Anyone who knows me knows that the first thing I do when I travel to a new location is look for the most unusual or unique thing that area has to offer. There’s a huge market for things that are not mainstream, though unfortunately it doesn’t get featured regularly because many locations are afraid to tap into that. Lucky for me, I found myself in the beautiful city of Bremen in North Germany, and its old-town city center has that special element that fairy-tales are made of. In fact, the Brothers Grimm did write a tale about Bremen entitled The Town Musicians of Bremen, and the city center holds many cute nods to this old story, of course. But buried under the gorgeous fairy-tale feel of the beautiful city of Bremen and, more specifically, under Saint Peter’s Cathedral, is a crypt with eight natural mummified bodies in glass coffins. Of course, the second I heard this, I had to see these Bleikeller Mummies for myself. I was lucky enough to be given access to these mysterious mummies, and I’m here today to share all of the details with you. If you’re ever in Bremen, I encourage you wholeheartedly to experience all the beauty this town has to offer, but if you can, try to take a journey down below St. Peter’s Cathedral to experience the Bleikeller Mummies of Bremen, too.
Why are there mummies under Bremen?
First thing is first, why are there mummies under Bremen? Well, according to my guide, these bodies were stored in the church, as bodies could be stored within the church while awaiting identification. Time must have passed without their identification, and these mummies were forgotten for a time. As the story goes, in the late 17th century, an organ maker was assigned a portion of St. Peter’s Cathedral’s basement to do his work in, and to his surprise, when he got down there, he found these eight bodies. To add to the surprise, they were found naturally mummified by the elements.
How were they mummified?
It was originally thought that these mummies were naturally mummified because they were stored with lead. You see, the basement these mummies were stored in was originally used as a lead cellar for renovations on the roof of the church. This gives the chamber, and its mummies within, their name, Bleikeller (which is German for lead cellar). But just like in the case of the Mummies of Guanajuato (where it was originally believed they were mummified by the natural elements in the soil and it wound up being for a completely different reason), scientists now believe that these Bleikeller mummies were mummified by the dry air that they were sealed into the crypt with for many years. The air in the cellar was believed to be so dry that it dried out the bodies, though there are still some who believe that it was a combination of the dry air and the lead.
Visiting the mummies today
Today, there are eight mummies in the Bleikeller crypt of St. Peter’s Cathedral but only seven that can be seen on display in glass coffins (with the eighth in a beautifully ornate stone-carved coffin). Many of them were identified, with their own stories mounted above them where you can read about them, including one soldier shot in battle (whose bullet wound was found when the mummy was x-rayed) and a husband and wife who are strangely separated in different rooms. When asked why they were separated, one of the caretakers joked, “Well, they weren’t getting along in life, so this is likely what they would have wanted in death.”
The mummies are housed down below St Peter’s Cathedral and can be accessed via the garden along the side of the chapel through a stairway down into the cellar. They are housed in a small cellar crypt which is made up of only a few white rooms decorated with a few ornate statues around the coffins. It is important to note that despite viewing the mummies, you are still in a church, so please be respectful and avoid taking any closeups of the bodies. Though I’m sure the sight will stay with you, as these mummies are incredibly well-preserved, and many still have their teeth and nails.
It’s also important to note that the mummies are closed off to the public in the winter months from December until April, so you need to plan accordingly if you want to make sure you get to visit them. They are also closed off on Mondays and Tuesdays.
And on your way out, if you’re still in the mood for some macabre attractions, look for this nice spot on the ground which marks the spot of the last public execution in Bremen, which happened in 1831.
All in all, Bremen is a wonderfully beautiful city with a rich and powerful history, like most places in Germany. It’s important to visit there if you’re ever in Northern Germany. However, I encourage you, if you dare, to step away from the beauty and the charm for just a few moments to get a glimpse at some of the more unusual and macabre attractions, including paying your respects to the Bleikeller Mummies.