Traveler

Germany’s World Heritage Sites: Wurzburg, Bamberg and Regensburg

Fascinating history, cathedrals and artwork await

By Renée S. Gordon |

Forty of the 900 sites worldwide identified by the UNESCO World Heritage Center as worth protecting for others to see are located in Germany.

Bishop's Residence, Wurzburg, Germany
Inside the Bishop’s Residence.

Because Germany has such a modern and convenient rail system, I have always found it easiest to plan my travel based on train schedules and routes. Lufthansa flights fly nonstop from Philadelphia to Frankfurt and the train station is located within the airport. Train destinations include both German and international cities and affordable rail passes are available.

Visiting Wurzburg

Wurzburg, 71 miles from Frankfurt, is one of the premier Baroque towns on the River Main in Lower Franconia in the center of Germany. It is recognized as one of the country’s 13 Historic Highlights as well as a UNESCO World Heritage City and a Franconian wine region. Wurzburg Tourism offers a number of unique ways to see the city: audio guide, cell phone, narrated Red City Train, mp3 player, iGuide mini computer, or personal guided tour. Visitors can purchase the Würzburg Welcome Card, valid for seven days, for about $6.00 and good for more than 25 discounts. www.historicgermany.travel

Archeological evidence proves that there were Celtic fortifications atop Marienberg Hill around 1,700 BC, with the first written documents mentioning Wurzburg in 704 AD. A small fort was built there in the 700s and in the 1200s Marienberg Fortress was built on the site, chosen for its panoramic view and three hillsides are that too steep for a running attack.

During the Peasant’s Revolt, the fortress was surrounded but not breached and as many as 8,000 peasants were killed. Swedish forces conquered the area in 1631, followed by Napoleon’s forces in 1801, and WWII air raids in 1945 took a final devastating toll on the fortification. The site was rehabilitated by 1990 and today visitors can tour the Princes’ Building Museum, the Princes’ Garden and the four-story Maschikuli Tower and Casemate.

Bishop's Residence, Wurzburg, Germany
Frescoes adorn the Bishop’s Residence, or Würzburg Residenz as it’s called.

One of Germany’s largest Romanesque churches, Dom St. Kilian, was built over 133 years, beginning in 1045, and dedicated to Killian, Wurzburg’s patron saint. Kilian and two other clerics, Coloman and Totnan, visited Wurzburg to convert Duke Gozbert and his people to Christianity in 686. They succeeded in converting Duke Gozbert and then informed him that his marriage to his brother’s widow Geilana went against Christian doctrine. When Geilana received the news that he would be leaving she did not take it well and while he was away she had the three missionaries killed and buried along with all their belongings. In the 8th century permission was granted for public veneration.

The cathedral is a four-towered, three-nave basilica with a Baroque-stucco façade. There are 20 bells, the most notable of which is the 1257 Lobdeburg Bell saved from destruction during WWII because it was removed. Two of the cathedral’s most stunning features are the bronze doors created in the 1960s. Amazingly these abstract doors are a modern version of early church art. Highlights of a tour include a large menorah near the entrance, the carved effigies of the bishops buried there, the 13th-century baptismal font and the Baroque altar.

Neumünster Church, a Romanesque basilica, was erected in the 11th century on the site of the martyrdom of St. Kilian and his companions. Bishop Beowulf and Charlemagne entombed their relics in St. Killian’s vault in 788. An inscription beneath the Baroque dome indicates the location. Above the altar are three busts of the missionaries by Riemenschneider. The façade is red sandstone and dates from the 1800s.

Wurzburg has a striking Rathaus, or Town Hall. The earliest, Romanesque Tower was built around 1250 with extensions in the 15th and 16th centuries and Roter Turm, a Renaissance tower, added in 1660.

Casual travelers and religious pilgrims climb the hill to the 1778 Kapelle Church. The walk from the Ludwigsbrucke takes approximately 20 minutes and is semi-strenuous with a 352-step climb. Highlights are the life-sized sculptures of the Stations of the Cross, frescoes and Miracle Hall. There is a restaurant adjacent to the church and the view from the top takes your breath away.

In 1981 the Bishop’s Residence and Court Gardens, constructed from 1720-1744, was added to the list of World Heritage Sites based on its significance to human history and as an exemplar of human creative genius. It is one of the largest Baroque palaces in the country with 365 Baroque and Rococo rooms and a height of 121 feet.

