Seafaring is an integral part of Bremerhaven's past and present. Indeed it was the ambitious sailing voyages of the early 19th century that led to the founding of the town in 1827. Today Bremerhaven preserves a great deal of Germany's maritime heritage as a shipbuilding centre, international port and setting for important museums, research institutes and cultural organisations.
From Bremerhaven to the New World
The city of Bremen, situated 60 kilometres upriver from the coast, required a sea port and so purchased land from the Kingdom of Hannover, where it then proceeded to build a harbour basin. The docks continued to grow and the young town became a major port for fishing and international shipping. Leading the way was the service from Bremerhaven to New York, which was operated by Bremen's celebrated Norddeutscher Lloyd company with huge passenger liners. Millions of emigrants hoping to find better lives in the USA or South America said their final farewell to the old continent in Bremerhaven. For many, the last glimpse of land would have been the Brinkamahof lighthouse, which then stood outside the borders of the town. In 1980 it was moved six kilometres to the fishing harbour to become a new Bremerhaven landmark and also the town's smallest bar.
Lighthouses and many other aspects of maritime life are the subject of the Historical Museum of Bremerhaven. The building – an attraction in itself with its bold, visionary architecture – is situated in one of the prettiest parts of the town, right in the centre but in a quiet, leafy spot. Adopting a modern, interactive concept, it explores the past, present and future of an entire region through realistic, multifaceted exhibitions. The museum opened in 1906, marked its centenary in 2006 and continues to be a leading attraction in the town.
A benevolent spirit for sailors in days gone by
Bremerhaven is also home to the mythical Klabautermann who protects sailors at sea. This diminutive character can be seen in a fountain close to the German Maritime Museum. According to folklore this barely two-foot tall imp is the spirit of someone who died and whose soul took up residence in a tree. Should this tree become a mast of a ship, the spirit will become a Klabautermann and watch over the ship and the crew, even if it can occasionally lose its temper. An endearing legend – and one that could surely only have originated in a maritime town such as Bremerhaven.
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