There’s quite a bit to tell you about our visit to Bamberg, Germany on Thursday July 12th, but instead of describing it in chronological order, I’m going to go a little Quentin Tarantino on you, and start in the middle. For while there are many historical facts and features about the city, the most unique and intriguing aspect, is the smoked beer. Yup. Smoked Beer!
First a little brewing history. Prior to the modern era, there were two methods of drying malted barley – direct sunlight, and drying over flames. Drying over flames imparted a smoky character to the malt which was transferred to the end product. But starting in the 18th century, kiln drying of malt became more and more common, and by the mid 1800’s it had become the near-universal method of drying malted grain. The kiln method shunted the smoke away from the wet malt, which meant the smoky flavour was no longer imparted to the grain nor the beer. By the turn of the 20th century, smoky-flavored beer had almost entirely disappeared from the brewing world…….except in Bamberg.
Welcome to Schlenkerla (pictured above), one of two Bamberg brewpubs that have maintained the smoky beer tradition by continuing to use malt dried over open flames. Along with the Spezial brewpub, these are the only two places in the world where traditional smoked beer is still being brewed.
Having explained the title of this blogpost, and knowing that I’m going to circle back to the beer a little later, I’ll now revert to my more conventional “beginning to end” approach to story-telling.
The Viking Lif arrived at its Bamberg mooring spot shortly before 8:30 AM, and during breakfast we had been carefully watching the weather outside, as the forecast for the day was “light rain”. It was quite overcast and the gloomy weather didn’t exactly make our arrival spot seem very appetizing. As you’ll see from the pictures below, we docked right in the middle of an industrial area – not exactly touristy looking.
While a few passengers opted for a trip to the Franconian Countryside, on this day, most of us boarded one of five buses for the short ride into Bamberg, leaving the ship around 9:15 AM.
Just as Ravensberg had been an unknown entity to us before this trip, Bamberg was a mystery as well, and we had no idea what was in store for us on this day.
At the bus drop/meeting spot (marked with a red circle below), we got sorted into our various groups, and crossed over the Regnitz River to begin our walking tour of “the City of Seven Hills” – so nicknamed for the seven hills that surround the city, each adorned with a lovely church.
In spite of the overcast skies, our first impression of Bamberg was that it was a very pretty spot and you can see from the two pictures below, the Regnitz River was lined with trees creating a very lush setting.
On account of its location, the numerous religious communities, and the town’s early importance as the seat of a prince-bishop, Bamberg was once known as “the Rome of Germany”.
As we crossed the bridge, our guide pointed out the first of the churches that overlook the Regnitz Valley – the Monastery of St. Michael.
Shortly after crossing the river, as we made our way along a winding pathway, we passed a really interesting and architecturally beautiful (at least to me) building.
I have no idea what the building is, nor its age or purpose. I was just struck by the lines and colours, and in particular, intrigued by the painting on the wall.
Turning a corner, we found ourselves directly opposite a long row of what were formerly fisherman’s houses. This part of Bamberg’s inner Island City is endearingly known as “Little Venice“.
The half-timbered buildings were mainly built in the Middle Ages, and they are squashed together along the riverbank, creating a rather quaint and picturesque scene, with boats floating in the moorings by the front gardens. You can even take a gondola cruise along this part of the river adding further legitimacy to its Little Venice nickname (I’m beginning to think that Bamberg should have been called the “City of Many Nicknames”).
Moving toward the centre of the old town, we passed one of the smaller but no less attractive churches in Bamberg – St. Elisabeth, a catholic church with foundations that date back to 1338.
Our guide was leading us through a series of (often) narrow streets lined with small shops and cozy restaurants including our first pass-by of the Schlenkera brew-pub, home of smoked beer.
The prosperity of the city is very evident and there are a great many striking buildings with half-timbered facades, dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. It makes for a very rewarding stroll through the Old Town, and it is no wonder that in 1993, Bamberg was a named a Unesco World Heritage city – one of twelve in Germany.
