When we originally signed up for Viking’s European river cruise, the big-ticket items like Amsterdam, Vienna and Budapest were the main attractions for us, followed closely by the cities of Cologne and Nuremburg. Along the way, we were going to be stopping at a number of smaller towns and cities that frankly we had never heard of, so we had no idea what was in store for us, as we made our way to Regensburg, Germany on a lovely sunny Tuesday morning (July 9, 2019).
Due to the dangerously low water levels on the Danube, the Lif had been forced to stop at Deggendorf (rather than sailing all the way to Regensburg), and await further direction from the river authorities. For now, all river traffic heading west had been halted. Our ship’s captain was confident that he could make it, but the decision had been taken out of his hands, and he (and we), now had to wait to find out if the Lif’s passengers would have to travel upriver by bus to the next planned stop, Nuremburg.
After a quick and early breakfast on the ship, we boarded one of five buses bound for Regensburg, and settled in for a one hour bus-ride. Our driver was dressed in traditional Bavarian clothing complete with Lederhosen. he also had a lead foot!
The map below shows our route, and immediately upon leaving the parking lot, we crossed over the Danube and got onto the A3 heading northwest.
I swear that if there hadn’t been a speed limit on buses, our driver would have delivered us to Regensburg in half the time. He certainly pushed the limit and rode “cruise control” to the max. So much so, that at one point when we had to slow down, and ultimately stop for a construction zone, he had to last minute air-brake us to within inches of the truck in front of us.
Mary and I were sitting in the front seat to the right of him, and we were both putting our foot on the brakes as we watched this unfold in front of us. There was an audible “oof” from people in the rows behind us, followed by the rapid-fire sound of seat-belts suddenly being fastened. In retrospect, it was funny, but at the time, it was one of those “I almost peed a little” moments.
Shortly after this “incident”, we saw the exit sign for Regensburg, and once again we found ourselves crossing over the Danube. It was difficult to comprehend there could be low-water issues, as when you look at the picture below (taken from the bus), the river looks good.
Certainly no visible sand-bars or low banks on either side, although I understand you can’t really tell depth from this perspective.
Six days in, we pretty much knew the drill as far as what to do when we get off the bus. We look for a guide with a red “lollipop”, that says Viking Lif and our bus number – which on this day was 31F. Today, our tour guide was a Columbian-born gentleman named Carlos, and his English was so flawless, he sounded more like someone from New York, than South America.
Before we started our walking tour, we mingled around a memorial to a no longer existing railway that once ran from Regensburg to Walhalla. Central to the memorial was a steam engine that served the Walhalla Railway which operated daily from 1889 to 1969. The original tracks ran right down the middle of Main Street Stadtamhof, which is where we were about to begin our tour.
To give you some perspective on where we were and where we were going, the map below shows how the Danube splits into two channels as it passes through Regensburg. The green X indicates where the bus dropped us off, and we would be walking south, marked by the red arrow, through the market town of Stadtamhof, toward the ancient city centre of Regensburg.
Stadtamhof used to be considered “enemy territory”, as it was north of the bridge (where the red arrow stops on the map), and was part of Bavaria. Regensburg was a “Free Imperial City” for more than 600 years and was in fact the seat of Germany’s first parliament for 150 years. In 1809, Regensburg was conquered by Napoleon’s troops and turned over to Bavaria. Stadtamhof was “absorbed” into the city of Regensburg in 1924, but to many it still has and maintains its own identity.
As we began walking south along the main street of Stadtamhof, Carlos the Guide told us that just about every historical attack attempted against Regensburg, usually ran through Stadtamhof first. Therefore it was always the first place to suffer damage, starting with War of the Cities (in 1388), the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), and finally Napoleon’s campaign against the Austrians in 1809.
You’ll note from the picture above, the buildings lining Main Street Stadtamhof are brightly coloured, and might be considered new-looking compared to some of the older architecture we had seen on our tour thus far. That is because they were built in the 19th century during the time of the French Empire, although they are certainly not lavishly decorated as was the fashion at that time.
