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Dargun: A Conference at the End of the World

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… or so it felt. Some people hold their conventions in strange places.

It was a conference on protestant church architecture, which is my favourite research topic. Somehow the organizer had heard of me and invited me to give a paper, all expenses paid. An occasion that one does not refuse…

It was all a bit weird – not wanting to go into details – but I met some interesting people among the other participants.

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Dargun is located in the eastern part of Mecklenburg, neither close to the coast nor the lakes. In other words, in a rural area where hardly any stranger ever sets foot. One of those areas that suffer from economic decline, lack of jobs and many young people moving away.

Getting there required three hours on local trains from Berlin, and finally a taxi ride from Demmin because there are practically no public transport connections apart from school buses. Add the train trip from Karlsruhe, and all this sums up to almost a full day of travel. I had to arrive one day earlier because of that, so I had the first morning to myself, until lunchtime when the conference started.

It was a beautiful day in late spring, with chestnut trees in bloom and everything fresh and green. Nobody there knew me yet, so I dared taking out my little travel companion. Russell the Wombat and I explored the palace and church ruins, the park and a bit of the lakeshore promenade.

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In former times Dargun had some importance as the seat of a Cistercian abbey. The convent buildings were beautifully rebuilt in baroque style while the early gothic church remained. After the reformation the complex served as a palace where widowed duchesses from the house of Mecklenburg resided. The palace was surrounded by a park which is now partly reconstructed.

Unfortunately the palace was burnt down by the Soviet army at the end of World War II. Most of it is still a ruin. In recent years a local association has been founded with the purpose of raising money for securing the ruins and, hopefully, rebuilding them some day.

Open-air concerts take place in the courtyard over the summer (hence the chairs outside).

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The nave of the church has been repaired and covered with a new roof, so it can be used for services.

The central risalit of the main wing is renovated. It hosts the tourist information, rooms for exhibitions, and a smallish hall where our conference took place.

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The rebuilt part where we had our conference

The rest of the buildings are roofless ruins, inaccessible and a sorry sight. It takes imagination to visualize their past splendour.

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The former economy building in the abbey grounds hosts a shop and a small café. This shop is absolutely worth visiting. Equipped with old-style furniture, it is a sight in itself. The shop is run by a very friendly young lady together with her father. This place deserves more customers. They sell all kinds of products from various small local businesses: food specialities like sausages and salad dressings, honey and jam, spices, tea, schnapps, chocolate, ceramics, gifts, jewellery, cosmetics… and souvenirs and booklets about Dargun and surroundings. I bought a shampoo bar on the first day, tried it on my hair the second morning, and hurried back to the shop during coffee break to buy a year’s supply!

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Another side building hosts a museum on local country life. Opening hours are very limited, no chance to visit it during my stay.

They are prepared for visitors in Dargun, but they are too far from the tourist regions to receive significant numbers. The location of Dargun on the shore of a lake is also pretty. But since this lake is not connected to the network of waterways further west, they do not receive the canoe tourists either. It’s all rather dead.

Gastronomy is, sorry, pathetic. We stayed in a hotel by the lake, in a fine location, a nice building, but some dusting and fresh paint would suit it well. Owners and staff were friendly people, but having all rooms in the house booked for the participants of the conference – we are talking about some 25 people, not 250 – obviously overwhelmed them. On the first evening we drank them dry. After our first beer we wanted another. Believe it or not: They were unable to provide 10 people with a second beer. And there is nowhere else to go in this place!

Demmin

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Church and town hall

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Two evenings were spent in Demmin, the “metropolis” of the area. Demmin qualifies as a town, and it is the transport hub for the area since it has a train station. A bus was hired that transported us all there. The parish community had arranged a cold dinner for us, and afterwards a concert in their church. The first concert was for organ, the second one with a soprano singer. The musicians were participants in the conference. Live music is always a good evening entertainment, we enjoyed this very much. Afterwards we had hoped for a nightcap or two at the hotel… but, as I already said, that turned out to be a problem.

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The main church of Demmin is a huge brick gothic church, although both architecture and furnishing scream 19th century. In fact, it dates back to the middle ages, but after various destructions and refurbishings it received its present shape in the 1850s and 1860s. The architect in charge was Friedrich August Stüler from Berlin, one of the most important Prussian architects of that time.

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One medieval gate tower is preserved, now called Luisentor. All I have is a zoom photo from the square by the town hall. In 10 minutes one cannot walk very far, and 10 minutes was all the schedule allowed, between dinner and the concert, to run off and see the town.

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Luisentor

Morning by the lake

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In the last morning I woke up very early. A look out of the window convinced me to go for a walk by the lake before breakfast.

I found a quiet trail on the western shore, opposite the town.

It was a picture-perfect May morning, complete with swans on the water and everything.

Only romance was missing…

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Posted by Kathrin_E 15:41 Archived in Germany Tagged mecklenburg-vorpommern Comments (0)

Advent in Passau

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The image on a postage stamp sums up Passau's features

Passau's unique selling proposal is its location at the confluence of three rivers: Danube/Donau, Inn and Ilz. Landscape and city together form a great panorama.

At the same time this location is their biggest problem, as the city is in danger of floodings. The old town is located on the peninsula between Donau and Inn and if one of them, or worse: both, brings a flood wave the lower part of the old town is drowned. Half a year after my visit the city was hit really really hard. The flood of June 2013 has been the worst they had for 500 years.

I visited in December 2012, though, when everything was dry and calm. There was snow on the ground and the weather, especially at night, was frosty. My so far only visit to Passau dated back 40 years, I was a small kid then and did not remember much. Reason to go again. So I picked Passau as the first base during my 2012 Advent trip, to see the Christmas market and the city and some places in the surroundings. As usual, a four-night stay was too short to cover everything I would have wanted to cover. Reason to visit again in the future...

