Dispatches from Europe: From Austria to Germany
by Sam Matthews
Jun 13, 2014 | 1852 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The final leg of our Danube River ship cruise that started in Budapest, Hungary, took the Amacerto from Austria into the southeast corner of Germany. Here, we visited three cities along the Danube before heading by bus to Munich.

A bishop’s first impression

PASSAU — Just inside the German border with Austria, Passau is a midsized university city of 50,000 where three rivers, the Danube, Inn and Ilz meet. At the confluence of the rivers, it appeared that the Inn, which has its headwaters deep in the Alps, provided more flow and stronger current than the Danube.

Passau has a long history of once being the largest Catholic bishoprics in Holy Roman Empire. It continues this tradition with 55 churches in the city. During a Sunday morning walking tour, we visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral, where services were just concluding. It was the first Mass said by Passau’s new bishop, Dr. Stefan Oster, who was just invested the day earlier. The 48-year-old native of Amberg, Germany, passed by us on exiting the cathedral and appeared to look more than a Hollywood leading man than a bishop.

In an appealing historical center, Passau has many Baroque buildings designed by Italian architects after fire destroyed most of city in 1600s.

Rowing on the river

VILSHOFEN — This is where Amacerto ended our Danube journey. A small town of 17,000 residents with winding streets beneath the twin spires of the Benedictine monastery of Schweikberg, Vilhosfen is where two rivers, the Vils and Wolfach, flow into the Danube.

On those rivers, we saw members of an active rowing club practicing their rowing techniques. One member was on the Olympic champion eight-man shell.

Next, we bused north to Regensburg to end our days on the Danube.

Big-box ubiquity

REGENSBURG — This midsize German city on the Danube has the reputation of having one of the best-preserved — and rebuilt — historical centers.

A smaller part of the old town is on an island between the Danube and a canal. The historical Stone Bridge, currently under reconstruction, leads to the main part of the old town with all kinds of shops and restaurants on the sometimes narrow streets.

The local cathedral, The Dom of St. Peter, is one of the architectural gems of the city. We had lunch in an outdoor café next to the cathedral. We were not alone; a Viking River Cruises ship was in port, and we encountered any number of tour groups along the way.

Although known the city is known for its picturesque city center, on entering and leaving Regensburg in our tour bus, I couldn’t help but notice the cluster of big-box stores along the main thoroughfare. Even Regensburgers, staunchly proud of their historical center, want those kinds of shopping options.

Bavarian history

MUNICH — We started our visit to Munich — the capital of the Free State of Bavaria, which has some of the same state-pride attitude as Texas — with a walking tour as a light rain fell.

We made our way to the Marienplatz, where groups of tourists holding hundreds of cameras and cellphones waited until the Glockenspiel figures in the tower came to life in the new Rathaus (city hall).

Dinner in a traditional German restaurant with plenty of bratwurst and beer followed.

Later, historian Dr. Marcus Urban outlined the history of Bavaria as part of the Holy Roman Empire until Napoleon marched in early in the 19th century and ended reigns of prince-bishops. How state known for “Gemütlichkeit” could have been the birthplace of the Nazi party in the 1920s is hard to explain, he said, except to say that Bavarians are traditionalists who were frightened by the abortive takeover attempt by the communists after World War I and found Hitler and his Nazi Party the less threatening of two choices, especially in the wake of hyperinflation that made most German currency worthless.

Since World War II, Munich has grown from the home of farms and breweries into an economic powerhouse as home of BMW, Audi, Siemens and countless “mittelstand” — middle-sized — manufacturing firms. Unemployment is among the lowest in Germany.

But there is still beer poured down in Munich, and plenty of it, at numerous beer halls, restaurants and outdoor beer gardens. The Nazi Party is long gone, but “Gemütlichkeit” lives on. Prost!

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, has returned from a trip in Europe. He can be reached at shm@tracypress.com or 830-4234.

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