Who’d have thunk that General de Gaulle and Yours Truly have something in common!
Proceeding up the Danube we arrive in Passau where, having a lovely wander around the narrow streets and baroque churches, I get kidnapped. Rivka has spotted a souvenir shop and for the next hour or so I’m a hapless hostage while she hunts for more useless knick-knacks and stuff for the grandkids.
OK, I know! An hour is less than 32 months, the time de Gaulle spent as a prisoner of war in the citadel on a steep hill above the Danube in this Bavarian city during WWI. He even made five unsuccessful attempts to escape. But even so!
I don’t make one escape attempt, and a souvenir shop may not be the same as a cell, but an hour plus is still an hour plus.
Passau is a delightful city, known as the Dreiflüssestadt, City of Three Rivers, because it genuinely is on three rivers. Not like cheating Pittsburgh in the US of A, which also claims to be a city of three rivers - Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio. But in reality it’s merely on two since the Ohio is just the continuation of the Allegheny-Monongahela marriage.
Here, the wide Inn on the right and the narrow Ilz on the left bracket the Danube in the centre, giving Passau a spectacular peninsula-like setting amid its wooded hills, no doubt the reason why the Gallic Boii tribe established their capital here in the second century BCE.
The Romans later set up a colony here, and from the 10th century until the early 19th it was ruled by Prince-Bishops.
Its most notable monument in the Old Town is St. Stephen’s Cathedral, a white baroque confection with three green onion domes and an equally ornate gilded interior, containing the largest church organ in the world with 17,774 pipes and 233 registers. That is until the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles decided to outdo it by enhancing its own pipe-arsenal in 1994.
Over 100 yards long, it was built from 1668 to 1693 to replace a gothic predecessor which burned down.
The gothic town hall with its lofty tower is splendidly evocative of the Middle Ages
The Prince-Bishop’s Veste Oberhaus fortress on the steep hill between the Danube and Ilz, reached by a delightful cliffside trail and steps, affords splendid views over the Old Town, across to the Pilgrimage Church of Mariahilf on the far bank of the Inn, and to pastoral scenes on the far bank of the Ilz.
More Passau views
On the boat’s final segment, you can learn that so-called Mad Ludwig II of Bavaria, famed for his extravagant castles, wasn’t the only master builder of the Wittelsbach dynasty. About six miles downstream from Regensburg, a white Parthenon-like monument crowns a verdant hilltop.
Walhalla, named for the Valhalla of the Norse heroes, was built by Grandad Ludwig I to honour a wide spectrum of Germans, not just those born in Germany, but also those assumed to have Germanic genes, like the Anglo-Saxons who invaded England all those centuries ago.
Hence you’ll find Alaric I, king of the Visigoths, rubbing immortal shoulders with Kings Egbert and Alfred the Great of England, and Russian Field Marshal Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly, Catherine the Great and King William III of England doing likewise with Beethoven, Rubens and Copernicus, all with plaques or busts, or both.
Post-Ludwigian additions include Einstein, Wagner, Bismarck, Bach, Brahms, Richard Strauss, Heinrich Heine, Luther and Konrad Adenauer.
Regensburg is another city that is genuinely on three rivers – Danube, Naab and Regen – a settlement dating back to the stone age. The Romans built a fortress here during the reign of Marcus Aurelius in the 2nd century C.E.
It reached its glory years during the Middle Ages as capital of the duchy of Bavaria, then as a free city of the Holy Roman Empire, seat of the Imperial Diet, and a major centre of the protestant reformation.
As with many places on this trip it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and is among Germany’s top tourist attractions. Its most notable site is the soaring gothic Catholic cathedral, founded in the 13th century, largely completed in the 17th, with its two impressive towers finished in the 19th. It’s currently undergoing a bit of restoration work.
The 12th century Stone Bridge is also undergoing restoration and is more notable for its age and legends than for its aesthetics. At its foot a building said to have served as a construction headquarters for the bridge now serves as the Regensburg Sausage Factory which, along with multiple beer breweries, seems more of a tourist draw than the monuments.
As in many German towns the Jewish community went back a millennium or more with several ancient synagogues.
Today the Stolpersteine (stumbling blocks), a confection of low cream blocks and platforms with the Hebrew for east, the direction of Jerusalem, inscribed at the front, pays tribute to the slaughtered Jews of WWII on the site of the destroyed main synagogue in the square in front of the protestant church. Kids use it for games of tag, trying to catch each other as they hop among the blocks.
For our final night aboard we’re regaled with a crazy old white-bearded fart in Bavarian costume of feathered hat and lederhosen who spends his time in a corny act shuttling between various musical instruments. Again, I seem to be alone in not finding him funny. But I’m not kvetching, am I.
Thus we reach the end of the cruise. I drop Rivka off at Munich airport since she has to rush back to New York for her work.
In the end, after all the purchases, she doesn’t have to buy an extra case, just an extra-large carry-on bag for the journey back via Moscow – three or four more hours of flying but over $200 cheaper.
[Upcoming blog: Romania beyond Dracula - Historic towns and fortified churches: De-vamping on the Looney Front]
By the same author: Swimming With Fidel: The Toils Of An Accidental Journalist. Available on Kindle, with free excerpts at https://www.amazon.com/Swimming-Fidel-Toils-Accidental-Journalist-ebook/dp/B00IMNWV2W and in print version on Amazon in the U.S at https://www.amazon.com/Swimming-Fidel-Toils-Accidental-Journalist/dp/1496080319/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
And: Bussing The Amazon: On The Road With The Accidental Journalist; available with free excerpts on Kindle and in print version at https://www.amazon.com/Bussing-Amazon-Road-Accidental-Journalist-ebook/dp/B00KNCGD9M