Germany’s UNESCO Route, Regensburg
ABOVE PHOTO: Kristalkoenigin in Regensburg.
By Renée S. Gordon
“I call architecture frozen music.”
--Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The final stop on our UNESCO Route is the spectacular city of Regensburg, 81-miles from Bamberg. The Old Town of Regensburg with Stadtamhof was designated a UNESCO site in 2006 based on the criteria that in the “High Middle Ages Regensburg was a political center of the Holy Roman Empire and a flourishing European trading center.” The Old Town was not heavily damaged during WWII and is the only example of an intact medieval city in the country. www.unesco.org/new/en
Regensburg is situated at a bend in the Danube River and has been influential since the 9th Century. The architecture of the city reflects its physical and ecclesiastical history from the 11th-13th centuries through a series of Roman, Romanesque and Gothic structures. The city is named after the Regen River that meets the Danube here. www.bavaria.by/index
The area that is now Regensburg was the site of a 600-soldier Roman camp on a hill at the empire’s border in 90 AD. Emperor Marcus Aurelius established a stone, 1,476-ft. by 1,772-ft., Roman military fortification and trading post, Castra Regina, circa 179 AD. The fort was surrounded by a 20-ft. ditch, had 30-ft. high walls, 30 towers and 4 gates. A portion of the northern Roman gate, the Porta Praetoria, is still visible.
In the 6th Century the Bavarians, led by the Agilolfing dukes, settled the area. In 739 the city was made a bishopric and 506-years later became a free imperial city. In 1542 Regensburg converted from free imperial city to the Protestant faith. In 1810 the city became part of Bavaria.
There is so much to see that it is difficult to decide where to begin but when in doubt start with a museum that will provide an orientation. Because of Regensburg’s status as a UNESCO city it is best to begin in the Visitor Centre World Heritage Site Regensburg at Salzstadel. The center provides an excellent background on the city’s history with two floors of state-of-the-art exhibits. It is open year round.
The three story Regensburg Museum of History is situated inside a monastery that dates from the 13th Century. The museum galleries are chronological and begin with pre-historic artifacts. Highlights of the displays are artifacts from archeological digs including pottery and jewelry, a life-sized diorama of Roman quarters, religious sculptures and models of the construction of the Porta Praetoria and the cathedral. It is important to note that the vast majority of the exhibited objects are from the area. All of the text is in German but a visit is still worthwhile.
Steinerne Brucke, the Romanesque Stone Bridge, was completed in 1146 at a length of 1.083-ft. with 16 arches. It replaced previous wooden bridges and a pontoon bridge from Charlemagne’s time. For several hundred years it was the only stone bridge across the Danube. Look for the Bruckmandl, the little man on the bridge, on a pointed stone at the highest point. He is said to be the master-builder looking towards the cathedral.
Salt is one of the oldest commodities to have been traded. Roman soldiers often received their wages in salt, hence the word “salary”. Europe’s most important 13th-century trade route brought the salt from mines in Reichenhall to Regensburg. Adjacent to the bridge is the seven story Salt Store. The salt was brought here to be traded and warehoused.
One of the most famous sites is the Wurstkuche, the Historic Sausage Kitchen. This tiny restaurant has remained unchanged since the 12th Century. Do not leave without trying one of the Rothenburger sausages it is famous for.
Adam Weishaupt, the founder of the Illuminati, hid out at Engelburgergasse #8 from 1785-87. In May of 1776 the order was founded to reform education, religion and government and replace them with virtue, wisdom and science. In 1785 it was banned in Bavaria and Weishaupt fled to the free city of Regensburg. He was forced out two years later.
The Romanesque Cathedral of St. Peter was built where a church has stood for at least 2300-years. The current cathedral was begun in 1273, completed in 1525, with additional touches until 1872. The church became protestant in 1517. On the exterior note the numerous gargoyles, reliefs, 345-ft. tall spires and the two types of stone used, limestone and green sandstone. St. Peter, the cathedral’s patron saint, is shown in several reliefs.
PHOTO: Alte Kapelle.
The sheer beauty of the Gothic interior will render you speechless. The stained-glass windows alone make a visit mandatory, the earliest of which, located in the transept, date, from 1230. Two notable stone sculptures are attached to pillars in the nave. The Smiling Angel is unusual because of his laughing facial expression. Mary, directly opposite Gabriel, is depicted holding a book in one hand and greeting the angel with the other. The statues are part of the Annunciation Group carved and colorfully painted in 1280. St. Peter’s also houses the world’s largest free-hanging organ.
