We arose early today, ate breakfast, and caught the bus at 8:30 a.m. We were headed to the town of Kelheim, the beautiful Danube Gorge, and the Weltenburg Abbey.
The Main-Danube Canal joins the Danube near Kelheim. We boarded a boat at Kelheim in preparation for cruising along the Danube Gorge up to the Weltenburg Abbey. While we situated ourselves on the boat we could look up the hill to see the Befreiungshalle (Hall of Liberation), which was commissioned by the king of Bavaria, Ludwig I, as a memorial to the “War of Liberation” (war against Napoleon in 1813-1815). This Hall of Liberation monument is a circular building with statues of the “goddesses of victory” encircling it inside and out. The shields of the 34 goddesses inside are made of bronze that had been melted down from a captured French cannon.
We began cruising up the Danube Gorge toward the Weltenburg Abbey, which is located on a gravelly spit of land at the end of a narrow valley. According to our Across Europe with Avalon guidebook, the “vertical cliffs flanking the Danube are as much as 260 feet (80 m) high, while the river itself narrows down to just 360 feet (110 m) as its turbulent waters surge through the gorge.” This description seems a bit dramatic to me, as the water certainly did not seem “turbulent” at the time we were on it, though perhaps when the river floods, which it does fairly often, the water really does “surge” through. Anyway, the cruise was pleasant and the views of the rock formations interesting, though it was quite cold and rainy on this day, so we didn’t want to linger outside on the upper deck too long taking photos.
We finally came around the bend where we could see the Abbey in the distance. Here we left the boat and hurried along the walkway. Upon reaching the side of the Abbey, our guide showed us the many marks and dates on the building where water had crested during flood times. The last flood to inundate the Abbey was in June of 2013.
The Weltenburg Abbey, a Benedictine monastery, was founded in 617. Founded by Irish or Scottish monks, it is the oldest monastery in Bavaria. It is comprised of several Baroque buildings, the most important of which is the Abbey church, which was dedicated to St. George and built by the Asam Brothers between 1716 and 1739. According to our Avalon guidebook, this church is “one of the finest accomplishments of the Asam Brothers, whose achievements in the fields of sculpture, stucco-work, painting and architecture made them leading German artists of the Baroque period.”
We walked inside the church, which was absolutely gorgeous. However, it was not lighted, so it was difficult to get any good photos. Here are the best I could get.
After viewing the church, we exited and walked across the the courtyard toward the center of the complex. Here was the famous Weltenburg Abbey brewery, the Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei. This brewery was founded in 1050 and is probably the oldest monastery brewery in the world. According to Wikipedia, their “‘Weltenburger Kloster Barock Dunkel’ beer was given the World Beer Cup award in 2004, 2008 and 2012 as the best Dunkel beer in the world.” They also brew an “Asam Bock” beer here. Both are “strong, dark ales with a slightly sweet flavor,” according to our Avalon guidebook. There is a restaurant on the ground floor of the wing of the monastery that faces the Danube River. We were ushered inside to sample some of their tasty beer and a delicious pretzel.
We left the Abbey and walked along a road up to the waiting bus. On the way, he saw a monument that was placed here in 1975 in honor of three American army soldiers who drowned in the river while on duty. They were Dennis Relihan, Robert Adams and Lucky Cordle.
After we returned to the ship & ate lunch, we stepped out onto a wide prominade that ran parallel to the Danube and met our guide who would take us on the walking tour of the city of Regensburg. Regensburg, which is located at the confluence of the Danube and Regen Rivers, is one of the oldest cities in Germany. It dates from the Stone Age, about 500 BC, back to the time of the Celts. The Celtic name for the oldest settlement that was built near the area was Radasbona. Later, around 90 AD, the Romans arrived and built a fort there. Then in 179 AD, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the Romans built another fortress which they called Castra Regina, which means “fortress by the river Regen.” This fortress stood in what is now Regensburg’s “Altstadt” (the oldest part of the city). This medieval area is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Fortunately, Regensburg suffered very little damage during WWII. According to Wikipedia, “Regensburg was home to both a Messerschmitt Bf 109 aircraft factory and an oil refinery, which were bombed by the Allies on August 17, 1943.” The most important cultural building to be damaged or destroyed during the war was a Romanesque church, the Obermünster. It was destroyed in March of 1945 by an air raid and was never rebuilt, though its belfry did survive the bombing.
