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Bremen - History
The Free Hanseatic City of Bremen is the second oldest political body in Germany. Bremen was founded as a bishopric in 787. During the 11th century Bremen was referred to as the "Rome of the North". Between the 12th and 16th centuries the Hanseatic League dominated trade in the North and Baltic Seas. Bremen gained membership into the League in 1358.
Its definition was a problem already under discussion in its time. After having deteriorated since the middle of the 15th century, English relations with the Hansa reached their lowest point when in the summer of 1468 English ships were seized in the sound by Danish vessels. The Hansa was suspected to have at least shared responsibility for that. King Edward IV straight away imprisoned the Hanseatic merchants in London and confiscated their goods in order to compensate the English merchants. The Hansa, he explained, was a society, cooperative or corporation, originating from a joint agreement and alliance of several towns and villages, being able to form contracts and being liable as joint debtors for the offences of single members.
In the Hanseatic reply the Lübeck syndic stated that the Hansa was neither a society nor a corporation, it owned no joint property, no joint till, no executive officials of their own; it was a tight alliance of many towns and communities to pursue their respective own trading interests securely and profitably. Merchants did not rule the Hansa, every town having its own ruler. It also had no seal of its own, as the respective issuing town did sealing. The Hansa had no common council, but representatives of each town held discussions. There even was no obligation to take part in the Hansa meetings and there were no means of coercion to carry through their decisions. So, according to the Lübeck syndic, the Hansa could not be defined by Roman law and was not liable as a body. This was in fact correct and deliberately ambiguous; the Hansa was frequently urged to give a self-definition as well as the exact number of its members and deliberately left all this unclear, thus leaving questions for historians as well.
Examining the ambiguous term Hansa does not help us very much; it means a crowd or community as well as their membership dues or common law. Besides, the sources give numerous names to characterize the Hansa. But these are mentioned more or less casually and don't explain the subject.
According to a widely held opinion, the Hansa was a community of low German towns whose merchants participated in the Hanseatic privileges abroad. Where politically convenient it stressed the solidarity of its merchants, and at the latest since the Lübeck meeting in 1418 there were repeated efforts to obtain a firm federal constitution. On the other hand, the Hansa was lacking the essential legal elements of a federation. There was no pact of alliance, no statutes, no obligation for certain economic and political aims no chairman with representative authority, and no permanent official, until Dr. Suderman became Hanseatic syndic in 1556. And there were no means to punish disobedient members apart from exclusion, whereas instruments to be used externally were blockade, embargo and even war. So the Hansa in some way resembled a federation, but it was more a legal community as to its privileges abroad.
One might even doubt whether such confederation concept is justified. Institutional strength was missing and clashes of interests within were evident, partly irreconcilable. So more recent views are quite cautious: Ahasver von Brandt spoke of a community of interest, existing and being in individual cases able to act at a time only in so far as the interests of the individual towns or citizens really coincided. Its only aim was to attain privileges abroad and to secure their undisturbed use by its members. Klaus Friedland called it a trade alliance in an eventual case of emergency. Obviously the Hansa cannot be described appropriately in terms of national law.
It is difficult as well to find out is members. The Hansa left this deliberately unclear and avoided giving precise details about which towns belonged to it, which means which merchants were admitted to its privileges. In fact exact information would have been hard to give, as final decisions on membership were made by the foreign trading posts that sometimes ignored the decisions of the Hansa meetings. Incidentally the membership was in a permanent change.
From the 15th century on there exist numerous lists of members for different purposes, out of which a core of about 60 towns between the rivers Ijssel and Narwa becomes evident. But those lists are neither complete nor reliable and partly contradictory.
Numbers in the literature vary between 70 and about 200 members. Depending on the intensity and duration of participation in Hanseatic activities one can also distinguish different degrees of attachment. Since the 15th century, often 72 member towns are mentioned; besides that, there was a number of smaller and economically weaker towns unable to send representatives to the Hanseatic meetings on their own. Bigger neighbor towns represented them. So there was a smaller circle of Hanseatic towns that took part in trade, were invited to the meetings and influenced their decisions, and a wider circle, whose merchants also benefited from Hanseatic privileges. Attending the meetings was no exclusive right, but rather a tiresome and expensive duty one liked to evade.
