By Renée S. Gordon
Bamberg, Germany is our second UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a mere 43-miles from Wurzburg and the 580-acre site was inscribed in 1993 based on its significance to human history and interchange of human values. The town follows an early medieval street plan laid out in the form of a cross with a church at each of the four points. Bamberg, in Bavarian Upper Franconia, served as a model for other areas in Europe in terms of its medieval and Renaissance architecture and urbanization. Bamberg received minimal damage during WWII and as a result has the most unaltered Old Town in the country with more than 2,400 UNESCO protected buildings. www.whc.unesco.org/en
The earliest documented mention of Bamberg dates from 902 when the Castrum Babenberg, a hilltop castle owned by the Babenbergs, is stated as being situated where the cathedral is currently. The family held the area until it became the property of the king around 906. Seventy-three years later Otto II gifted the land to his cousin Heinrich, Duke of Bavaria, whose son, Heinrich II, became the German king in 1002 and established a bishopric in his favorite city. He laid out the Romanesque city and started construction of a cathedral in 1007. Bamberg, for 800-years, would remain the official residence of Prince-Bishops. The city is built on seven hills and Heinrich’s desire was for Bamberg to become a second Rome. Throughout its history Bamberg was always a prosperous center of cultural exchange and intellectual enlightenment because it is located on the River Main, an important shipping point.
A glitch in the city’s history took place in the years between 1627-31, the period of the infamous Bamberg witchcraft trials. Such trials were being held throughout the country, probably motivated by a series of wars and plagues and the greed of some of the accusers.
Prince-Bishop Gottfried Johann Georg II Fuchs von Dornheim instituted the witchcraft trials in 1627 and in 1627 he built the Drudenhaus, a special prison for witches containing cells for about 40 prisoners, interrogation rooms, torture chambers and a yard where executions could be carried out. During its four years of operation between 300 and 600 people were tried. In 1630 King Ferdinand II reigned in the frenzy by declaring that trial records be made public and permitting the accused to offer a defense. The persecutions ended when Dornheim died in 1632. The Witch House was eventually torn down and the stone used in the construction of a monastery.
Tours usually begin with the magnificent Bamberg Cathedral of St. Peter and St. George. Architecturally the building is mixture of late Romanesque and early French-Gothic. The original church was consecrated in 1012 and damaged by fire in 1081. A new cathedral, built by Otto the Bishop of Bamberg, was consecrated in 1111.
The dimensions of the cathedral are inspiring. It is 310-ft. long, 92-ft. wide and 85-ft. high with four 210-ft. spires. The tympanum above the north portal or Prince’s Entrance, adorned with carvings of the Last Judgment, is just the first of the church’s outstanding artworks. Prior to entering the church scan the surrounding area. This is the best place to get a snapshot of the four main architectural styles represented in the city, Baroque, Gothic, Renaissance and Romanesque.
The cathedral’s interior features several artworks that are not to be overlooked, the most notable of which is the Bamberger Reiter. The unnamed Bamberg Horseman is an equestrian statue sculpted in the early 13th-century by an unknown artist. The rider is very fashionably dressed and originally the statue was painted in vivid colors, as was the cathedral at the time with red walls and blue pillars. It is situated on a pillar near the eastern choir. The rider is the symbol of the city.
Henry II founded the city and the church and after his death n 1513 Tilman Riemenschneider carved the tomb of saints Henry II and his wife Cunigunde. The lid of the marble sarcophagus depicts the couple and three sides of the tomb feature five carved scenes from their lives. The optimum view of the tomb can be obtained by climbing the stairs on the side.
The Bamberg Cathedral holds the only Vatican approved papal tomb north of the Alps and the only one in Germany. Clemens II, once Bishop of Bamberg, is interred in a tomb in St. Peter’s Choir beneath the High Altar.
The Alte Hofhaltung, Old Imperial Palace, is located adjacent to the cathedral and the inner courtyard exiting the cathedral through the Schone Piorte. The site began life as a fort then later as the Bishops’ Palace Court was built in 1591. Highlights of the courtyard are a number of half-timbered buildings from 1475, a Renaissance gate from 1568 and the Bamberg Historical Museum.
There is documentary evidence that Bamberg’s Jewish population predates the 12th-century and a walk through the historic Jewish Quarter, Pfahlplaetzchen, is a virtual lesson in history and architecture with houses dating from the 10th to the 16th- centuries. Periodically throughout Bamberg’s history Jews were persecuted and/or expelled and many left during the Nazi regime. In 1941, the 300 remaining were deported to concentration camps. After the war, only 17 former residents returned.
Old Town Hall, Altes Rathaus, is uniquely located on a tiny island between the Untere and Obere Brückes in the Regnitz River. A bridge has been on the site since the 13th-century but the original town hall dates from the 14th-century. Legend has it that Bamberg’s bishop refused to cede any land to the city to construct a town hall and in response they constructed an island. It was renovated 1744-55 and Baroque and Rococo elements were added. The most beautiful details of the building are the frescoes created in the trompe l’oeil style. Visitors should view, and photograph, the structure from as many vantage points as possible.