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Passau has recently become a rather busy tourist spot, it seems, because it is a major stop or even start/end point for cruises on the Danube. I am not sure if the current river cruise hype will do the city much good. It was December and there were just one or two cruise ships in town, but the cruise passengers showed. I really do not want to know what's it like during peak season when the inmates of eight or ten or more cruise ships invade the town. The entire Danube bank almost up to Dreiflüsseeck has boat landings lined up, one of which is used for a local company's day cruises, all the others are meant for cruise vessels. I noticed lots of souvenir shops of the tackiest kind in the old town, the kind that caters for overseas tourists who know little about the diversity of Germany's states and regions (think cuckoo clocks, Berlin bears, Bavarian folkloristic items, snow globes depicting Cologne cathedral and beer steins all in one place). Passau is a beautiful city, let's hope it won't become the next Rothenburg.

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Christkindlmarkt - Christmas Market

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Passau's Christmas market takes place in Domplatz, the square in front of the cathedral. It is a medium-sized market but quite atmospheric due to the illumination, the surrounding baroque buildings and the general flair. The stalls sell a mix of some nice crafts and 'the usual stuff'. Food offers include local specialities, no need to worry about dinner. The little stage sees performances of Christmassy music in the late afternoon and early evening, rather low-key, but this is authentic folk music not tourist oompah-oompah, worth stopping and listening for a while.

The Christmas market begins on Friday before the first Advent Sunday and terminates on December 23.

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Dom - The Cathedral

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The cathedral is the most impressive building in Passau's old town. Passau has been the seat of a bishop since the early middle ages. The present baroque cathedral dates from the second half of the 17th century. A lot has been written about the history and architecture of the cathedral and of course about its pride, the largest church organ in the world. I do not want to repeat everything. So here are just a few personal observations.

I visited in December, hence night fell early. I found the interior most impressive after dark. There is little illumination, so the gold shines and the vaults disappear in obscure darkness.

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During Advent and Christmas season there is a Nativity scene set up in front of one of the altars in the left side nave. The altarpiece depicts the Nativity, too, so this is the right place. Press the button on the left to turn on the light in the showcase.

I attended the Christmas concert of the Regensburger Domspatzen in Passau's cathedral (the famous boys choir tours the region with their Christmas programme and perform in several places) which was absolutely fantastic. In Regensburg they do this concert in the Audimax of the university, a 1970s concrete lecture hall - here in Passau the ambience befitted their angelic voices much better.

Some practical remarks: The concert schedule and the how-to are on the website of Dommusik Passau (google) - unfortunately in German only. There is no online booking system, it has to be done by phone. In case you intend to visit a concert in winter, make sure you get seats on a bench, not on the additional chairs that are put up for concerts only. Why? The benches have heating underneath while the chairs stand on a stone floor without heating. For example, in the middle nave, seats 1 and 2 are chairs while seats 3 and higher are on the bench. Then there are chairs again at the end of the row. Bit complicated. Enquire when buying the tickets.

Around the Dom

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Residenzplatz

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The cathedral is the most impressive building in Passau's old town. Passau has been the seat of a bishop since the early middle ages. The present baroque cathedral dates from the second half of the 17th century.

A close look at the proportions, in particular from the east, reveals that older, medieval structures have been integrated into the present baroque architecture.

Domplatz is the centre of religious life in the diocese of Passau, and a popular location for events like the Christmas market. The mighty facade of the baroque Dom with its two steeples dominates the eastward front of the square. The other sides are surrounded by baroque town palaces, many of which are used by institutions and administration of the diocese. The monument in the middle of the square depicts Maximilian (Max) I. Joseph, who became the first King of Bavaria in 1806.

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Walk round the cathedral through Innbrückgasse. The narrow passage along the southern side of the cathedral is easily missed but worth looking for.

Photographers who like to play with perspective will especially enjoy the various glimpses and views of the facades, the white steeple high up, etcetera. Due to the topography of the hill and the steep descent towards the Inn bank behind, there was little space to build the bishop's residence and offices behind the cathedral. Only this small alley was left. Access is either from Domplatz through the arch underneath the right steeple, or from Residenzplatz around the choir of the cathedral.

I found Residenzplatz the prettiest square in town. "Square" has to be translated to "trapezoid, almost triangular" here, though. The square is surrounded by baroque buildings. The largest and most striking of them is the bishop's palace with the museum of the diocese, which occupies one entire front.

The square is slightly inclined. The upper end leads towards the choir of the Dom. Seen from this side the gothic origins and proportions are clearly visible under the baroque ornaments. The middle of the square has a fine baroque fountain, which in December was ornated with a large Advent wreath.

Domkreuzgang - Cloister of the Cathedral

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Not much is left of the cloister by the cathedral. The arcaded passages around the courtyard are long gone. This one is not as impressive as other cloisters. Nevertheless entering is worth it for two reasons:

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First, the view onto the side facade of the cathedral which gives an idea of its dimensions. From nowhere else in the narrow town you can look at the Dom in whole from close by.

Second, the collection of historical tombstones which have been assembled along the wall under protecting roofs. These originate from graves of clerics who were buried within the cloister. Many of them are elaborate pieces of stonemasonry from different eras, with reliefs showing an image of the defunct or biblical scenes.

Access to the cloister is free. The entrance is outside Domplatz round the corner towards Steinweg through a large gate.

A Different Presentation of Nativities

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Civil servant's nativity

This presentation of nativities was on display in the windows of an empty shop in Luragogasse, just round the corner from Domplatz and the Christmas market. (No idea if they do this every year or if it was a unique project.) Various artists designed nativity scenes related to unusual topics and from unusual materials that they were given or selected themselves. The works were then sold in an auction, I assume for charity.

These nativity scenes were indeed unusual, some outright weird. There was, for example, the civil servants' nativity, made from office items, or the housewives' nativity with brushes representing the figures... Clever, witty, and funny. I was standing in front of those shop windows, laughing my head off.

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Dreiflüsseeck: Where 3 Rivers Meet

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Danube on the left, Inn on the right

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Passau's old town sits on a peninsula between the rivers Donau (Danube) and Inn. The peninsula ends in a pointed triangle known as the corner of the three rivers, as there is also the mouth of the Ilz on the opposite side of the Donau. The point is covered by a small park.

The three rivers are known for the differing colours of their waters: blue Donau, black Ilz, yellow-brown Inn. The colours are caused by the different sediments the rivers are carrying. Given that I visited in early winter, though, the different colours were not visible. All the water was the same muddy grey. The colours will show in other seasons. A board with an areal view gives an idea what it is supposed to look like.