To become a member, first the town's merchants had to take part in Hanseatic trade. From the middle of the 14th century (when the step from Hansa of merchants to the Hansa of towns had already been made) the Hanseatic meetings had to decide on formal applications; their decision depended on whether admission was advantageous to the Hansa or not. So in 1441 Kampen was admitted again, but Utrecht refused in 1451. Smaller towns could be admitted informally by one of the bigger ones. A special case was Neuss in 1457, being raised to the rank of a Hanseatic town by an imperial privilege. Loss of membership occurred by not using Hanseatic privileges, by voluntary withdrawal or formal exclusion (Verhansung) in case of serious violations of Hanseatic principles or interests. And both - admission as well as exclusion - did not concern a confederation of towns, but privileges or German law. In most cases it was hard to find out and sometimes a point of disagreement when a member was admitted.
As mentioned, it was above all unknown since when the Hansa itself existed. There was no founding date or act. Even contemporaries did not know how it came into being. In a lawsuit in 1418 Cologne searched for the founding charter in vain.
There were important preconditions, such as the German medieval colonization of Eastern Europe, the opening up of the Baltic area, the founding of Lübeck in 1143 (resp. 1159), and the formation of a merchant cooperative on Gotland. But none of these was the foundation of a community of merchants and towns.
The first mention of a "Hansa Almaniae" comes from 1282, concerning merely the community of the London trading post. A communal spirit beyond such single communities became apparent only in the middle of the 14th century, when King Magnus Erikson of Norway in 1343 granted freedom of trade and customs to the Wendish towns and to all merchants "de hansa Teutonicorum." Soon afterwards members of the Hansa appeared in different places, self-confidently standing up against hindrances of their trade. "Hansa" soon meant the North German merchants in the North Sea and Baltic area as a whole. In historical sources, too, it became more and more concrete.
First signs of a common Hanseatic awareness can even be seen one century earlier, when in 1252/53 delegates from Lübeck and Hamburg, in the name of all German merchants trading in Flandres, negotiated with Countess Margaretha, even though the different regional groups got separate copies of their privileges. Obviously all persons affected saw their interests looked after by these negotiators. On the other hand, particularly in England, distrust and frictions between the Colognes (having been privileged here since the middle of the 12th century) and the "Osterlinge" (who appeared some decades later) arose, though the Lübeck and Hansa merchants in 1266/67 got the same privileges by the King as the Colognes. A general Hanseatic solidarity here seems to have been lacking until in 1281 the Colognes and the "Osterlinge" became reconciled and began to build up a trading post community of the German merchants in London. This London trading-post community, one year later called "Hansa Almaniae," was an important nucleus of the later Hansa. Another one was the early connection between Hamburg and Lübeck that in the 13th century gained the leading role in the Baltic trade, thus preparing its leadership in the Hansa itself.
The statutes of the big trading posts abroad could observe this. Nowgorod for instance in 1293 raised Lübeck to be its court of appeal. In general these trading posts were regulated more strictly than the Hansa as a whole. Here the statutes of the Bruges office 1347 are to be mentioned, which divided its merchants into three rather independent groups related to their origin. This indicated the considerable differences of interest and was the example for the organizational division of the Hansa into thirds in the 15th century. When in 1554 it was divided into quarters, this already indicated its decay.
When for the first time delegates of the Hanseatic towns met in Lübeck in 1358, this might be regarded as the beginning of the European importance of the Hansa. The assembly had to discuss violations of rights and privileges in Flandres and imposed an embargo against that county. This was completely successful: privileges were restored, legal security was achieved and extended to the whole country, and compensation was paid. By the way, this development showed the considerable independence of the northern part of the Holy Roman Empire, and even the imperial city of Lübeck kept some distance to the Reich.
The effective acting against Flanders encouraged the towns, particularly with regard to the Danish King Waldemar IV. He once had ascended to the throne with Lübeck's support, but later expanded his power in the Baltic at the expense of the Hanscatic trade. The Wendish and Pomeranian towns broke off their trade with Denmark and resolved to act militarily. Though they tried to ally with north European princes, the main burden was borne by the Wendish towns - Lübeck, Rostock, Wismar, Stralsund, Lüneburg, Hamburg. Under Lübeck's command, their fleet besieged Helsingborg in 1362. But lacking support, it failed and the outcome was an unfavourable armistice. The Lübeck Mayor Wittenborg was made responsible for that and decapitated. The Hansa continued the war with privateers but could not avert a disadvantageous peace in 1365.
