Bremen Civic Pride

AT the Rathaus in 1963, President Kennedy said that, like all free men, ``Ich bin ein Berliner!'' This was included in the next edition of Bartlett's Quotations and rings on as a catch phrase - but now the allegiance is misplaced. One of these strange Germans who keep thinking of improbable things to survey tells us the good folks of West Berlin are not all that proud of their fair city and would like to live someplace else. This was a telephone poll (Alexander Graham Korwoski was the first Telephone Pole), and the good Herr Doktor Professor who conducted it called 1,000 people in each of West Germany's 10 largest cities. He found that the citizens of Bremen are most pleased with their local circumstances, happily in residence, but that Berliners are not. Of the 10 cities, Hamburg, Stuttgart, and Munich ranked second, third, and fourth among their respective people; West Berlin came in 10th.

It rained Tuesday, and having nothing else to occupy me I thought about this. I thought that I wouldn't care for West Berlin, either, and that I was truly happy in Friendship, Maine, where the great blue herons and the clamcatchers are back on the flats after an idle winter and the pie-plant is flexing his muscles after a seasonal lassitude that did nobody any great service.

Some places have it, and it was best expressed in the magnificent philosophy of Stephen Leacock, who combined ``all truth' into his basic line, ``Some men play golf and some do not.'' I think I understand what Bremen has.

I have visited Bremen several times. Other Germans will tell you Bremers are stur, which means pigheaded, but I'd say ernst is a better adjective - serious, thoughtful, businesslike. But the Bremer has some kind of civic instinct that keeps his magic casements opening on the foam. Second only to Hamburg, the Bremen waterfront activity is touchingly pixilated, which Hamburg's is not, and I recommend the Modelraum to prove this to all visitors.

Go to the overseas harbor and find the Bremer Lagerhaus Gesellschaft Verkehrsabteilung, which amounts to the headquarters for everything, and ask the manager to show you the toy replica of the docks of Bremen. He will walk you a short distance to another building where you will find the entire activity of the Bremen waterfront laid out on the scale of an electric train set - from figures walking on the wharves to the great grain elevator.

To keep this plaything up to date, a staff of toymakers is retained, and as something new is added to the harbor, it appears in the model room. After you've pressed buttons to put this replica in motion, you may retire for lunch in the quarters of the Society of Bremen Pilots, where a steward attends the clock around.

The guide had told you that ``you can't see the people disembarking from the vessel, because they are leaving on the other side.'' So, in Bremen whimsy, you may not see any Bremen Pilots, but they do come and go with the ships, and they are the elite of the harbor pilots, and when they stop in, the steward is ready.

Bremen is the city of the absurd musicians - the donkey, the dog, the rooster, and the cat who came from the country to make a fortune and frightened the robbers with their song. Their statue, in full cry, may be seen immediately before the city hall - where another city would have an alderman or a general.

Close by, of course, is the statue of Roland, complete with Durandal, and legend says that when the statue of Roland falls, Bremen will fall. During the war, when English planes dropped American blockbuster bombs on Bremen every night, Roland was protected by sandbags, and he came through unscarred. Bremen was in tatters, but Roland didn't fall.

Bremen keeps a working windmill in its city park, ready to pump water and grind grain if the city should once again be besieged as it was so often in the Middle Ages. And there sits the venerable stock exchange - you pass it to go down along the ``Street of the Seven Sluggards,'' proving that financial security helps, but indolence has its purposes, and sloth can be successful.

When you get off the train at the Bremen station, like as not you'll be greeted on the platform by a young lady playing a barrel organ. Bremen handles more zinc and coffee and diamonds and cheap tin trays than you can shake a stick at, but also uncounted hand organs.

I was in Bremen in the fall of 1953, the year the Lee baby was born. Mauri Lee was at our consulate in Bremen, a US citizen on assignment. His son thus had the choice at his majority of being one of us or one of them. ``Under which king, Bezonian...?'' I never heard which he selected. But if all the West Berliners moved to Bremen, what would that do to Bremen's charm?

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Bremen Civic Pride
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today