In warmer seasons this place will not be as quiet, though. The landings for the cruise ships are lined up along the Danube bank until almost at the tip, and if there are five, six or more cruise ships present, old Passau can be expected to be very busy.

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Inn Promenade and Planet Trail

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The sun model, start of the Planet Trail

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The Inn is a side river of the Danube but almost as big as the Danube itself. It comes down from the Austrian Alps. Its waters carry a lot of sediments, hence their colour is yellowish, compared to the 'blue' Danube.

Coming straight from the mountains the Inn is prone to floodings when the snow melts or after heavy rainfalls in the Alps. The Inn seems to be responsible for worse floods than mother Danube - the worst happens when floods of both rivers meet right here, with the old town in between both. My photos date from early December 2012, everything was calm and dry then. The river bank along the Inn has a long promenade walk starting from Dreiflüsseeck along most of the town. A pleasant walk. Parts of the city's fortifications are preserved, including a fat round tower right on the river bank. Families: Just behind the car bridge there is a large playground that your kids will enjoy.

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On the opposite hilltop you'll spot Mariahilf abbey, a monastery of the Pauliner order and pilgrimage church - if you feel energetic, climb up for a view of the old town.

A planet trail (Planetenpfad) has been installed on the Inn bank. It represents the solar system and its 8 planets in their correct proportions. It is supposed to give an idea of the vastness of the distances in relation to the size of the different planets. The scale is 1:1,000,000,000. This means that the total length of the structure is 4.5 kilometres. If you feel like a nice long walk by the river, you can start from the sun at Dreiflüsseeck and follow the Inn promenade until Ingling power plant where you finally reach Neptune.

Statue of the Poet Emerenz Meier

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On the bank of the Danube there is the statue of a young lady named Emerenz Meier. Emerenz was a talented writer. A signboard by the statue explains her life and work in both German and English. She was born in 1874 into a poor family in the Bavarian Forest. Around 1900 she owned a pub in Passau which was mostly frequented by artists. In 1906 she emigrated to the USA together with her family. She died in Chicago in 1928. Daily life, housework and the need to earn her living often interfered with her artistic ambitions. Since women are good at multitasking, she nevertheless kept writing. In a short poem she summed up the troubles of a female poet:

"If Goethe had had to prepare supper, salt the dumplings,
If Schiller had had to wash the dishes,
If Heine had had to mend what he had torn, to clean the rooms, kill the bugs -
Oh, the menfolk, none of them would have become great poets."
(translation quoted from the signboard)

They found her a beautiful spot. Together with the castles and river in the background she is really photogenic. To my joy, being a Soroptimist myself, I saw that the statue has been donated by the local Soroptimist Club!

Flood marks in Ort

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A city with three rivers is obviously prone to floods and Passau is having its share. The Inn, which comes straight from the Alps, is probably the worst of the three.

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I spotted these flood marks in a little square which is simply named Ort (place) on the corner of the baroque palace. This is in the lowest part of the old town but not on the river bank, it's a few metres uphill. Nevertheless the water level went up to about 2.5 to 3 metres above ground. Scary.

This baroque palace is, according to the inscription above the portal, an orphanage that was built thanks to a private donation in 1751.

After watching the news about the big flood in June 2013, the memory feels even scarier. The flood that affected Passau in 2013 was half a meter higher than the highest of these flood marks. All the lower parts of the old town were under water...

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Imagine 3 to 4 metres of water above your head.

Niedernburg Convent and Blessed Gisela

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Niedernburg convent seen from Veste Oberhaus

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Niedernburg church and convent is located in the lowest part of the old town. It was a convent of Benedictine nuns which dates back to the era around 1000 A.D. Emperor Heinrich II granted it the status of a free imperial abbey. Heinrich's sister Gisela, the Queen of Hungary and wife of King Stephan, the very same Stephan who christianized Hungary, entered the convent after the death of her husband and became their abbess in 1045. She died soon after and was buried in the Southern transept of the church.

The tomb of Blessed Gisela is a popular pilgrimage destination, especially among pilgrims from Hungary. The tomb is covered in wreaths and flower bouquets with ribbons in the colours of the Hungarian flag. The present stone tomb which contains Gisela's relics was erected in the 15th century. Her skull can be viewed through the arcades.

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Parish Church of St Paul

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St Paul is the parish church of the old town. The building is actually rather small compared to the cathedral, but due to its location on a steep rock above the street it looks a lot bigger than it is. Its facades and steeple dominate the street views of Rindermarkt and Steinweg. The pink church shows a baroque appearance (17th century) but its origins date back to the early middle ages. The church forms an impressive gateway from the city centre and pedestrian zone into the old town. A statue of the titular saint, St Paul, is standing in a niche on the corner of the choir, looking down into Steinweg. The interior is usually accessible through a wooden gate and up a steep stairway from Rindermarkt. During my visit the church was closed due to restoration works but these should have been finished in the meantime.

The church of St Paul works as a gate tower to the old town. It is located on a steep slope which blocks the way from Rindermarkt into the old town, so a short tunnel has been built through the substructions for the street, and a smaller curved tunnel for pedestrians.

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Do not walk through the main tunnel, as the two tourists tried who walked into my photo. It is just wide enough for cars (it's a one-way street), the tunnel is curved so drivers cannot see too far what's ahead of them - in other words, being a pedestrian in their way might be dangerous. Keep left when coming from Rindermarkt, keep right when leaving the old town along Steinweg, and use the small side tunnel for pedestrians.

Winter Visit to Veste Oberhaus

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The castles: Oberhaus and Niederhaus

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The ridge and point between the rivers Donau and Ilz is occupied by two heavily fortified castles, Veste Oberhaus on the hilltop and Veste Niederhaus down by the mouth of the Ilz. They protect and control this strategic location at the meeting point of the three rivers which have always been busy travel routes both in war and peace. The castles belonged to the Prince Bishops. As Oberhaus is located notably higher than the old town, it was also useful to control the town in case the citizens were in for some uproar against their ruler. Niederhaus, the lower fortress, is a private property and cannot be visited. It ised to have a much higher tower, but this was taken down in the era of the cannons to provide free view and shooting range for the troops on the upper fortress.

