The phrase “last but not least” comes to mind when I think of Passau. My Viking River ship had sailed down the Rhine, turned left onto the Main River near Frankfort, and finally, merged with the Danube just west of Regensburg. Just three miles from the border with Austria, we docked for one last stop in Germany, at the tiny town of Passau, which squats on a narrow peninsula at the confluence of the Danube, Inn, and Ilz Rivers.
From the waterfront, we climbed to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the cultural and geographic center of the village. Even with twin towers topped by onion domes, the church’s unadorned white exterior was uninspiring. The interior, however, was a much different story. Corinthian columns soared to a ceiling where superb frescoes were surrounded by lavish baroque decorations. Above the main door stood the great organ, which, along with four other organs positioned around the nave, forms largest cathedral organ in the world. Featuring 17,774 pipes and 233 registers, it is played from one central console. This is the reason I had come, to listen to the famous organ concert in Passau, conducted Monday through Saturday at high noon.
Click on above photo to view it in large format: Built in the middle of the Regnitz River, the 14th century Old Town Hall in Bamberg, Germany (Altes Rathaus) features a facade decorated with trompe d’oeil frescoes. Its unique location is said to be the result of an uprising by the common folk, who in those days were subject to the rule of their Bishop. When their town hall burned down, they petitioned the Bishop to allow rebuilding on a parcel of his land. Concerned over recent demands from residents who wished to make Bamberg a free city, the Bishop refused, assuming any such structure would be used as a meeting place for those who intended to usurp him.
The residents, however, were not deterred. They drove pilings into the middle of the river and built an artificial island, upon which they constructed their new city hall. Originally built in a Gothic style, Baroque and Rococo touches were added by Johann Jakob Michael Küchel in 1756. The murals on the exterior walls were painted by Anwar Johann. The Altes Rathaus is one of the many magnificent sites I saw during my Grand European Tour with Viking River Cruises.
Cruises are not a great way to get to know places in any depth. At most, guests have a few hours in each destination. But they are a good way to sample a variety of destinations, in order to know which places might be worth a return visit, and this is exactly what happened in Germany during my Grand European Tour with Viking River. I liked Miltenberg, Rothenburg, Bamberg, Nuremberg, and Passau, but I loved Regensburg.
It’s hard to say exactly why Regensburg made such an impression on me. The woman who conducted our walking tour was an impressive guide – among the best so far on our cruise. Certainly, the extra free time we had in this town had a lot to do with my experience. But I think the fact that the new Auxiliary Bishop for the region, Josef Graf, was being installed at the St. Peter Cathedral that very morning, had much to do with my experience in Regensburg.
The cathedral was off limits to tourists during the ceremony, so I used the extra free time to wander around town, poking into narrow cobblestone alleyways and wandering through archways that framed colorful streetscapes. I concentrated on the Old Town area, which UNESCO describes as “the only authentically preserved large medieval city in Germany.” Since it escaped unscathed during World War II, its medieval structures are original rather than reproductions, including numerous square towers built by wealthy merchants who competed to see who could build the tallest. Several of them punctuated the city landscape: a serious looking gray tower, the lavish banana-colored Town Hall, the peach-toned tower that tops the city’s entrance arch, and my particular favorite, a salmon tower tucked into the corner of an L-shaped cobblestone lane. Read More