Let’s Go Exploring! Bremen, Germany: Saunas, Secret Rooms, and Schnoor Quarter

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FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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By Olaf Tausch [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

In the U.S and Canada, unless you’re trading sex for money, there’s no need to get naked in public.

But in Germany, nudity doesn’t automatically illicit eroticism—it depends on the context. And in a sauna, it’s just practical.

We were told that bathing suits are not allowed—for health reasons, believe it or not—so if you want to experience a German sauna, you’ll have to bare it all.

Don’t worry though, despite being naked, you won’t be stared at or creeped out. Nor do you have to worry about having body issues. You’ll be around strangers of all different shapes, sizes, and ages, and no one will be staring at you. That goes against social etiquette. In Germany, nudism just isn’t a big deal.

And apparently this goes all the way back to the 50s and 60s. As it turns out, Freikoerperkultur (FKK) or Free Body Culture was even popular back in East Germany. Despite the harsh rule behind the Iron Curtain, East Germans got naked as a way to rebel from all the marches, uniforms, and conformity. Even Chancellor Angela Merkel is said to have practiced nudism during her youth.

So when we found out our Airbnb in Bremen was just a 5 minute walk from a spa and sauna, we decided to do as the Chancellor does and FKK that shit up. And let me tell you, the invigorating feeling of walking out of a cloud of steam and into a pool of freezing cold water makes it all worth while.

After leaving the Badehaus, we headed for downtown Bremen—a city of 500,000, just an hour train ride from Hamburg—where we were staying for the month. Our original plan was to stay in Hamburg (because unlike Bremen, I’d actually heard of it), but I found Bremen is a way better deal and we could easily visit Hamburg on day trips.

Here’s a travel tip. Since everything is so connected and transportation is so fast and cheap in Europe, if you ever end up accidentally booking too close to your travel date and can’t find any good deals, look for a nearby city within an hour train ride. You’ll get an especially good deal if the city is one that tourists haven’t heard of. This was helpful for us as experienced slow travellers, since we’ve seen all the big touristy cities and are always on the look out for the local experience. When it comes to travelling and early retirement, flexibility is the key.

And as it turns out, Bremen turned out to be the better, less touristy choice. Because not only was there a lack of big crowds, we found all sorts of fun historical sites to visit.

Like:

Bremen City Hall:

In Canada, city halls are just stuffy office buildings, but in Germany they are historical works of art.

By Arne Hückelheim [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons

Especially this one in Bremen, a UNESCO World Heritage building from the 1500s, which claims to be not just the most beautiful civic building in Germany, but in all of Europe.

We took a 1-hour tour, which showed us that there’s even more than what meets the eye when you step inside.

There’s even a secret room inside the lavish Upper Hall, decorated with Nouveau Art décor and reserved for VIP visitors—like Queen Elizabeth who visited in 1978.

Next, we took a walk around the Schnoor quarter, the oldest neighbourhood in the area.

Schnoor Quarter:

If you like quaint little stores and timber-framed houses from the 1400 and 1500s, take a walk down this street and get an ice cream at the Schoko Stube.

After waking around the Schnoor Quarter, we headed back to the town center and passed by a gigantic windmill, which made me feel like I was in Amsterdam:

Mühle am Wall

 

One of the most noticeable symbols of Bremen that you’ll see all over the city is this statue called “the Town Musicians of Bremen”, consisting of a donkey, dog, cat and rooster.

As I suspected, there was a cute story behind the adorable statue. In Grimm’s Fairy Tales, a donkey, a dog, and a rooter, ran away together after being abused by their masters. Apparently they were too old and outlived their usefulness. So to get away from their tyrant farmers, they decided to go to Bremen–a city known for its freedom–to become musicians.

On the way here, they came across a cottage. Through the window they saw 4 robbers, gleefully cackling at a bag of loot.

The 4 friends decide to scare the robbers by stacking themselves to look as tall as possible and make a loud, scary noise.

The robbers, being the most chickenshit robbers ever, got freaked out and ran away. Laughing, the animals take over the house, eat the stolen food and settle in for the evening.

In the middle of the night, one of the robbers try to sneak back in. But as soon as he steps into the pitch black living room, where the animals are sleeping, the cat opens his bright yellow eyes in the dark. The robber, idiotically thinks he’s seeing the embers of a fire (seriously? How did these guys ever managed to rob anyone?). And when he reaches over to light his candle on it, the cat hisses and scratches his face. Before he has time to fight back, the dog bites him on the leg, the donkey kicks him in the chest, and the rooster crows and chases him out the door.