Oberhaus contains a historical museum and an art exhibition and a vast building complex with several baileys and inner courtyards to explore. The castle museum is open from March 15 to November 15 and over the Christmas holidays. During these periods there is a shuttle bus from Rathausplatz to Oberhaus and back every 30 minutes; the ticket includes the bus and the museum.

I knew that in early December the museum on Veste Oberhaus would be closed, so the options were limited. Seeing a bit of the buildings and the view of the city justified the climb for me, though.

To reach Veste Oberhaus on foot, I crossed the Danube on the suspension bridge. A signpost pointed me to a stairway just opposite the bridge which lead up the very steep and rocky slope. In winter the shortest walk along Wehrgang, i.e. on the walls, is closed. Only the longer way to the left is open, but it is not cleared from snow and ice. Conditions were a bit icy but not too bad, it was walkable with some care. I was not looking forward to the walk back down, though, but gladly found an alternative, as there is a street down the other side of the hill to the Ilz bank, from where I walked through the tunnel and back to the bridge into the old town.

The uphill footpath leads through the forest, so at first the view is limited because of the trees and bushes - in summer it will probably be mostly obscured. Rather high up the path reaches first a viewing terrace in the forest, then an even better viewpoint just outside the fortifications. The second one provides the full view over the old town.

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Past the parking lot (yes it is possible to access the castle by car) I entered the fortress from the upper side through a curved gate tunnel under the 17th century bulwarks. This part is higher than the actual castle and protects the most vulnerable side towards the hilltop. The way then leads slightly downhill past the observatory and the economy buildings to the wooden bridge into the actual castle.

Due to the winter closure of the museum, the innermost courtyard was also closed. The larger first courtyard was accessible, though. I hope to return some time in the warmer season to see it all!

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In this first courtyard I spotted a fascinating sculpture emtitled "The Biga". A "biga" is a cart drawn by two hourses, in analogy to a "quadriga" which has four. The life-size horses are naked - nevertheless they are controlled by the woman with invisible reins and tied to the cart with an invisible harness and towing bar. The horses obey her and parade in front of the cart. These missing elements which the viewer has to imagine add to the magic of the sculpture.

The Biga is a late work of the sculptor Hans Wimmer. A large collection of his works is on display inside the castle museum. Due to winter closure I could not enter to see it, only have a glimpse into the window: there are more horse statues inside. Animals, especially horses, were one of Wimmer's main topics, but he also dealt with human figures.

On the way down I discovered the street on the other side of the hill which leads town to the Ilz bank and Veste Niederhaus, the lower castle right by the riverside. This street is still rather steep and paved with cobblestones and had to be walked carefully but it was a lot easier than the forest path I had climbed up.

Photo Gallery of Old Town Views and Details

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Posted by Kathrin_E 02:16 Archived in Germany Tagged bavaria bayern christmas_market advent Comments (0)

A Winter's Day in Linz, Austria

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My visit to Linz was just a day trip from Passau, and it took place in December, so all I had were a few short daylight hours. It was a really glorious winter's day with quite a bit of snow on the ground, and after a foggy morning the sun broke through. I decided against indoor sights in favour of being outside, walking and taking photos.

I like Christmas markets a lot, so this was another point on my list. Hauptplatz, the central square and 'living room' of the city, was prettily decorated and illuminated.

What I enjoyed most, though, was the excursion by tram to the top of Pöstlingberg, a mountain on the Northern edge of the city. The top overlooks the city and the Danube valley. There is a pilgrimage church on top, and some other attractions which were unfortunately closed for winter. Anyway, the walk in the snow and the view were very pleasant.

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Tram Ride up Pöstlingberg

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View from Pöstlingberg

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Pöstlingberg is the house mountain of Linz, north of the city centre. From the banks of the Danube it is impossible to overlook. Its summit reaches an altitude of 539 metres above sea level (the city centre is at about 150 metres). It has been a pilgrimage centre since the 18th century. The baroque pilgrimage church with its two spires is overlooking the city and the Danube valley. The slopes face south and offer a fine view and sunshine - they have become the most upscale residential quarters of the city.

The mountain top is a popular destination among locals and visitors. In addition to the view and the church, it has a restaurant and beer garden and an attraction for small kids and big kids;-), the Grottenbahn, a little train inside one of the bulwarks that takes its passengers through fairytale scenes and the kingdom of gnomes - unfortunately it wasn’t running on weekdays in winter so I could not go...

Getting there is easy: Take the Pöstlingberg tram from Hauptplatz which takes you to the top in some 20 minutes.

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For a long time the slopes and top of Pöstlingberg were reachable by a narrow-gauge cogwheel train that ended on the northern river bank. In the context of Linz becoming cultural capital of Europe in 2009, the track was substituted by a modern tram line which runs on the same gauge as the other trams in the city. This tram is said to be the steepest non-cogwheel tram line in the world (10.5%).

The tram now crosses the Danube at Nibelungenbrücke and begins/ends in Hauptplatz. It has a separate stop next to the stop of the regular trams. Trams run every 30 minutes (minute .00 and .30) from 6 a.m. (weekends 7.30 a.m.) to 10 p.m.

The ride is pleasant, as the view slowly widens, the higher you get. The tram stops all have those little shelters and old-fashioned signs. Underneath each stop the altitude above sea level is stated.

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The large terrace below the church offers the widest view of the city, the Danube valley and the surrounding hilly landscape.

There is a board with explanations of the cityscape and sights, and some coin-operated telescopes if you want a closer look at the things down there.

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The church on the summit of Pöstlingberg is a sanctuary of the Virgin Mary and a pilgrimage centre. It was founded in the early 18th century. Pilgrimages take place only on certain dates. The church, though, is always open for visitors during daytime hours.

The baroque church suffered damage from fire twice in the last century but was repaired and restored to its former shape.

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There are two stairways leading up to the church from the viewing platform. In winter, only one of them is cleared from snow and ice - take this one, don’t try the other one because in wintery conditions it’s dangerous. There is a chain that closes its top but not the bottom.

