On the last day of November we made the acquaintance of Bremen, one of the Hanseatic League ports of the middle ages. Lübeck was another such place, as was Bremen's Partnerstadt of Riga (Latvia), so I learned in the cathedral where they were collecting donations for a new organ in their sister church there.
Meanwhile I had a leisurely stroll down to the River Weser in the morning sunshine to see the tethered boats, several restored old ones among them, such as the Admiral Nelson, Pannekoekschip (that's Dutch for pancake ship ... we're close to the Dutch border here). A harbour boat tour wasn't on offer, regrettably. On the upper promenade by the river (the Schlachte), stall owners were getting their stalls (Buden) ready for the Schlachte-Zauber: a famous annual winter market with a maritim flavour, that had just opened the previous evening. Hundreds of thousands of shoppers are expected here and the merchants will make the most of it, dressed up in olde worlde garb, pirate costumes a favourite, especially if you have long hair and a beard to start with, selling not only Christmas decorations and cookies, but also felt hats, woolly socks, candles, ropes, salted herrings, poffertjes (another Dutch concept), wooden swords and scimitars, nose flutes, tubular bells and bronze bells. I bought a little bell for bringing my Konversationsgruppe in Ottawa to order, next time we meet. There were improvised outdoor bars with wood chips underfoot to soak up the spills and small wooden fires in braziers, to encourage long term standing in one spot. There was a rope ladder to climb for a dare, bound to throw you off onto a padded mat at the third rung, though if you made it to the top you were promised a 20 Thaler reward. After sunset, I brought Chris back here; the fiery torches were lit then, crowds were gathering and we heard a choir of elderly gents in captain's caps and navy jackets singing old time songs in Plattdeutsch to the accompaniment of harmonicas, their listeners swaying to the music, some singing along. When we returned this way after a warm up in an indoor restaurant, four lively throat singers from Uzbekistan (I guess), accompanying themselves on erhus and drums, had taken the stage in place of the ancient mariners.
Böttcherstrasse, which I'd remembered from a BBC German lesson I used to make use of when teaching the language, and where I bought a children's book about the Musicians of Bremen, the Stadtmusikanten of Grimms' fairy tale fame. Their likenesses are absolutely everywhere in Bremen, the bronze sculpture of them the best. I ate early, because I wanted to visit the St. Petri Dom for the free lunchtime organ recital there, J.S. Bach's Fantasien in C-mol and C-dur and his Choral-Vorspiele (Preludes) played on the Hochchororgel.
By the time that was over, Chris was free to come and meet me by the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Brücke, and then we explored the Schnoorviertel together, i.e. the oldest part of town, the streets there very narrow, winding and picturesque. The Schoor-Konditorei, in an old vault apparently, served me a delicious slice of Stachelbeertorte.
We carried on by walking through the parks am Wall, by the curved city moat, and so back via a couple of bookshops to the coloured lights and noisy merriment by the river. The Schlachte-Zauber smelled of woodsmoke and Glühwein.