After 15-20 minutes of meandering through the narrow streets and lanes of Old Town, we emerged into the cathedral square in front of Bamberg Cathedral. The square has been known as the Domplatz since 1949 and it is closed to all vehicular traffic including buses.
The Bamberg Cathedral, also known as the Imperial Cathedral, and as the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. George, was first consecrated on this site in the year 1012, and the building before us (on the left side of the picture above), was constructed starting in 1237.
There are two main entrances to the cathedral and at either door, the remains of a highly weathered animal sculpture can be found.
It may be hard to picture them as they once were – crouching lions guarding the entrance to keep the devil at bay, but today they are referred to as “the Cathedral Toads”, and there is a rather convoluted legend attached to the explanation as to how lions became toads. I’ll save you from the head-scratching and furrowed brow I endured reading about it.
Shortly after entering the church, on the back of a pillar near one of the main doors, there is a 13th century statue mounted high above the floor. The Bamberg Horseman is a life-size sculpture of a beardless man who is thought to be a ruler since he is depicted on horseback, and is wearing a crown.
His identity has never been fully established, but it is presumed to be King Stephen I of Hungary (997-1038), the brother-in-law of Emperor Heinrich (Henry) II, a saint and co-founder of the church along with his wife, Empress Kunigunde.
Moving to one of the side corridors, we came upon the tomb of Pope Clement II, the only known grave of a Roman-Catholic Pope in Germany, or anywhere else north of the Alps.
He is buried in this Cathedral because prior to becoming the 149th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, he was the Bishop of Bamberg. Sadly, his papacy lasted a mere 289 days!
Perhaps the most important memorial within the church is the Tomb of the Saintly Imperial Couple – Emperor Heinrich (Henry) II and his wife, Empress Kunigunde.
It is located in the Nave and stands between two stairways leading up to the East Choir. The sculpture was created between 1499 and 1513, and the covering slab is a life-sized depiction of the imperial couple.
The High Altar, (seen below), is quite new, and was made during the most recent restoration of the Cathedral in 1974-75.
There are two more notable altars located in the side aisles. The one that particularly caught our attention was the beautiful Kirchgattendorfer Alter – the Alter of the Virgin Mary.
Its German name comes from the town of Kirchgattendorf which is where the altar originally resided. When Nuremberg turned protestant in the 1530’s, the Carmelite monks brought the altar to Bamberg. It was left in pieces and fragments until 1937. when it was assembled into the form that you see above.
I just love church organs. I love the look of them, and I especially love the sound of them. Sadly, I didn’t get to hear the one in Bamberg Cathedral, but it was certainly impressive.
Installed in 1976, it contains more than 6,000 pipes, and is so renowned, it is not only used for liturgical services, it is also in great demand for concerts.
During excavation work between 1987 and 1995, the remains of the first Cathedral’s crypt built by Heinrich II was uncovered. A Bishop’s Burial Place was designed and assembled in that area in 1996. At the same time, a private chapel was built within the original foundation walls – dedicated to the two founders of the Bamberg diocese – Heinrich and Kunigunde.
Exiting the Cathedral we were back in the Domplatz (cathedral square), and our guide steered us toward a stone archway known as “The Beautiful Gate”. It is the entrance to the Old Household of the Prince-Bishops, and much of the structure beyond the gate dates back to the 1500’s. The Old Household once served as the chancellery, library and council chambers for the Imperial Palace.
Once through the gate, we were in the picturesque inner courtyard which is surrounded by an ensemble of residential and farm buildings dating from the 15th century. There is a lovely array of trees and flowers that provide splashes of colour to an area which in the summer plays host to open-air theatre performances. The buildings beyond the gate (pictured below) housed the kitchen, a bakery, a blacksmith, servant’s quarters and a stable for the Bishop’s horses.
Stepping back out into the Cathedral square, the building between the Bamberg Cathedral and the Beautiful Gate is home to the Bamberg Historical Museum (seen below).
