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In the city originally administered by a royal bailiff, Charlemagne founded a diocese, which gained great power when the Archdiocese of Hamburg was united with it and St. Ansgar (834-885) moved his seat here. Under Emperor Otto II, the archbishops made themselves lords of the city and gradually acquired an area of over 5000 square kilometers. The bourgeoisie soon grew so strong that it was able to withdraw more and more from spiritual rule. However, the imperial freedom was only recognized by Emperor Ferdinand in 1646 after the Reformation had long since found its way and in 1645 the last of the Protestant bishops since 1558 had been expelled..


At the unwinding of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 the Free Imperial City of Bremen (as of 1646, after earlier privileges of autonomy of 1186) was not mediatised but became a sovereign state officially titled Free Hanseatic City of Bremen. Its currency was the Bremen thaler (until 1873). In 1811 the First French Empire annexed the city-state. Upon the first, albeit only preliminary, defeat of Napoléon Bonaparte, Bremen resumed its pre-1811 status as city-state in 1813.

The Vienna Congress of 1815 confirmed Bremen's—as well as Frankfurt's, Hamburg's, and Lübeck's—independence after pressuring by Bremen's emissary, and later burgomaster, Johann Smidt. Bremen became one of 39 sovereign states of the German Confederation. In 1827 the state of Bremen bought the tract of land from the Kingdom of Hanover, where future Bremerhaven would be established. Bremen became part of the North German Confederation in 1867 and became an autonomous component state of the newly founded German Empire in 1871 and stayed with Germany in its following forms of government.

Bremen, which in 1935 had become a regular city at the de facto abolition of statehood of all component German states within the Third Reich, was reestablished as a state in 1947. Being—at that time—actually located in the British Zone of Occupation the Control Commission for Germany - British Element and the Office of Military Government for Germany, U.S. (OMGUS) agreed in 1947 to constitute the cities of Bremen and then Wesermünde—in their borders altered in 1939—as a German state named again Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, becoming at that occasion an exclave of the American Zone of Occupation within the British zone. In 1949 the city-state joined the then West German Federal Republic of Germany.




The Seal

The earliest tradition of seals comes from the 13th century, it was first mentioned in a document in 1229, but there is a high probability that a seal existed some time earlier. These were created in the course of the development of the city, when the young city council (first documented in a document in 1225) wanted to conclude independent contracts, for example with the Rüstringer Frisians in 1220.

On the left you can see a bishop with a bishop's cap and a crook in his right hand (the city had been the seat of the bishop since 780), and on the right an emperor with a crown and orb in his left hand, who hold the Bremen Cathedral above them. Between the two you can see the crenellated city wall with the gate opening in the middle. It is believed that the two are Willehad and Charlemagne, as medieval tradition ascribes the origin of the city and the cathedral to them. The inscription of the seal reads SIGILLVM BREMENSIS CIVITATIS (seal of the city of Bremen). As a result of conflicts between the council and guilds within the city, but also with Albert II of Braunschweig-Lüneburg, the archbishop of Bremen at the time, who was kicked out on 28 June 1366 by the citizenry and Count Konrad von Oldenburg, the stamp became this first seal (probably) destroyed in 1366. The council stated on August 9, 1366: “Unde dat inghezegel let wy ok enttwey slan, do it only in unse wolt wedder quam” (we also broke the seal when it came under our control).

Immediately after the old one was destroyed, a new seal was introduced in 1366. On it sat the emperor with a crown, scepter and orb on the left, and on the right Saint Peter with the tiara, the pope's hat, a sword in his right hand and a key in his left. This representation can be traced back to two reasons. On the one hand, there was a third seal of the Bremen cathedral capital in use at this time with Mary with the child and Peter sitting together on a bench. On the other hand, the striving for freedom of the people of Bremen at this time is clearly expressed by their turning away from the bishop: the emperor takes the more important place on the left and the bishop, who stood for the old, archbishopric city lords, is replaced by the patron saint Peter as pope. This seal was officially valid for the sealing of real estate transactions until 10 January 1834, until a new inheritance and handicraft order was issued. It is in the archive today.



While the large seals always showed bishop and ruler, the key was shown on the small one. Already on the small secret seal, which has been in use since 1366, Peter can be seen enthroned above a coat of arms with a Gothic key. Since then, the key has also appeared on coins and on representations of the city. This is also the case on Bremen's Hanseatic flag, a banner that waved from the stern of the ships.

Secret Seal, 1366

Seated bishop and arms with key per bend



The Arms


On a picture in the Town Hall.1532









This Bremen key plays a special role for the smallest German state of Bremen. It comes as an attribute of Peter, the patron saint of Bremen Cathedral. So this key is a heavenly key, derived from the biblical quote “I want to give you the key of the kingdom of heaven” The word key is in the plural. In many coats of arms that refer to the keys of Peter, a gold and a silver key are used, as is the case in the coat of arms of the Vatican City. According to the traditional interpretation, one is to "bind" and one to "loosen".

The colors of the coat of arms have always been the colors of the Hanseatic League: red and white. Supporters are first found in the 16th century. At that time they were still angels, but from 1568 they were replaced by lions. A helmet was also added in 1617, which was never an official part of the coat of arms, but is still present on the flag's coat of arms today. The crown on the coat of arms dates from the late 16th century.



