To be creative together – to make a difference with and for Bremen’s literary scene – this is why the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen is applying for the UNESCO title of City of Literature.
The idea is to strengthen Bremen’s literary scene permanently, bundle productive synergies, promote intelligent networking and initiate an effective further profiling of the existing structures.
The aim is clear: to get as many people as possible excited about literature and reading as a cultural technique – because reading is and will remain a central basic skill that needs to be strengthened. It enables immersion into other worlds and perspectives, widens horizons and affects people’s lives.
So far, there are thirty-nine Cities of Literature around the world: among them are Heidelberg, Edinburgh, Dublin, Milan, Prague, Seattle and Durban. By regularly comparing notes with the other Cities of Literature and the relevant Bremen literary players, the aim is to develop an effective, innovative and sustainable action plan for Bremen over the next few years.
For the following reasons, Bremen already has an excellent chance of becoming part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network of Literature:
All over the world, Bremen is associated with the four Town Musicians. The animal quartet has played a key role in shaping Bremen's image of being cosmopolitan, tolerant and colourful. After all, the multi-layered Grimms fairy tale addresses existential and current issues such as solidarity, tolerance and freedom, but also social injustice, migration and aging as well as zest for life and wit – subjects that have not lost their relevance to this day.
Playful and yet well-founded, entertaining and yet (literary) historically precise, the readings, events and festivals of Bremen’s literary scene repeatedly tie in with these existential topics.
In the coming years, the relevant cultural players in the city such as the Literaturkontor (Literature Office) and the virtuelles Literaturhaus (Virtual Literature House) are planning to create a multifunctional event space and literature café in the Stadtmusikantenhaus (House of the Town Musicians) which is to be developed in the Kontorhaus at the corner of Langenstraße and the Market Square – a central, inner-city location. In this café, the above-mentioned topics and discussions will be taken up regularly from different and from new angles, thus keeping them fresh and topical. A central location for the literary scene is now emerging in the heart of Bremen!
Bremen can bank on the Literature Office and the Virtual Literature House as two central literary institutions with different focal points which shape the literary life of the city. While the Literature House primarily functions as a virtual site, concentrating on digital formats and literary work with children and teenagers, the Literature Office primarily focuses on promoting young authors and on cooperating with authors from Bremen by organising readings, projects and workshops. Both institutions jointly maintain the official literature calendar and send out the regular Literatur-Magazin Bremen newsletter. They cooperate with various players from the Bremen literary scene to keep the online magazine alive and constantly develop innovative formats (podcasts, blogs, reviews, miniatures, essays, etc.) that reach out far beyond the boundaries of Bremen.
The Bremen Literature Prize, awarded by the local Rudolf Alexander Schröder Foundation every January since 1954, is one of the most prestigious prizes in the German-speaking countries, not least because of its many courageous and well-informed award choices and the prize money (25,000 €). Award winners include renowned authors such as Paul Celan, Ingeborg Bachmann, Thomas Bernhard, Peter Weiss, Terézia Mora and Elfriede Jelinek. Since 1977, the supplementary Advancement Award for young authors amounting to 6,000 € has also been awarded. Here too, the list of award-winning authors is impressive.
In addition, the Senator for Culture is committed to promoting younger or lesser-known authors. The Bremen Author Scholarship has been awarded annually by the Literature Office since 1984, and since 2020 it has been extended to include both a scholarship for young writers and a project grant to promote individual Bremen authors and aid their access to publicity and institutions at national level. The Bremer Netzresidenz (Internet Residency), which is unique in Germany, has been awarded to writers every two years since 2008 by the Virtual Literature House, whose projects creatively explore the technical possibilities of the internet.
The range of literary festivals in Bremen is impressive in its diversity.
The Literarische Woche (Literary Week), with changing key topics, represents the annual framework for the award ceremony of the Bremen Literature Prize in January. The programme offers readings, exhibitions, discussions and specific events for children and teenagers, so it appeals to as broad an audience as possible.
The international poetry festival Poetry on the Road, which takes place in spring, has secured Bremen an important place in the international literary scene over the last twenty years. Since the first festival, more than 650 internationally renowned authors from sixty-five nations have performed in the city.
Through Bremen liest! Die lange Nacht der Literatur (Bremen reads! The Long Night of Literature) numerous committed bookshops and publishers have also moved into the spotlight over the last four years. Readings, discussions and guided tours provide an insight into the places where books are produced and marketed.
