Bamberg, a city of rivers and gardens

Not surprisingly, after seeing the Stolpensteine, after viewing the stumbling stones, our little group of Gentle Walkers was somewhat subdued and thoughtful. However, our guide, Sabine, switched gears and began to talk about Bamberg’s historic past catching our interest with some fascinating history. Incidentally, if you do go to Bamberg and take a tour, be sure to ask your guide about the stumbling blocks. Since we thought it was the most moving thing we had seen, we mentioned it to our friends in the other Bamberg tour groups. Much to our surprise, we found that their guides had focused only on the historic past, and had not shown them perhaps the most important mementos on the tour.

Relief map of Bamberg for thevVisually impaired.
Relief map of Bamberg for thevVisually impaired.

Before we entered into medieval Bamberg, Sabine also showed us another unusual display. The city had constructed a relief map of the historic city which allows visually impaired visitors to see the town with their touch.

Bamberg is a city of two rivers, the Main and the much smaller Regnitz.

Little Venice in Bamberg, no sidewalks to be seen along the river bank.
Little Venice in Bamberg, no sidewalks to be seen along the Regnitz river bank.

We would cross the Regnitz more than once as we cris-crossed the historic heart of the town. Along the much smaller Regnitz river is an area called “Little Venice.” Here centuries ago, fisherman had built their homes along the river bank and they are still there.little venice Not surprisingly, there is no way to access the homes from the river side except by boat, so if you want a close-up view, you have to take one of the local boat tours.

Perhaps the most visited site in Bamberg is the old Town Hall, built on a very small island in the middle of the Regnitz river. The building dates back to the 14th century and is constructed in a very unusual style.

Medieval front of the city hall.
Medieval front of the city hall.

It stands out even more because the facade is covered with baroque style frescoes.

l7th century frescoes on the side of the town hall
l7th century frescoes on the side of the town hall

Bamberg legend says that the  Bishop who governed the town in the 14th century, refused to give the townspeople any land for the construction of a town hall. They got around this by building on an unclaimed island in the river.

Sunday morning is probably not the best day to visit Bamberg because the churches were closed to visitors and the shops were not open on Sunday. We did get to see the statue of St. Cunigunde,  the wife of Bamberg’s most famous son, emperor Heinrich II who was crowned in its cathedral in 1012 CE. Until her husband’s death, she ruled as Holy Roman Empress and had much influence in affairs of state.

St. Cunegunda, patroness of the city
St. Cunegunda, patroness of the city

She and her husband also gave much of their wealth away to aid the poor. Cunigunde is the patroness of Bamberg as well as the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Cunigunde and Henry are buried in the Bamberg cathedral. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the cathedral interior but we did note her statue.

Bamberg was somewhat unusual in that during the middle ages, the town built bathhouses for the people, separate ones for men and women. Bathing was difficult at a time when almost no one had indoor plumbing of any kind.

More Bamberg saints and angels
More Bamberg saints and angels

Most people rarely took baths for this reason, but in Bamberg, citizens did have the opportunity to bathe for a small fee.

Our stay in Bamberg allowed some free time to explore the city which we enjoyed. We stopped for a coffee at one of the many local cafes with outdoor tables and watched locals and tourists stroll by.  We did enjoy window shopping on the way back to our meeting place. I guess it saved us some money as we could look but not buy anything.

Beautiful nativity scenes in a Bamberg shop
Beautiful nativity scenes in a Bamberg shop

I though wistfully of the beautiful nativity scenes we had seen in this Bamberg shop window, especially after I dropped my plaster St. Joseph and he broke in three pieces. Fortunately, unlike HumptyDumpty,  he was put back together again with super glue.

Then we wandered back to our pick-up point,  and hopped a ride back to the Maria Theresa. Sometimes it was hard to find our way back with all the twists and turns of the narrow streets, but this was not the case in Bamberg.

Who could miss this?
Who could miss this?

We had noted a brightly colored cartoon display on way to our bus stop, and it was easy to locate on the way back.

The Maria Theresa spend the rest of the afternoon docked at Bamberg Bayernhofen Kai; we could have taken a tour of a Franconian farm and village in the afternoon, but decide instead to relax and enjoy the view from the Kai.

Another beautiful stone bridge over the Regnitz
Another beautiful stone bridge over the Regnitz

We set sail promptly at 5 PM; our next stop would be Nuremberg. En route, we would be traveling through the Main Canal towards the Danube.

Stolpensteine: Poignant Messages from the Past in Bamberg

After a pleasant and low key stop in Schweinfurt, the Maria Theresa set sail late that evening for Bamberg. The Ramblers had enjoyed not having to be someplace particular with a group, for a change. While Schweinfurt was not the most spectacular place we visited, it provided a sense of a more normal German lifestyle, as we mingled with dozens of families enjoying their stadtfest.