Running back to his robber friends, he tells them that a witch scratched him with her long figure nails (the cat), an ogre stabbed him in the leg with a knife (the dog), a giant hit in him in the chest with a club (the donkey), and a judge screamed at him (I have no idea what a “judge” is but I don’t think it’s the kind that sits in a court room).

Terrified, the robbers abandoned the cottage, leaving the animals to live there happily for the rest of their lives.

The End.

So if you ever see a statue of a donkey, a dog, a cat, and rooster, stacked on top of each other, you’ll know that’s the symbol of Bremen. And if you ever get robbed by robbers that dumb, you should be embarrassed.

After the adorable story of the Musicians of Bremen, we headed for its most famous street:

Böttcherstraße

Even though it’s only 100m long, this street is well known for its unique architecture.

You first enter a gate with a gilded statue called “the Bringer of Light”—created by the artist Hoetger–which in the 1936s was suppose to show Hitler as the “Bringer of Light” but ironically Hitler rejected this as “degenerate art”. I guess it takes a degenerate to know what degenerate art is.

As you walk through the gate, you’ll see several art museums, crafts workshops, bars, restaurants, and shops, including a fun little candy shop where you can see them make the candy through the window.

My favourite sculpture on this street is “The Fountain of the Seven Lazy Brothers”, based on a legend about the sons of local farmer who were too lazy to be employed in Bremen. After travelling the world for a few years, they returned to the city. Armed with their new found knowledge, they returned with all sorts of technological innovations that improved work in the fields and automated much of the tough, manual labour, allowing the farm to produce higher yields at much faster speeds. They were then remembered for their ingenuity and hard work.

Bernhard Hoetger [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)], from Wikimedia Commons

HA! Take that, hard work! No wonder Bill Gates once said he would “hire a lazy person to do a difficult job”.

Why? “Because a lazy person will find a easy way to do it.”

Laziness + world travel + engineering = win!

After visiting Böttcherstraße, we decided to celebrate our laziness by vegging out in a park—which came with a gorgeous fountain, its own little farm, and wild animals running around.

If you have kids and ever end up visiting in Bremen, take them to Buergerpark. Not only does it have a beautiful fountain and a playground, there’s a farm with adorable horses and pigs. You will likely also come across wild deer and rabbits.

And if they’re little science nerds and like hands-on experiments, there’s also a Science center, called “Universum” in the shape of a clam!

And last but not least, we went to Rhododendronpark, which is full of these gorgeous flowers called “rhododendrons”.

I’m not really a girly girl type of person (can you tell?), so my main reason for visiting this park wasn’t so much for the flowers as for the fact that it was a big-ass park and it was free. Worth every penny!

photo source: Heinz-Josef Lücking@wikipedia

 

So there you have it. Bremen was a place off the beaten path and we would’ve never known about it or visited if it wasn’t for the fact that I had to book Hamburg on short notice and didn’t find any good deals. But we ended up spending a month there, chillaxing and writing our book, and had a blast! One of my favourite things about slow travel is that you don’t have to stress yourself out hitting all the popular big cities—you can find some hidden gems that turn out to be even better than your original destination. Oddly enough, we’ve found that we feel the most comfortable in European cities with populations of around 500,000 people. Just big enough to have things to do but not so big that it’s overwhelming.

Here’s how much we spent in Bremen:

