After a sumptuous Captains’ Farewell Dinner, we woke to yet another day of rain and drizzle, high 36, low 32. There would be no sunny days for us on this trip. The Beatrice docked in Passau, Bavaria around 8:30 AM. This was final stop on our cruise. Tomorrow the passengers would disperse, most to the airport but others to other cities in Europe.
Today’s tour started at 9 AM. The senior Rambler decided he didn’t want to go, but undeterred, I joined the Gentle Walker’s group solo. I was very glad I did, because our guide Sonia, was hands down the best we had on the trip. It was not just her familiarity with Passau’s history but her warm and welcoming self. She greeted us with the traditional greeting of conservative Bavaria Grüß Gott, (translation , “God be with you) which set the scene for an interesting tour, as she shared many traditions of the area, including where to tie the bow of your sash if you are wearing a dirndl. (surprisingly important)
And if my female readers ever decide to wear the dirndl, think Maria in the Sound of Music, where you tie the bow is crucial, even today. If you tie it on the left, you signal that you are available, on the right, taken (engaged or married), in the back, a widow and in the front, a virgin. Evidently at least in Austria, people still check out the placement of the bow.. Dirndls are quite popular today in Austria and Bavaria today, and can be quite expensive.They are worn for special occasions, for a comfortable, traditional look, and even as Halloween costumes. Young women often wear a short skirt and accentuate the low cut bodice, while older women stick to the more traditional long skirt. You can see a variety of dirndls here. Recent article on Austrian dirndls from Vienna Unwrapped.
Sonia led us through the narrow medieval streets of Alstadt Passau pointing out the high water marks of the disastrous flood that occurred in June, 2013, the worst in 500 years. Water from the Danube reached a height of 42.2 feet and much of the Alstadt was underwater. By December 2014, many of the buildings had been repaired although some along the river still needed restoration. Angela Merkel came to view the devastation personally and arraigned aid for for the townspeople who had no flood insurance
Passau, the town which takes pride because three rivers meet there, was done in by its unique location in 2013. Sonia later took us up to a high point in the Alstadt where we could see the confluence of the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers.
We also hiked up the cobblestone streets to St. Stephen’s Church which has the largest cathedral organ in the world and the largest outside the United States. This beautiful church was rebuilt in baroque style during the 17th century, although a Catholic church has stood on the site for hundreds of years. Passau was once governed by a Prince-Bishop and his impressive palace stands near the church.At St. Stephen’s, I got to see yet another creche under construction, as well as the beautiful interior. Although we didn’t get to hear the gigantic organ
, it was an impressive sight, all chrome and baroque gilt. After our visit to the church, we headed back to the shops of the Alstadt where we were scheduled to have a gingerbread baking demonstration.
The Rambler prides herself on her knowledge and skill in the kitchen so she wasn’t too excited about the demonstration. After all, every time she made gingerbread cookies they were the last ones to be eaten.
Gingerbread has never been one of our family favorites. However, I was very glad I decided to go because I learned quite a bit about the history of gingerbread baking.
Our instructors were the third and fourth generation, father and son of the Simon (family)Cafe, Bakery and Confectionery, established in 1903. They told us that gingerbread has evolved since medieval times when it was simply a mixture of flour, honey and water flavored with whatever spices were available.
This variety got hard as a rock and kept forever, important in the days before refrigeration when nothing was thrown away. It was often pressed into a wooden mold before baking to decorate it. In the 19th century bakers produced a sweeter version, because of the availability of cane sugar, at first, mainly in the form of molasses. No longer did they have to rely on honey as a sweetener. Gradually eggs and baking powder were added and the rye flour used in the earliest versions was replaced by white flour. Simon’s also makes a modern version which replaces much of the flour with. marzipan (almond paste and sugar). If you like marzipan, and I do, you will love this version, as I did..
The Simon’s call it Eisenlebkuchen. I later bought a container and savored it all myself after we got home. That’s not as bad as it sounds as the senior Rambler dislikes gingerbread AND marzipan.
In Germany, gingerbread is called lebkuchen, and it contains a variety of spices even a little pepper, but no ginger! If you stop at Passau on a Christmas Markets river cruise, you will probably have a chance to stop at Simon’s and see a gingerbread demonstration. Don’t pass it up.