To get an idea of the place and the surrounding landscape, there is a walking trail that leads all around the summit. The walk is more or less flat and takes about 15 minutes. It is best in the winter half of the year when the trees are bare, otherwise the leaves will obscure most of the view. The trail is marked as „Rundgang“ - simply follow the signs. It leads past everything which is of interest on the hilltop.

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On the ‘back’ side of the hilltop the trail leads along the ramparts of 19th century fortifications, with views into the moat and towards the bulwarks. This mountain, despite its prominent topographical situation, had not had any military significance until the Napoleonic wars around 1800 when some fights took place on its slopes. Only afterwards the summit was turned into a fortress.

It was the most gorgeous winter's day, so the camera was very busy...
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The steeples of the baroque church made for many interesting perspectives.
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The terrace is a beer garden in more favourable seasons. Sitting here with a dring and the view over the whole city must be pleasant in summer.
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A simple fence meets winter magic.
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The cross by the stairway up to the church.
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Snowy tree and baroque facade

Hauptplatz

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Trinity Column

Hauptplatz, the central square close to the river, is the heart of the town. The rectangular square (huh?!) is the location of events like the Christmas market. It is the best starting point to walk the lanes of the old town, easy to reach by tram from about anywhere in the city. It is also the starting point of the Pöstlingberg tram.

The baroque Holy Trinity Column in the middle of the square was put up around 1720. Many Austrian cities have these columns; they are religious monuments that were meant as thanksgiving for the end of the plague or other severe threats but also as symbol of the Habsburg monastery and the victory of Catholicism against the reformation.

The square is surrounded by palace-like buildings. The facades are mostly 18th/19th century due to the various fires that devastated the city in its history. The buildings behind them have older origins, though, like the 16th century town hall (the pink building with the small tower on the street corner).

Alter Dom - Old Cathedral

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The „old“ cathedral, located in a corner of Hauptplatz, is actually the former convent church of the Jesuit order. The huge main altar which fills the entire back wall is typical for Jesuit churches.

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It is named the old cathedral because there is a „new“ one: the much larger „Neuer Dom“, or Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. This enormous neogothic church (1862-1935) is located outside the old town but impossible to overlook in the cityscape.

Alter Dom, though, is probably the more interesting one. The baroque church dates from the late 17th century. After the Jesuit order was closed down in 1773, the church stood empty until it was selected as cathedral for the newly founded Diocese of Linz in 1785.

The most famous employee of this church was Anton Bruckner, who worked here as organist and choir conductor from 1856 to 1868. A small stone plaque on the facade recalls the composer’s workplace.

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Hauptplatz and Dom seen from Pöstlingberg

Christmas Market in Hauptplatz

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Linz’s main Christmas market occupies about one quarter of the large central square (Hauptplatz). It is not very big but nicely decorated and illuminated. Merchandise isn’t really special, anyway nice to look at.

If you are in for a mulled wine, the stalls offer a wide variety of Punsch and Glühwein types. It is worth checking and comparing the ingredients. For example, I had a hot orange juice with rum at one of the stalls.

There is a second Christmas market in Volksgarten, a park close to the main train station. That second one is more directed at children and families and has more activities.

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Old Town

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The old town of Linz is the area around Hauptplatz, especially towards the castle. The origins are medieval, though the city has been rebuilt, refurbished, repaired again and again after fires and such - the architecture is quite a mix. Most facades show 18th and 19th century styles, although much older structures can be behind them. The general appearance reminded me a lot of Vienna’s centre. Many historical buildings have plaques with some basic information - in German, obviously.

Explore the side streets, the arcades, passages and alleyways. If you like photography, look for details of the facades. The photos in here are just a random selection.

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Schloss

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The castle, or better palace, of Linz dates back to the early middle ages. What you see now, however, derives mostly from the times around 1600 when Emperor Rudolf II had it enlarged and refurbished.

The Schloss is located on a rock close to the river bank in the northwestern corner of the old town. The way up on foot involves, no matter from which direction, a short but steep stairway.

The four wings enclose a wide courtyard. A fire in 1800 destroyed the southern wing, the one towards the city. The gap stayed open for 200 years. Only in 2006 planning started to build a new wing. The winners of the architects’ competition, the studio HoG architektur from Graz, designed it as a modern steel and glass construction that looks a bit alien side by side with the old building.

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The building complex is the seat of the Schlossmuseum, a museum of history, folk art and culture - which I unfortunately could not visit because I ran out of time.

The new steel and glass wing is partly a bridge, with an open terrace underneath. This terrace offers a fine view of the old town and its towers. The steeples and spires are higher than the terrace and they are rather close, in other words, have the camera ready.

The architecture also provides options for some photo tricks.

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There is a cafe on the terrace with open seating in the warmer seasons, which should be a pleasant place to rest and enjoy the view and a coffee. And there is a 3D model of the old town before 1800, which gives an idea what it looked like before the big fire that destroyed the southern wing of the palace as well as a large part of the city.

Posted by Kathrin_E 14:05 Archived in Austria Tagged austria christmas_market Comments (0)

Amberg: The Bespectacled Town

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Have you ever visited a town that wore glasses? Well, go and see Amberg. This part of the town wall across the river is officially known as „Stadtbrille“, the town spectacles. Doesn't it look like a pair of eyeglasses?

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The „Town Spectacles“ are Amberg's most famous sight. Where the town wall crosses the river, arches make openings for the water. As these arches are exact semicircles, together with the reflection in the water they form two perfect circles that look like a pair of glasses. The foundation of the pillar in the middle looks like the bridge over the nose.

Most photos I see were taken from within the town, i.e. from the northern side. However, you can catch even better pictures, especially on sunny day, if you walk through to the outward, southern side. There is a small, very low pedestrian bridge across the river outside the wall. From there you can catch the perfect view in full sunlight instead of against the light. Compare the photos and you see what I mean.

Amberg has a lot more to offer than this, though. The town wall with several gate towers is more or less completely preserved, the same applies to the old town inside the wall. Amberg is hardly known and entirely untouristy. I talked to two locals at a cafe and they asked me, „How come a tourist visits this town when it isn't even displayed on maps?“ (It is on maps, rest assured.)

