In an attempt to revive the glories of Germany's pre-Great War North Atlantic liners, the North German Lloyd Shipping Company decided, in the mid-1920s, to upgrade and transform their New York service with a pair of strikingly modern turbine steamers with which it could also challenge for the Blue Riband trophy. Ordered together, it was intended that the two ships would be built to one timetable so that both could enter service at the same time even though, in the event, Bremen was completed nine months ahead of her sister Europa due to a serious dockside fire which severely damaged the latter.
The order for Bremen went to Deschimag, AG 'Weser' in the city after which she was named and she was launched on 16th August 1928, the day after Europa. Completed on 24th June 1929, she was registered at 51,656 tons gross and measured 938 feet in length with a 102 foot beam. Fitted with quadruple screws driven by 135,000shp. Weser geared turbines, she could cruise at 27 knots although this was significantly improved after engine modifications in 1933. With accommodation for 800 First, 500 Second, 300 Tourist and 600 Third class passengers, she was the acme of contemporary German design and engineering and she ushered in the art deco era of ship building which would reach its peak with the fabled Normandie. Clearing Bremerhaven on her maiden voyage for New York on 16th July 1929, Bremen took the Blue Riband for the westward crossing with an average speed of 27.83 knots, beating the record set by the ageing Mauretania back in 1909. It was a heady moment for Germany and, between them, Bremen and Europa then held the record until August 1933 when it fell to the new Italian contender Rex.
Throughout the 1930s, the German sisters (Bremen and Europa) operated a regular and reliable service which attracted the travelling public even though passenger numbers began to fall as anti-German feeling increased after Hitler came to power. On 28th August 1939, Bremen docked in New York for the last time and left port two days later without passengers. Receiving news of the outbreak of War, she altered course and made for Murmansk where she remained until running home to Bremerhaven in December. Once back in her home port, she became a naval accommodation ship and although she was later sent to Hamburg for conversion into a troopship for the invasion of England, this work was never completed and she soon returned to her previous rôle in Bremerhaven. She was still there on 16th March 1941 when a disgruntled cabin-boy deliberately started a fire in one of her storerooms which spread rapidly and soon engulfed the entire ship. Damaged beyond repair, she was scrapped where she lay even though her last remains were not disposed of until after the War ended.