Category Cost in USD/couple Cost in CAD/couple Notes
Accommodations: $35 USD/night $46 CAD/night We rented an Airbnb around a 15 min tram ride from downtown Bremen for only 900 Euros per month. This place (the entire first floor of a townhouse) ended up being priced lower than average because the owner is in his 70s and didn't bother upgrading most of it. I never thought I'd say this, but hooray for Boomers!  As a result we got a super good deal for a place with tons of space! The only disadvantages are that it wasn't downtown and had dated furniture. The upsides (value, lots of space, and 5 mins walk to a community spa/sauna) massively out-weighted the cons. Or maybe I'm just not as picky as most people–who knows.
Food: $22 USD/day $28 CAD/day ($11/day for eating out, $17/day for groceries) There was an E-Center and Aldi near our Airbnb so groceries were cheap and plentiful. Surprisingly, I was also able to find a few Chinese stores to get ingredients to make hot pot! The only times we ate out were to get some donar kebabs for lunch, some ice cream snacks, and a sushi dinner. Since Hamburg was better known for food, we decided to eat out there instead.
Transportation: $8 USD/day $11 CAD/day Transportation within Bremen was $2.55 Euros per person each way. Since we could walk for 45 mins into the city, we decided to walk and then take the tram back, so transportation averaged out to only $11 CAD/day.
Entertainment: $6 USD/day $8 CAD/day The only entertainment we spent money on was tours of the old city hall and $15.70 Euros each for visits to the spa/sauna near our Airbnb. The parks and other attractions were free.
Misc (data + toiletries): $3 USD/day $2.5 CAD/day We spent around $75 over the month for toiletries, clothing, and data.
Total: $74 USD/couple/day $96 CAD/couple/day Bremen is relatively inexpensive due to its size and the fact that it's not a major tourist destination. We found that the combination of saunas, nature, and historical sites made Bremen the perfect place for us to stay for a month.

What do you think of off-the-beaten-path places? Have you found any on your travels?



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25 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! Bremen, Germany: Saunas, Secret Rooms, and Schnoor Quarter”

  1. What a quaint looking german town. Looks like you guys are having fun living like locals.

    I always wondered if after seeing so much of the world and enjoying the ‘sights’ if hedonic adaptation doesn’t set in and you’ll be bored with ‘regular life’… small towns with nothing really that big going on.

    Just curious. Most small towns like this are pretty quiet.

    1. I thought the hedonic adaptation would set in–but after 3 years of travel, it hasn’t happened yet 🙂 Could be because we’re not just travelling, we’re writing and volunteering for a non-profit as well. So it’s slow travel, rather than racing to see how many attraction we can check off our list–that stuff gets old pretty fast. I guess you can think of it as living your normal life but the scenery around you is changing every now and then.

  2. I love donars! I miss those from Germany. If you get a chance visit Bonn the former capital of West Germany. It’s relatively quiet and charming.

    How do you keep from travel burnout? Even with slow travel are there times when the sites start blending in? How do you keep the experiences fresh with frequent traveling?

    1. You’d think right? But no, we haven’t had any travel burnout. I think it’s because we’re working on passion projects while travelling. So 1 day work, 1 day travel. We keep it fresh by alternating between work and play. I also like to try the local food in different places–so that also keeps thing interesting. I also think the challenge of figuring out new languages and changing the scenery keeps my brain working so it doesn’t get bored.

      Thanks for the tip on Bonn! We’ll add it to our list!

  3. 1 Interesting. I was in Hamburg recently but afterwards went to Lubeck, another historical small town to the north from the Hanseatic league times.

    2 I was wondering if the cost of getting into a new destination could be included. Just to get a more accurate picture of the expenses when touring the world.

    3 You have mentioned before that you have dodged inflation since you retired. Being that the Canadian Dollar has been one of the worst performers out of the major currencies for a couple of years, I’m starting to wonder if you have managed to stay in budget by progressively sacrificing the experience of your travels a bit too much.

    1. 1. Lubeck, is one of the places I was researching as well. Bremen was bigger population-wise so I picked it instead. Might check it out next time we’re in the area though.

      2. The cost of getting to the city is included–it’s just low because we’re were in Poland so taking a bus from Poland to Germany was inexpensive . For other people, it might be different, depending on where they are coming from and whether they have to take flights.

      3. If you read my article on “The cost of travelling the world on 40K/year”, you’ll see that even though the CAD isn’t performing well, it’s still strong compared to other currencies (like Mexican Pesos, Polish Zloty, Thai Baht, etc). And the trick to keeping costs low is to balance expensive places (like UK, Switzerland, Amsterdam, etc) with inexpensive places like Mexico, SE Asia, Poland, and Portugal.

      So no it’s not about sacrificing experiences, it’s about balancing out the cost by using geographic arbitrage. The other key to keeping costs low is using travel hacking (accumulating points to fly for free) and Airbnbs. And if you think floating around in a hot tub and going to saunas is sacrifice, we have very different definitions of that word 😀

      1. Hot tubs and saunas sound pretty good. Walking 45 min to save 2.55 Euros not so much.

        I hope not to sound brash, but ending in a different city than the one intended to visit, at an AirBnB that is not even close to town and then feeling the need to walk 45 min to save a few more loonies sounds like a couple of sacrifices have been made.