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I went over from Regensburg for the day in December. The Christmas market was on in the market square. There was snow on the ground and bright sunshine, it was a beautiful winter's day. In the afternoon clouds came up and it started snowing again, though, hence not all my photos have this fantastic light.

This colourful modern sculpture was the first attraction I came across on the way from the train station into town. These two funny fellows greet everyone who is leaving Bahnhofstraße towards the station. The left one must be a cat, the one on the right is hard to identify. The train station is the flat building behind them. In the background, on top of the hill, you can spot the steeple of Maria Hilf pilgrimage church.

Town Hall

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Amberg's gothic town hall dominates the Eastern front of the market square. Its oldest parts date from (probably) the 14th century, then it was extended in several steps over the centuries.

The facade, medieval as it looks, has been thoroughly changed in the late 19th century.

Apart from a general refurbishment, the two statues and the spiral staircase to the balcony are 19th century additions. The large number 1920 on the gable which is also marked on the weathervane indicates another later renovation.

The gable carries an astronomical clock. The lower clockface shows the hours, the upper one the zodiac and the moon phases. The inscription below quotes the verse: „No human's mind stops the run of sun, moon and stars.“

Christmas Market

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Amberg's Christmas market takes place in market square between the town hall and the church of St Martin. It covers one half of the square, the other half has to stay free for the farmers market. The market is not very big and just like many others, but the setting is nice, and it is a pleasant addition to a December visit. And they have pretty Glühwein mugs!
The market begins on Friday before the 1st Advent Sunday and ends on December 23.

Church of St Martin

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The main catholic parish church of Amberg has a prominent location between market square and Vils river. It is dedicated to the holy bishop St Martin. The nave is a late gothic hall. Its construction began in the 15th and was completed in the early 16th century. Its architectonical speciality is the gallery that runs around nave and choir: Such galleries are typical for gothic architecture in Saxony but entirely uncommon in Bavaria.

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The interior has been refurbished later on. Around 1870 the then baroque altars and furnituring were removed and substituted by neogothic ones to regain a „medieval“ appearance. So careful, most pieces inside the church may appear medieval at first sight but they aren't - they date from the 19th century. The stained glass windows, for example. The style of the pictures is very Nazarene, typical for the 19th century. They are all private donations from individual people or groups in the parish. The donators are stated in the inscriptions at the bottom of each window.

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Nativity
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St Cecilia playing the organ, donated by the local choir

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There are exceptions, though, like several statues. The most precious medieval art treasures include the 15th century paintings and sculpture on the altarpiece in the left side nave.

The gothic tomb of a young prince can be seen if you walk round the choir behind the altar. Ruppert (Ruprecht) Pipan was the son of Ruprecht III, Elector of Palatine who was elected King of the Holy Roman Empire in 1400. Ruppert Pipan was born in Amberg in 1375. He was to be his father's heir as Elector but he died very young, at the age of 21, in 1397.

The tumba carries a sculpted image of the defunct. He is crownded with a prince's hat and holding the shield with the Palatinate coat of arms. The dog at his feet is a symbol of fidelity. The front side shows a relief with the burial of Christ.

Town Wall and Gate Towers

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Ziegeltor

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Wingertshofertor

Amberg's old town is surrounded by a complete ring of town walls with four (formerly five) gates and several towers. Entry and exit of Vils river are also heavily protected, with the wall at the exit forming the famous Stadtbrille.

Even the moat on the outside is preserved in large parts.

Exactly what tourists want to see...

I did not walk the whole round (it started snowing heavily in the afternoon and I was tired) so I unfortunately missed the prettiest town gate, Nabburger Tor with the two towers. Reason to return.

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If the weather and your legs cooperate, walk the round. In the north around Ziegeltor there is a street inside the old town that follows the wall. The more inpressive views can be enjoyed from the outward side where small parks accompany the walll and moat.

Alte Veste

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The „Old Fortress“ is the oldest government building in town. Calling it a „fortress“ is a tad exaggerated - actually it is hardly more than a large townhouse or small palazzo. It existed already when the Bavarian dukes acquired the town in the 13th century, then went into possession of the Electors of Platine. It was used as occasional accommodation for the princes during their visits and as seat of the local civil servant. Later on it was rented to noble families and refurbished as noble townhouse. Nowadays it is occupied by the offices and studios of the town's construction authority.

Schloss and Arsenal

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The Electors of Palatine built their palace on the river bank where the Vils leaves the town, left and right of the Stadtbrille. The palace was refurbished again and again, and new wings added that matched the taste of the respective era, so it is a bit hard to tell apart which of the several buildings on both sides of the river is really „the Schloss“. The ensemble is quite picturesque from the outside - the interior probably isn't because it is occupied by offices of the district administration. A wing on the Eastern riverbank served as Zeughaus (arsenal). In summer there must be a beautiful rose garden around it, which was covered under snow now.

Neustift Quarter

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An off the beaten path area in an off the beaten path town... The quarter around Neustift is, roughly, the area in the Southwest of the old town between Vils river and Schloss and the Maltese abbey. The main street was named Neustift after a convent that had its premises there. The street leads slightly uphill and has many views towards the steeples and towers. Not spectacular, but many detail views for the photo enthusiast.

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In between there is a large barn or storage, dating from the 16th century according to the old inscriptions on the wall. It might have been a barn to collect taxes, or the storage of the convent - I could not find out. (Did I mention that this town is entirely untouristy?) Anyway - an impressive building.

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Maltese Church and Abbey

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The Maltese Church of St Georg is actually the former Jesuit abbey. The convent building, which now hosts a school and offices, is gigantic. It was built right after the 30 Years War for the convent and their high school. After the Jesuit order was closed down, the buildings were given to the Maltese order in 1782. The Maltese stayed only until their secularization in 1808. Nevertheless their name remained with the buildings, not that of the builders and original owners. The abbey was built at the Western end of the old town close to the wall.

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The church of St Georg shows the typical shapes and elaborate decoration of Jesuit churches, like the huge main altar up to the ceiling, showing the IHS (Jesus) monogram in prominent position and size. The nave is a wide, light basilica. The many frescoes depict scenes from the lives of Jesuit saints and the history of the order as well as biblical scenes. Those on the upper walls of the middle nave show the various dangers and threats the faith in Jesus saves from.

