The Port of Bremen is the capital of the state of Bremen, an enclave in Lower Saxony in northwest Germany. On the banks of the Weser River about 70 kilometers inland from the North Sea, it is one of German’s most important ports and industrial centers. The state of Bremen’s official name is Freie Hansestadt Bremen, acknowledging its historic membership in the Hanseatic League. In 2006, almost 544 thousand people lived in the Port of Bremen, but over two million people lived in the Bremen-Oldenburg metropolitan area.
Geographer Claudius Ptolemaeus wrote about Phabiranum, the site known as Bremen today, in 150 AD when it was home to the Cauci people. They had combined with the Saxons by the 4th Century. The ancient settlement was well-positioned on trading routes between the Rhine and Elbe Rivers, the North Sea, and southern Germany.
Charlemagne created the diocese of Bremen there in 787 AD, creating a base for missionary efforts for all of northern Europe. In 888, Saxon King Arnulf gave Bremen the right to have a market. Its natural harbor attracted merchants who wanted to trade. In 965, the city won marketing rights that brought commercial activity and power to the Port of Bremen. In 1410, the Port of Bremen gained the right to set beacons and buoys in the Weser River, and the beginnings of the port infrastructure appeared.
The Port of Bremen’s first stone walls arise in 1032, when its trade began to grow with the Netherlands, Norway, and England. Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I ruled Bremen from 1186, making it a Free Imperial City and imposing church taxes on its citizens. In 1220, local merchants secured the right of safe passage to the North Sea from the archbishop.
By the mid 14th Century, 20 thousand people lived in Bremen. After entering the Hanseatic League in 1358, it became one of the most important economic and religious centers of north Germany. In 1541, Emperor Charles V gave the port “stacking rights,” meaning that all goods must be unloaded and offered to local merchants, thus encouraging trade in the Port of Bremen. He also renewed the old privilege for Bremen merchants of free maritime traffic on the Weser. Construction of the Vegesack harbor, the first artificial harbor on the Weser, began in 1619 to give better access to vessels.
As an imperial free city, in remained independent during the Thirty Years’ War and resisted onslaughts by Hanoverian and Swedish forces. In 1811, Bremen fell to Napoleon who made it the capital of his Departement de Bouches du Weser and part of France. This rule was ended by the 1815 Battle of Waterloo.
Joining the German Confederation in 1815, it became part of the German Empire in 1871. In 1817, the first German steamship was built in the Port of Bremen. City officials purchased 89 hectares in 1827 to create a modern port. That site is today’s Bremerhaven. In 1830, the American ship Draper became the first ship to enter the new port. Due to silting, construction of a new harbor began in 1847 to accommodate the new steam ships that were replacing sailing ships.
In 1837, Beck’s brewery was founded in the city, and today’s Hapag-Lloyd shipping company was formed there in 1857. In 1859, railroad tracks linked the port to inland Germany. In 1871, the Port of Bremen’s facilities were revamped to accommodate sailing ships with non-folding masts, making the port one of the most modern of its day. Still, at the time, the harbor was not passable during the winter, and silting remained a problem. In 1887, work began on an innovative project to clear silt from the riverbed that is still effective today. In 1888, the new Free Port I was opened with large celebrations. The new harbor basin was one of the largest of its day.
By the late 19th Century, the Port of Bremen was established as an international trade and world shipping leader with expanded port facilities and a growing manufacturing industry. In 1906, expansion efforts began and continued through 1908. In 1914, a grain facility was constructed, and a banana facility opened in 1926. Part of today’s Airbus, Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau AG, was founded in 1923. In 1928, Columbus Quay was completed, giving the port a “Railway Station on the Sea.”
During World War II, much of the Port of Bremen was destroyed or damaged, although it was quickly rebuilt after the war. At the end of World War II, the Port of Bremen was bombed and captured by British forces, and it later became a part of the American occupation zone.
In 1957, the first roll-on/roll-off cargo reached the Port of Bremen, and a new passenger facility was started in 1958. The first container ship reached Bremen in 1966, and construction for a container terminal opened in 1968. A second container terminal and a new roll-on/roll-off facility were completed in 1972. In the late 1970s, a new general cargo terminal, an auto terminal, and an expanded container terminal were completed. Since then expansion and improvement efforts have been largely continuous.
Improvements to the Port of Bremen in the 1990s included a grain facility, container-handling facilities, new banana facility, cold storage container facility, and storage for vehicles. In 2003, the Columbus Cruise Center was upgraded and modernized, and a new container berth and terminal was opened. In 2004, a major effort to add berths for the world’s biggest container vessels was undertaken. In 2005, new berths were added for deep-water auto carriers.
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