Bamberg was, according to our Uniworld printout, a city that is quite unusual. A UNESCO heritage site, it has a fascinating old town that had many special cultural and architectural historic places from the last thousand years. It would also provide the Ramblers with their most thought-provoking moments of the trip.

Bamberg already was on the map in the 10th century and once served briefly (in the 11th century) as the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Its most famous son, Heinrich II was crowned in its cathedral in 1012 AD. The Bishop of Bamberg wielded considerable power in the middle ages while Bamberg claims to have been the second German city to introduce the new process of printing in 1460.

Bamberg is also the last city on the Main River before the start of the Main-Danube Canal. After we left Bamberg, during the evening through the night and  into the following morning, the Maria Theresa would traverse a series of locks that would eventually bring us to the Danube. Since we stopped there on Sunday August 30, we would not be able to tour the cathedral, as it was closed to tourists because of Sunday Masses.

Walking into Bamberg with the Cathedral in background.
Walking into Bamberg with the Cathedral in distance.

Neither were the shops open, as the residents did not shop on Sundays. However, as it turned out there was much to see and do.

Bamberg is in the area of southern Germany where beer replaces wine as a major product, and beer consumption per resident is the highest in Germany. There are 10 breweries in the area, each with its own beer tower. The breweries themselves are called Bierstadts or Bierkulturstadts. Our guide later told us that in the old days, each brewery could only sell their product to people who lived within view of the tower, but now this is not the case. Germans are concerned about the protein content of their brew and many refer to it as liquid bread. Probably their most famous beer is Rauchbier, first brewed in 1536. It is supposed to have a smoky flavor, but the Rambler is not a beer drinker and the senior Rambler doesn’t imbibe at all, so I can’t attest to its flavor.

sabine our guide
Sabine, our wonderful guide in Bamberg

After docking around breakfast time, we assembled in our groups to board busses that would take us to town. Unfortunately the town center was not within easy walking distance as it had been the day before. We decided to go with the Gentle Walkers again; they were a pleasant group and it is better to be one of the faster folks in the slow group than the slowest in the fast one. We were later very glad we made this choice because our Bamberg guide, Sabine, was the absolute best we had on the trip. She was thin and wiry, intense and enthusiastic, and reminded me of a faculty friend back home. As it turned out, she was an art history professor.

After we had gathered around our guide, the four Uniworld groups scattered in different directions. Evidently all the guides had a different idea of what was most interesting about their city. As it turned out, of the four guides, only Sabine made a stop to show us a place we have have often recalled.

Along this quiet street, something awful had happened in the past.

We headed up a narrow, cobblestone paved street, towards the historic district when Sabine stopped in the middle of the pedestrian street and asked us to look down. There set in the middle of the stones were five polished brass blocks. She asked us to take a closer look and we saw that each was engraved with the name, dates and address of a person or family. There we had our first real look at the Stolpersteine, or stumbling blocks.  They held the names of individuals  who had lived along this street and perished during the time of National Socialism. We would later see several more.

Their creator, Gunter Demnig is a German artist who has made it his life’s works to memorialize victims of the Holocaust in front of the buildings where they once lived.

Our first stolpensteine, those they commemorated had lived along that quiet street.
Our first stolpensteine, those they commemorated had lived along that quiet street. Note: If you click on the individual blocks to enlarge them, you will be able to read them. The three lower blocks are parents and child.

Anyone can order one, but they are usually placed by the Stolperstein team. In Bamberg, the money to order the stumbling blocks was raised by the schoolchildren of the city. According to Demnig’s homepage, the cost for each is 120 Euros, and to date they have been placed in 610 walkways throughout Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands,  Belgium, the Czech Republic, Norway and the Ukraine.

More about Bamberg tomorrow. If you are interested in learning  about Mr. Demnig and his Stolpersteine, I have provided a link. They provide  amazing and poignant memorials we will long remember.

www.stolpensteine.eu/en/biography/

Scenic Sailing to Schweinfurt

One of our most enjoyable activities on board the Maria Theresa involved very little on our part. We spent many enjoyable hours on the bow or stern decks which were open to the sun. There we could sip a glass of wine , a beer or a soft drink and munch on some excellent cheese while viewing the German countryside. Fortunately for the Ramblers, the excellent late August and early September weather made this possible almost every day of our cruise.

approach to a lock
We are either moving towards or away from a lock, with a village in the background

Saturday, August 29th was no exception. It marked the end of the first week of our two week cruise and again we had a choice of activities. Those who wanted could disembark at what Uniworld calls a technical stop.This means the MT stopped at a pre-arranged spot along the way so that the passengers who had elected to take a day trip could  board their busses. The docking and un-docking process took about thirty minutes, and then the MT continued on its way to  its regular stop at Schweinfurt. The day-trippers rode the bus to Rothenburg while the rest of the passengers enjoyed a relaxing day on board. In the late afternoon, the busses would then take them to our stop at Schweinfurt. Friends who went on the day trip had a very good time in Rothenburg (red castle) a very famous medieval town with many interesting buildings, museums and a castle. The Ramblers had decided not to take the Rothenburg tour, one of the few trips that had an extra charge, simply because they enjoyed sailing on the Maria Theresa.

