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Böttcherstrasse Part 3: Mostly Expressionist, sort of North German Gothic

Doesn’t every city have one street they want to revitalize? Here in Bradenton, city council leaders are always up to something, trying to find ways to draw more visitors and business to Main Street and to the river front. Ludwig Roselius was no different, and he had his eye on the once prosperous medieval street of Böttcherstrasse in Bremen.

It started out simple enough. The owners of the most beautiful and oldest house on the street, today’s Roselius Museum, convinced Roselius to purchase their home in 1902. Years later, he reshaped the house to his ideal image of a medieval merchant house, added the stepped gable to the roof, and opened his house to share his medieval art and antique collection with the general public in 1928.

Revitalizing Böttcherstrasse was a win-win for Roselius. He could house offices for his company Kaffee HAG in Böttcherstrasse and use the storefront windows as fantastic advertising, as well as feed into his urge to start a new cultural trend and way of thinking.

The idea besides the advertising aspect for Kaffee HAG, in combination with the Böttcherstrasse was to start a new cultural impulse in Germany after the indignity of the 1st World War: A combination of traditional art and crafts with creative modernity. Consciously designed as a tourist attraction and as a new ideal of the 'city within a city' the Böttcherstraße should also indicate a new beginning of cultural thinking abroad. That is how the saying from Roselius "the Böttcherstrasse is an attempt to think German" should be interpreted.” Museen Böttcherstraße


When Ludwig Roselius was ready to revive Böttcherstrasse, Germany was reeling from losing World War I. Architecture styles were departing with distaste for the industrial revolution in their mouths. As a style, expressionism sought to be original and new, which makes the feat of gathering a list of identifying characteristic traits very challenging. It's not like gothic architecture when if you can check the proverbial boxes for several key features, you know it's a gothic building. All of expressionism characteristics are going to be general and opinion-based. Expressionism sought to distort forms for emotional effect. The building themes were still of nature: caves, mountains, rock formations.

If you Stir Together Expressionism and North German Gothic...

It quickly became a game to see which online and travel book source listed which architecture style when they referred to Böttcherstrasse. The overwhelming consensus I’ve gathered for you is ‘Mostly Expressionist’, which is honestly pretty funny. My best guess is that although Roselius wanted to create a revolutionary building ensemble, when he asked the city of Bremen’s permission he supposedly claimed he was going to do a Northern German Gothic style. Which, most of the houses on the street do fall into that silhouette with the stepped-gables, dormer windows, and pointed arcades. However, where it gets ‘Mostly Expressionist’ is the brick patterns. The buildings could be unified as a whole monolithic natural structure through using mostly brick, but through the patterns created with the bricks the designs evoke natural formations of rocks.

Cheat Sheet to the 7 Houses of Böttcherstrasse, Bremen

Cheat Sheet to the 7 Houses of Böttcherstrasse, Bremen | Germany

Glockenspiel House | Böttcherstrasse | Bremen | Germany

Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum, photo by Felix Clebowski | Böttcherstrasse | Bremen | Germany

St. Peter House | Böttcherstrasse | Bremen | Germany

Roselius House Photo by freiraumfotografie Bremen | Böttcherstrasse | Bremen | Germany

House Atlantis | Böttcherstrasse | Bremen | Germany

Robinson Crusoe House & House Atlantis| Böttcherstrasse | Bremen | Germany

Sadly I'm missing a photo of the House of 7 Lazy Brothers. There's probably a pun in that comment. Do you have a photo of the house you'd like to share? Which one is your favorite?

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Böttcherstrasse Part 2: Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum

What you need to know visiting the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum in Bremen, Germany • Böttcherstraße Museums

The first museum dedicated solely to a female artist, and the first female artist to do a nude self-portrait.

Paula Modersohn-Becker certainly has my attention!

You might be wondering why you haven’t heard of her before. It is surprising that her life hasn’t been appropriated for a major motion picture or a best-selling historical novel by Susan Vreeland. Paula Modersohn-Becker led a dramatic, full life, with hundreds of paintings to her credit before dying at the young age of 31. Her greatest love in her life was her art, and she battled the same struggle women do today of balancing career with having a family. She married an older man and died a few weeks after giving birth to her one and only child. She documented her life through countless letters and diaries, available even in English (affiliate link).