This brought no end to King Waldemars hostile trade policy that now also provoked resistance among Prussian and Dutch towns. From their alliance, joined by the Wendish towns, in 1367 there originated the "Cologne Confederation" that included 75 towns and the Netherlands. For nearly two decades this was a firm federation of the most important Hanseatic towns (though without Hamburg and Bremen). It was financed by a special customs duty and entered alliances with Mecklenburg, Sweden, and the Counts of Holstein. By extreme effort, this confederation raised a powerful fleet and army that surpassed the contractual commitments. For the Hansa the new war on land and sea beginning in 1368 became quite a success, made manifest in the well-known peace of Stralsund in 1370:
Former Hanseatic trade privileges were renewed, being valid no longer for separate towns, but for the confederation as a whole.
For 15 years compensation had to be paid to the towns, which held as a pledge Malmö as well as other castles and fortresses at the sound.
The Hansa even got the right of a say in the next Danish king's election.
By leaving the last unused at the death of Waldemar in 1375, the Hansa showed its main goals to be economic. Its towns gained supremacy in the Baltic trade, controlled the sound and temporarily drove out the Dutch and the English from the Baltic. While particularly the Prussian towns demanded the further occupation of the sound fortresses and the continuation of the Cologne Confederation, under the pressure of the Wendish towns and the Dutch those were returned in 1385 and the confederation not prolonged. Obviously the majority of the towns did not want a formal federation, but only a community of interests without power politics. This showed the diversity of members and interests as well as of goods and trading areas from the Baltic and Russia to the Iberian Peninsula. Furthermore, it showed the contrasts between the Prussian towns and Lübeck that tried again and again to stop their direct trade via the sound to Flanders and England. The Prussian towns found support in the Teutonic Order of Knights (being a member of the Hansa as well). But this Order faced increasing pressure from the rise of the Polish-Lithuanian realm. And Prussian trade to the West met more and more difficulties, since the Danish Queen Margaretha I ascended the Swedish throne in 1389. The Hanseatic towns headed by Danzig imposed an embargo on Denmark and Stockholm, but it had little effect. In 1397 Margareta proclaimed the union of the three Scandinavian kingdoms in the Kalmar Union.
It was her rival for the Swedish throne, Duke Albrecht of Mecklenburg, who from Wismar and Rostock employed pirates - the notorious Vitalienbrüder - in order to hurt the Baltic trade. Together with Prussian towns, the Teutonic Order defeated those pirates on Gotland, driving them out of the Baltic Sea. Hamburg sailors in the North Sea finally overcame their scattered survivors, led by the famous Klaus Störtebeker. This caused Denmark to renew Hanseatic privileges in the realms of the Kalmar Union. However the Teutonic Order already had passed the peak of its political power. Its defeat in the battle near Grunwald-Tannenberg 1410 shook its position in the Hansa permanently.
For many historians the Hansa in early 15th century had reached the summit of its economic and political development, the Blütezeit (heyday). Nevertheless unfavorable factors already became visible:
The North European countries were on their way to become national states, trying to raise and protect a competitive trade of their own.
The North German territorial states exerted increasing pressure on the Hanseatic towns, causing some of these cities to loose their independence already in the 15th century.
In order to resist this, the Hansa diet at Lübeck in 1418 discussed the plan of a temporary alliance of towns. The outcome was poor, as at that time particularly the Wendish towns had to get through serious internal uprisings.
Anyhow the following clashes with Denmark (1426-35) proved Lübeck and the Hanseatic towns unable to preserve the influence over the Scandinavian countries that they had achieved in 1370. On the other hand, disagreement and disunity within the Hansa obviously in most cases led only the most affected towns to be active. Here and more often these were the Wendish towns as an essence primarily interested in the Baltic trade, the Scandinavian privileges and frequently acting politically or militarily for the entire Hansa.
All efforts to resist the growing princely pressure unanimously failed, until in 1442 Berlin-Cölln lost its independence by a surprise coup of Elector Frederic II. A meeting of North German princes in Wilsnack next year indicated the danger of joint princely actions against cities. This finally gave rise to the first Hanseatic "Tohopesate" in 1443, a three-year defensive alliance against internal and external threats and highway robbery. 38 towns took part, passing their test successfully already in the next year in a feud between the town Kolberg and the Duke of Pomerania. Therefore in 1447 this alliance was prolonged, its membership expanded, and in 1451 it was renewed again, as princely threats persisted.
