A commercial and industrial city with a major port on the River Weser, Bremen is part of the Bremen/Oldenburg Metropolitan Region (2.4 million people). Bremen is the third most populous city in Northern Germany and tenth in Germany.
Bremen is some south from the Weser mouth on the North Sea. With Bremerhaven right on the mouth the two comprise the state of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen (official German name: Freie Hansestadt Bremen).
The marshes and moraines near Bremen have been settled since about 12,000 BC. Burial places and settlements in Bremen-Mahndorf and Bremen-Osterholz date back to the 7th century AD. Since The Renaissance, some scientists have believed that the entry Fabiranum or Phabiranon in Ptolemy's Fourth Map of Europe, written in 150 AD, refers to Bremen. But Ptolemy gives geographic coordinates, and by these dates Phabiranon is situated northeast of the mouth of river Visurgis (Weser). At that time the Chauci lived in the area now called north-western Germany or Lower Saxony. By the end of the 3rd century, they had merged with the Saxons. During the Saxon Wars (772–804) the Saxons, led by Widukind, fought against the West Germanic Franks, the founders of the Carolingian Empire, and lost the war. Bremen is located northeast of Osnabrück, north of Frankfurt am Main, west of Berlin, southwest of Hamburg, east of Amsterdam, Netherlands, and northeast of Düsseldorf.
Charlemagne, the King of the Franks, made a new law, the Lex Saxonum. This law stated that Saxons were not allowed to worship Odin (the god of the Saxons), but rather that they had to convert to Christianity on pain of death. This period was called the Christianisation. In 787 Willehad of Bremen was the first Bishop of Bremen. In 848 the archdiocese of Hamburg merged with the diocese of Bremen into Hamburg-Bremen Archdiocese, seated in Bremen, and in the following centuries the archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen were the driving force behind the Christianisation of Northern Germany. In 888 Archbishop Rimbert, managed to get Kaiser Arnulf of Carinthia, the Carolingian King of East Francia, to grant Bremen the right to hold its own markets, to mint its own coins and make its own customs laws.
The city's first stone walls were built in 1032. Around this time trade with Norway, England and the northern Netherlands began to grow, thus increasing the importance of the city.
In fact, however, Bremen did not have complete independence from the Prince-Archbishops, in that there was no freedom of religion, and burghers were still forced to pay taxes to the Prince-Archbishops. Bremen played a double role; it participated in the Diets of the neighbouring Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen as part of the Bremian Estates and paid its share of taxes, at least when it had previously consented to this levy. Since the city was the major taxpayer, its consent was generally sought. In this way the city wielded fiscal and political power within the Prince-Archbishopric, while not allowing the Prince-Archbishopric to rule in the city against its consent. In 1260 Bremen joined the Hanseatic League.
Advent of territorial power
In 1350, the number of inhabitants reached 20,000. Around this time the Hansekogge (cog ship) became a unique product of Bremen.
In 1362, representatives of Bremen rendered homage to Albert II, Prince-Archbishop of Bremen in Langwedel. In return Albert confirmed the city's privileges and brokered a peace between the city and , Count of Hoya, who since 1358 had held some burghers of Bremen in captivity. The city had to bail them out. In 1365 an extra tax, levied to finance the ransom, caused an uprising among the burghers and artisans which was put down by the city council after much bloodshed.
In 1366, Albert II tried to take advantage of the dispute between Bremen's council and the guilds, whose members had expelled some city councillors from the city. When these councillors appealed to Albert II for help, many artisans and burghers regarded this as treason against the city. This appeal to the princes would only provoke them to abolish autonomy of the city.
The fortified city maintained its own guards, not allowing prince-archiepiscopal soldiers to enter it. The city reserved an extra very narrow gate, the so-called Bishop's Needle (first mentioned in 1274), for all clergy including the Prince-Archbishop. The narrowness of the gate made it technically impossible to enter accompanied by knights.
Nevertheless, on the night of 29 May 1366, Albert's troops, helped by some burghers, invaded the city. After this the city had to render him homage again, the Bremen Roland, symbol of the city's autonomy, was demolished and a new city council was appointed. In return the new council granted Albert a credit amounting to the enormous sum of 20,000 Bremian Marks.
But city councillors of the previous council, who had fled to the County of Oldenburg gained the support of the Counts and recaptured the city on June 27, 1366. The members of the intermediate council were regarded as traitors and beheaded, and the city de facto regained its autonomy. Thereupon, the city of Bremen, which had for a long time held an autonomous status, acted almost in complete independence of the Prince-Archbishop. Albert failed to reduce the city of Bremen a second time, since he was always short of money and without the support of his family, the Welfs, who fought the Lüneburg War of Succession (1370–88).