Along the way we saw vacationers swimming and fishing in the Main River, and enjoyed the locking process. One thing the Ramblers didn’t expect was that we would get buzzed by an ultralight.

A good view of the ultralight, coming right at us.
A good view of the ultralight, coming right at us.

We heard a buzzing sound which got closer and closer and revealed  itself as an ultralight plane. The pilot seemed determined to get as close to the MT as possible without crashing into the canal. We soon determined that he was not hostile but merely showing off, and the pilot added a little excitement to our lazy afternoon.

As we drew closer to  Schweinfurt, the MT glided through some industrial areas.

A factory along the Main, we saw very few, though I expect we sailed past many at night.
A factory along the Main, we saw very few, though I expect we sailed past many at night.

Obviously, the German rivers are utilized by industry as are the rivers in the United States and other parts of the world. However, for the most part, the daytime scenery is attractive and consists mainly of fields, vineyards and villages rather than commercial or industrial vistas.

Schweinfurt literally means pig ford, not a very glamorous name for an ancient town that became a German industrial center in the 20th century. Because of this, it was bombed heavily during WWII and much of the city was destroyed although it was soon rebuilt. Many American servicemen were stationed in Schweinfurt after the war, and the United States maintained a base there until 2014.  Thus it didn’t really seem like a very promising stop for the Maria Theresa passengers.

Yes we made it under this low bridge but not by much. The sun deck cover and furnishings were dismantled during this part of the cruise because of several low bridges.
Yes we made it under this low bridge but not by much. The sun deck cover and furnishings were dismantled during this part of the cruise because of several low bridges.

However, we found that Schweinfurt did have an excellent docking facility on the right side of the Main river which was walking distance from the city center. Those who hadn’t gone on the Rothenburg trip had the opportunity to stroll into town. Directly across from our dock, in the middle of the Main River was an island which seemed to contain a large campground,  filled to capacity with folks enjoying the beautiful weather.

Folks enjoying the stadtfest in the marketplatz, St Johannes church tower is in the background.

August 29 was the second day of the Schweinfurt stadtfest or city festival, one of the many held throughout Germany near the end of summer. The Ramblers decided to check it out, since it is always fun to tour a new place on your own. It was but a short walk from the quayside, which has a large concrete walkway, a pavilion and beer stalls to the city center. I learned later that the residents of Schweinfurt consider it their (beer) beach and it is a popular place for jogging, cycling, walking or just sunning during nice weather. I also learned that the stadtfest has now been held for a few years. Every year it has drawn an increasing number of people who participate in various contests and listen to a variety of bands both traditional and rock. The downside of this for the Ramblers was that by the time we got there,  the stores were closed. All that was open were the restaurants, bars and beer tents. Since we had just spent the afternoon on the MT, snacking and drinking, these had little appeal.

A quiet corner near the marketplatz
A quiet corner near the marketplatz

Still it was fun to spend some time wandering among fair goers of all ages  who were obviously enjoying themselves.

The most impressive historic site in Schweinfurt is the Gothic Rathhaus built in the middle of the 16th century, which towers over the marketplace.

The Rathaus or City Hall, dates to the 16th century and dominates the market square.
The Rathaus or City Hall, dates to the 16th century and dominates the market square.

We rambled around the streets that lined the market square, stopping to admire some of the quiet corners and interesting buildings. There was a church, as there usually is in Bavaria, not far from the square and we walked over to look at it. Unfortunately, all its doors were locked, as they are in many churches  today, to prevent vandalism. The Ramblers walked around it to check but couldn’t get in. Neither was there a name visible on the exterior.

Another view of my mystery church, built in the 16th century and later rebuilt after WWII.
First view of my mystery church, built in the 16th century and later rebuilt after WWII.

I didn’t think of asking as I was sure I could easily identify it when I got home. Wrong! There were many photos on the web of churches in Schweinfurt but none resembled the one in the photo I took. I wasn’t sure whether it was a Catholic or Protestant Church, as this area, though predominantly RC, has a substantial number of Lutherans as well as other Protestant denominations. I was about to give up when I tried just one more search and found it. Luckily for me, I had photographed its most famous feature, the “brides’ door” with statues of Adam and Eve.

Note statues, they made identification possible.
Note statues, they made identification possible.

This enabled me to identify my mystery church  as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Johannes at last, a very satisfying end. We tend to take for granted that information we are looking for is readily available on the net, but this is not always the case, even with all the finding aids available. Seems like the Schweinfurt Lutherans are not as avid photographers or Face Bookers as the Catholics.

After a pleasant walk around the city, we headed back to the MT for another excellent dinner. The folks who had taken the bus to Rothenburg had also returned, tired but happy, and glad they had gone. But did they have a chance to get buzzed by an ultralight? I think not.