Germany’s Medieval Treasures: The villages of Bavaria
One of the joys of exploring Europe’s waterways is that you encounter so many beautifully preserved medieval settlements. Of course in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the rivers were important trade routes, hence the number of castle keeps along the Rhine, there, largely to extract river tolls from those transporting goods on the waterways. It made sense to settle close to the rivers.
Our Avalon cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam takes us to some of Germany’s most romantic and picturesque medieval towns and villages.
Regensberg tracés its history back to Roman times. It was a military settlement. The town boasts a beautiful vaulted stone bridge that dates back almost nine hundred years, The Steinerne Brucke.
We’re tied up right next to the old town so its just a short stroll to explore its many delights. As recently as the 1960’s there were plans to tear down all the old buildings and replace them with new ones. But fortunately good sense prevailed and since the 1970’s locals have dedicated themselves to preserving the old quarter. Roman ruins are being routinely discovered under existing facades.
Regensberg is a lively town. Its home to three universities. There are still sixteen thousand people living in the old centre, keeping it vibrant. Top floors of buildings are reserved for apartment living and the ground floors are devoted to retail, galleries and businesses. This town is so ancient that the ‘new’ part is the section that was built after 900AD! Not many shops can boast original gothic arches ….but plenty of them do in Regensberg. (see below)
The chestnut trees are a big feature here as there are numerous beer gardens. The chestnuts are traditionally used to keep the cellars cool. Regensberg apparently has the highest concentration of bars in Germany.
As you wander around the old town you’ll notice the occasional tombstone inserted into the upper walls of some buildings. Those are Jewish gravestones. Regensberg was a major centre of Jewish learning in the middle ages, but in 1519 the jews were expelled. The final insult to them, the desecration of their graves.
Bamberg is a market town. It sits on the Regnitz River near its confluence with the Main and is surrounded by market gardens. We visit on a Saturday and the old town is humming. You’ll find wonderfully fresh fruit and vegetables here, grown locally and spectacular beer. There are either nine or eleven breweries depending on who you talk to, welcome to Bavaria!
Bamberg was founded in 1500 BC. Its known as the Franconian Rome because its built, like Rome, on seven hills. Each hill is topped by an ancient church, the most imposing, Bamberg’s Imperial Cathedral, part Romanesque and part Gothic it commands a stunning view over the town. Pope Clement 11 (1005-1047) is buried here, one of the few popes to be entombed outside Rome. But the most entrancing of the Cathedral’s many treasures is the simple statue of the Bamberg Horseman. Relatively small, he’s tucked in behind a column near the entrance. No-one knows who the knight is and maybe the mystery adds to his allure but his statue is widely regarded as a gothic masterpiece.
The medieval palace is next door to the cathedral. To stand in its courtyard is to be transported to the middle ages. They hold concerts and plays here now. Its a perfect half timbered movie set …in fact they filmed Orlando Bloom’s Three Musketeers here. The ‘New Residence’ is opposite the cathedral. Its an immense 300 year old baroque style building that nearly bankrupted the church! Needless to say the Bishop’s grand design remains unfinished. He did however manage to plant a magnificent rose garden. If you’re visiting in the summer the roses will be in bloom.
The Medieval Palace (above)
Rose gardens at the Bishop’s Palace (two above)
The Rathaus (above)
One of Bamberg’s most photographed buildings would have to be its Town Hall or Rathaus which dates back to 1462. It sits alone in the middle of the river and is buttressed on both sides by ancient stone bridges. As legend has it, Bamberg’s Bishop refused to allow the townspeople to have the land they wanted for a Town Hall, so they drove stakes into the river, creating an island and built their Town Hall there instead. Its walls are covered in recently restored frescoes, don’t miss the cheeky cherub whose three dimensional leg pops out of the painting on the Eastern facade. One of the most delightful things about these ancient buildings is that all these years on they are still in use (there’s a fine porcelain collection in the Town Hall) and 21st century life goes on around them. Kayaking is popular here and we spent time just hanging over one of the many bridges watching some daredevils work their way down a slalom course in the rapids right next to the Rathaus.
Bamberg is a university town. there are 13,000 students here and again the town is lively with their presence. The old town is World Heritage listed and our enthusiastic guide, Fritz, tells us the beer is world heritage too!
Brewing is an ancient art here, the oldest brewery dates back to 1533. Bamberg is famous for its smokey beer or Rauchbier. Brewers dry the malted barley over an open fire, hence the smokey flavour. At 2.90 E for a litre its a steal! Tastes very much like your average Christmas Ham. We enjoyed it ….especially when it was accompanied by the ever present Bamburger Bratwurst with sauerkraut and bread liberally plastered in sweet mustard! Do take time to head into one of the historic pubs …. they’re full of atmosphere and well worth a visit.