Bishop's Residence, Wurzburg, Germany
The Bishop’s Residence and Court Gardens was constructed from 1720-1744.

Around 1752 the Venetian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo was imported to create a fresco on the vaulted ceiling above the cantilevered staircase. The work, when completed, would be the largest fresco in the world and would showcase Europe as the greatest of the four continents including Africa, America and Asia. A woman personifies each continent and the 99-foot-by 65-foot work is a skillful combination of two- and three-dimensional art.

The tour of the Palace proceeds through a series of ornate and beautiful rooms. Of particular note are the murals of Barbarossa’s connection to the Holy Roman Empire in the Emperor’s Hall and the contrasting White Room. The Mirrored Cabinet Room is astonishing, all the more so when you learn that it was restored after suffering damage in WWII.

Wurzburg is famous for its wine and many of the wineries began as cottage industries. That was not the case with the Residences’ Staatlicher Hofkeller and a tour of the Historic State Winery is a must. The cellars, the nation’s oldest, cover 49,000 square feet with walls up to 16.4-feet thick. Wine was first produced here in 1128, and now the 300 acres of vineyards produce 850,000 bottles annually.

On March 16, 1945, Wurzburg was the target of the British. The RAF dropped 380,000 incendiary bombs, killing more than 3,000 and destroying 85 percent of the city. Less than one month later U.S. forces entered the city and occupied what had been the Nazi People’s Welfare Organization as their headquarters at Ludwigkai 4.

Wurzburg participates in the Stolpersteine Project. The word means “stumbling stones” and refers to 4-inch commemorative brass plaques visible throughout the city.  Each “cobblestones” is inscribed with the name, birth date and final destination of one deportee. The vast majority represented are Jewish but the Stolpersteine also include the names of Jehovah Witnesses, blacks, homosexuals, and other victims of Nazi persecution. They are imbedded in walkways near the place where the individual lived or worked.

Marienberg Fortress
The Marienberg Fortress towers above the Old Main River Bridge.

The perfect place to end a visit to Wurzburg is on the Alte Mainbrucke, the Old Main River Bridge. The extant bridge dates from the 15th-century and was constructed on the existing foundation of an 8th-century Romanesque structure. The life-sized Baroque sculptures that line the pedestrian bridge were placed there in 1730. The right side of the bridge honors secular people; on the left are statues of religious figures, including St. Kilian. The view from the middle of the bridge at night is priceless.

Finish with dinner at the Alte Mainmuehle Restaurant on the bridge. The restaurant was a flourmill and many of the architectural elements have survived. The Franconian menu is changed seasonally, the food is wonderful and the restaurant affords diners outstanding views of the Marienberg Fortress.

Hotel Maritim Wurzburg, within walking distance of the main attractions, is a best bet for accommodations and offers an indoor pool, solarium, fine dining and 287 guest rooms. All of the amenities are provided plus an extensive breakfast buffet, parking, Wi-Fi, and cable television.

On to Bamberg

Next we journey 43 miles to Bamberg in Bavarian Upper Franconia, our second UNESCO World Heritage Site. Information on all the sites mentioned is available online. www.wuerzburg.de/enBamberg, Germany

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 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.

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. For 800 years, Bamberg would remain the official residence of Prince-Bishops. The city is built on seven hills and Heinrich’s desire was for Bamberg, an important shipping point on the River Main and a center of cultural exchange and intellectual enlightenment, to become a second Rome.

Bamberg City Gate
The Bamberg city gate.

A glitch in the city’s history took place in the years between 1627-31, the period of the infamous Bamberg witchcraft trials.

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 feet long, 92 feet wide and 85 feet high with four 210-foot 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. Before entering the church, scan the surrounding area 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, the symbol of the city, is 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.

Henry II founded the city and the church, and after his death in 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 scenes from their lives. The optimum view of the tomb can be obtained by climbing the stairs on the side.

Jewish quarter in Bamberg
The historic Jewish Quarter in Bamberg.

The Alte Hofhaltung, Old Imperial Palace, is adjacent to the cathedral. Once a fort, it later became the Bishops’ Palace Court, 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.

Bamberg’s Jewish population predates the 12th century and a walk through the historic Jewish Quarter, Pfahlplaetzchen, is a 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 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.

St. Gangolf’s is Late-Romanesque with Gothic touches added in 1400.