The Alte Kapelle is a Marian church built on the site of a much earlier Roman basilica. The church is the best example of Bavarian Rococo I have ever seen. The highly ornate frescoes depict the lives of saints and scenes from the life of Henry II and Cunigunde.
One of the most unique sites in the city is the Altes Rathaus, Old Town Hall. A guided tour here is a must and English language tours are offered daily. The complex includes a 13th-century, 180.4-ft. tower, 15th-century city hall, the Imperial Diet Museum and an adjacent medieval torture chamber and dungeon. This was the place where the Imperial Diet, the Holy Roman Empire’s legislative body, held court from 1663-1803.
Tours begin in the foyer and proceed through the Imperial Hall, the College of Electors, Electoral Ante-Room, College of Princes and College of the Imperial Cities. Many of the furnishings and decorative items are original.
Charles V established Germany’s first criminal code in 1532. It stated that a person could only be found guilty if they confessed. A confession could be tortured out of the accused but they could only undergo torture three times, no blood could be drawn from a Christian and trials had to take place within 14-days. As a result most torture involved stretching and dunking, a doctor had to be present so that no death occurred and there was always a cross because God must also be present. Not everyone confessed and they were freed but they always died as a result of the experience.
This is a fascinating tour that begins in the interrogation room. Here the person was questioned and shown the instruments of “painful questioning”. More than 85 percent confessed at this point. The torture chamber is filled with original instruments placed where they would have been. Witnesses sat behind a screen and someone was present to record the confession. In the dungeon the holding cell does not allow you to stand upright but it is better than the grated hole where some accused were placed. The Deadman’s Cell is part of the tour. Here you were given your last meal and your family could speak to you through slats on one side of the cell.
Document Neupfarrplatz is an outstanding archeological site uncovered during excavations in the 1990s. Now a museum, the underground tour allows visitors to walk through the ruins of Castra Regina on the lowest level and the remains of the cellars of 40 houses in the medieval Jewish Quarter. In 1519 the Jews were expelled, after the death of Maximillian I who had promised them protection. They were given four days to leave and then their houses were demolished and a Pilgrim’s Chapel and then the New Parish Church built on the site. An orientation video shows what both communities looked like.
In the nearby plaza on the footprint of the synagogue artist Dani Karavan created a “Place of Encounter” in 2005. This space is designed for people to come together and engage in healthy dialog.
Oscar Schindler is believed to have saved the lives of more than 1,000 Jews during WWII. After the war he lived, among other places, in Regensburg at Am Watmarkt 5. A plaque is located on the house. He died in 1974 and is the only member of the NAZI Party to be buried on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem.
One of the city’s architectural claims to fame is the number of private palaces built in the 14th and 15th-centuries with high towers. The towers, reminiscent of those found in Northern Italy, served no other purpose than as a conspicuous display of wealth. Of the original 60 patrician towers more than 15 have survived. The 13th-century, nine story, Goldener Turm is the tallest tower. Goliathhaus, built in 1260 on Goliathstasse, I believe to be the most beautiful of the towers. The façade features a 3-story fresco of David and Goliath, painted in 1573 when these scenes were in style.
Shopping in Regensburg is a special experience. Many of the shops are situated inside former historic residences and private chapels. Most of the shops are one-of-a-kind with a unique and eclectic inventory.
Across the street from Goliathhaus is the Goliath Café Bar Hotel. This wonderful boutique hotel is in the heart of the Old Town and no more than 10 minutes from each historic site. The hotel has natural stone bathrooms, 24-hour room service, designer amenities, WIFI and a Mediterranean roof terrace. The location is ideal. www.hotel-goliath.de
A perfect way to end our trip to some of Germany’s UNESCO cities is with a dinner cruise along the Danube aboard the Crystal Princess. The ship features gourmet cuisine, music and dancing and 1.5-million Swarovski crystals. The ship glows with a million lights as you glide along the historic Danube. It doesn’t get better than that.
Plan your trip to Regensburg using the online tools found at the websites www.regensburg.de/tourismus/about-regensburg/tourist-information/3873 and www.germany.travel/en
I wish you smooth travels!
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