
However, its scientific achievements are amazing: Whether the breeding of spectacled penguins, gannets, or seals – they are doing a great job. Their greatest achievement is probably the breeding of polar bears: Since 1935, 29 ice bears were born here which makes the zoo a leading institution in this field.
No offense, but take a hike
Is it too much? Do you just want to relax? No problem, since you can go on a relaxing walk or cycle on the levees along the river Weser or just sit on a bench and enjoy life.
If you’re not driving, you can get to Bremerhaven easily by train. The Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s national train company, offers the so-called Ländertickets, the country tickets that are valid for one day in a specific federal state. Every federal state has its own and the cost varies from about 24 to 29 €uro.
Geographically, Bremerhaven is located in the federal state of Lower Saxony, and the Niedersachsen-Ticket costs 24 €uro for one and you have to add another 5 €uro per person travelling with you. So if you are two adults, it will set you back 29 €uro for both of you, if you travel with four other people, you’ll pay 44 €uro for your party of five; not bad, right?!
A child under 15 travels for free with two adults.
While you can actually travel the entire day within the respective federal state, you can take only the regional trains. Hence, train numbers beginning with RE, MET, etc. But not the interregional trains such as the Intercity (IC) or Intercity Express (ICE).
Nevertheless, keep in mind that if you are travelling by yourself, just a oneway trip to Bremerhaven from e.g. Hamburg or Hannover might be cheaper than the Niedersachsen-Ticket. Therefore and for other connections and rates, please visit the Deutsche Bahn’s website, it’s available in seven languages.
From Bremen, it is 35 to 45 minutes by regional train. If you already have a Länderticket, it’s, obviously, included. Otherwise, it’s 13.30 €uros for a single ride and 23.50 €uros for a day pass.
And Getting Around
Bremerhaven has a very good public bus system, however, their website is only in German. Long live the google-translator!
A single bus ticket within Bremerhaven’s city limits costs 2.50 €uros, a pass with four rides 8.60, and for ten 21.50 €uros. Then, there are day passes for one person – 7.30 €uros – to five people – for 18.10 €uros.
Here is a comprehensive chart.
Where to Stay
I guess you’ll agree that there is a lot to do in Bremerhaven.
So why not spend the night and reboot at the really nice hotel The Liberty*, located right between all these wonderful places?!
Located right next to the Emigration Center, its name, obviously, refers cleverly to Lady Liberty – waiting for the tired and the poor….you know the drill.Booking.com
You can have dinner at the restaurant Mulberry Street and a drink at the New York Bar located on the fifth floor overlooking the harbor.
But there is also another treat waiting for you up there: Their clean and beautiful SPA where you can relax on a deckchair – inside or on the balcony, too.
After a generous breakfast, you’ll be ready to explore what the city has to offer or you just enjoy the view from your balcony….
If the The Liberty* should be booked out, you can check other suitable accommodations on this map:Booking.com
Until now, 20 European countries replaced their former local currency with the €uro starting in 2002. Obviously, Germany is one of them. The exchange rate is 1 US$ = 0.94 EUR as of January 2024. However, you can check today’s conversion rate on this page.
Most larger stores and restaurants accept credit cards, and there are many ATMs to get cash from.
Bremerhaven caters mainly to national tourism. Therefore, people’s command of English or any other foreign language might be limited to some basic expressions.
Therefore, for some useful words and phrases, you might want to practice a little with help from e. g. Babbel (the first lesson is for free and already supplies you with useful basic vocabulary).
Note: In this article, obviously, I’m writing out some of the German names of brands and places and you will notice that there are letters that might not exist in other languages: First of all there is the letter ß that exists only in the German alphabet and it’s by no means a B – it’s a ‘sharp’, double S as in kiss. When writing, you can actually replace it by a double S. Then there are three more vowel, ä being the easiest one since it’s pronounced like an open e as in head. Ö and ü are tougher, ö being pronounced more or less like the e in her and ü as the u in huge.
After having read this post down to here, do you still need further information or have specific questions? Of course, I’m here for you, but more importantly, so are the people at the Tourist Information.
The tourist office will supply you with extended information of any kind:
There are daily trips, but the schedule varies with the seasons, so please check their website for convenient hours.
On this map, you’ll find all the wonderful places I’m introducing in this post.
Clicking on the slider symbol at the top left or the full-screen icon at the top right will display the whole map including the legend.
Please use one of these pictures if you choose to pin this post:
Note: I’m completing, editing, and updating this post regularly – last in January 2024.
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They also supported my blogger trip by supplying me with information, a tour with the HafenBus, the HarborBus, and arranged a visit to the Auswandererhaus, the German Emigration Center.
However, all opinions on these services are mine and weren’t by any means influenced by my cooperation partner.
*This is an affiliate link. Booking through my site, not only do you get the best rate, I also receive a small commission that helps me run this blog. Thank you!