The crime festival Prime Time - Crime Time, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2017 under the organisational direction of the Bremer Kriminal Theater (Bremen Crime Theatre), is the oldest German festival of crime literature and annually makes Bremen a meeting place for national and international crime writers.
The globale°, a ‘festival for border-crossing literature’ sees itself as part of the dialogue between cultures and brings to Bremen authors from different cultural backgrounds who mainly live in Germany and write in German. Every year in autumn, current political topics are picked up on and aimed particularly at young adults. Thanks to the clever selection of topics and its illustrious guests, the Globale° succeeds in developing an enormous outreach far beyond the boundaries of Bremen.
However, there are also smaller festivals and reading series, such as Gastgeber Sprache (The Language of the Hosts) and the reading series LiteraTOUR Nord and Out loud – Die neue Bremer Lesebühne im Lagerhaus (Out loud – the new Bremen reading stage in the Lagerhaus Arts Centre) as well as numerous events of the Institut Français, the Instituto Cervantes und the Günter Grass Foundation, which enrich literary life in Bremen throughout the year.
The promotion of reading and cultural education have been prioritised in Bremen for years. The Bremer Stadtbibliothek (Bremen’s City Library), with its headquarters and the various branches throughout the city, does an excellent job in the area of language acquisition and the promotion of reading. Furthermore, it has become a social space where the people of Bremen like to spend time. In addition to the current media programme for cultural education and further education, the City Library offers a wide range of events on current political and social issues – from panel discussions through lectures, open-interchange formats with network partners to exhibitions and readings. A large part of the population makes use of this. In terms of library use per inhabitant, Bremen is well ahead of many other federal states. In addition, the City Library has received various prizes in recent years. Most recently it received the Bremen Diversity Prize in 2015 for its successful work in this field. Thanks to the successful application for the funding program 360° - Fonds für Kulturen der neuen Stadtgesellschaft (360° - Funds for Cultures of the New Urban Community) from the Cultural Foundation of the State, the work of the City Library on social integration has been intensified since 2018. Making their own programme more varied and reaching a more diverse audience continues to have top priority. Furthermore, Barbara Lison, its experienced library director and designated President of the IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations), has excellent international connections and acts as an important ambassador for Bremen.
The medium of the book as a sensual artefact with tactile, typographical and avant-garde facets is the focus of attention in the internationally renowned Zentrum für Künstlerpublikationen (Centre for Artists’ Publications). As part of the Bremen collectors museum Weserburg – the Museum for Modern Art, the Centre for Artists' Publications comprises a collection of archives, bequests and collections of published works of art that is unique in Europe, among them experimental poetry, rare artist books and sound poetry on LPs, CDs and audio cassettes. As a part of thematic research and exhibition projects, this inventory is made accessible to the public in varying new ways and arouses great international interest. Together with the Forschungsverbund Künstlerpublikationen (Artist Publications Research Association), the centre publishes the online magazine setup4 and the Artist Publications Series. More than 300 acoustic works of art can be heard on the sound collection platform, including poems, interviews and spoken texts.
Bremen has a remarkable density and variety of bookshops, which compares very favourably with other German cities. Many committed booksellers make a significant contribution to the lively literary life of Bremen with their wide range as well as with smaller readings and events in their shops. Bookstores such as the Golden Shop, the Georg-Büchner-Buchhandlung, the Lesumer Lesezeit, Logbuch and the Findorffer Bücherfenster have in recent years repeatedly been awarded the German Bookstore Prize of the Federal Ministry of Culture for their dedicated work.
In 2020, the Storm bookstore even received the German Bookstore Prize’s seal of quality as particularly outstanding. The managing director's plan to purchase an Italian Piaggio Ape three-wheeler as a mobile bookstore with the prize money is likely to cause a sensation in Bremen's public squares.
The publishing scene in Bremen is also diverse. In addition to the Schünemann Verlag, which can look back on a long book-trade tradition and has distinguished itself for years through its involvement in educational projects such as Das Erste Buch (Your First Book), and the Schulhausroman (the School Novel), publishers such as Kellner Verlag, Edition Temmen and Donat Verlag have made their mark on the city's publishing range with their Bremensien (books on Bremen) and historical non-fiction books. The Sujet Verlag, which was awarded the Bremen Diversity Prize in 2018, has specialised in poetry collections with a focus on modern Iranian poetry, as well as novels and non-fiction. In contrast to exile literature, Luftwurzelliteratur (‘aerial roots literature’) focuses on the enriching aspects of migration. More recent start-ups such as Musketier Verlag and SadWolf Verlag were able to establish themselves quickly and successfully. Newer independent publishers such as Golden Press, nn-Verlag and the artistic print products from Logbuch again impress with exquisite publications with a particularly lovingly applied typography.
