I will admit that, prior to my trip, I had no idea where Regensburg was. If I knew of it at all, it was because it was the birthplace of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger AKA Pope Benedict XVI. But again, even that morsel of information hadn’t clung to my brain. All I knew was that my friend K wanted us to take a day to visit it due to his many an inebriated evening spent there. I did some research before flying out, but really relied on him to act as our tour guide. And I’m glad we did as Regensburg is a nice little place to visit in Bavaria.
One of the things that strikes you is that it’s a place clothed in close to 2,000 years worth of history. The Regen part in Regensburg comes from Castra Regina — the Roman fort that was built by Marcus Aurelius during his campaigns in Germania (Yep, basically this was walking the same footsteps we saw in Gladiator) and part of the old Roman wall and Porta Praetoria still remain. Walk from there to the banks of the Danube (where it meets the River Regen) and you encounter the Stone Bridge, which was built in the 1100s to help crusaders cross the Danube on the way to the Crusades. In a mile’s walk, you can go through a thousand years of history.
Near the Stone Bridge is the Wurstkuchl, Germany’s oldest restaurant. Built to feed the workers that operated the cranes that loaded and unloaded the precious salt of the region, the Wurstkuchl is a small, traditional sausage and beer place. If you go in there, there’s bread in baskets — they ask how many you took after — and they make their own sausages, sweet mustard and have their own beer, light and dark. I think the poor waitress was surprised that I opted to have the light beer when we stopped there, but as I tried to explain, it was only 10:30 in the morning. The sausages are very good and come on a plate of sauerkraut. The mustard is really good and I recommend you pick some up as gifts (or just to bring home). And, as always, the beer was good.
From the Wurstkuchl, we headed into the shopping district, where we found pretty Christmas ornaments and candle holders, locally-made fabric stores and Hutkonig Der Hutmacher (The Hatmaker). It’s been there since 1875 making hats for locals and visitors and B just had to have one. I must say I bought more in Regensburg than I did in Munich — or as much as I did in Munich and Berlin combined. Don’t get me wrong. There’s good shopping in those cities. It’s just that Regensburg seemed to make it easier. There’s also a mall (which appears to have been lifted out of 1990s America) across from the train station, so if you want to get in more modern shopping there’s that as well.
The central point of Regensburg is the Gothic St Peter’s Cathedral (Dom St Peter), which was built in the mid-1100s but not completed until the 1800s. The thing is massive in a way even the biggest of Texas’ megachurches just can’t compare. The spires rise up high into the sky and just walking the steps into the church feels like you’re ascending. Inside was more of the same: high walls and ceilings, a vast room and lots of old Gothic architecture. You get the sense that you are meant to be awed by the power of God. On the outside and around the church, there’s small figures carved into the side of the spires, which stand in thanks for the many Jewish workers that helped build the cathedral.
There’s touches, both big and small, that reflect the Jewish population that lived in Regensburg. In the center of town, there’s the foundation of a medieval Jewish synagogue which had been burnt to the ground centuries ago. When excavation was occurring to develop the center, they found them and chose to preserve them as a meeting place for anyone who visits Regensburg. (It’s next to a nice ice cream shop and cigar shop). There’s also, throughout the city’s streets, small golden inscriptions in the cobblestones. These denote the name and closest approximation of the places where the Jewish residents of Regensburg lived before the Third Reich removed them and sent them to the concentration camps. The surprising thing is that Regensburg was spared the worst of the bombing by the Allies as World War II drew to a close. According to K, the reason for that is that the Mayor of the city went across the front lines and begged the Allies commanders in the area to spare his city from the kind of bombing that destroyed Dresden and Nuremberg. When he made his way back to his city, the SS found him, arrested him and executed him. The Allies did keep their word and that’s why much of Regensburg is now an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Walking around Regensburg you do get a sense of the 2,000 years of history that have been carved out in Germany. From the Romans to the Medieval princes and dukes that built the Dom and ate at the Wurstkuchl to King Ludwig I to Napoleon — who stayed in Regensburg after taking it from the Austrians and were he planned his eventual conquest of Vienna — to the Tomb of the famous astronomer Johannes Kepler to the Renaissance — represented in the rococo style of the “Old Chapel” — to World War II and onto modern times. It’s a sense that is, for obvious reasons, not present in other, larger cities of Germany.
After all that walking, we stopped at the Regensburger Weissbrauhaus, the local, old-school beer hall, for some well-earned hoppy refreshments and grub. And I went with a salad. Why? Because after walking and eating and drinking our way through Bavaria, you’re going to need a salad once or twice to just keep your stomach from jumping out of your body and running away in terror. After nearly a week in Germany, I think I had drank more than I had in college — and it’s not like I was drinking a lot. It’s just the beers were that good and that big!
Next time: On to Berlin!