We began following the guide along the promenade. He told us that Regensburg has a population of about 150,000 people. It is also home to the University of Regensburg, which was founded in 1965. Today it has about 25,000 students. He told us that Pope Benedict XVI used to be a professor of theology there from 1969 to 1977. Pope Benedict had a house in Pentling, about one km from Regensburg, but he has been an “honorary citizen” of Regensburg since 2006. (We had driven past his house on the bus earlier when on the way to Kelheim.)
In front of us we could see the famous Steinerne Brücke (Stone Bridge). Actually, we could see parts of it, much of it was covered due to ongoing construction work. This bridge was built between 1135 and 1146. It is the oldest bridge of its style in Germany. According to Wikipedia, the bridge “opened major international trade routes between northern Europe and Venice, and this began Regensburg’s golden age as a residence of wealthy trading families. Regensburg became the cultural center of southern Germany and was celebrated for its gold work and fabrics.”
To the left of the bridge, we could also see the Salzstadel, a very high-peaked building which now houses a café and restaurant. The Salzstadel had been built from 1616 to 1620 as a storehouse for salt. (Speaking of salt, many of the people of Regensburg had made their fortunes trading in salt, which was apparently mined nearby.)
From the promenade we could also see part of the Brückturm (Bridge Tower). This stands on the top of the bridge and used to serve as a fortified gate. It was the only opening for visitors wishing to enter the Altstadt. Today there is another gate standing beside the tower. This one–a wider one–was built in 1902 to allow a tram (now gone) to take people and goods back and forth. The Bridge Tower now houses a museum (the Brückturmmuseum), which we did not have time to visit.
As we neared the Salt House we could also see the famous Historische Wurstküche (the Old Sausage Kitchen). This is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, sausage kitchen in the world, having existed since 1135. The restaurant is quite small, but there are plenty of tables outside with great views of the bridge and river. They serve about 6,000 sausages per day! The sausages are served with sauerkraut and homemade mustard. (Our ship’s cruise director had given each of us a coupon for a free plate of sausages and a beer at the Sausage Kitchen, so we would be coming back here later to redeem our coupons.)
Now we walked through the streets of the Altstadt on our way to see what remains of the old Roman fortress (Castra Regina) built in 179 AD, namely, the old gateway. It is called Porta Praetoria. It was very interesting but, of course, I was disappointed that not more of the fortress was still there, though part of the East Tower of the fortress also stands.
In this photo you can see the famous Adler-Apotheke. This pharmacy was founded in 1610 and is one of the oldest pharmacies in Regensburg.
We walked through the gateway and up the stairs into a courtyard. Here we saw the Domschatzmuseum. This was the former residence of the bishop and is now a museum where church treasures, monstrances for public display of relics, and tapestries are exhibited. We could see part of the Regensburg Cathedral (the Dom St. Peter) behind the museum building. Behind and to the right we could see the clock tower of the Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall).
From here we made our way over to St. Peter’s Cathedral, which took more than six centuries to construct, from 1250 to the completion of its spires in 1869. We did not go inside.