The theatre scene in Bremen, which can look back on a long and dazzling tradition and consistently brings classical and modern texts to the stage in constantly innovative ways is equally diverse and broad.
Michael Börgerding has been head of the municipal Theater Bremen since 2012 and, with his concept of understanding the city theatre as a laboratory for experiments, continues to open the building to all Bremen residents. With his diverse programme, which is also supplemented by readings, discussions and literature festivals and repeatedly dares to make unconventional stage adaptations of well-known novels, he consolidates Bremen's reputation as a city of culture and consciously builds on the successful years of the directorship of Kurt Hübner, who set standards in stagecraft in the German-speaking countries between 1962 and in 1973. During that period, Peter Stein and Peter Zadek shaped the so-called ‘Bremen style’ and made international actors such as Bruno Ganz, Edith Clever and Jutta Lampe shine in new productions of old classics.
In addition to this traditional municipal institution with its four genres of stage acting, opera, dance and youth theatre, a diverse theatre scene of independent and private theatres, venues and ensembles with their very own profiles has developed in Bremen. Next to theatres like, by way of example, the puppet theatre Mensch, Puppe! (Man, Puppet!) and the Literaturkeller (Literary Basement), the Bremen Shakespeare Company deserves a special mention.
The Bremen Shakespeare Company, founded in 1983 to revive the performance practice of Shakespeare's time and interpret it in a contemporary way, quickly made a name for itself nationwide with its special performance style (no darkened stage space, actors surrounded by audience) and the focus on one classic playwright. The cooperation with the neighbouring secondary school and the regular cooperation with history students at the University of Bremen to bring documentary pieces with local reference “from the files to the stage” are also outstanding. The Shakespeare Company has received several awards for its commitment to education policy as well as for its courageous productions with current political references.
The University of Bremen is characterised by excellence in various areas and has a great drive for knowledge transfer by constantly and deliberately seeking connection to the city. The University of Bremen, designated as a national ’University of Excellence’, is strong in research but has never resided in an ivory tower. It promotes diversity, internationality and communication with Bremen’s cultural community. It defines knowledge transfer as a central obligation – with strong, broad-based literary studies.
The BIBF – Bremen Institute for Picture Book Research – focuses on the literary analysis of picture books, which are interesting because of the interplay of the narrative text and the aesthetic picture level, and on different aspects of the teaching of language and literature didactic. Since 2017, the Bremen Picture Book Dialogues have also brought people and books together in the City Library, in the Kunsthalle (Municipal Art Gallery) or in the communal cinema.
The MA course Transnational Literary Studies: Literature, Theatre, Film teaches the description, reflection and analysis of the complex transnational, literary, filmic and theatre-related production and reception processes of a border-crossing nature. Migration and borders, diaspora and exile, identity and history, travel and being on the move are transnational issues par excellence. With an interdisciplinary and transmedial focus, academic, practical and transfer-oriented parts of the course complement each other. Theatre schedules and festival programmes are integrated into teaching.
The Research Centre for Eastern European Studies is, on the other hand, an external research facility at the University of Bremen, founded in 1982 in the middle of the Cold War. Today the research centre sees itself as a place where the Eastern Bloc and its societies with their specific culture are dealt with and current developments in the post-Soviet region are analysed. The broadest possible knowledge transfer is also highly important here.
Knowledge transfer is a top priority in and at the university – there are interesting transfer projects in almost all faculties. Not least because of this, the university has twice been successful in the application for Eine Uni – Eine Stadt – Ein Buch (One University - One City - One Book) from the Stifterverband deutsche Wissenschaft (the Donors' Association for the Promotion of Humanities and Sciences in Germany) the ZEIT Foundation and the Klaus Tschira Foundation. In 2018 the book King Cotton. A History of Global Capitalism by Sven Beckert acted as a starting point to intensify the dialogue between the campus university and the Hanseatic and Port City about its colonial past. In 2020/21 – without even suspecting this when submitting the application documents – The Plague by Albert Camus was the book of the hour, which has been and is widely examined and discussed because of its multifaceted nature and its relevance to topicality. The highly topical theme of questioning solidarity anew is shaping a university and a city.