Beyond preserving the freedom of towns, which were in danger, it was about a fundamental problem: precondition for Hanseatic membership was the unchallenged rule of the town council inside and outside, not only formally. Only few members were imperial cities (e.g., Lübeck, Goslar); the remaining lay in territories, but was practically independent because of their political and economic strength. By obtaining important sovereign rights, they had achieved far-reaching emancipation from territorial rule. Depriving the council of power was a reason for exclusion, as was explicitly laid down in 1418. This meant that the Hansa was an association for the defence of the council's oligarchies too, in order to maintain the leading, sometimes patrician houses of merchants or guild masters in power. This could be threatened by civic uprisings as well as by princely attacks, dangers obviously increasing in the 15th century, not to mention the growing competition of the English and Dutch trade.
There were also clashes of interest between coastal and inland towns, as coastal towns - instead of the initial idea of common trade on land and sea - tended to take over the more profitable trade on the North and Baltic Sea, pushing down the inland towns to mere suppliers. Especially Hamburg and Lübeck by this contributed to the dissolution of the Hanseatic community. In addition internal conflicts increased because of demands of participation and social contrasts. Due to clashes of interest inside the Hansa, the growing threat of princely power caused no strengthening of the collective Hanseatic federation impetus. The "Tohopesate"-alliances for longer terms were of doubtful use and were no remedy for problems in trade policy. Instead, the more regional leagues of towns rather were stimulated, particularly in the Wendish quarter, where Lübeck was still dominant.
The external threats intensified, especially due to the serious conflict with England (1469-1474). For the Hansa it was embarrassing that the Cologne merchants in England left the Hanseatic line, as England was the most important trading partner for Cologne. Its conflict with the Hansa arose already in 1468, when Cologne declined the taxes decided by the Hansa diet for Brabant and the Netherlands as too high, Cologne having extensive trade relations in that area. Obviously its egoism was prevailing.
The conflict with England arose from decades of discussion over the legal position of English merchants in the Hanseatic towns and over the Hanseatic privileges in England, repeatedly ending up in acts of violence. When finally in 1469, the Steelyard, the Hanseatic trading post in London, was destroyed, this meant war, in the course of which in 1471 Cologne was excluded from the Hansa. But internal factions, too, weakened England. Even the king was expelled to the Netherlands in 1471 and could reconquer his throne only with support from the Hansa, especially Danzig. So inspite of several heavy defeats suffered by the Hanseatic fleet, the Hansa achieved a very favourable peace in Utrecht 1474. In fact this was the last outstanding success of the Hansa, though mainly resulting from lucky circumstances: Hanseatic privileges were confirmed, Hanseatic trade in England once more secured for nearly a century. Soon after Cologne was readmitted, but it had to accept severe financial conditions.
The success of the Hansa could not conceal the signs of further decline:
More inland towns had been subjugated by princes or anxiously fled into neutrality.
The great Hanseatic trading posts were loosing significance. In comparison with the ascending Antwerp, Bruges suffered decay mostly due to the silting of its river Swin. And after increasing troubles the Novgorod Ivan III finally closed office in 1494. The privileges of the office in Bergen, Norway, were hurt even by Lübeck and Hamburg themselves dealing directly to Iceland since about 1476 and thus showing how self-serving interests were prevailing.
Lübeck's military efforts against Denmark and the Dutch could not stop the looses of privileges and markets in that area.
And the Hansa did have no answer to the rise of the big south German trading firms like the Fuggers, although they became considerable competitors even in the north.
It seems impossible to say, when the decline of the Hansa really began, as it factors existed long since
the rise of the national and territorial states detrimental to their freedom and trade,
the growing up of centrifugal forces inside the Hansa and its permanent loss of members,
the further development of trading forms and the increasing competition by England and the Dutch, which caused a shifting of the main trade routes and markets to the west, further reinforced by the discovery of America.
Another factor was the Reformation, bringing the process of dissolution of the Hansa to a new stage. The spreading of Lutheran teaching in the early 1520's was common to all Hanseatic towns and soon linked with political and social questions. This in some cases became a serious menace to security and established order. The Lübeck Hansa diet in 1525 therefore tried to set up a common defence draft. But due to the varying advance of Lutheranism, being partly violent and in most cases successful, this failed. In some places iconoclasm occurred (Stralsund, Stettin, Brunswick, Münster). At last nearly all Hanseatic towns followed the Reformation, except Cologne, thus increasing its inner distance.