Often the argument I’ll make for modern art is that it's the first of it's kind, and while something may not be as aesthetically pleasing as we may prefer, it's still notable because it's first. Although Paula's style of work may not be my favorite, to see it up close and in person is something else entirely. Her paintings are so textured that it's impossible to reproduce what they’re like in two dimensional form. You simply must see them. Trust me. She would use the sharp end of her paintbrush to scratch into the thick oil paint, making her paintings sculptural in person. They're visually fascinating.

Paula was moved to paint how a scene felt, rather than appeared. She was trained and capable of reproducing a scene realistically, but she chose to express a scene with shapes, simplicity and feeling. Paula has been attributed saying, translated from German, “I believe that one should not think too much about nature when painting, at least not during the painting's conception. The color sketch should be made exactly as one has perceived things in nature. But personal feeling is the main thing.”

A Closer Look at the Museum's Highlight: Self-Portrait on the Sixth Wedding Day

To be clear, six year anniversary. This life-size, self-portrait demands to be seen. Statuesque, and staring out at the viewer, Paula looks confident, but also as if she's thinking hard. We have history's advantage to know that she was not pregnant when this painting was done. With that knowledge, viewers can make all sorts of guesses and observation as to what Paula's thinking so hard about. This painting is a great example of how she sculpted her paint. The brushwork follows the direction of the form.

Self-portrait on the Sixth Wedding Day by Paula Modersohn-Becker • Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum in Bremen, Germany

My Personal Favorite: Girl in a Birch Wood with a Cat

I'm a loud and proud cat fan, and I'm immensely charmed when I see cats starring in paintings. Girl in a Birch Wood with a Cat easily stole my heart. This painting also stars Paula's favorite tree, birch. I love how the birch tree the girl is leaning against seems to be leaning against the girl as well. The figure holding a baby on the right side of the canvas is mirrored in the girl holding the cat. Is the girl pretending the cat is her baby? Maybe that's the girl's mother behind her, on the right side of the canvas, holding a younger sibling. Maybe the girl wandered off to be alone, taking the cat with her while she pouts? That's what I wonder about when I look at this piece. The pattern on the cat's coat also seems to mirror the pattern of the birch tree. The cat alone looks at the viewer, almost protectively, or perhaps startled. I can easily picture this as a real life scene that Paula observed while at the Artist Colony in Worpswede.

A side note: It seems as though someone at artsy.net made a beautifully detailed scan or photo of both of these paintings, and you're able to see the brushwork clearly. Click either of the paintings to go to their respective pages on artsy, and while your mouse is over the image on that page, the cursor is a magnifying glass, click to see the painting even larger. Its really nice.

Girl in a Birch Wood With a Cat by Paula Modersohn-Becker (1904) Oil on canvas • Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum in Bremen, Germany

Planning Your Trip to the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum

Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum, as well as Ludwig Roselius Museum, is open Tuesdays to Sundays, 11am – 6 pm, closed Mondays. Admission is 6 Euros, but may be discounted for family groups and kids under 6. Click here for the official Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum site.

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Böttcherstrasse Part 1: an Introduction

Does Knowing the History Change How You Feel?

I was surprised to learn while researching this article that the Lichtbringer, Bringer of the Light Relief Sculpture by Bernhard Hoetger was in fact created to HONOR Adolf Hitler!? What?! Looking closely, there's no swastikas, there's no funny little mustache on the sword wielding hero, nothing that would give away that its supposed to symbolize the Nazis triumphing over 'the darkness'. I had hunted this sculpture down, wanted to see it, and its Nazi-linked history wasn't mentioned in my guidebook. Now I feel funny for liking it. Should I not like it? Unfortunately for the artist Hoetger and the sculpture's commissioner Ludwidg Roselius not only did Hitler dislike it, he went so far as to say it was degenerate, that the whole Böttcherstrasse street design was degenerate, and tried to have it torn down.

On that note..

