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Introducing Germany
The Federal Republic of Germany lies in the heart of Europe and is a cosmopolitan, democratic country with a great tradition and a lively present. Germany has one of the world’s strongest economies and offers an innovative research and education landscape. At the same time it has a strong a dynamic cultural scene. Germany is the European Union’s most populous nation with 82 million inhabitants.

Germany is surrounded by nine neighboring countries. Its territory encompasses roughly 357,000 square kilometers. It stretches from the North Sea and the Baltic Sea in the north to the Alps in the south. Some of the largest European rivers - the Rhine, the Danube and the Elbe - flow through Germany. German landscapes are extraordinarily varied and attractive: low and high mountain ranges, extensive lake lands, forests and roughly 2,390 kilometers of coastline.

History of Bremen
Bremen is known for its role in maritime trade, represented by Hanseatic buildings on the Market Square. The picturesque city is located along both sides of the river Weser. The world famous Beck's Beer is also brewed in Bremen.

Bremen looks back on 1,200 years of history. Although the grand old buildings around the market square betray its roots as an ancient trading center, Bremen has the feel of a thriving city on the up. Besides its cosmopolitan appeal, Bremen offers a journey back through the centuries, full of monuments to a distinguished history and bristling with enthralling stories. There are pretty little houses lined up like pearls on a string, donkeys that shake hands and a cathedral under close observation.

Two of Bremen's most famous landmarks are the magnificent Weser Renaissance town hall and the grand old statue of Roland on the historical market square. They have been an emblem of independence since 1404. The town hall and Roland enjoy UNESCO World Heritage protection, while Bremen Cathedral, the Schnoor (Bremen's oldest quarter) and Boettcherstrasse with its unusual red-brick architecture are all unparalleled in their historical charm. A tour of the most notable sights does not even require a map, as 2,000 brass and steel studs guide visitors from Liebfrauenkirchhof to Boettcherstrasse via the market square and the Schnoor quarter.

Also on the western side of the town hall, just a stone's throw from the Bremen Town Musicians, is the entrance to the oldest wine cellar in Germany - the Ratskeller, where people have enjoyed fine wine and good food since 1409. It is the largest repository of German wines, with 650 exquisite varieties. This huge vaulted hall with its columns and ornate wine barrels has welcomed plenty of famous characters, including the poet Heinrich Heine, who was inspired to put it into verse and Wilhelm Hauff who based his novella Phantasien im Bremer Ratskeller here.

The 600-year-old town hall is Bremen's pride and joy. Its special status was confirmed in 2004 when it became a UNESCO World Heritage site. UNESCO's justification for its inscription praised Bremen town hall and the Roland statue as "an outstanding ensemble which bears an exceptional testimony to civic autonomy and sovereignty, as these developed in the Holy Roman Empire." The report also expressly acknowledged the town hall as an "outstanding example of the Weser Renaissance architectural style in northern Germany". The building's architectural splendor makes it the jewel in the crown of Bremen's historical market square.

The Upper Hall, where the city council used to convene, is the most magnificent ceremonial venue in Bremen. The model ships that hang from the ceiling bear witness to the importance of commerce and maritime trade. Their miniature cannons can even be fired if the occasion demands. In the early 20th century an extension was added to the town hall to create much-needed extra space. Designed by architect Gabriel von Seidel, the modern building blends seamlessly with the medieval section to form a harmonious whole.

The Roland statue, which stands a few meters in front of the town hall, is no less impressive. Its wooden predecessor fell victim to an arson attack by the archbishop's men. This emblem of the powerful merchants' guild and symbol of the Hanseatic city's freedom had always been a great annoyance to the church. And so the statue's eyes are deliberately directed at the episcopal cathedral, to reinforce the claim of Bremen's merchants to sovereignty of the city. Carved from stone, the statue has been standing on Bremen's historical market square for more than 600 years, "the most representative and one of the oldest Roland statues erected as a symbol of market rights and freedom", according to the UNESCO inscription.

To the east of the town hall, under the watchful eye of the Roland statue, stands St. Peter's Cathedral which, with its spires, reaches a height of 99 meters. It is an unwritten rule that no structure in Bremen is allowed to be taller than the cathedral. Built primarily from sandstone, its architecture contains Romanesque and Gothic elements. The twin-towered facade is dominated by a rose window from the 13th century. The rococo pulpit dates from 1653 and was a present from Queen Christina of Sweden.

Despite the preeminent position of Bremen's guilds, St. Peter's Cathedral retains some links with the secular powers in the Hansatic city. According to the Gospel of St. Matthew, the cathedral's patron saint holds the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Bremen's secular rulers appropriated one of them for the city's coat of arms back in medieval times.

Just a few minutes' walk from the cathedral lays a chance to step back in time. Pretty little half-timbered houses dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries line the narrow lanes of Bremen's oldest quarter, the Schnoor. One interpretation of the name is that this part of the old fishermen's quarter was where the rope makers used to live, Schnoor being Low German for Schnur (string). The Schnoor quarter is right by the Weser river, and the lanes between the rows of buildings are often very narrow. Visitors can browse for arts and crafts and handmade gold, rest their legs in one of the many cafés and restaurants or buy a souvenir to take home.

For more information on Bremen and its many attractions, visit their website at:
http://www.bremen-tourism.de/bremen-at-a-glance.

When to go
Any time is a good time to be in Germany. Most people arrive between May and September. This time is fabulous because skies are more likely to be sunny, much of life moves outdoors, beer gardens are in full swing, and festivals and outdoor events enliven cities and villages.

Money
The Euro has been Germany’s official currency since 2002. Euros come in seven notes (five, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 Euros) and eight coins (one- and two-euro coins and one-, two-, five-, 10-, 20- and 50-cent coins). At the time of writing, the euro was a strong and stable currency, although some minor fluctuations are common. For current rates, check with your bank or online.

You can exchange money at many banks and post offices as well as foreign-exchange offices. Rates are quite good and service swift at Reisebank offices at large train stations. American Express and Thomas Cook/Travelex offices are also reliable stand-bys. ATMs are the easiest way of getting cash in big cities and are common.

You can use credit cards for many purchases and also to make cash withdrawals from ATMs and banks. Look for the stickers on the machines that say American Express, Visa, Master Card or whatever system your card uses.

Prices for goods and services include a value-added tax (VAT) which is 19% for regular goods and 7% for food and books. If your permanent residence is outside the European Union, you can have a large portion of the VAT refunded, provided you shop at a store displaying the ‘Tax-Free for Tourists’ sign and obtain a tax-free form for your purchase from the sales clerk. At the airport, show this form, unused goods and your receipt to a custom official before checking your luggage. The customs official will stamp the form, which you can then take straight to the cash refund office at the airport.

Tipping

Workers in most services get tipped 10%. In restaurants the service charge will usually be included in the bill and is mandatory. If a waitperson is friendly and helpful you can give more. When the service charge is not included, a 10% tip is customary.

 

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