The coat of arms was officially confirmed by Napoleon in 1811. This is the only coat of arms in Bremen in which the colors differ from the historical ones. It showed three golden bees in a red chief, including a black key in gold. The coat of arms was confirmed again in 1833, and in its present form in 1891.

With the coat of arms ordinance of 1891, the Bremen coat of arms is described as "by a silver key of Gothic form in a red shield, which is inclined to the right and with the beard facing left."


Bremen today has both a small, medium and large coat of arms. The latter can be found, for example, on the sleeves of the Bremen police officers. There is also a flag coat of arms. In this form it was the great coat of arms of Bremen in the German Empire. Today it can only be seen on flags and in the seal of the President of the Senate. It is not an official coat of arms.

Achievement 1891





Lesser arms 1891

Smaller arms 1891



Great Seal with arms of state

Smaller seal with larger achievement


Smaller seal with lesser arms

Smaller seal with smaller arms


The arms were established by the following laws:


Der Senat ordnet an

§ 1. Das große bremische Wappen wird geblded duch ein schräge nach rechts aufgerichteten, mit dem Barte linkshin gewandten silbernen  Schlüssel gotihischer Form in einem roten Schilde. Auf dem Schilde ruht eine goldene Krone, welche über dem Edelsteinen geschmückte Reife fünf (sichtbare) Zinken in Blattform zeigt. Der Schild ruht auf einer Konsole oder auf einenm bandartigen Fußgestell und wird von zwei augerichteten rückwärts schauenden Löwen mit den Vorderpranken gehalten.

Das mittlere Wappen wird gebildet durch den gleichen Schlüssel im roten, mit der goldenen Krone gekrönten Schilde.

Das kleine Wappen wird lediglich durch den gleichen Schlüssel ohne Schild gebildet.


§ 6. Die Staatsflagge ist von Rot und Weiß mindestens achtmal gestreift und längs des Flaggenstocks mit der den Streifen entsprechenden Zahl abwechselnd roter und weißer Würfel in zwei Reihen gesäumt. Die Zahl der roten und die der weißen Streifen soll stets gerade sein. In der Mitte hat die Flagge ein  viereckigese weißes Feld, im welchem, falls sie mindestens zwölfmal gestreift ist, das in § 1 geschilderte große Wappen dargestellt ist, jedoch mit der Abänderung,  das an Stelle der Krone ein gekrönter Helm mit rot und weißer Helmdecke tritt; die Helmzier bildet ein nach rechts gewandter wachsender Löwe, der mit den Pranken den Wappenschlüssel, den Bart nach liks gekehrt, senkrecht hält.

Wenn die Flagge nur achtmal gestreift ist, so erhält das Mittefled das in § 1 geschilderte mittlere Wappen.

Die Flaggen der im Staatsdienste sthenden Schiff führen außer dem Wappen in der obern rechten Ecke einen aufrecht stehenden blauen Anker.


Beschlossen Bremen in der Versammlung des SEnats am13. und bekannt gemacht am 17. November 1891[1]


The key in the coat of arms of Bremen comes from the patron saint of the cathedral and archdiocese, St. Peter. Two lions supported the coat of arms since the 16th century. Since the beginning of the 17th century, one can find the depiction with a helmet and crown, from which a lion climbed, which in turn held a key. The crown symbolizes Bremen's position as a free imperial city since 1646.


The achievement on the State Flag, 17.11.1891

H.G. Ströhl, 1895


State Flag with achievement (1891)

State Flag with lesser arms (1891)


State Flag for Shipping


Bremer Räterrepublik, 1919


The  Bremer Räterepublik was an unrecognised, short-lived state, existing 10 January - 4 Fbruary 1919. It consisted of the state of BremenGermany. The republic was established amid the German Revolution 


Otto Hupp, 1919


In 1404 the stone Roland was built in front of the Bremen town hall.

From the beginning he was a symbol of the city's "freedoms" and rights.



Bremer Roland

A predecessor of the Bremen Roland was made of wood and was overturned and burned by warriors of Archbishop Albert II on the night of 28th to 29th May, 1366. Like the new one, it had carried the imperial coat of arms and, like the other oldest Roland statues, was probably erected in the 1340s or 50s. In 1404, before the construction of the town hall began, the Bremen council had the new, stone Roland built . The stonemasons Claws Zeelleyher and Jacob Olde were paid 170 Bremen marks for this.


Inscription on the arms of the Bremer Roland:

„Freiheit tu ich euch öffentlich kund / die Karl und mancher Fürst fürwahr / dieser Stätte gegeben hat / dafür danket Gott, das ist mein Rat!“


("I publicly announce freedom to you / which Karl and many a prince have indeed given / to this place / thank God for that, that's my advice!")







Sleeve Patch







Bippen, Wilhelm von

Die Entwicklung des bremischen Wappens. In: Jahrb. D. Brem. Sammlungen 4 (1911), 1. Halbband p. 1e.v..

Grohne, E.

Zure Geschichte der deutschen und bremischen Hoheitszeichen. In: Bremisches Jahrbuch 46 (1959)

Tardel, Hermann

Der Bremer Schlüssel. Zur Geschichte des Wahrzeichens. Bremen, 1946.





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 © Hubert de Vries  2020-11-23





[1] Wappen und Flaggen der Bundesrwepublik Deutschalnd un uhrer Länder. Bundezentrale für Politische Bilung, Bonn. 1987