        1. Meh. You consider it “not close to town”, I consider it “5 mins from the sauna”. You consider it 45 min walk, I consider it keeping fit and not turning into a fat-ass. Since I’m retired and have all the time in the world, saving 20-30mins means nothing. You consider it “ending up in a different city”, I consider it “finding a better city”. And it actually didn’t matter because I ended up taking day trips to Hamburg anyway. So I get 2 cities for the price of 1.

          I like optimizing because it’s fun. Subscribing to the norm of doing things the same way as everyone else (ie tourists) is lazy and boring.

          1. Plus sometimes city centres full of tourists can get overwhelming. Sometimes I prefer to stay on the outskirts since it actually calms me, and love a 45 min walk every day….in fact I would likely choose to do it both ways.

            1. Right there with you, Suzq400! I think now that we’ve turned into long term travellers, I’m liking the smaller cities (with 500K residents or less) more than the massive ones (over a million in population).

              The crowds are getting too overwhelming–especially in the summer. And yay for walking! Haven’t had to go the gym for 3 years as a result 😉

          2. It’s your time and money so I’m in no really judging you. But just for the sake of conversation, wouldn’t it be more time and cost efficient to use the transportation cost of each day trip towards housing in Hamburg? Don’t get me wrong, I really like your lifestyle and posts. They are pretty entertaining.

            1. I thought about that, but in Hamburg, we’d have much less space even if I reallocated the train tickets toward it. So I picked more space, peace and quiet, and spas over tiny space + tourist crowds.

              It was a good trade off for me, but if someone else prefers the crowd, they’re free to reallocate the money as they see fit 🙂 My point is to optimize rather than just blindly throw money at every situation.

        2. This comment reflects something I noticed about this blog some time ago.

          The authors’ initial $1,000,000.00 retirement nest egg does not seem to be keeping up with inflation. I believe they have posted their current net worth here and the amount does not seem to me to be where it would need to be, considering the current downward trend in the value of the Canadian dollar and considering inflationary pressures.

          These people are very, very, very good at saving money. They are able to make a dollar go very far. They travel in a way that is unknown to most tourists, and for that reason they have been able to retire on what is really a very small amount of money.

          They have essentially retired on $500,000.00 CDN each. They have added a little more than 100K to that each, since they retired.

          By the current value of the CDN dollar to the US dollar (the international benchmark for currency value), they are attempting to remain fully retired with US dollar investments of approximately $455,000 US dollars per person.

          If you are doing that, then yes, you would have to worry about 2.55 Euro bus fares and you would have to “travel hack” and get as many deals and discounts as you can, because that is simply just not very much money to earn your retirement income off of.

          They’re trying to live on around $22,000 CDN per year, per person, while travelling the world.

          I enjoy reading about their adventures and they have some really good budget travel information (I am using their Galapagos adventure as a template for my own family trip down there next spring), but their lifestyles are going to be very, very basic and they are going to have to worry about every last penny, because their incomes are very, very low.

  4. Chips. I always like to check out the potato chips in different places. They may not have ketchup chips, but they have all sorts of strange chip flavours.

    500,000, you say? Funny, that’s pretty much the size of K-W!

    1. Interesting that you mention that! I just tried German wurst flavoured chips the other day–tastes like a hotdog with relish. Really weird, but I kind of like it.

      And yes, it is around the size of K-W! Also funny since there are so many German influences in K-W…like Oktoberfest!

      1. For France I like Annecy on Lake Annecy … stunning old town, mountains and aqua blue lake surrounded by mountains …. beautiful lunch lake cruise … with an amazing lunch with red or white french wine … great swimming, paragliding, boating from the mountains and small towns around the lake … great biking ops …. hop a few trains to Chamonix – Mount Blanc (French Alps ) – highest mountain in Europe … day trips also to Dijon, Lyon and Lake Geneva (the French or Swiss side) with Geneva, Lausanne, Montreux etc etc etc nearby … Lake Constance as mentioned above … though that is on my hit list of possible targets … maybe as mentioned by another comment … Salzburg and the surrounding lake districts and nearby Austrian Alps and Innsbruck etc etc … I am hoping to try out several weeks again in Europe in 2019 or 2020 hopefully … with Lake Lucerne, Interlaken, Lake Constance with a revisit to Vienna and Salzburg and maybe Munich or Bavaria somewhere … some people like Greece / Malta which I remember you seem to have liked … there are endless options so travel tips from places like your blog are good … also I like Rick Steves youtube videos … other travel options are hiking across Europe, biking across Europe or even RVing across Europe etc etc etc

        1. Ahh good old Rick Steves. We watched so many of this videos before we started our European travels. His voice is so soothing.