More detrimental to the Hansa were some of the political consequences of the Reformation. In Lübeck the immigrant merchant Jürgen Wullenwever through the support of the Reformation movement ascended even to the mayor's post, overthrowing the old leading class of the town in 1533. His efforts to regain the powerful position Lübeck had in former times, ended in a disaster, enhancing the loss of significance not only for Lübeck but for the entire Hansa. His endeavour to expel Dutch trade from the Baltic matched the Lübeck interests, not that of the Prussian towns. His privatising warfare against Dutch trading vessels grew into a big war against Denmark and Sweden, the so-called "Grafenfehde" (Counts-feud), as two counts commanded his troops. This war went far beyond Lübeck's forces. The other Wendish towns kept sceptical distance, as Wullenwever followed above all Lübecks own aims and went on too daringly. In order to get allies among north German princes and even Henry VIII of England, he promised them the crowns of Denmark and Sweden, pretending they would soon be at his disposal. Thus he was prepared to widen the conflict all over Northwest Europe. But none of the mentioned risked that adventure. It were the neighbouring Hamburg and Lüneburg that mediated peace in 1536. At that time Wullenwever was already overthrown, and in Lübeck the old council's power had been restored. Wullenwever's end was quite symbolic: he was captured by the Archbishop of Bremen and later handed over to the strictly catholic Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, brother of the former, where he was submitted to a spectacular lawsuit and executed. This was to demonstrate the victory of traditional order and princely rule against urban intent to maintain freedom and independence.
Another mischief was the defeat of the Schmalkald Federation in 1547 (the Federation being named after the place of its origin in 1531 and acting as a defensive alliance of Lutheran towns and territories). Among its founders there were several Hanseatic towns, more of them joining in later, defending with their religious belief simultaneously their independence. Their failure therefore did not only mean a heavy loss of money paid on contributions, war expenses and penalties. It also once again showed their discord, as of course Cologne stayed aloof from that alliance, Lübeck after the Wullenwever adventure did not join the war against the Emperor, and the besieged Magdeburg did not get any help from other Hanseatic towns. But in spite of that defeat the Lutheran faith could be maintained.
Even more unfavourable was the international development. In the Baltic, once dominated by the Hanseatic trade, Denmark and Sweden gained increasing preponderance, more and more refusing foreign trade and preventing all Hanseatic efforts to restore Hanseatic trade to Russia to its former extent. King Christian IV of Denmark and Norway (1588-1648) was a rigorous adversary of urban liberties, harming Hanseatic trade and politics with all his might. In 1604 he cancelled the Hansa's exemption from duty in the sound. He vexed Lübeck's trade and shipping in the Baltic, compelled Hamburg to a formal homage in 1603, denying all Hamburg claims to be subject to the Emperor only and in 1616 built up the fortress Glückstadt at the Elbe in order to hurt Hamburg's trade.
In the west the London Steelyard faced more violent attacks against its privileged position by English merchants. The beginning of the Dutch revolt against Spain led to the expulsion not only of numerous Dutch emigrants, but also of the English Merchants Adventurers Company from Antwerp. Both of them found favourable conditions to settle in Hamburg, bringing profit to this city but hurting Hanseatic rules that forbade tree trade for non-Hanseatic members in Hanseatic towns; even merchants from other Hanseatic towns were restricted. Hamburg was the best example to show that economic success was no longer based on old Hanseatic rules. Protests from other towns had little effect. Lübeck even appealed to the Kaiser to proceed against the English monopolists in the Reich. But the imperial intervention had little influence. It rather caused the closing of the London Steelyard in 1598; incidentally the Kaiser himself procured extensive English deliveries. Though the Steelyard was returned in 1606, it did not recover its former significance.
The Dutch war of independence against Spain since 1567 quickly meant the end of Hanseatic postitions in that area, although the Antwerp trading post of the Hansa had been reopened in 1555 and in 1568 for the first time moved into a new residence, the biggest secular building the Hansa ever erected. It was to be used only for a few years. Disturbance, Spanish plundering and the siege of Antwerp in 1584/85 drove out the last merchants. While some cities had profit from the Dutch refugees, the attempted reastablishing of Hanseatic trade in the Netherlands failed definitely.
Obviously the development was in more than one respect contradictory, as it showed the weakness and internal contrasts of the Hansa, while some of its members, above all Hamburg, were quite prosperous, gaining profits by the Dutch and dealing even with Catholic Spain. In 1607 Lübeck, Danzig, and Hamburg achieved a very favourable commercial treaty at the Spanish Court.