Continuing south along Main Street we began to close in on the entrance to the historic Steinerne Brucke (Stone Bridge), that connects Stadtamhof to the medieval city centre of Regensburg. The tower in the centre of the picture belongs to St. Peter’s Cathedral, and I’ll tell you a bit more about it, further along in this blog post.
As we started to make our way across the bridge, Carlos stopped us and pointed to a little building off to our right – St. Katherine’s Hospital.
Founded in the late 1200’s, it has been destroyed several times, just like the rest of Stadtamhof, but rebuilt again and again. Today it serves as an old people’s home for needy citizens, but what makes the building significant is that in the basement, there is a brewery that has been making beer for over 800 years. It is considered to be one of the oldest operating breweries in Germany, and still produces an entire line of popular craft beers.
Continuing across the Steinerne Brucke (Stone Bridge), we stopped about halfway as Carlos related some of its’ storied history to us. The Stone Bridge was built in only eleven years, probably in 1135–46, and for more than 800 years, it was the city’s only bridge across the river. Spanning the river across 16 stone arches, it is considered a masterwork of medieval construction and a defining landmark of Regensburg. It also served as model for other stone bridges built in Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries including the Elbe Bridge in Dresden, and the London Bridge across the Thames.
In the picture below, we are walking toward the only remaining tower of four that once guarded this bridge – the other three were on the Stadtamhof side of the river and were never rebuilt after being destroyed by Napoleon’s armies. It is through the archway to the right of the tower that we entered the ancient city centre. In 2006, the entire old town was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and with some 1400 carefully preserved medieval buildings, Regensburg looks much like it did during its heyday as a Free Imperial City.
The Bridge Tower was the only access into Regensburg until 1902 when three small houses were demolished to allow for construction of a broad ramp leading up to the bridge (see below). It has been pedestrian-only since 1997.
Just before passing through the gate, I turned back toward Stadtamhof and snapped the picture below. On the left hand side of the picture, you can see the edges of three of the stone bases that support the arches that support the Steinerne Brucke (Stone Bridge).
At Program Director Leonard’s Port talk the previous night, he told the assembled group that we were about to enter a region where bragging rights as to “who makes the best sausage”, are up for grabs. Front and centre for Regensburg’s bid for the title is the Alte Wurstkuche (Old Sausage Kitchen), Germany’s oldest restaurant.
At more than 500 years old, it is a favorite meeting place for locals and tourists, and serves up plates of little grilled sausages and sauerkraut for all to enjoy. Casual feedback among those from our group who did some sampling, was that the food was “okay”, and perhaps the experience of eating at such a historic spot was more memorable than the sausages.
Just beside the Old Sausage Kitchen is an impressive seven story building with a dramatically sloped roof – the Salzstadel, Regensburg’s historic salt store.
The Salzstadel was built in 1620 and it quickly became the city and region’s most important salt store. At that point in history, salt was seen as “white gold”, and a building of this stature gave Regensburg a monopoly in salt trading for the entire region. The building was restored between 1986 and 1989 and today it houses a restaurant, several shops and the city’s visitor center.
You can see what a dominant structure St. Peter’s Cathedral is, as one of the spires overlooks the entire city and in this case, down on us as we gathered in the square by the Old Sausage House and the Salzstadel.
We were now going to move away from the river, and Carlos the guide began leading us through the narrow streets of old Regensburg.
If you look toward the end of the street in the picture above, you’ll see the edge of a mural painted on the side of a building. That building is the Goliathhaus (Goliath House), a former castle dating back to around 1220. Check out the picture below to see the entire mural – the fight between David and Goliath.
The current painting was done in 1900, but similar murals have adorned the north-facing wall of the building since the mid-1500’s. There are numerous legends about the meaning of the picture. In the one most often repeated, Goliath is said to symbolize a haughty merchant who is defeated by an honest merchant. For most of the first 800 years of its life, the building was the home to various wealthy and/or noble families. Since the 1920’s it has been home to a theatre, a hostel, and today, there are apartments in the levels above the restaurant and shops that occupy the ground floor.
