Resplendent Regensburg: Take a tour through the Middle Ages and beyond
November 9, 2011
REGENSBURG, Germany -- A medieval city bustling with builders, shippers, dock workers, traders and citizens on the transcontinental Silk Route must have been a sight to see. Such a city would boast grand architecture, strong political and religious influence and a robust economy.
Regensburg on the Danube in Bavaria is one such city and was designated by the United Nations' Cultural Organizations, as a UNESCO World Heritage site in July 2006. While the Danube in Regensburg now offers more tour boat cruises than silk trade and shipping, the medieval flavor of the city is still tangible to visitors. Largely untouched by World War II bombing, Regensburg's intact medieval city center has a lot to offer travelers, everything from shopping and great restaurants to Roman ruins, castles and medieval architecture.
A majestic cathedral
Much like it must have been for merchants in the 13th century, St. Peter's Cathedral's spires still dominate the river valley, beckoning visitors into the heart of the city.
The cathedral is an architectural wonder that is on par with many of Europe's great churches, and worth a visit inside to see the beautiful stained glass windows glinting in the sunlight. A quick trip into the catacombs will give visitors an idea of the rich and long history of Regensburg as many of the city's bishops are interred here.
Bridge to the past
Just down the hill from the church is the famous Danube River, which has inspired many artists and musicians throughout Germany's history. Standing on the banks of the river today, watching the boats float tourists along Regensburg's beautiful riverbanks, travelers will catch site of the magnificent stone bridge that was built in the 12th century.
The bridge's 16-stone arches connect the heart of Regensburg to the old Bavarian town of Stadtamhof and provide a bridge into the past for today's visitors. When Regensburg became an economic stronghold during the silk trade of the Middle Ages, a permanent river crossing became necessary. Taking 11 years to build, the 300-meter-long bridge was the only Danube River crossing in the area for nearly 800 years. It was eventually used as the inspiration of the famous St. Charles Bridge in Prague.
If you find yourself becoming a hungry tourist while looking downstream from the stone bridge, just make a quick trip to the little green building on the right bank of the river to the World's Oldest Sausage Kitchen, or the Wurstkuchl. This small restaurant is a historical site all on its own, built 500 years ago the kitchen supported the bridge builders and dock workers by offering them sizzling, grilled sausages with tangy homemade sauerkraut and sweet mustard. Today, you can enjoy the same wurst and kraut at any one of the fest tables outside or grab a quick snack on the go.
While Regensburg is a showcase for German history, it also features modern stores surrounded by countless cafes and ice cream shops. You can usually find these located in one of Regensburg's lovely squares with outdoor tables that offer respite from the busy day of a tourist. So, by all means, spend the morning shopping or sightseeing and then refresh yourself during a leisurely lunch or during afternoon cake and coffee.
Garden and palaces
The development of Regensburg as a modern trade city and economic power also brought culture and refinement to the city. Beautiful gardens and parks were established to buffer the city from the outside world and, eventually, a royal family was sent by an emperor.
Prince Alexander Ferdinand of the Thurn and Taxis family was dispatched to the city by Emperor Franz I in 1748. The family's arrival brought a greater social and cultural significance to Regensburg.
One of the most important contributions of the Thurn and Taxis family to the city was the princely court library, which has been free and open to the public since 1786.
Today, Regensburg is still the home to the Thurn and Taxis family. They live in the St. Emmeram Palace, which has been opened to the public for tours and during various seasonal events.
A visit to the palace, once a Benedictine monastery, will take you back in time and into the lives of a royal family that is still active and important to Regensburg's culture. For more on pricing and tour times, visit www.thurnundtaxis.de.
As with most of the Regensburg attractions, the city's gardens and parks date back to the 16th century. Many of the parks offer a quiet atmosphere for visitors and residents alike as lush foliage and colorful gardens compliment miles of shaded walking paths in the city.
A trip upstream
Only 27 kilometers upstream from Regensburg is the town of Kelheim. Like many quaint Bavarian villages, Kelheim offers outdoor cafes, beautiful churches and colorful window boxes bursting with red and pink geraniums. Like Regensburg, it offers scenic Danube boat tours, but also has its own unique tourist attraction, the Befreiungshalle.
The Befreiungshalle, Hall of Liberation, was commissioned by King Ludwig I and was built in 1863 to commemorate the German victories against Napoleon and his French armies from 1813-1815. The walk up to the hall is beautiful as it looks over cliffs down into the Danube River Valley. The hall itself is a giant cylindrical structure surrounded by statues and columns. Inside the hall, the geometric marble floor and the stark white statues tell the stories of Germany's victorious battles.
If you are looking for more adventure and scenic views, you can take the 165 steps from the main floor out onto the top balcony. Inside, you can walk around the entire second floor taking in the hall's grandeur.
Regensburg and the surrounding area are full of scenery and things to do, and the area is perfect for a day trip or long weekend.
For more information on Regensburg and the Hall of Liberation, visit www.regensburg.de and www.schloesser.bayern.de/englisch/palace/objects/kelheim.htm.
Tourist information is available in English as well as German.