By the end of the 1360s Bremen had granted credits to Albert II, to finance his lavish lifestyle, and gained in return the fortress of Vörde and the dues levied in the bailiwick belonging to it as a pawn for the credits. In 1369 Bremen again lent money to Albert II against the collateral of his mint and his right to mint coins, which was from then on run by the city council. In 1377 Bremen bought—from Frederick, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg—many of the prince-archiepiscopal castles, which Albert had pledged as security for a loan to Frederick's predecessor. Thus Bremen gained a powerful position in the Prince-Archbishopric (ecclesiastical principality), pushing its actual ruler aside.
The declining knightly family of Bederkesa had dropped deep into debt, and – having already sold many a possession – had even pawned half the say in the Bailiwick of Bederkesa (Amt Bederkesa) to the aspiring .
They again lost this pawn to city of Bremen, when in 1381 its troups stopped the three Mandelsloh brothers in their attempt to coin pawns from lending to Albert II into territorial power. The Mandelslohs and other robber barons from the Prince-Bishopric of Verden and the Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen ravaged burghers of the city of Bremen and people in the entire prince-archbishopric.
In 1381 the city's troops successfully ended the brigandage and captured the and the pertaining bailiwick. Thus Bremen gained its foothold as to uphold peace and order in its forecourt on the lower Weser course. In 1386 the city of Bremen became the liege lord of the noble families, holding the estates of and Elmlohe, before vassals of the Knights of Bederkesa.
In 1411 the jointly ruling dukes of Saxe-Lauenburg, Eric IV father, and his sons Eric V and John IV, pawned their share in the Vogtei over the Bederkesa Bailiwick and in the castle to the Senate of Bremen including all "they have in the jurisdictions in the Frisian Land of Wursten and in , which belongs to the afore-mentioned castle and Vogtei". Their share in jurisdiction, Vogtei and castle had been acquired from the plague-stricken Knights of Bederkesa. In 1421, Bremen acquired also the remaining half in the say of the Bederkesa Knights including their remaining share in the Bederkesa Castle.
In 1648 the prince-archbishopric was transformed into the Duchy of Bremen, which was first ruled in personal union by the Swedish Crown. In November 1654, after the Second Bremian War, Bremen had to cede Bederkesa and Lehe to the Duchy of Bremen.
Bremen and the Reformation
When the Protestant Reformation swept through Northern Germany, St Peter's cathedral belonged to the cathedral immunity district, an extraterritorial enclave of the neighbouring Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen. In 1532, the cathedral chapter which was still Catholic at that time closed St Peter's after a mob consisting of Bremen's burghers had forcefully interrupted a Catholic Mass and prompted a pastor to hold a Lutheran service.
In 1547, the chapter, which had in the meantime become predominantly Lutheran, appointed the Dutch Albert Rizaeus, called Hardenberg, as the first Cathedral pastor of Protestant affiliation. Rizaeus turned out to be a partisan of the Zwinglian understanding of the Lord's Supper, which was rejected by the then Lutheran majority of burghers, the city council, and chapter. So in 1561—after heated disputes—Rizaeus was dismissed and banned from the city and the cathedral again closed its doors.
However, as a consequence of that controversy the majority of Bremen's burghers and city council adopted Calvinism by the 1590s, while the chapter, which was at the same time the body of secular government in the neighbouring Prince-Archbishopric, clung to Lutheranism. This antagonism between a Calvinistic majority and a Lutheran minority, though it had a powerful position in its immunity district (mediatised as part of the city in 1803), remained dominant until in 1873 the Calvinist and Lutheran congregations of Bremen were reconciled and founded a united administrative umbrella Bremian Protestant Church, which still exists today, comprising the bulk of Bremen's burghers.
At the beginning of the 17th century, Bremen continued to play its double role, wielding fiscal and political power within the Prince-Archbishopric, but not allowing the Prince-Archbishopric to rule in the city without its consent.
Thirty Years' War
Soon after the beginning of the Thirty Years' War Bremen declared its neutrality, as did most of the territories in the Lower Saxon Circle. John Frederick, Lutheran Administrator of the Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen, desperately tried to keep his Prince-Archbishopric out of the war, with the complete agreement of the Estates and the city of Bremen. When in 1623 the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, which was fighting in the Eighty Years' War for its independence against Habsburg's Spanish and imperial forces, requested its Calvinist co-religionist Bremen to join them, the city refused, but started to reinforce its fortifications.
