Cruising the Danube
Our seventh stop on the Danube was in Regensburg, the fourth largest city in Bavaria, Germany with a population of 150,000. Due to the challenging parking, many residents bike, thus we dodged several cyclists as we walked Regensburg’s Old Town.
Regensburg’s medieval city center is largely preserved as it suffered little damage from bombing during World War II. As such, the Old Town is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The initial view of the historic city is lovely.
History of Regensburg
Speaking of the historic city, the first settlements in Regensburg date back to the Stone Age when the town was called Radasbona. It is believed that during late Roman times the city was the seat of the bishop.
Fast forwarding 1,000 years, the construction of the Stone Bridge opened major international trade routes to the city. Due to trading opportunities, wealthy merchants established their residences in Regensburg which became celebrated for its gold works and fabrics.
In 1245, the Holy Roman Empire designated Regensburg as an Imperial City. It kept its status until 1803 when the city was incorporated into the Principality of Regensburg along with the bishopric and monasteries.
143 years later, Regensburg, which lost its aircraft factory and oil refinery in strategic bombing during World War II, largely remained intact and became the largest displaced persons camp in Germany. The city housed 6,000 refugees, mostly Ukranians.
Regenburg’s slow economic recovery from the war kept old buildings from being replaced by new ones. By the 1960’s when Regensburg finally invested in industry, the prevailing mindset was to preserve the city’s heritage.
Today Regensburg attracts high tech companies as well as lots of visitors!
Sights to See in Old Town Regensburg
The Stone Bridge
Our historical city walking tour began at the stone bridge, an extremely important structure to Regensburg.
The entrance to Regensburg’s Old Town is across the stone bridge at the last surviving tower of the stone bridge. The stone bridge was constructed between 1135-1146 and the knights of the 2nd and 3rd crusade used it to go to the Holy Land.
Legend has it that the bridge builder and cathedral builder who were apprentice and master bet on which structure would be completed first. When the cathedral progressed faster, the bridge builder made a pact with the devil.
The devil helped the bridge builder assuming he would receive three souls…the king, duke, and bishop. Upon completion of the bridge, the builder provided a hen and two roosters. Enraged, the devil tried destroying the bridge with strong currents and with a whirlpool, but failed. In fact, the bridge was already complete before construction on the cathedral began.
Interestingly, however, the bridge created strong currents and historically caused problems for traffic on the Danube. Ships without enough power had to be towed upriver until 1916 until an electric system was installed to draw ships up the river. The electric system has since been removed and today’s large ships bypass this area.
Currently, the bridge doesn’t look like it is from the 12th century as it recently underwent a lengthy renovation project.
Brückturm (and Museum)
The bridge leads to the last remaining tower (or Brückturm) of Regenburg’s fortified medieval city. Constructed between the 13th and 14th centuries, the tower imprisoned debtors. Debtors collected their debts by lowering a fishing line and begging for coins.
The tower now houses the Brückturm Museum which features the history of the bridge as well as some old tower clockwork. The small, 2 euro entry fee also affords visitors a nice rooftop view of Old Town.
World Heritage Visitor Center
Next to the gateway and tower is the World Heritage Visitor Center (or Besucherzentrum Welterbe). The visitor center is housed in the former Salzstadel where precious salt used to preserve food was stored in the 1600’s.
The center includes several interactive exhibits relating to 2,000 years of history. Visit Besucherzentrum Welterbe and learn about Regensburg’s glorious middle ages and international trade route among other things while inspecting the wooden beams for salt grains.
Just to the east of the visitor center is Historische Würstküche, the oldest sausage house in Germany. It also might possibly be the oldest continuously open public restaurant in the world. The restaurant is renowned for its sausages served with sweet mustard and sauerkraut. The small building seats 35, but most of its guests, who buy 6,000 sausages daily, sit outside at the wooden tables. A small single sausage costs 3 euros or a basket with larger portions may be ordered for a better price per weenie.
Just two blocks southwest of Historische Würstküche and a block from the Old Town entrance is the Goliath House, built in 1260. It is hard to miss with the enormous mural of David and Goliath painted on its façade. Uniquely, the Goliath House is not named for the mural which was completed in 1573, many years after the building. Instead it was named after Golias, theology students’ guardian angel, as theology students used to stay here.
On the right, the David and Goliath mural includes a small green frog. It is said the frog represents a rich merchant who donned a green cape and spurs and obnoxiously strode up and down the street on his horse until he lost all his money.
Just around the corner from the Goliath House is the Baumburg Tower, a gender tower built by a rich merchant in the 13th century. These types of towers were constructed to influence the silhouette of medieval cities and to illustrate the owners’ social position. This seven-story tower features a balcony and all different windows. The top window is adorned with the saint who protects travelers.
Hatter at the Cathedral (der Hutmacher am dom)
Around another turn and down the narrow street, Kramgasse, where Pope Benedict XVI once lived, is a hat maker store, Hatter at the Cathedral (der Hutmacher am dom). The hatmaker, Andreas Nuslan, is famous for making hats for the ladies at Ascot, nobles, presidents and their wives, and Hollywood. The hat that Johnny Depp wore in Alice in Wonderland is displayed on the top shelf by the stairs.
As the hatmaker’s name implies, it is located across from the Regensburg Cathedral. Also known as the St. Peter’s Cathedral, this gothic structure is the seat of the Catholic Diocese of Regensburg.
Construction on the cathedral began after the original church, Niedermünster burned down in 1273. It took approximately 250 years to construct the main building with three choirs and a central nave with buttresses and vaulting
In the 17th century the cathedral underwent a Baroque renovation. Later, King Ludwig I of Bavaria, commissioned a Neo-Gothic renovation and its towers with spires were finally added between 1859-69. Four hundred years later, the cathedral was finally complete, though the towers aren’t alike due to insufficient funds.
Inside the cathedral, the stain glass windows are quite a treat. Also the organ is unique as the organ player sits inside the organ!
To the southwest of the cathedral is a lovely shopping area where you can buy the sweet mustard used at Historische Würstküche. The name of the store is Händlmaier’s.
Also, in the center of the shopping area is a square called Neupfarrplatz. The Neupfarrkirche fills the southern portion of the square which was once the Jewish quarter. During the 1990’s, when the city was upgrading the large square with electrical wiring for the annual Christmas market remains of the Jewish quarter and a Roman military camp circa 179AD were discovered. These underground ruins are preserved in the Document Neupfarrplatz Museum.
Speaking of Christmas markets, they can be found at both the Neupfarrplatz as well as by the Old Town Hall. Adults browse the stalls for the usual fare: sausages, Glühwein, candy, gingerbread, clothes, ornaments, and other decorations, while kids ride the merry-go-round and enjoy the Santa street performer.
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