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 in the restored rooms of the Benedictine brewery. The monks were the first brewers and nearly 1500 exhibits 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, but there are 16 indoor museums of note. A favorite of American visitors is the Levi Strauss Museum 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 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, where he changed his name to Levi. In 1853 he moved to San Francisco and 20 years late he, along with Jacob Davis, was granted U.S. Patent #139,121 for riveted jeans.

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 three-day period.

Be certain to place the Schlenkerla Tavern, beneath the cathedral, high on your list of must-sees. The rustic setting is the perfect place to enjoy authentic local cuisine and try the smoked beer.

Bamberg offers something wonderful in every season but it really sparkles at Christmas with a number of Christmas markets, the most celebrated of which 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.

Bamberg is also an important shopping destination in general and specifically because of the quantity and quality of its antique shops. 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 old-fashioned hat store is a real treat where you can try on a hat or place an order for a designer item. You will feel like a movie star.

An obvious and excellent choice of accommodations in Bamberg is the Barockhotel am Dom. A house is first documented on this site in 1392, 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 Wi-Fi, and breakfast is available in a medieval vault. The hotel is within waking distance of all the Altstadt sites.

Yes, Bamberg is as wonderful as it sounds. All information necessary for planning the perfect trip is available online. www.bamberg.info/en

Seeing RegensburgRegensburg

The final stop on our UNESCO route is the spectacular city of Regensburg, 81 miles from Bamberg. The Old Town of Regensburg with Stadtamhof was designated a UNESCO site in 2006 based on the criteria that in the “High Middle Ages Regensburg was a political center of the Holy Roman Empire and a flourishing European trading center.” The Old Town was not heavily damaged during WWII and is the only example of an intact medieval city in the country.

Situated at a bend in the Danube River, Regensburg and has been influential since the 9th century. The architecture of the city reflects its physical and ecclesiastical history from the 11th to 13th centuries through a series of Roman, Romanesque and Gothic structures. The city is named after the Regen River that meets the Danube here.

The area that is now Regensburg was the site of a 600-soldier Roman camp on a hill at the empire’s border in 90 AD. Emperor Marcus Aurelius established a stone Roman military fortification and trading post, Castra Regina, circa 179 AD. A portion of the northern Roman gate, the Porta Praetoria, is still visible.

In the 6th century the Bavarians, led by the Agilolfing dukes, settled the area. In 739 the city was made a bishopric and 506 years later became a free imperial city. In 1542 Regensburg converted from free imperial city to the Protestant faith. In 1810 the city became part of Bavaria.

There is so much to see that it is difficult to decide where to begin, but when in doubt start with a museum that will provide an orientation. The Visitor Centre World Heritage Site Regensburg at Salzstadel provides an excellent background on the city’s history with two floors of state-of-the-art exhibits.

Roman quarters

The three-story Regensburg Museum of History is situated inside a monastery that dates from the 13th century. The museum galleries are chronological and begin with pre-historic artifacts. Highlights of the displays are artifacts from local archeological digs including pottery and jewelry, a life-sized diorama of Roman quarters, religious sculptures and models of the construction of the Porta Praetoria and the cathedral. All of the text is in German but a visit is still worthwhile.

Steinerne Brucke, the Romanesque Stone Bridge, was completed in 1146 with 16 arches, replacing wooden bridges and a pontoon bridge from Charlemagne’s time. For several hundred years it was the only stone bridge across the Danube. Look for the Bruckmandl, the little man on the bridge, on a pointed stone at the highest point. He is said to be the master-builder looking toward the cathedral.

Salt is one of the oldest commodities to have been traded. Roman soldiers often received their wages in salt, hence the word “salary.” Europe’s most important 13th-century trade route brought the salt from mines in Reichenhall to Regensburg. Adjacent to the bridge is the seven-story Salt Store, where salt was traded and warehoused.

One of the most famous sites is the Wurstkuche, the Historic Sausage Kitchen. This tiny restaurant has remained unchanged since the 12th century. Do not leave without trying one of the famous Rothenburger sausages.

The Romanesque Cathedral of St. Peter was built where a church has stood for at least 2300 years. The current cathedral was begun in 1273 and completed in 1525, with additional touches until 1872. The church became Protestant in 1517. Outside, note the numerous gargoyles, reliefs, 345-foot-tall spires and the two types of stone used, limestone and green sandstone. St. Peter, the cathedral’s patron saint, is shown in several reliefs.