Next, we walked past some other interesting buildings and stores, including the master hatmaker’s store, Hutkönig (the Hat King), Der Hutmacher am Dom! This is where the “globally unique hatter and master stylist,” Andreas Nuslan, sells his masterpieces. The store brochure states that “the ‘Hat King’ has been a well-loved address for hat enthusiasts from around the world.” They have been making and selling hats here for five generations, more than 100 years. We passed the store during the tour, but Bill and I, and also Dom and Sam, went back after the tour was over to go inside. The store was large, with a couple of rooms on the main floor and at least three more rooms upstairs, all full of wonderful hats. They had all shapes and colors of hats, for both men and women. They were handmade felt hats trimmed with feathers, leather, fabric, ribbons, even antlers! I especially wanted to buy a gorgeous blue hat, but all the hats were quite expensive. Sam did buy a beautiful green feathered hairband to wear for her and Dom’s upcoming wedding in May. You can learn more about the Hutkönig at: http://www.hutkoenig.de/en/index.html
Now our guide told us about how the many wealthy trading families from Regensburg’s early days had competed with each other to show off their wealth. One way they did this was by building tall towers next to their residences. Though the towers were connected to their houses, most were not actually used then as living quarters–they were just empty towers! The goal was to see who could build the highest tower in the city. That honor went to the Goldener Turm (Golden Tower), built in 1260 on Wahlenstraße (Wahlen Road).
According to http://www.germany.travel, “Regensburg is famous for its medieval patrician towers – symbols of the defensive strength, prosperity and power of their inhabitants. These fortified houses owned by wealthy patrician families with their tall towers dominated the townscape here in the Middle Ages – and many of them are still standing today. The most striking is the Golden Tower, now a student hall of residence. Dating from around 1260, it has nine (stories) and stands 50 (meters) high.”
We entered the Haidplatz (market square area) which, according to the site http://www.regensburg.de, is “one of the oldest and most traditional squares in Regensburg’s historic Old City. On the northern side you can see the restaurant ‘Zum Goldenen Kreuz’ (the Golden Cross), where Kaiser Karl V was a regular visitor. Next to it is the neo-classical Thon-Dittmer-Palais (Thon-Dittmer Palace) which was last owned by the successful merchant family von Thon-Dittmer.” The square is also the home of the beautiful Fountain of Justice.
Next, our tour guide led us to a residential area nearby where there were a few more patrician towers. What was most interesting about this area, though, was the house where Johannes Kepler, the famed astronomer, lived for a short while and died there in 1630. Kepler “was a contemporary of Galileo Galilei and…together with him was one of the founders of modern science,” according to the site http://www.regensburg.de. “The house where he (lived and) died has been reconstructed in a form that is true to the original version with historic rooms and numerous exhibits which give us an insight into Kepler’s life and work.” Kepler is known for his laws of planetary motion and his Kepler conjecture. His many works include The Sacred Mystery of the Cosmos, New Astronomy, Harmony of the Worlds, the Epitome of Copernican Astronomy, The Dream (published after his death), and others. His works formed “the foundations for Isaac Newton’s theory of universal gravitation,” according to Wikipedia.
Kepler, who once wrote, “I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses,” was born in the Free Imperial City of Weil der Stadt in what is now Germany. He spent much of his last years traveling between Prague, Linz, Ulm, Sagan, and Regensburg. Not long after he arrived back in Regensburg, he became ill and died on November 15, 1630 at the age of 58. He was buried in the city, but his exact burial site was lost after the Swedish army invaded and destroyed the churchyard during the Thirty Years War. Kepler had written his own epitaph: “I measured the skies, now the shadows I measure, Skybound was the mind, earthbound the body rests.”
Our guide led us up some stairs and around through the gateway to the Rathausplatz, another market square area where the Altes Rathaus (Old City Hall) stands. Part of the Altes Rathaus dates from the 13th century. It now houses the Reichstagsmuseum (Imperial Diet Museum) and has a medieval torture chamber in the basement. There was not enough time for us to go inside.
We walked through the square and back toward the Old Sausage Kitchen, where we were planning to cash in our coupons for “Brotzeit.” According to Jeannette, our cruise director, “Brotzeit” is “an old Bavarian tradition (that) consists of a light meal in between the main meals.”
