The 39-year-old South African head of concerts and tours for The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen made the Hanseatic city-state home four years ago.
What do you like most about Bremen?
I came here for work, and immediately liked it so much more than Frankfurt where I had lived before. It’s a very green, alternative, human rights oriented city. I live in the area known as das Viertel, which I love.
It all took a while to feel like home but now it certainly is. It’s small and manageable. There is a population of, last time I looked, about 650,000 including Bremerhaven. I love the independent spirit of the people in Bremen. There is a North German politeness – a friendly way of being. There is a saying about the difference between Bremen and Hamburg that says in Bremen you wear your fur on the inside of your coat while in Hamburg you wear it on the outside.
I love the stretch from the Marktplatz to the Viertel, there’s a pretty little park along the old city wall. And particularly the Rathaus which has got to be one of the most beautiful buildings in Germany. It’s beautiful inside too. And then one goes past the theatre and there is this tumble of colourful shops.
And in the Viertel there is a mixture of people, from the chic ladies with little dogs to students and the guy who lives on the streets and sweeps up the area. All sitting in a café together.
And what are the worst aspects of Bremen?
It is a little bit of a small town for me. I find the city centre completely overrun on Saturday mornings, full of tourists and shoppers. You can barely walk down Sögestrasse and that stresses me out.
The public transport is a catastrophe at night – during the day there are trams and buses, but nothing much moves after midnight and because of my work I often come home late. There is a women’s taxi service which is cheaper for women to encourage us to take taxis rather than walk.
It is a great place but it’s hard to get anywhere. If you fly just about anywhere you have to change which doubles prices and environmental impact. With a train you’re in Hamburg in an hour which is ok.
For me as an English-speaker it is irritating that all the cinemas show dubbed films – apart from the sneak preview on Mondays, where you don’t know in advance what the film is, but it is always in its original version.
How would you design a perfect weekend in Bremen?
I might be biased but the Kammerphilharmonie is really good. You should also go and have a look at the Rathaus, a typical piece of Weser renaissance and it is also a Unesco world heritage piece. I always find the craftsmanship there inspiring. As a South African in Germany I see it is as the epitome of high European culture.
Many tourists seem to get stuck in the Rathaus square but they should really head out a little more. Go into the Viertel and the Bürgerpark, which has a great history.
Is Bremen a friendly place to be a foreigner?
Germany and immigrants is strange anyhow. But here people are open and interested. It is a Ryanair destination – there are also a lot of Americans working here, at the opera house for example. I have always felt very welcome here. I thought I would never get over Berlin, but now I’m always delighted to get home here after being there for a weekend.
Your secret tips for visitors?
My favourite lunch place is the Schnoorkrämerei – it is a little grocery shop like in a village, where you can buy everything from custard powder and spaghetti to magazines and ice cream. It’s run by a German woman and her Italian husband. They make lunch every day.
You have to call and let them know if you’re coming and if you’re too late you don’t get anything. But it’s like having your dad cooking at the back and it tastes better for that. They have a fixed dish each day of the week and the coffee is amazing.
And one thing people should do that might not be in the guide books?
My favourite running or walking route is lovely, you can find countryside in the middle of the city. Five minutes from where I live you can hop onto a little ferry which will take you to an island in the middle of the Weser River. You can walk all the way through the allotments, which are a mixture of German correctness and wilder ones with roses and artichokes all mixed up.
Or you go further in and through to fields. I was totally exhausted one day and sat down there on the dyke there for a bit – the next thing I knew it was three hours later. There is a grassy bank where you can sit and watch the boats – smaller ones and canoes. If you walk through the allotments you can see the big barges.
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Interview conducted by Hannah Cleaver.