Because of the infirmity of the Hansa since the middle of the 16th century, plans and repeated efforts were made to restore its community. Since princely support was not available, consolidation was tried as to its own organization:
Meetings of all Hansa towns as well as of its quarters (Lübeck, Cologne, Brunswick, Danzig) were to be held more frequently; though this succeeded only for a short time.
In 1557 a confederation of 63 towns was raised for ten years and prolonged after; but its statutes had little respect.
Since 1554 for the first time annual dues were introduced due to the respective prosperity of each town; yet readiness to pay proved to be poor, and arrears soon went up.
In 1556 Dr. Heinrich Suderman from Cologne was appointed the first Hanseatic syndic, competent for law questions and external negotiations, a distinguished lawyer though with little possibility for action, so that after his death in 1591 this syndic office stayed vacant for a longer time.
Nevertheless there was still some common spirit as shown by the successful intervention of several towns, when Brunswick was besieged and attacked by its Duke in 1605/06, and in 1616 they even achieved a defensive treaty with the Netherlands. This however proved to be worthless, when war began. The 30-Years War seemed to accelerate the decay of the Hansa. Obviously the respective towns depended entirely upon themselves, only some of them is sufficiently fortified. Wallenstein - imperial commander-in-chief - occupied Wismar and Rostock. The remaining towns mostly were in danger too, particularly since Sweden had joined the war in 1630.
Therefore the Hansa diet in 1629 authorized Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg - being the most active and well-to-do members - to act for the entire Hansa, as it was impossible to assemble at any time necessary. This mandate of trust then concerned Wallenstein's siege of Stralsund, but remained unspecified and was never cancelled. In 1630 these three cities agreed on a defensive alliance providing help for all member towns in danger. Facing the war this was clearly unrealistic; still this alliance later was prolonged decade by decade, thus establishing the tradition that Lübeck, Bremen, and Hamburg resumed in early 19th century. This obviously concealed that the decision of 1629 was rather an act of resignation, not a reform.
By the end of the war in 1648, several Hanseatic towns were under Swedish rule (Wismar, Rostock, Stralsund, Stettin), Magdeburg was destroyed. On the other hand Hamburg and Danzig had grown, Hamburg mainly profiting from its recent fortification and its bank, founded in 1619, that made it a secure market, a place for diplomatic negotiations and financial transactions (when the Swedish war was subsidized by France) and a shelter for refugees.
When peace conferences began in Münster and Osnabrück, they were attended by Lübeck, Bremen, and Hamburg, referring to their commission from 1629. Although there was some discussion about the admission of at least Bremen and Hamburg, as their imperial status was in dispute, by skilful diplomacy they achieved a remarkable success. In order to re-establish Hanseatic trade and privileges, which suffered many losses during the war, it was their aim to explicitly include the Hansa in the peace treaty finally sealed in 1648. This was at first denied by the German princes and the Kaiser. But first in 1645 the Hanseatic negotiators managed to be included in the Swedish-Danish peace (at Brömsebro); in 1646 they renewed the defence-treaty with the Netherlands, thus paving the way to be included, too, in the Dutch-Spanish peace treaty in early 1648, restoring the Spanish commercial treaty at the same time. So finally the Hansa was included, too, in the Famous Westphalian peace treaty in late 1648. It was the very first time that the Hansa was mentioned in an official document of the Holy Roman Empire.
This of course was another paradox, as the constitutional establishment (or rather confirmation) of the Hansa matched by no means its actual condition. To stabilize it once more, the forces were lacking as well as political freedom in many cases. There was no help, when Magdeburg was conquered in 1666. Because of lacking attendance (in spite of threatening invitations) no Hansa diet was held until 1669, when merely six towns were represented and no decisions made. It remained the last Hansa diet, the effective end of the Hanseatic League. Europe - as somebody said - did not need the Hansa any longer. Only Lübeck, Bremen, and Hamburg kept in contact, thus maintaining Hanseatic traditions.
It was around 1800, when Napoleon's army was destroying the Holy Roman Empire and conquering large parts of Europe that the myth of the Hansa being a federation of strong, free and wealthy cities emerged. This - to end my story - was the reason why Lübeck, Bremen, and Hamburg, having regained political independence, assumed the official title of "Free and Hanseatic cities."