We turned right and found ourselves back at the Historic Sausage Kitchen, where we met Lois, Fox and Ann and ate our free sausages with the homemade mustard. We also ordered some good Bodenwöhrer Familienbrauerei Jacob bier. Regensburg, by the way, has three breweries and two brew pubs. They produce a variety of beers, from lighter Pilsners to wheat beers, to heavy Dunkels. According to http://www.germany.travel, “Regensburg has the highest concentration of beer in Germany.”
After we ate our sausages, Bill and I walked across the street to Drubba, a nice gift shop where they had lots of beautiful cuckoo clocks, bier steins and other German gifts to purchase. We bought ourselves each a beautiful bier stein and requested that they be shipped to our home in Montana, so we wouldn’t have to pack them in our luggage.
Jeannette arrived at the Old Sausage Kitchen, and all of us split into two groups. We went with Jeannette’s group, and the other group had a different guide. There were two different violin makers in the city so, in keeping with our music-themed cruise, each group would go visit one. Jeannette led us up to see Helmut Poser, a Master Violinmaker in the Haidplatz area. Mr. Poser’s shop was amazing! He not only makes violins, but also violas, bass violins, and cellos, and he also repairs them for people. He showed us the basics of how he makes them, and we were allowed to pass around a very heavy piece of ebony, which he uses for certain parts of the instruments. He also makes bows, and there was a large bundle of horse hair hanging on the wall. Mr. Poser explained that the schools only allow five or six people per year into the Master Violinmaker program, and that the students and graduates must adhere to strict regulations regarding the craft. In addition to being a Master Violinmaker, he demonstrated to us that he was also an excellent musician. For those who are interested in learning more about Helmut Poser, here is his website: http://www.en.der-geigenbaumeister.de/?PHPSESSID=6ucum2td78d7r1q9r19pr4as66
After the demonstration, we walked back to the ship, as we needed to be aboard by 3:30 p.m. Once the ship got underway, we could see what looked just like the Parthenon in Greece above the river. This was another idea of Crown Prince Ludwig I of Bavaria in 1807. He called it the Walhalla (or Valhalla) Hall of Fame and Honor. According to our ship newsletter, the Walhalla “was meant as a place for the commemoration of great figures and events in ethnic German history, at the time covering 1,800 years, beginning with the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (9 AD)…Ludwig’s Walhalla was intended not only for warriors but also for scientists, writers, clerics and specifically also for women.”
In 1826 the then King Ludwig I commissioned a temple near Regensburg to be modeled after Athens’ Parthenon. There are 358 steps that lead up to the temple from the Danube River. “On the Walhalla’s inauguration on October 18, 1842, there were 96 busts, plus 64 plaques for persons or events of which no portrait was available on which to model a sculpture.” Being “of the German tongue”, as well as having been dead for at least 20 years, is required for the persons being honored. Now, the government of Bavaria decides who will be added to the monument. So far, there are 195 honorees (65 plaques and 130 busts), covering 2,000 years of history. Some of those honored include Mozart, Charlemagne, Beethoven, Albrecht Dürer, Goethe, Wagner, Martin Luther, Edith Stein, and Albert Einstein.
After dinner on the ship, we were treated to some “Oom-pah-pah” music in the main lounge by Hans O’Marusch and his One Man Bavarian Band. He played several different instruments and seemed to be quite talented. The problem was that he kept picking out people from the audience to join him on the stage and perform funny antics, such as playing the washboard while wearing a funny hat, or singing something weird, etc. People kept sneaking out of the lounge, probably worried that he would pick them next! I tried to get some good photos, but it was difficult, especially since I didn’t want to get any closer for fear of attracting attention. Pretty soon, I ended up sneaking out myself.
We had a fantastic day visiting the Weltenburg Abbey and Regensburg. I decided that Regensburg was one of my favorite German cities, and I hope I’ll be able to come back and visit again someday!