In 1623 the territories comprising the Lower Saxon Circle decided to recruit an army in order to maintain an armed neutrality, since troops of the Catholic League were already operating in the neighbouring Lower Rhenish-Westphalian Circle and dangerously close to their region. The concomitant effects of the war, debasement of the currency and rising prices, had already caused inflation which was also felt in Bremen.
In 1623 the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, diplomatically supported by King James I of England, the brother-in-law of Christian IV of Denmark, started a new anti-Habsburg campaign. Thus the troops of the Catholic League were otherwise occupied and Bremen seemed relieved. But soon after this the imperial troops under Albrecht von Wallenstein headed north in an attempt to destroy the fading Hanseatic League, in order to reduce the Hanseatic cities of Bremen, Hamburg and the Lübeck and to establish a Baltic trade monopoly, to be run by some imperial favourites including Spaniards and Poles. The idea was to win Sweden's and Denmark's support, both of which had for a long time sought the destruction of the Hanseatic League.
In May 1625 Christian IV of Denmark, Duke of Holstein was elected — in the latter of his functions — by the Lower Saxon Circle's member territories commander-in-chief of the Lower Saxon troops. In the same year Christian IV joined the Anglo-Dutch military coalition. Christian IV ordered his troops to capture all the important traffic hubs in the Prince-Archbishopric and commenced the Battle of Lutter am Barenberge, on 27 August 1626, where he was defeated by the Leaguist troops under Johan 't Serclaes, Count of Tilly. Christian IV and his surviving troops fled to the Prince-Archbishopric and established their headquarters in Stade.
In 1627 Christian IV withdrew from the Prince-Archbishopric, in order to oppose Wallenstein's invasion of his Duchy of Holstein. Tilly then invaded the Prince-Archbishopric and captured its southern part. Bremen shut its city gates and entrenched itself behind its improved fortifications. In 1628, Tilly turned on the city, and Bremen paid him a ransom of 10,000 rixdollars in order to spare it a siege. The city remained unoccupied throughout the war.
The takeover by the Catholic League enabled Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor, to implement the Edict of Restitution, decreed March 6, 1629, within the Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen including the city of Bremen. In September 1629 Francis William of Wartenberg, appointed by Ferdinand II as chairman of the imperial restitution commission for the Lower Saxon Circle, in carrying out the provisions of the Edict of Restitution, ordered the Bremian Chapter, seated in Bremen, to render an account of all the capitular and prince-archiepiscopal estates (not to be confused with the Estates). The Chapter refused, arguing first that the order had not been authorised and later that due to disputes with Bremen's city council, they could not freely travel to render an account, let alone do the necessary research on the estates. The anti-Catholic attitudes of Bremen's burghers and council was to make it completely impossible to prepare the restitution of estates from the Lutheran Chapter to the Roman Catholic Church. Even Lutheran capitulars were uneasy in Calvinistic Bremen.
Bremen's city council ordered that the capitular and prince-archiepiscopal estates within the boundaries of the unoccupied city were not to be restituted to the Catholic Church. The council argued that the city had long been Protestant, but the restitution commission replied that the city was de jure a part of the Prince-Archbishopric, so Protestantism had illegitimately taken over Catholic-owned estates. The city council replied that under these circumstances it would rather separate from the Holy Roman Empire and join the quasi-independent Republic of the Seven Netherlands. The city was neither to be conquered nor to be successfully besieged due to its new fortifications and its access to the North Sea.
In October 1631 an army, newly recruited by John Frederick, started to reconquer the Prince-Archbishopric — helped by forces from Sweden and the city of Bremen. John Frederick returned to office, only to implement the supremacy of Sweden, insisting that it retain supreme command until the end of the war. With the impending enforcement of the military Major Power of Sweden over the Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen, which was under negotiation at the Treaty of Westphalia, the city of Bremen feared it would fall under Swedish rule too. Therefore the city appealed for an imperial confirmation of its status of imperial immediacy from 1186 (Gelnhausen Privilege). In 1646 Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor, granted the requested confirmation to the Free Imperial City.
Nevertheless, Sweden, represented by its imperial fief Bremen-Verden, which comprised the secularised prince-bishoprics of Bremen and Verden, did not accept the imperial immediacy of the city of Bremen. Swedish Bremen-Verden tried to remediatise the Free Imperial City of Bremen (i.e., to make it switch its allegiance to Sweden). With this in view, Swedish Bremen-Verden twice waged war on Bremen. In 1381 the city of Bremen had imposed de facto rule in an area around Bederkesa and west of it as far as the lower branch of the Weser near Bremerlehe (a part of present-day Bremerhaven). Early in 1653, Bremen-Verden's Swedish troops captured Bremerlehe by force. In February 1654 the city of Bremen managed to get Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor, to grant it a seat and the vote in the Holy Roman Empire's Diet, thus accepting the city's status as Free Imperial City of Bremen.