Welcome to Böttcherstrasse

Standing beneath the aforementioned Lichtbringer Sculpture, you're at the entrance to a brick street unlike any you've ever seen. This was once a popular medieval street linking the Weser river to the city market, where the böttcher, coopers, lived. When Ludwig Roselius bought his first Böttcherstrasse house in 1902, he sought to revitalize the street, create a tourist attraction, and provide a headquarters for his coffee brand company. If you've ever had a need or appreciation for decaffeinated coffee, you should thank Roselius for patenting the decaffeination process.

First, I'm going to let you wander through Böttcherstrasse, take in all the sights, and then I'll explain in the following two posts the artist one museum is dedicated to, Paula Modersohn Becker, and later explain brick expressionism and how it relates to the buildings in Böttcherstrasse.

Beginning Your Stroll Through Böttcherstrasse at the Entrance with the Light Bringer Relief Sculpture • Bremen, Germany

Strolling Böttcherstrasse Bremen • Roselius House, Glockenspiel House & St. Peter House • Bremen, Germany

Strolling Böttcherstrasse Bremen • Robin Crusoe House with Sculptures by Bernhard Hoetger and House Atlantis • Bremen, Germany

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Roland, Protector of Bremen

Roland: Protector of Bremen | along with the Bremen Town Hall, UNESCO World Heritage Site

In the middle of Bremen's city center you can see a legendary war hero standing tall at an overall height of 33 feet: the Roland. Legend says that the young knight was a nephew of Charlemagne and had saved the army of his uncle in the eighth century in the Pyrenees in a battle against the Basques.

Roland Symbolism

The statue was erected on the marketplace in the city center of Bremen, where it symbolizes the city's independence and freedom. The armor and a raised sword clearly identifies Roland as a knight, but there are additional elements that give away a bit more of his story.

Roland’s quest for freedom is reflected on the coat of arms on his shield showing a double-headed imperial eagle and the words: Vryheit do ik yu openbar de karl und mennich vorst vorwar desser stede ghegheven hat, des dankt gode is min radt. Roughly translated: "I manifest your freedom, as granted to this city by Charlemagne and many other rulers. For this, be thankful to God, that is my counsel."

Look close at his buckle and you can see an angel playing a harp, which testifies to the heavenly order in the Christian struggle. Roland had to lay down his life during the fight in the Pyrenees, a task he was sent to do by a higher power. To the left of the angel, there is a rose on the buckle, which is a Christian symbol for martyrs. In medieval Christian symbolism the rose stood for the blood that was shed by Jesus on the cross and symbolizes God’s love.

Measuring By the Roland

With all this symbolism, there is even a much more practical purpose to this statue, as the distance between Roland’s pointed knees is exactly one Bremen 'elle'. The elle was a historical unit of measurement (roughly 22 inches), and was supposed to help Bremen’s merchants to measure out their material during the weekly market. Yardsticks or measuring tape could be faked by merchants trying to sell you less product for the same price as a competitor. However, with a Roland around, the customer could double-check his purchase for accuracy while the merchant was still on the marketplace. Nowadays the elle measurement is history, but you can see a darker discoloration on the knees of the statue. Legend says, that if you rub Roland’s knees, you will return to Bremen in the future.

History of Roland

But Roland was not always made out of stone. His predecessor was made of wood in the 1340s, but overturned and burned by Bremen’s Archbishop Albert II’s warriors in 1366. The church would have lost too much power if Bremen became a free city, and a tall statue with a sword and coat of arms looking from the marketplace right over to the church of Bremen sent a clear message to the Archbishop. In 1404 the Bremer Council erected the Roland made out of sandstone by stonemasons Claws Zeelleyher and Jacob Olde.

Roland Replicas All Over the Globe

If you have not made it to Bremen and travel to or live near New York City, go see a 5 foot wooden replica of the Roland in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Zion in Brooklyn, New York. It is part of the pulpit and was a gift from the city of Bremen in 1890 to former German citizens who have found a new home in New York. However, this is not the only replica of Roland worldwide. The Brazilian city Rolândia was founded in 1932 by German immigrants and is named after the Bremer Roland. Since 1957, Rolândia also has a large replica of Roland, donated by coffee merchants from Bremen. And even in an amusement park in Obihiro, Japan you were able find a replica created as part of a larger German fairy tale city with various German statue replicas. Unfortunately, the park closed in 2003 due to poor economic conditions and a decline in visitors.