The church is open in the daytime. Access is through the side door from the small passage between the church and the public library. The main courtyard behind the convent building is school ground and closed off.

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Houses in the Old Town

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Among the many remarkable townhouses of Amberg, two deserve a special mentioning.

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The rococo Fenzl-Haus was built in the 1770s for a civil servant of the Palatinate Electors, a lawyer named Johann Kaspar Wolf who was in charge of the town's finances. He bought an older house in the corner of Rossmarkt and Georgenstraße and had it rebuilt in the then modern style. Its name refers to a later owner, the book trader Josef Fenzl.

Facades are ornated with stucco ornaments. The front gable ponts to Georgenstraße. The street corner is emphasized by the pretty little oriel. If the house was mine I'd have my favourite seat in there to people-watch and observe life in the street below...

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Jonah and the Whale

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Walfischhaus, a large 17th century house with the large roof in Löffelgasse was also known as the „Jonah House“. Two consoles under the roof show Jonah and the whale.

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On the left he is swallowed by the giant fish (ok whales are no fish but in those times they didn't know), only his feet and sandals stick out of the mouth. On the right, the whale spits Jonah out again.

A sculpted figure of a mermaid on the left corner of the facade and a knight in armour on the right each hold a sign that explains the biblical story of Jonah.

Luftmuseum

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A building that once belonged to some small monastery has been turned into a museum that is quite unique, and quite weird: the Air Museum.
A museum about air? Sounds strange, and I am not exactly sure what I had expected. The museum, which is in the hands of a private association and run by volunteers, turned out to be a modern art project. It assembles art works that use the topic of air. Some of these are quite funny, some are interesting, some are outright weird, and a notable number were IMHO outright lame, sorry. Decide for yourself which belongs to which category...

A couple of them have buttons visitors can press to make them move, like air bubbles rising in a kettle of mud, pneumatic things starting to operate, and such.

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A row of silver balloons dances a choreography, up and down.
Category: quite cute to watch for a while.

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The artist assembled a collection of the ugliest vases she could find, blew up balloons inside them and hung the balloons from the ceiling. The balloons slowly slowly lose air and every now and then a vase drops and smashes on the floor. The spectator (me) stood in a mix of anticipation (Will I see one drop?) and anxiety (Hope there is no crash now).
The dark brown jar looks like a promising candidate for the next crash.
Category: weird idea but fascinating!

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The air organ can be „played“ with the keys, it will not make music but blow up the plastic bags. Visitors aren't allowed to play it, though, so I did not see it in operation.
Category: strange, and hmmm.

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A cloud made from plastic foil hangs in the former house chapel.
Category: Didn't understand the meaning.

I am not even showing you the really lame ones, like black rubber hoses and cushions without function and distinct shape...

Conclusion: A pleasant way to spend an hour indoors, but don't take the thing too seriously.

Website: http://www.luftmuseum.de
Consult the website for updates, also for all background information and temporary exhibitions. The website has text in German, English, and French on each page (scroll down).

Posted by Kathrin_E 15:36 Archived in Germany Tagged museum bavaria bayern christmas_market Comments (0)

Straubing: A Tower, and the Ancient Romans

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Straubing is certainly an „off the beaten path“ destination, but if you have time to see more than the usual destinations in Lower Bavaria, worth a closer look.

It is an easy day trip for example from Regensburg (half an hour by train).

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I visited in December during Advent season. The streets were decorated with illuminations and the Christmas market was on.

Straubing is located along the main railway line between Regensburg and Passau. From the train you may spot the old town's skyline with the mighty Stadtturm and the steeples of half a dozen churches.

The old town has preserved its medieval ground plan with the wide market street in the middle.

Especially those of you who are interested in ancient Roman history ought to consider Straubing. The town has an excellent museum with amazing finds from the three military forts in Roman Sorviodurum.

Stadtturm

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The tower is the centre and the heart and the landmark of Straubing. It was built in the middle of the town and its market street. It is a freestanding tower with no apparent ties to any other building, be it a church, castle, town hall or whatever. Its construction was begun in the 13th century, its present shape with the five spires was created in the 16th century.

Its only purpose was being a watchtower, especially to spot fires quickly, and to show the city's wealth and ambition. A tower guard was living on the top floor.

The tower is also useful to find your way, as it is visible from all four directions.

The Market Street

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Theresienplatz, the estern half

Like many cities and towns in Bavaria, Straubing has no central market square but a market street. This one cuts through the entire old town in East-Western direction. The middle part is pedestrianized, the outer parts are parking lots.

The middle of the market is occupied by the city tower which divides it in halves. The western half is named Theresienplatz, the eastern half Ludwigsplatz.

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Ludwigsplatz, the eastern half

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Along the square, the houses of Straubing's well-to-do citizens line up. Their facades show a wide variety of styles and era. Don't be fooled: Not all of them are as old as they may seem at first sight.

The facade of the town hall, the reddish „renaissance“ building close to the tower, is a 19th century refurbishment. The building behind, however, is of medieval origins.

Or should I say, it was. A couple of years ago, after my visit, a devastating fire has destroyed Straubing’s medieval town hall. I do not know how far the rebuilding has in the meantime proceeded. And I am sorry to admit that I did not even take a good photo of it!

The double square is the „living room“ of Straubing. The weekly farmers markets and also events like the Christmas market take place here. It is surrounded by shops, restaurants and pubs.

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The Trinity Column in Theresienplatz is a baroque addition to the market street. It was erected in 1709 after a vow the citizens of the town made during the Spanish Heritage War. Most Austrian cities have such columns but in Bavaria they are not frequent.

The top of the column carries statues of the Holy Trinity: Godfather and Christ under the cross and the dove as image of the Holy Spirit above. They are freshly gilded and shiny. The pedestal is surrounded by angels.

Christmas Market

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Straubing's Christkindlmarkt takes place in Theresienplatz in the shadow of the tower. It begins on Wednesday before the first Advent Sunday and stays open until Dec 23. It is not very big, admittedly, but the atmosphere is pleasant. The stalls offer the usual crafts, decoration and knickknack, and of course food and drink in abundance. And they have pretty Glühwein mugs...