It houses a great number of precious exhibits of artistic and cultural importance from the city of Bamberg and Upper Franconia, and we would have liked to visit the museum, but limited exploring time is one of the very few downsides to a cruise, and we pressed onward.
Across the square from the Cathedral is the New Residence, which is where the prince-bishops moved, once they vacated the Old Household. As you can see from the picture below, it is an L-Shaped building whose construction took place between 1605 and 1611. What you can’t see from this picture is that there are two more wings directly behind it. Again, we were pressed for time, but this was a complex that would have definitely been worth visiting. There are more than 40 rooms open to the public including private chambers, the Emperor’s apartment, and a couple of art galleries.
You can see the length and shape of the New Residence much better in the image below, lifted from a small booklet I picked up in town. Unfortunately, some bindery glue took a “bite’ out of the New Residence when I removed the pages from the pamphlet, but you get a better idea of it having somewhat of a snake-like appearance.
If you’re wondering why I drew that strange-looking green arrow in the picture above, its because our next destination was where the arrow is pointing – the Rose Garden.
The Rose Garden was created in 1705 but in the beginning it was divided into symmetrical fields and planted with a variety of vegetables and flowers. It wasn’t until the 19th century, that it was converted into the beautiful garden you see in the pictures above. Rows of lime trees were added to provide additional bursts of summer fragrance.
One other nice aspect of our walk through the Rose Garden is that it afforded a splendid view looking out across the rooftops of Bamberg.
From there, we began to reverse our steps back down into Bamberg’s Old Town. I briefly stopped to look back up at where we had been a few moments earlier, and our guide pointed out the building that was once St. Michael’s Monastery.
Today, it is mostly used as an old people’s home but the beautiful setting and historic buildings continue to make it attractive to young locals as a venue for weddings. The postcard below shows the churches’ magnificent interior and see you can why it remains such a draw.
I hesitated to include the next photo except that when I was revisiting all the pictures I took in Bamberg, I kept remembering the snickers from our group, every time our guide said something along the lines of “make sure you notice some of the magnificent knockers around town”. Mary was stifling a giggle even as I took this picture.
As the organized part of our walking tour came to a close, our guide brought us right to the centre of the Old Town. Our route took us toward and ultimately through an archway directly underneath the Old Town Hall with its spire that serves as a landmark for all who stroll the streets.
If you look again at the left hand side of the picture above, you can see a portion of the ornately decorated Town Hall itself. It is actually built on a tiny island in the middle of the Regnitz River and there are bridges at both the front and back of the building.
In the picture below, we are standing on one of the bridges looking along the side of the Old Town Hall, and you can see the tall tower at the back that we’d walked under a few minutes earlier.
A 180 degree turn from where I took the picture above had me looking at a really pretty pale blue building called the Heller House.
Also known as the “Wedgewood building” for obvious reasons (there’s another one of those Bamberg nicknames for you), it was the birthplace of Joseph Heller in the early 1800’s – a prominent German art collector, local historian, and archivist.
The statue in the foreground of the Heller building (seen in a close-up below) is that of Empress Kunigunde.
Despite being rich with the history I’ve shared with you throughout this blog, there has been an attempt to add a contemporary touch to the city. Starting in 1998, Bamberg has been assembling a “sculpture path”, that is now said to be second to none in the world. One of the pieces that aroused my curiosity was this bronze statue of a broken head by Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj. His “signature” is that every piece he creates has intentional damage to it……huh?
Free time, yay….and we knew that the Schlenkerla brewery tavern was just around the corner. Can you say “bee line”?
While it has been 16 years since I quit drinking, back in the day, my favorite beverage was beer, so it goes without saying that I was going to at least have a sip of Bamberg’s smokey beer (the half empty glass I’m holding was a prop given to me by someone at our table – I honestly didn’t chug half a glass…..just a sip)
The entire experience at the Schlenkerla tavern is steeped in history. Upon entering the building, you walk up to a little window cut into the wall to place your order. In keeping with tradition, the beer is tapped directly from wooden barrels, and I snuck around the corner to catch the barkeep in the act.