  5. “You can find some hidden gems that turn out to be even better than your original destination”

    One experience we had like this was when we spent a night in Salzburg and then decided to take a drive rather than spend more time in the city. We found ourselves stumbling upon a quaint little town of Werfen, home of the largest ice cave in the world and years later the town’s castle became Hitler’s house in “Man in the High Castle”. Would have never gone there if we didn’t leave the city and I have to say that I enjoyed that much more. Big cities are fun, but its the little towns on the outskirts that are ridiculously cool. Some of our most memorable experiences have been in small towns.

    1. Wow, I’ve never heard of Werfen! Had no idea about the ice cave and Hitler’s house in “Man in the High Castle”. (That show started off good, but then kind of went into crazy land, IMO).

      Totally agree. After seeing a ton of big cities, I’m finding myself drawn to the off-the-beat-path places more now. The perfect balance seems to be towns close to a big city–so you can easily go in for a visit–but is far more quiet and better for your sanity.

  6. Lviv Ukraine is one of my fav cities in Europe. I think you would really enjoy it. The restaurants are incredible….it’s food art. The opera house is worth seeing even if you don’t enjoy opera or ballet. The coffee mine, the chocolate factories. Plus it’s really really cheap. Did I mention the perogies? The borscht? It is only 70km from Poland border….perhaps you can visit.
    On a side note, after getting back from 4 weeks of travel……..I’m happy to be home, and am not planning any travel at least for a year. Weird for me….I have always had one or two trips ahead of me…..I was thinking of you both, and I am absolutely sure that if you ever decided to stop travelling (hope you don’t cuz I love the travel series)and even crazily decided to return to Canada, your portfolio would certainly be enough to keep you retired. (I know cuz we got similar numbers)Wondered if you ever thought of doing the math for those who feel it’s impossible to do and stay in canada….that one day you will get sick of travel and be destined to return and not succeed at maintaining your retired status. Might make for an interesting post, and helpful for those who think it’s beyond their ability.

    1. Ukraine! Yay, I’ve heard good things about it. Will add it to my (ever growing) list 🙂

      As for staying in Canada, there’s a chance we will do that when we get older or have family obligations. That’s why we’re hitting as many bucket lists for cities around the world as possible so we can do that while we’re still young (ish).

      But yeah, I love Canada and have no doubt we have enough to retire at home as well–it’s just that I’m spoiled by warm weather now. I used to go out in below freezing weather without batting an eye. I’m such a wimp now 😛 *hangs head in shame*

      Thanks for the suggestion though. I do have stats for how much we pay for Airbnbs in Canada when we come back to visit, so I’ll put “cost of retiring in Canada” on the list of future articles.

  7. How do you guys keep up with all of the languages? I love trying to pick up a bit where ever I go, but Pimsleur gets expensive and studying is hard to squeeze in.

    Not really off the beaten path but Seville and Granada in Spain are both excellent. Good food, sites, running and very well priced.

    1. I thought we’d have trouble with languages too–which is why we spent a whole month in the UK when we first started and worried about venturing into non-English speaking countries.

      Turns out it hasn’t been a problem at all. In Thailand, there are English signs everywhere and they make it super easy for you to order food by having menus with lots of pictures. In Europe, pretty much every country we’ve been to has English speakers. We basically just learn how to count the numbers in each country to order food or buy bus tickets, say hello, please, and thank you, and ask where the bathroom is. That’s pretty much all you need. I’ve used hand gestures to explain anything else. You can surprisingly get a lot of your points across with body language all over the world.

      I’m also lucky in that I speak mandarin–which is the most widely spoken language in the world so I’ve been able to rely on that everywhere we go. I just find a Chinese restaurant and ask things in Mandarin. Works like a charm!

      I’ve heard great things about Seville and Granada. Will check them out the next time we’re in Spain!

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