We found it interesting to learn that much of the medieval city centre has remained intact due to the local resident’s diligence in resisting modernization efforts in the 1960’s. It also helped that Regensburg was one of the least-damaged German cities during World War II.
Moving on from Goliathhaus, we stopped in front of the remains of what was once the north gate of the Roman fort.
It dates back to 179 A.D., and at the time of its construction, it served as a safe haven for more than 6,000 Roman solders. It survived until the late 5th/early 6th century and formed the core of the first capital of Bavaria after the Romans had withdrawn.
Our group continued to move east toward the market square which had been central to the local government when Regensburg first became a Free Imperial City in 1245.
On our way, Carlos stopped and pointed out the huge Baumburgerturm, the pink-coloured tower of the Baumberger family, circa 1270.
Said to be the most beautiful, and also the second-highest of Regensburg’s towers. It is seven storeys high, rising over 90 feet above the narrow streets. We couldn’t help but notice that the tower displayed a wide variety of window-shapes from top to bottom.
Continuing east, we passed a small courtyard which contained the statue of a man that Carlos called “Don Juan”. I thought for a moment his South American heritage had come to the forefront and that he had misidentified the man immortalized in stone. When I googled it a little later in the day, I discovered that the man was in fact Don John of Austria, a prominent military leader who in 1571 served as the admiral of the Holy Alliance fleet at the Battle of Lepanto.
I know very little about military history, but it seems that the naval battle at Lepanto marked the last major engagement in the Western world to be fought almost entirely between rowing vessels. Thank you Wikipedia.
We had now arrived at the market square, and directly in front of us, was the Free Imperial City’s Town Hall (pictured below).
As you might expect, the market square was the hub of both social and political life, and the politicians of the day wanted an “awe-inspiring” building erected in keeping with their perceived status. They built a large four-sided building with a tall tower , and fashioned it after the great merchant’s homes that surrounded the market square.
One of the great things about having a guide take you on a walking tour, is that he or she points out subtle little things that one otherwise might entirely miss. As an example, in the picture below, you can see three iron rods that were embedded in the wall of the town hall.
They were placed there so that the merchants from different regions could standardize their measures.
Or how about this little gargoyle built into the archway above the entrance to a wealthy merchant’s home. It seems that the owner was unhappy about tariffs being imposed by the city’s tax officials, and to show his displeasure he commissioned this little “work of art”. If you take a close look, it features a little man who is in fact mooning the town hall!
A few yards further along from our “mooning merchant”, the narrow street opened up into a wide square called “HaidPlatz”.
In ancient times, it’s original purpose was to serve as a place for vendor’s and tradesmen to conduct business outside the city wall – sort of like a flea market. In the Middle Ages and in early modern times, the square was given a prestigious significance as a place to stay and host high-ranking visitors and as a venue for meetings and events. However, by the end of the 20th century, the place was burdened by years of heavy bus and transit traffic and had degenerated into a car parking lot.
Today, the HaidPlatz can only be reached via three traffic-calmed streets and four pedestrian passages. Due to the low traffic load, the many restaurants and cafés in the square offer a high quality experience for locals and visitors alike.
With kudos again to Carlos the guide for his knowledge of local nuances and stories, he directed our attention to a window in the Wittle Music Store, located in one corner of the HaidPlatz. During the renovation and restoration of the square, a small carved mouse was placed into the stonework. It is said that if visitors touch the stone, they will enjoy good luck, and they may also return to Regensburg again one day.
As we continued on our 90-minute walking tour, Carlos took us through a narrow pedestrian walkway where we emerged into a courtyard behind “the Golden Tower” – the highest residential tower built in Regensburg (the taller the tower, the wealthier the owner).
Reaching nine stories in height, today it is a student residence and home to some of the 12,000 citizens of Regensburg who live within the medieval city centre. It was buildings like this that led to Unesco’s decision to declare the entire “old city”, a heritage site.