On the eastern shore of the Regnitz River, between Markusbrücke and Untere Brücke, nestles Klein Venedig or Little Venice. This charming row of half-timbered, 19th-century, fishermen’s’ cottages is one of Bamberg’s most unique and photographed attractions.
One church is situated at each of the four cardinal points of the city. Michaelskirche, St. Michael’s, is a complex featuring both a Romanesque church and a Benedictine monastery erected in the 12th-century. Bishop Otto was entombed there in 1443 and visitors can crawl through a small passage mid-tomb to cure back problems. The Franconian Beer Museum is located here in the restored rooms of the Benedictine brewery. The monks were the first brewers and the exhibits, nearly 1500, trace the history of beer brewing from 1122.
St. Stephan’s Church is a protestant church located on the Stephansplatz. Pope Benedict consecrated it in 1020 and in the 17th-century it achieved its Baroque elements during a reconstruction. The second oldest Romanesque basilica is the Jakobskirche, St. Jacob’s. The church was on the exterior of the fortifications and is a pilgrimage stop on the Way of St. James. Otto II built Bamberg’s oldest church, St. Gangolf’s. It is Late-Romanesque with Gothic touches added in 1400.
The entire city of Bamberg is an outdoor museum and there are 16 indoor museums of note. A favorite of American visitors is the Levi Strauss Museum even though it is situated in Buttenheim, 11-miles south of the city center. The museum opened in 2000 in the small, 17th-century, half-timbered, two-story house Loeb Strauss was born in 1829.
He and his family lived on the first floor of the white house with blue shutters until his father died and he and his family emigrated to New York in 1848 and it was around this time that he changed his name to Levi. In 1853 he moved to San Francisco and 20 years late he, along with Jacob Davis, was granted US Patent #139,121 for riveted jeans. The museum recounts the story with deft use of audio and video displays. www.levi-strauss-museum.de
Bamberg’s beer history can be traced to 1093 and in 1489, long before the German Purity Law, Heinrich III mandated that the ingredients of the city’s beer be limited to water, hops and malt. Modern Bamberg has nine private breweries, 70 in the surrounding area and more than 50 beer specialties, making it the authentic “Beer Capital of the World.” Bamberg’s most famous brew is Rauchbier, smoked beer, created using malted barley dried over an open flame, creating a smoky taste and smell.
The “BierSchmecker®-Stadt Bamberg”, Brewery Trail, gives visitors an opportunity to learn interesting facts, visit beer establishments and taste local brews. Five beer vouchers for different beers, a rucksack, a beer mug, a BAMBERGcard, all the essentials, are included when you embark on the journey. The BAMBERGcard is good for attraction admissions, an audioguide and free bus travel over a 3-day period. www.bamberg.info/en/erlebnis/bierstadt/bierschmecker
Be certain to place the Schlenkerla Tavern high on your list of must-sees. It is situated beneath the cathedral. The rustic setting is the perfect place to enjoy authentic local cuisine and try the smoked beer. www.schlenkerla.de/indexe
Bamberg offers something wonderful in every season but it really sparkles at Christmas. There are a number of Christmas markets the most celebrated is the medieval market held in the Old Court. The Nativity Trail is internationally renowned and includes hundreds of nativity scenes housed in 40 museums, churches and other venues. The scenes relate the seasonal Bible stories and honor both the centuries old nativity traditions and the German artistic choice to include modern art in churches to reflect the fact that at the time churches were constructed their artworks were contemporary.
Nativity scenes were teaching tools because the masses could not read. Only churches could afford them until they were banned because it was felt they had become too elaborate and at that point people began to purchase them for their homes. St. Francis of Assisi is believed to have been the first person to have an outdoor crèche.
Bamberg is also an important shopping destination in general and specifically because of the quantity and quality of its antique shops. There are no large stores in the Old City and each store has its own personality. Note that many of the pharmacies are indicated with a sculpture or sign of a Moor. This honors the traditional belief that the black Wiseman brought the medicinal gift, myrrh, to the baby Jesus.
One shop not to be missed is Christl Wagner’s Millinery Shop. This is a real treat because it is a real old-fashioned hat store where you can try on a hat or place an order for a designer item. You will feel like a movie star. www.hutgeschaeft-christlwagner.de
An obvious and excellent choice of accommodations in Bamberg is the Barockhotel am Dom. A house is first documented on this site in 1392 when one was constructed on the site of an even earlier house. In 1740 the building was given a new interior and more elegant façade and 237-years later it became one of the most storied hotels in the Altstadt, Old City. There are 19 rooms with all the amenities including free WIFI and breakfast is available in a medieval vault. The hotel is within waking distance of all the Altstadt sites. www.barockhotel.de/en
Yes, Bamberg is as wonderful as it sounds. All information necessary for planning the perfect trip is available online. www.bamberg.info/en and www.germany.travel/en
I wish you smooth travels!
My Brother Marvin will play at the Merriam Theater from February 19th- 24th. Written by Zeola Gaye, sister of Marvin, it stars Lynn Whitfield and Keith Washington. Tickets are on sale now. www.kimmelcenter.org or www.ticketphiladelphia.org