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The facade of the pharmacy next to the town hall is turned into an Advent calendar in December. Each day in the evening the mayor opens one of the windows. The calendar is connected with a lottery, each of the window hides a prize donated by a local shop or company whose name appears in the open window. There are worse ways of advertising!

Krippenweg - Nativity Trail

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Signs pointed into a backyard...

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... with a large nativity in Oberammergau style

Nativity scenes are popular in catholic Bavaria. Like other towns, Straubing has a Krippenweg, too.

During the Advent and Christmas season, various Nativity scenes are set up in churches, but also in private backyards, shop windows, or simply in the street.

A flyer (available, for example, in Gäubodenmuseum or at the tourist information) marks the locations in a map of the town. I did not consequently follow the route but spotted a few among my way.

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In the Carmelite church: Joseph and Mary are asking for a place to stay
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Nativity scene outside the castle

Herzogsschloss - Ducal Castle

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The castle on the bank of the Danube was built in the 14th century as residence of a side line of the House of Bavaria which reigned an independent territory for a short while. Later on it became the seat of various government offices, and stayed such to this very day.

The large festival hall inside, named Rittersaal („knights' hall“), is said to be one of the largest of its kind. It is usued for special events but otherwise not accessible. To be honest, there isn't much to see unless you are interested in visiting the tax administration, but the building complex is quite impressive.

I had a quick look into the courtyard, which is unfortunately used as parking lot for the employees, hence full of parked cars. The courtyard is accessible through the arched gate from the old town side.

From the riverside the palace looks rather uninviting. The best view can be caught from the Danube bridge.

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Straubing's old town is located very close to the river but a bit uphill to be protected from floods. Dykes add more protection. The low banks of the river have foot and bike trails that invite for a relaxing walk.

Basilica of St Jakob

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The main church of the town was closed for a thorough renovation when I visited. It's a pity because according to photos the church must be full of amazing art treasures.

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Anyway, St Jakob is a striking landmark due to its tall steeple and impossible to overlook. The late gothic basilica is entirely built from bricks. In this part of Bavaria we have brick gothic, which I so far knew only in the North of Germany. There are no rocks in the wide river plains, the stones present are not suitable for construction, so people had to use bricks instead. Here they have a masterpiece of brickwork and engineering in the late middle ages.

Jesuit Church

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When the Jesuit order settled in Straubing in 1631, they were given a gothic chapel by the Western town gate at the end of the market street. Over several decades this old church was refurbished and altered. The result is a little baroque jewel. The division in three naves was removed to create a wide hall. Walls and vaults are painted white. Large windows let a lot of light in. Altarpieces and other furniture are made from dark wood with lots of gilded ornaments.

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Nativity scene set in old Straubing

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Annunciation of Mary

During festive seasons of the church year, the nativity is on display in a narrow side room off the chapel on the right.

The call it „Krippe“, nativity, but it is a lot more than the usual Christmas scene. A series of showcases displays several scenes from the Life of Christ and also from the Old Testament, for example the finding of Moses.

The Christmas scene in the big showcase at the end has the Holy Family and the arrival of the Holy Three Kings together with lots and lots of other figures in front of the panorama of old Straubing.

It is hard to tell how old the figures and settings really are - they are surely not new. Could be 19th, or even 18th century. People are all dressed in precious fabrics. Only the best was good enough, despite the fact that they lived in poverty. There are lots and lots of details to look at.

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Finding Baby Moses
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The Last Supper

Church of the Carmelites

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The left side altar with the sacred image

The mendicant order of the Carmelites settled in Straubing in the 14th century and soon started building their church. The adjacent convent buildings are still inhabited by a congregation of Carmelite monks who use the church as their abbey church.

A small street leads straight towards the facade with its single, rather short steeple. This view makes the church more impressive.

Otherwise it is a bit overshadowed by the other larger churches in town.

The gothic church has been refurbished with baroque ornaments, altarpieces etc. around 1700. The strong round pillars still tell of the medieval building.

The left side altar contains a small gilded sculpture of the Madonna which is considered a miraculous image: „Mary of the Nettles“ is a pilgrimage destination.

Gäubodenmuseum

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Straubing has a very good museum of regional history and culture that I herewith highly recommend. It is named „Gäubodenmuseum“ after the surrounding region in the Danube plain, the Gäuboden.
Website with all further details: http://www.gaeubodenmuseum.de

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The most treasured permanent exhibition, also the best presentation, is the part about the ancient Romans. Straubing's documented history begins almost 2000 years ago. Sorviodurum, as the ancient Romans named the place, was an important fort on the border of the empire. Within the boundaries of Straubing three army forts and camps and some villae rusticae have been excavated. The unique Roman treasure, the museum's pride, was a large find of Roman armour - helmets, horse armaments, masks and such. These were not used in battle but for festive parades and tournaments. These amazing pieces alone would already justify a trip to Straubing. The further exhibition shows all aspects of daily life of soldiers and settlers in ancient Roman times.

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Masks that were used during military ceremonies and show fights
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Model of a Roman Villa rustica which has been excavated near Straubing
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Statues of house gods which once were put up in a family's lararium.
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Finds from a wealthy person's grave, set in scene as an ancient Roman funeral
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Roman pottery, a mirror and oil lamp
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A treasure of ancient Roman coins, hidden in the ground by a Roman officer in an emergency

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The other departments of the museum show the different eras of prehistory, also with rich archeological finds, the times of the early Bavarians, the development of the town, church art of the baroque era.

Further pieces that I enjoyed a lot included a model of the town in the 17th century, and a model of the first big Volksfest in 1912 which unfortunately drowned in a flood and lead to (this is for the German speakers) an abundance of funny persiflages during the following carnival season.

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Poles with figures of saints. These were in use for religious processions in the baroque era.
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Glass beakers and other finds from the celtic/germanic era
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Prehistoric pottery

Posted by Kathrin_E 13:44 Archived in Germany Tagged museum bavaria bayern christmas_market Comments (0)

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