Germany is known for its craft beer but wine-lovers are catered for too, as STEPHEN DAVY-OSBORNE discovers

GERMANY was, by its own admission, a late arrival at the craft beer bar. But when you consider the nation exported some 17million hectolitres of the amber nectar in 2016 alone you can see why the approach of that it wasn’t broken, so therefore why try fixing it, probably applied here.

Not so, though, for one entrepreneurial pair of beer lovers, who set their sights well and truly on reawakening a lost corner of Bremen’s brewing heritage, and putting their own unique taste on it. And this year they have just marked their second Oktoberfest celebration.

You might think that setting up shop in the same city as German giant Beck’s would be a suicide mission. But when business partners Markus Zeller and Lüder Kastens stumbled upon a derelict brewery in suburban Bremen they fell in love with the towering structure and realised it was the perfect home for their dream of their own craft beer brewery.

The brewery had been established in 1907 by a group of Bremen pub owners with the vision of brewing their own beer for their bars. But by the 1960s the brewery had been taken over and shut down, so by the time Markus and Lüder came across the building no barrels of beer had left the brewery in some 50 years. Now, that vision has been reawoken.

“Our idea right from the start was to focus on Bremen,” said Markus. “Every bottle you will drink here will have been brewed and bottled here, and you can find it in nearly every supermarket in Bremen and 50km around.”

After brewing their first bottles on-site at the end of 2015, the Freie Union Brauerei Bremen filled between 700,000 and 800,000 bottles in 2016, with their pale ale earning the impressive title of Best Pale in Germany by a German beer magazine.

“For me the brewery was a dream,” added Markus. “My father worked in a small brewery for 40 years, so as a small baby I often heard the word ‘beer’. I worked in a big brewery and the dream was to combine these two types of breweries together.”

Far from being a vast building that only the brewmasters get to see, Union Brauerei Bremen welcomes scores of visitors through its doors every day – in part due to its popular restaurant, which pairs a hearty German menu with tasting boards of the brewery’s top tipples, including Keller Pils, Rotbier, Weißbier, Pale Ale, Porter, Hanseat 2.0 and BioStadt Bier. The brewery’s tours are well worth taking in too, with staff eager to share the experience behind the brewing process with guests.

And in the run-up to the end of September the brewery was busy brewing up a special blend of beer for their second annual Oktoberfest celebration. “We held our own Oktoberfest last year for the first time,” said Markus. “We do it with a bit of a smile because we are not in Munich, but we want to breed our own Oktoberfest.”

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If beer is not your thing, Bremen has another surprising alcoholic trick up its sleeve. Standing in the picturesque market place in front of the magnificent town hall – which has been granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status – you might find it hard to believe that the beautiful architecture of the surrounding municipal buildings, imposing cathedral and the nearby narrow streets of the Schnoor quarter could be rivalled by anything below street level.

But beneath the Hanseatic town hall built between 1405 and 1410, with the striking façade added in the 17th century– which is a sight to behold in itself - lies a gastronomic delight in the vaulted depths of the cellar in the shape of Bremer Ratskeller.

Ducking down below the foundations of the hall you will find the largest collection of German wines the nation has to offer – around 1,200 different varieties from Germany’s 30 wine-growing regions - despite the nearest vineyard being some 450km away.

Each year, the Ratskeller’s vintner samples more than 3,000 wines, with only around 150 making the final grade to be labelled with the Ratskeller’s gold leaf title. It’s a tough job, but a very important one that has seen the Ratskeller maintain its reputation for excellence.

If you’re lucky enough to be afforded an audience with the 12 apostles in the Apostles’ Cellar you can soak up the aroma of centuries-old wine, the oldest being the 13th barrel in the adjoining Rose Cellar - Rüdesheimer, dating from 1653. The Queen was treated to a snifter of this truly unique wine in the 1970s, while a mere thimbleful of the precious vintage was rumoured to sell for €20,000 – not that it is for sale any longer. But the atmosphere these 13 barrels offer in their darkened cavern is an experience that is not likely to be forgotten by those treated to the opportunity.

Despite its heritage, the Ratskeller still offers all of the services of a modern wine merchant, making it a rich destination for connoisseurs the world over. Like Union Brauerei Bremen, the Bremer Ratskeller has realised how unfair it would be on guests to whet their appetite with just a small taste, and boasts a beautiful restaurant serving up gourmet meals, and a wine list of some 650 different vintages of wine.

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Don’t forget to stop by the city’s fabled musicians on your way out, who were sculpted in bronze by Gerhard Marcks and stacked in musical formation right next to the Town Hall. If you’re wondering why the donkey’s ankles look well-polished, that’s down to countless tourists stopping and making a wish by grasping hold of his legs. Just be sure to take hold of both of his legs, or you may earn yourself a chuckle from passing locals who have their own take on what a one-handed wish means.


Don’t be fooled by the name, Motel One is not an edge-of town drive-thru with flickering neon lights, but actually a rather slick city centre hotel ideally suited for city exploration. With rooms starting from €71.14 a night it’s affordable and its city-centre location is hard to beat.

Am Brill 10, 28195. +49 421 4095400


If you’re not completely full after dining at Freie Union Brauerei Bremen, or a gourmet meal at the Ratskeller, take the short walk out of the former city walls to Küche 13, a lively bistro in the heart of The Viertel – a district boasting more than 290 specialist shops and restaurants. Here freshly-sourced ingredients are served with a flourish and a pinch of refinement – and booking ahead is definitely recommended.

Beim Steinernen Kreuz 13, 28203. +49 421 20824721


Germanwings operates flights from Heathrow to Bremen via Stuttgart, or Heathrow to Hamburg, which is less than an hour from Bremen by train. Lufthansa also offer flights from Heathrow to Bremen via Frankfurt.

For further information about Bremen and travel to Germany, visit and