Roland Myth

There is one story that we could not confirm, stating that there is a backup statue underground in Bremen, just in case something happens to Roland. Is that true or just a myth? Let us know in the comments if you know more about this or even more interesting facts about Roland.

The Roland Statue along with the Bremen City Hall are an ensemble UNESCO World Heritage Site. Find out what that actually means in Denise’s previous post.

Roland: Protector of Bremen | along with the Bremen Town Hall, UNESCO World Heritage Site

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The Epic German City Hall All the Other City Halls Wish To Be

Epic German City Hall- Bremen Rathaus

To show the council was serious about its decision to build a new city hall in a new location, in 1404 the Roland Statue was set up. Sebastian will fill you in on Roland and who this austere looking fellow is in the next post. We know the building work began in 1405 and completed sometime after 1410. If you go to the north west facade of the building, it's easy to imagine how the original gothic building looked. This facade with it's pointed windows and octagonal corner turret has survived. This is also where you’ll find Gerhard Marcks Bremen Town Musicians Statue.

In 1594, the city commissioned the windows on the south side to be made larger, and in the process the gothic pointed arches were updated to the trend of the time Renaissance rectangular windows. This change led to the ‘modernization’ of the main facade between 1608 and 1614. They gave the side of the building that faces the market, what was very simple and boxy, a central, predominant focal point in a decorative gable that extends out from the original gothic building with two smaller decorative gables on either side. They changed the windows on this side to the new rectangular style with alternating arch and triangular lintels above. The pointed arched arcade was smoothed out to a rounded arch arcade.

Here's some labeled photos I put together to help illustrate.

Labeled Architecture Guide for the Bremen Rathaus | Bremen Town hall

Architecture Overview

We discussed Gothic architecture in an earlier post, Architectural Style Guide to the Neues Rathaus in Munich. With a few minutes of reading, I broke down how to recognize four commonly found architecture styles in Germany. If you missed that post, I strongly encourage you to take a look at this post to get a basic know-how. There’s even photos labeled with key features to look for. To tie that article together neatly with this one, the Neues Rathaus in Munich was built much more recently (1867-1874), in reverence and longing for the time period that the Rathaus in Bremen was built in, 1400-1410 thereabouts. The Rathaus in Bremen is the real deal, what all the town halls wish to be.

Bremen Rathaus | Germany Travel Guide

What is UNESCO and Why Does it Matter?

I’ve read about UNESCO World Heritage in the past, and accepted that whatever organization the acronym stood for was important at face value, if nothing else because the acronym is so long, 6 letters. Plus, World Heritage sounds heavily impressive too.

United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization

Being a UNESCO World Heritage site means belonging to everyone in the world, regardless of the territories it belongs in. The Rathaus in Bremen and it's Roland Statue as an ensemble has been enfolded into the protection of a world wide organization, and therefore belongs to everyone.

Why was Bremen’s Rathaus & Roland Chosen?

Simply, the Rathaus of Bremen and it's Roland ensemble was chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage site because it's the oldest, most authentic, and continuing example of republican city community during the late medieval European time period.

Bremen Rathaus, front arcade • Bremen Town Hall & Roland Ensemble

Info on visiting the Town Hall

You can purchase tickets for a guided tour of the Bremen Town Hall online. The one hour long tours run Monday-Saturday at 11am, noon, 3pm, 4pm and Sunday at 11am and noon. However, there are no tours during regional government receptions or events.

We were very unlucky in being in Bremen during a government reception. Do the next best thing, if you can’t get in then go under, literally, under the Town hall to the Ratskeller restaurant and wine cellar. They’re open from 11am until midnight, daily.

Bonus Resources

Read the official UNESCO listing for Bremen Rathaus & Roland.

Watch the UNESCO video about the Bremen in English.

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Show more posts about traveling in Germany

Thank you For Reading! Denise & Sebastian | Photo by Irene Fiedler