Here is a panorama view of the front of the Golden Tower.
My American friends who are reading these travel journals may wonder why I bothered including a picture of a bunch of bicycles that were parked in the courtyard we had just walked through. My Canadian friends and family who are reading this, will be laughing and shaking their heads knowingly, because of the license plate on the bicycle that is front and centre in the picture.
Saskatchewan is one of Canada’s smaller provinces in terms of population, but it is one with a larger-than-life personna that far exceeds its size. The fact that we came upon a licence plate in far-away Regensburg, Germany is just further confirmation of it. Too funny!
Emerging from this courtyard, it was time for lunch, and we headed back towards the market square and the Imperial City town hall, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch, and yet another low-calorie desert.
After lunch, Mary and I headed off on our own, and while the number one thing we wanted to check out was St. Peter’s Cathedral, we briefly stopped at one of Regensburg’s top tourist attractions – a Golf Museum.
Located in the basement of an antique shop owned by golf historian, Peter Insam, it is home to more than 1200 exhibits from all over the world, spanning six centuries. Among his most treasured items are what is said to be the world’s oldest golf club & golf ball from the 15th & 16th century. While Mary and I just poked our head into the reception area of the museum before moving on, I know that several of the guests we were traveling with spent a delightful 30 minutes or so checking this place out.
We headed on toward St. Peter’s Cathedral which first appears as a single tower framed between the high walls of the buildings on one of the narrow pedestrian-only streets that leads towards it.
At the end of the street, we emerged into yet another square in the old medieval part of the city, where we were directly in front of the church with its twin towers standing well over 100 feet high.
Construction of this beautiful building started in 1273, but it wasn’t until 1872, after 600 years of work, that the cathedral was finally finished.
At the edge of this square, known as the Alter Kornmarkt. we passed under an archway that linked some older buildings on one side to a Roman Tower on the other. Once again, you can see how much the cathedral’s towers dominate the landscape.
However, in the picture within the picture on the historical marker below, a lithograph from 1820, the towers had yet to be built.
Mary and I wandered the streets for another half hour or so, taking note of some of the more colourful historical buildings that had managed to survive for, in many instances, well over 400 years.
Having walked almost ten kilometres (roughly six miles) to this point in the day, we decided it was time to sit down for a mid-afternoon coffee treat, and for that we headed back to a little outdoor cafe opposite St. Peter’s.
It was the first of what was to become almost a daily ritual for us for the next ten days – a mid-afternoon stop where we could sit and watch the world go by, while reminding ourselves how blessed and fortunate we are to be able to travel.
A glance at my watch suggested it was time for us to head back to the Old Sausage Kitchen and meet up with our fellow travelers, for the short walk back to the bus.
Arriving a few minutes early, we stopped in at the Drubba Clocks & Gift shop across the street from meeting spot. This was an incredible store with cuckoo clocks in every imaginable shape, size, and scene. Prices ranged from 400 to 2600 Euros ($580 to $3800 Canadian), but the craftsmanship on display seemed fully worth those lofty prices. Fellow passengers were making purchases, some cash and carry, others shipping home, and if we weren’t in a downsizing mindset, I’m pretty sure we would have fallen into one of those two categories too.
With a wistful sigh, we left those magnificent handmade treasures behind, and joined our fellow travelers across the street.
I should mention before I go any further, while we were off in Regensburg , a small group of passengers from the Lif went off on a day-trip to Munich, roughly a 90 minute bus ride from Deggendorf. We had given some thought to signing up for that excursion but we both wanted more than a few hours to see a city of the magnitude of Munich, so we resolved to see it another time, on a different Stanger adventure.
As we began to walk back to the bus, the question that had been pushed aside by the day’s outing, began to resurface among our group – “would we be sailing tonight?”
While most of us offered up a “Que Sera Sera” expression on the outside, I know that on the inside, we were all wondering whether Captain Anne had been successful in persuading the river authorities to let us go forward.
We’d know in a little more than two hours……