The sheer beauty of the Gothic interior will render you speechless. The stained-glass windows alone make a visit mandatory, the earliest of which, located in the transept, date, from 1230. Two notable stone sculptures are attached to pillars in the nave. The Smiling Angel is unusual because of his laughing facial expression. Mary, directly opposite Gabriel, is depicted holding a book in one hand and greeting the angel with the other. The statues are part of the Annunciation Group carved and colorfully painted in 1280. St. Peter’s also houses the world’s largest free-hanging organ.

The Alte Kapelle is a Marian church built on the site of a much earlier Roman basilica. The church is the best example of Bavarian Rococo I have ever seen. The highly ornate frescoes depict the lives of saints and scenes from the life of Henry II and Cunigunde.

One of the most unique sites in the city is the Altes Rathaus, Old Town Hall. A guided tour here is a must and English language tours are offered daily. The complex includes a 13th-century, 180.4-foot tower, 15th-century city hall, the Imperial Diet Museum and an adjacent medieval torture chamber and dungeon. This was the place where the Imperial Diet, the Holy Roman Empire’s legislative body, held court from 1663-1803.

Tours begin in the foyer and proceed through the Imperial Hall, the College of Electors, Electoral Ante-Room, College of Princes and College of the Imperial Cities. Many of the furnishings and decorative items are original.

Charles V established Germany’s first criminal code in 1532. It stated that a person could only be found guilty if they confessed. A confession could be tortured out of the accused but they could only undergo torture three times, no blood could be drawn from a Christian and trials had to take place within 14 days. As a result most torture involved stretching and dunking, a doctor had to be present so that no death occurred and there was always a cross because God must also be present. Not everyone confessed and they were freed but they always died as a result of the experience.

This is a fascinating tour that begins in the interrogation room. Here the person was questioned and shown the instruments of “painful questioning.” More than 85 percent confessed at this point. The torture chamber is filled with original instruments placed where they would have been. Witnesses sat behind a screen and someone recorded the confession. In the dungeon the holding cell does not allow you to stand upright but it is better than the grated hole where some accused were placed. The Deadman’s Cell, where you were given your last meal and your family could speak to  you through the slats on one side, is part of the tour.

Document Neupfarrplatz is an outstanding archeological site uncovered during excavations in the 1990s. Now a museum, the underground tour allows visitors to walk through the ruins of Castra Regina on the lowest level and the remains of the cellars of 40 houses in the medieval Jewish Quarter. In 1519 the Jews were expelled, after the death of Maximillian I who had promised them protection. They were given four days to leave and then their houses were demolished and a Pilgrim’s Chapel and then the New Parish Church built on the site. An orientation video shows what both communities looked like.

In the nearby plaza on the footprint of the synagogue, artist Dani Karavan created a “Place of Encounter” in 2005. This space is designed for people to come together and engage in healthy dialog.

Oscar Schindler is believed to have saved the lives of more than 1,000 Jews during WWII. After the war he lived, among other places, in Regensburg at Am Watmarkt 5. A plaque marks the house. He died in 1974 and is the only member of the Nazi Party to be buried on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem.

One of the city’s architectural claims to fame is the number of private palaces built in the 14th and 15th centuries with high towers. The towers, reminiscent of those found in Northern Italy, served no other purpose than as a conspicuous display of wealth. Of the original 60 patrician towers, more than 15 have survived. The 13th-century, nine-story, Goldener Turm is the tallest. Goliathhaus, built in 1260 on Goliathstrasse, I believe to be the most beautiful of the towers. The façade features a three-story fresco of David and Goliath, painted in 1573.

Shopping in Regensburg is a special experience. Many of the shops are situated inside former historic residences and private chapels.

Across the street from Goliathhaus is the Goliath Café Bar Hotel. This wonderful boutique hotel is in the heart of the Old Town and no more than 10 minutes from each historic site. The hotel has natural stone bathrooms, 24-hour room service, designer amenities, Wi-Fi and a Mediterranean roof terrace. The location is ideal.

A perfect way to end our trip to some of Germany’s UNESCO cities is with a dinner cruise along the Danube aboard the Crystal Princess. The ship features gourmet cuisine, music and dancing and 1.5-million Swarovski crystals. The ship glows with a million lights as you glide along the historic Danube. It doesn’t get better than that.

Plan your trip to Regensburg and the other cities using the online tools found at the websites www.regensburg.de/tourismus/about-regensburg/tourist-information/3873 and www.germany.travel/en.