Ferdinand III demanded that Christina of Sweden, Duchess regnant of Bremen-Verden, compensate the city of Bremen for the damages caused and restitute Bremerlehe. When in March 1654 the city of Bremen started to recruit soldiers in the area of Bederkesa, in order to prepare for further arbitrary acts, Swedish Bremen-Verden enacted the First Bremian War (March to July 1654), arguing that it was acting in self-defence. The Free Imperial City of Bremen had meanwhile urged Ferdinand III to support it, who in July 1654 asked Charles X Gustav of Sweden, Christina's successor as Duke of Bremen-Verden, to cease the conflict, which resulted in the Recess of Stade (November 1654). This treaty left the main issue, the acceptance of the city of Bremen's imperial immediacy, unresolved. But the city agreed to pay tribute and levy taxes in favour of Swedish Bremen-Verden and to cede its possessions around Bederkesa and Bremerlehe, which was why it was later called Lehe.
In December 1660 the city council of Bremen rendered homage as Free Imperial City of Bremen to Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor. In 1663 the city gained a seat and a vote in the Imperial Diet, despite sharp protest from Swedish Bremen-Verden. In March 1664 the Swedish Diet came out in favour of waging war on the Free Imperial City of Bremen. Right after Leopold I, who was busy with wars against the Ottoman Empire, had enfeoffed the minor King Charles XI of Sweden with Bremen-Verden, while the neighbouring Brunswick and Lunenburg-Celle was occupied by succession quarrels and France not opposed, Sweden started the Second Bremian War (1665–66) from its Bremen-Verden fief.
The Swedes under Carl Gustaf Wrangel laid siege to the city of Bremen. The siege brought Brandenburg-Prussia, Brunswick and Lunenburg-Celle, Denmark, Leopold I and the Netherlands onto the scene, who were all in favour of the city, with Brandenburgian, Cellean, Danish, and Dutch troops at Bremen-Verden's borders ready to invade. So on 15 November 1666 Sweden had to sign the Treaty of Habenhausen, obliging it to destroy the fortresses built close to Bremen and banning Bremen from sending its representative to the Diet of the Lower Saxon Circle. From then on no further Swedish attempts were made to capture the city.
In 1700 Bremen introduced—like all Protestant territories of imperial immediacy—the Improved Calendar, as it was called by Protestants, in order not to mention the name of Pope Gregory XIII. So Sunday, 18 February of Old Style was followed by Monday, 1 March New Style.
The harbour of Vegesack became part of the city of Bremen in 1803. In 1811, Napoleon invaded Bremen and integrated it as the capital of the (Department of the Mouths of the Weser) into the French State. In 1813, the French—as they retreated—withdrew from Bremen. Johann Smidt, Bremen's representative at the Congress of Vienna, was successful in achieving the non-mediatisation of Bremen, Hamburg and Lübeck by which they were not incorporated into neighbouring monarchies, but became sovereign republics.
The first German steamship was manufactured in 1817 in the shipyard of Johann Lange.
In 1827, Bremen, under Johann Smidt, its mayor at that time, purchased land from the Kingdom of Hanover, to establish the city of Bremerhaven (Port of Bremen) as an outpost of Bremen because of the increased silting up of the river Weser. Bremen became part of the North German Confederation in 1867 and became an autonomous component state of the new-founded German Empire in 1871 and stayed with Germany in its following forms of government.
Brauerei Beck & Co KG, a brewery, was founded in 1837 and remains in operation today. The shipping company The North German Lloyd (NDL) was founded in 1857. Lloyd was a byword for commercial shipping and is now a part of Hapag-Lloyd. In 1872, the Bremen Cotton Exchange was founded.
The villages of Grohn, Schönebeck, Aumund, Hammersbeck, Fähr, Lobbendorf, Blumenthal, Farge and Rekum became part of the city of Bremen in 1939. The Bremen-Vegesack concentration camp operated during World War II.
In 1946 Bremen's mayor Wilhelm Kaisen (SPD) travelled to the U.S. to re-establish Bremen's statehood, as Bremen had traditionally been a city-state, in order to prevent its incorporation into the state of Lower Saxony in the British zone of occupation. In 1947 the city became an enclave, part of the American occupation zone surrounded by the British zone.
In 1947, Martin Mende founded Nordmende, a manufacturer of entertainment electronics. The company existed until 1987. OHB-System, a manufacturer of medium-sized space-flight satellites, was founded in 1958.
The University of Bremen, founded in 1971, is one of 11 institutions classed as an "Elite university" in Germany, and teaches approximately 23,500 people from 126 countries.