Our ship sailed all night and through the morning until we reached our next destination, Passau. We docked aside another ship and walked across it (a common occurrence on the Danube) to begin our walking tour of Old Town located on the peninsula between the Danube and Inn Rivers.
Passau, a German city of 52,000 people sits on the border of Austria in the Bavaria region at the confluence of three rivers. The third being the Ilz. As such, Passau, a bishopric since 739, profited from important salt trade routes and remained independent until it was incorporated into Bavaria during the Napoleonic times of 1803.
Today, attractions in Passau can be found on both sides of the river.
Top Things to Do in Passau
Walk Hell Street
Our tour started not far from port along Hell Street or Höllgasse. The Fisherman’s market as well as brothels used to dominate this street which is prone to flooding. It’s hard to believe the river reached 2nd story windows over 39 feet high just five years ago, while this summer, boats couldn’t even make it down the Danube because it was so low!
2013 wasn’t even Passau’s worst flood which occurred in 1501! All the floods are marked on the Town Hall, a neo-Gothic structure dating back to the 14th Century.
Hell Street, so named for of all the debris that washes down to this low location and for its previous unsavory reputation, is now known as Artist Alley. A multi-colored path directs people past a variety of craft shops and artist galleries beneath arch ways built to support the buildings which have been constructed on sand.
Visit the Glass Museum
The hotel, which used to be the city judge’s house, is located at the old fisherman market square, now called Rathausplatz. Its corner features a former pillory used for punishment. Anyone who sold rotten fish at the market were chained to the platforms. Now two saints, St. Stephan and St. Nicolas, decorate the corner above the two small platforms.
Look for Wild Man Statues Around Town
Next to the Glass Museum is the aforementioned City Hall (or Rathaus) that features the flood marks as well as a small statue of the “Wild Man” above two windows. The wild man is a mythical figure from medieval Europe that was very popular among Renaissance engravers in Germany. Look for images of semi-naked men with lots of hair…these are the wild man.
Take the Shuttle to Veste Oberhaus
Across the river from Rathausplatz, situated atop the hill, stands the Veste Oberhaus, which has never been conquered. The Veste Oberhaus was constructed in 1219 by Urlich II, the first prince-bishop of Passau. The fortress was expanded over many centuries and mostly served as the stronghold for the Bishop of Passau. The now includes a museum, restaurant and youth hostel.
Watch a Performance at ScharfricterHaus
Soon we turned off Hell Street onto Marktgasse. In between Marktgasse and Milchgasse is ScharfricterHaus (or the Executioner’s House). No, it is not the home of the medieval executioner who always lived outside the city due to his unsavory job, but it did serve as a prison in the 13th Century.
Now, it is a political satire theater which features jazz performances, readings, cabaret and theater. Together with the Bavarian TV channel and the Munich paper, it hosts the Passauer Cabaret Days. The entrant who wins the political satire competition is awarded the Executioner’s Hatchet, a life-size axe. Whoever wins is suddenly very successful and earns bookings all over the country!
Admire the Architecture: Passau – The Venice of Bavaria
From Marktgasse, we followed Schustergasse to Residenzplatz. Along the way, we learned why Passau is nicked named the Venice of Bavaria. Passau suffered two severe fires in the late 16th century and early 17th century. The prevailing winds burned down the city to the west the first time and two the east the second time.
Because the city was home to wealthy merchants from salt trading, also known as white gold as it was the only preservative for food, the city could afford the finest Italian architects who designed and rebuilt the town in Baroque style.
The designs included ways to prevent spreading fires. First, there are no eves on the buildings. They are covered by walls. The walls contain the fire to the building which collapses upon itself. In addition, the tops of the down spouts include water buckets. Water is readily accessible at the top to put out fires. Passau has since avoided major fires.
Stroll Through Residenzplatz
Soon, we reached Residenzplatz. The Bishop’s Residence lines the north side of the square while cute shops surround its south side. The back side of St. Stephan’s Cathedral flanks the square’s western border. In middle, during the holiday season, an advent wreath brightens the square.
Most advent wreathes feature four candles, one on each “side” to represent the passage of four weeks before Christmas, but Passau’s advent wreath resembles the original which was created by a pastor of an orphanage. Every day, the kids at the orphanage used to wake up and ask if it was Christmas. The pastor had to keep saying “no”, so he created a wagon wheel with 24 candles, 4 white ones and 20 red ones. Monday through Saturday, a red candle was lit; Sunday, the white one. This way, the kids knew how many days were left until Christmas.
Check Out the Dachsund Museum
From the square we walked through a narrow passageway to the left of the Cathedral of St. Stephen in order to reach its entrance, but before heading that way, consider visiting the one and only Dachsund Museum, located just past the square on the right of the church.
The Dachsund Museum, features a collection of 4,500 pieces related to the “weiner dog”. Exhibits include the dachshund in nobility, the dachshund in hunting, and Waldi, the dachshund of the 1972 Olympic Games.
Stop in the Cathedral of St. Stephen
The entrance to the Cathedral of St. Stephen is located on the aptly named Domplatz. The once Gothic structure mostly collapsed during the fire of 1662. Due to financial constraints, however, the church was not completely rebuilt, but repaired in a Baroque style. As such, some of its murals were only two-thirds repainted. As such, a section of a ceiling fresco includes an angel with its hands, but the rest of its body is missing where another scene begins.
The cathedral, however, is most famous for its organ, which is the largest cathedral organ in the world. Five separate organs with one playing console complete the 17,974-pipe instrument. Three organs lines the back of the church, one organ sits near the altar, and one organ, which can’t be seen, is hidden in the ceiling of the church. The organs are connected by cables. It takes two seconds for the sound to travel to the organist, who sits in the back of the church, when he strikes a chord for the organ in the front. The instrument is extremely complicated, as such, there are only three people in Passau that can play it.
Browse the Christmas Markets
Exiting the cathedral on to Domplatz, we enjoyed the lovely Christmas market. This market included a large selection of food including smoked fish, noodles, and “pizza” in addition to the gingerbread and sausages found at the markets in Hungary, Slovakia or Austria. Passau’s Christmas market also included some very nice hats, gloves and jackets and other choice items. Of course, no market is complete without alcohol. In addition to the mulled wine, a unique twist here was Aperol punch.
Shop on Ludwigstrasse
With another hour or so of free-time, I ventured to the southwest through a narrow, covered passage and down the stairs to the right, where I stumbled upon a large pedestrian friendly shopping area. I was surprised by the size of Passau and the modern shopping I found. The busy shopping area surrounds Ludwigstrasse.
Delight in Three River Promontory Park
Not a shopper, I eventually weaved my way out of the shopping area toward the ship where I followed the river to the end of the peninsula. At the confluence of the three rivers, is a park which affords lovely views of the surrounding area and the Veste Oberhaus, glowing in the night sky. Unfortunately, with the short days of winter, I didn’t reach the park in the daylight to see the three different colors of the rivers (blue, green and black) mixing together which I suspect is pretty cool.
Overall, Passau is a thriving city with much to offer. Its University which opened in 1973 and now enrolls 12,000 students adds to its vibrance. Its picturesque setting at three rivers and lovely architecture, make Passau a lovely place to visit. ETB
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