The Protestant Reformation was strongly supported in Bremen. Bremen became a free imperial city in 1646. In 1648 Bremen became a Swedish pocession by the terms of the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years' War. Bremen revolted against Swedish rule in 1666, but didn't gain complete independence until 1741.In 1815, by the terms of the Treaty of Vienna, which ended the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815), the city of Bremen was designated a free state. Bremen entered the Germanic Confederation in the same year. As a state, Bremen gained additional land, notably Bremerhaven in 1826, and adopted a republican form of government in 1849. It joined the North German Confederation in 1866 and the German Empire in 1871. Following the creation of the Third Reich in 1933, the state lost its sovereign status and was placed under the control of the central government. After World War II (1939-1945) Bremen was allocated to the American Zone of Occupation and thus formed an enclave within the British Zone of Occupation. Bremen was severely damaged by Allied bombing during WWII. Under American occupation authorities, revisions of the state's former boundaries resulted in its acquisition of nearly 148 sq km (about 57 sq mi) of additional territory. Self-government was restored in 1946, and in 1950 Bremen became a constituent state of West Germany. In 1990, East and West Germany united and became the Federal Republic of Germany.
Your journey through foreign lands and continents begins in Bremen, right next to the main station - at the Überseemuseum. Once a collection of exotic items brought back from the colonies, it now invites visitors to make a sensitive approach to overseas cultures, and to encounter the realities of life outside Europe. The exhibits are presented in a fantastic ambience, ranging from Japanese gardens to African village scenes to a comprehensive trip round the world through space and time. The oceans beckon just 60 kilometres away. They too are condensed into museum format in a way that is unparalleled throughout Germany. At the German Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven, the seafaring tradition is preserved with original veteran ships in their own museum harbour, and with the legacies of famous ships and seafarers. This is all compressed into a longing look back over mankind's history on the water. The Bremen Museum of Art and Cultural History deals solely with the history of Bremen - and is none the less exciting for that. Here, too, the visitor will discover highlights: the collections of crafts, for example, and the vividly told story of Bremen's emergence as an international seaport over the centuries.
The term "Bremen Style" refers to the originality of Bremen's productions. They are usually more spectacular than elsewhere, almost always more ambitious, sometimes controversial. But they always get noticed and are often rewarded with requests for guest performances. Opera, drama, and ballet are committed to both the experimental and the classical repertoire. Shakespeare is a permanent feature of Bremen's theatre programme. The Bremer Shakespeare Company has dedicated a whole theatre to the English dramatist and created a theatre of sheer joie-de-vivre. Shakespeare at its best, presented as Elizabethan folk theatre with baroque magnificence and sensuality. The theatre has long since gained an international reputation.
The Neues Museum Weserburg sets new standards. Outstanding contemporary works from the world's leading private collections are gathered here to form Europe's most representative display of modern art, presented in a new kind of museum. This is a highlight that has few equals. One of them is the Kunsthalle with its respected collection of German and French Impressionists. Small but beautiful are the words that describe Gerhard-Marcks-Haus, a building that houses the sculptor's legacy and enjoys a high profile as a place for superb exhibitions. And something you will find only in Bremen - the art collections in Böttcherstrasse, which include the most significant works by Paula Becker- Modersohn, Heinrich Vogeler, Bernhard Hoetger and others whose previously unrecognised work now has an international reputation.
Beethoven provided the crucial impulse. In 1802, he gave his first symphony its world premiere in Bremen - other premieres followed. The Philharmonische Staatsorchester, for example and, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, a particularly notable ensemble that enjoys an excellent international reputation in the field of chamber music, nurture in Bremen - musical tradition. Internationality is a seal of quality at the Bremen Music Festival. This highlight of the Bremen music season is held in autumn every year and sets the highest possible standards with concerts by the most brilliant orchestras, the most famous conductors and soloists.
Bremen's Market Square is regarded as one of the most beautiful in Europe. Its ensemble of historic buildings is unique and consists of the Town Hall, dating from 1405, St Peter's Cathedral, begun in 1042, the "Schötting", Bremen's historic Chamber of Commerce built in 1537, the merchants' houses that date back to the Weser Renaissance era around 1600, and the statue of Roland, the symbol of the city's freedom, erected in 1404. The modern "Haus der Bürgerschaft", Bremen's state parliament building, was built in 1966 and forms a sensitive counterpoint to the rest of the square.