To me, the smokey aspect of the beer gave it hint of something akin to a bacon flavour, not strong, but definitely noticeable. I quite liked the taste, but in comparing notes with our ship-mates, it certainly wasn’t to everyone’s liking.
With our taste buds satisfied, we set out to explore the east bank of the Regnitz, a flat area known as the Bürgerstadt (borough). It is home to a pedestrian zone in which both the Grüner Markt (green market), and the 17th-century St. Martin’s Church are located.
In the picture below, you can see the stalls of the green market set up in the middle of the pedestrian zone, and the imposing structure behind them is St. Martin’s Church – almost out of place in what was essentially a shopping district.
It wasn’t till I was back on the ship reading the little Bamberg pamphlet I picked up, that I found out that the church pictured above is not the original St. Martin’s Church. The original was located further down the pedestrian boulevard in the Maxplatz (more on that in a moment) until 1805, and this was a Jesuit Church taken over in the 1800’s, and renamed.
Before moving on, Mary and I stopped for a Bratwurst on a bun and engaged in our favorite pastime of people watching. We also loaded up on black licorice and an assortment of other candies and jellies at Hussel’s – a German confectionery shop we had begun seeking out on our daily walks.
On to the Maxplatz, which is a broad square bounded by residences, a department store and a variety of other businesses. On this day, we found the square to be quite empty but we were told that is quite rare. The size and prominence of the place causes it to be used quite differently throughout the week, and throughout the year.
It plays host to events and concerts, cultural celebrations, and on most days there are fruit and vegetable markets. In fact, if you look on the left side of the picture, you can see the last few tented stalls that remain from activity that had taken place earlier in the day. I can just imagine what this square might look like when it is brushed with snow and lit for the holiday season.
A glance at my watch told us it was time to head back to our bus at the drop-off zone, and we wandered through a mix of low-rise buildings and historic residences en route. I know nothing about any of the structures pictured below, but it was a very scenic walk nonetheless.
At the drop-off zone, I somehow managed to be successful in taking a selfie of Mary and I. I am completely lacking when it comes to this skill and I am convinced it is not in the DNA of anyone over the age of 45 to be good at it. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it. Anyway, here is said selfie.
The rain that had been in the forecast all day, had thankfully held off, but now as we made our way back to the ship, the skies began to open up
With apologies to all those who are self-conscious about their bald spots, this is the only picture I have of the inside of the luxurious coaches that Viking provides as they move us to and from our various excursions.
While we had been out for the day, the Viking Lif had moved through the last of the locks on the Main-Danube canal, and our bus caught up with it at Zeil am Main, some 24 miles down river from Bamberg.
If we thought our morning mooring was in a heavily industrialized area, the Lif’s new docking spot was right beside a lumber yard!
I don’t have any pictures to illustrate it, but at 5:00, Program Director Leonard hosted a hilarious half-hour event in the ship’s lounge – “And The Top Answer is…..”. Loosely based on Family Feud, it featured answers given by 100 Viking guests from previous cruises, and we had to guess what the most popular answers were. It was a lot of fun and just one more example of the diverse on-board entertainment that supplemented the cruise itself.
After that is was time to relax over a cup of tea and listen to the music provided nightly by the Lif’s onboard musicians, Irina and Veselin (I somehow managed to go the entire voyage without taking a picture of both of them performing – picture me slapping my forehead in disbelief).
After another delightful dinner we made our way back up the lounge to listen to Captain Anne Jacob Sijbranda’s nautical talk. While it was might bit technical for me (remember I don’t have any mechanical sense at all), it was nevertheless very interesting and made us realize just how impressive a ship the Lif is.
As we settled back into our cabin for the night, we heard there was rain and thunderstorms in the forecast for the next day, so we had that in our heads as we turned out the lights at the end of another really great day.