This Street is a synthesis of the arts. It was created as the perfect symbiosis of traditional and expressionist brick architecture. The project, that took until 1934 to complete, was initiated by the Bremen coffee merchant and patron of the arts, Ludwig Roselius (Kaffee HAG) in 1904, and carried out by the architects, Scotland and Runge and the sculptor Bernhard Hoetger. This is the home of the much-admired Paula Becker-Modersohn exhibition and the Roselius Museum with its collection of items representing the heyday of Hanseatic merchant tradition. And every day at 12 noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., you can hear the chimes in the street. Figures of the most famous ocean voyagers emerge and revolve to the sound of the bells.
Windmill on the "Wall"
You will find windmills in other parts of Bremen, too. Five classic windmills have survived in Bremen. The one in the Oberneuland district is open as a museum. In the inner city area, the Windmill on the Wall, which was in operation up until 1950, has been preserved. It is now the landmark of the "Wallanlagen", the old city fortifications that were torn down in 1802 and turned into a park.
The Town Musicians
The Brothers Grimm tell their story in a fairy tale, and Bremen has erected a monument to them: the Bremen Town Musicians, four animals who were threatened with death at home and hoped to survive in freedom in Bremen. Their sculpture, taking the form of the donkey, the dog, the cat and the rooster standing on each others' backs, stands on the West side of the Town Hall and was created by the sculptor, Gerhard Marcks in 1953. You will find other interpretations of the Town Musicians theme in Böttcherstrasse and in the Schnoor quarter.
It's 146 metres high and slender as a reed. Science has given Bremen its most recent landmark: the drop tower, a laboratory facility that reaches skyward at the Centre for Applied Space Technology and Microgravitation Research (ZARM from the German name) at Bremen University. The tower is used for experimental research into weightlessness that would otherwise only be possible in outer space, away from earth's gravitational pull.
Whenever there's a football to be kicked or a bike saddle to be ridden on, when flooded meadows freeze over in winter and invite them to execute bold figures on skates, Bremen residents are eager to take part. Unless, that is, they're out on the water, sailing in their own ships towards the North Sea or messing about on the numerous watercourses in the city and its surrounding area.
Bremen residents are sports fans. More than 160,000 citizens are members of over 130 clubs - and that's not counting the pub football teams, the informal "kick-abouts", subscribers to sport and fitness clubs and a vast army of joggers. Fans at outstanding sporting events in - not only in its active form, but also equally as a spectator pastime, enjoy sport. Bremen's chock-full sporting calendar, crammed with top-class events, gives abundant opportunity for watching sport.
Every two weeks, for example, the Weser Stadium, with capacity for 40,000 fans, is the venue for battles for the top position in Germany's Federal Football League. In SV Werder, Bremen has a top European team. Werder has twice won the German league championship, twice won the national cup, and was also crowned the king of European soccer in 1992 when the team won the European Cup. That is the most successful record of any German football club over the last 10 years. And it makes the journey to the stadium of this football stronghold worthwhile.
If Bremen is a soccer stronghold, it's also a bastion of handball. Credit for sporting achievement in this discipline goes to the TuS Walle women's handball team. With a series of championship titles and cup triumphs under their belts, they have advanced to become the number one in Germany and - nationally almost unbeatable - have now established themselves as one of the best women's handball teams in the world. These "power women" know how to thrill sports fans.
So do powerful male calves. The leg muscles referred to here belong to the top international cycling professionals who annually descend on Bremen at new year to compete in the world's biggest six-day cycle race. For people in Bremen, this spectacular event is just as much, if not more, a Volksfest as it is a top-class sporting occasion. In fact, it is sometimes claimed that the fast and furious race is only an excuse for meeting friends for a few beers - something hundreds of thousands of people do during the six-day classic race.
Yet sport in Bremen is not always accompanied by noisy, boozy enthusiasm. The surroundings and applause at the top-class equestrian events, which also put Bremen on an international level, are far more refined. Elite shows jumpers are guests in Bremen twice a year - at the International Bremen Horse Show in February, and at the German Classics, which take place every October and offer the highest prize money in international show jumping. Meanwhile, at the race course, thoroughbreds whose talent is expressed in speed rather than jumping ability hold court 12 times a year, in contests that include important preliminary heats for the Derby. This, by the way, is the home course of "Fahrhof", Germany's leading stud farm, which is owned by the Jacobs family.
And Bremen can even go one better than the aesthetic attraction of riding - with ballroom dancing in its most perfect form. In World and European championships, the formation dancers of TSG Bremerhaven have shown 16 times that they are the world's best interpreters of Latin American music. And every new season brings further proof that they will be maintaining that position for a while yet. Anyone who sees them dance in Bremen is sure to become a permanent fan of their captivating skill.
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