Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Chapter 30: Seven Hills of Bamberg

Our Labor Day weekend trip to Bamberg was our first foray into Bavaria, the scenery of which state represents much of what many Americans think of when they think of Germany. Bavaria is where the alpine castles are found, like the famous Neuschwanstein of the mad king Ludwig II. We did not venture into the mountainous regions. I have a later trip in mind for that journey when we actually have three days available to us. Lawna had some work to catch up on, despite the three day weekend, and I had some paperwork to finish for my new jobs at the University of Maryland in Europe and Ramstein High School. Even the Bamberg trip would have benefitted from having more time. There's a lot to see. But, alas, we made it another day trip, with a longer drive than usual.

We departed Spesbach around 8:00 and arrived at Bamberg a little after mid day. I found parking under a Best Western hotel next to a bridge that crosses the Regnitz River into downtown. We strolled across the short length of the bridge, ate lunch at a nearby bakery, and then continued on into the city, which initially appeared pretty quiet The civic buildings were older, but nothing too special in comparison to what we had seen in countless other German towns. Then we reached the market area which was suddenly packed with tourists. It turned out that Bavarians also had a holiday that weekend, and German children were still out of school. The market center was full of fruit and vegetable stands, and shops and caf├ęs were packed all around. We sort of sped through this area to find a less populated area, but from the market, narrow medieval streets led through the sprawling historical center of town, crowded with tourists speaking a range of different languages. The only place that we spent any time at in the Green Market square was the baroque St Martin's Church, which was undergoing interior renovation, so we had to view the sanctuary from behind a barricade.

Bavarian painted building
Green Market

Holiday crowds
St Martin's Church (Martinskirche)
Old fishermen's houses along the canal
We have visited so many European cities that have been extensively restored from the ruins of allied bombing that it was instructive to see an ancient city that has remained relatively untouched by the ravages of modern history. Most German cities display a limited altstadt, but Bamberg's spreads out over seven hills. Were it not for the contemporary dress of the tourists and the rumbling of buses, motor scooters and cars along the cobblestone streets, one might mistake one's location in time as the seventeenth century. This must be what many German cities looked like during Bismarck's belle epoch before two ruinous world wars reduced much of the country to rubble. Bamberg luckily emerged nearly unscathed.

a very cool vintage scooter
From the Green Market, we headed across a narrow medieval bridge, through some narrow avenues of  half timbered shops, up a steep walkway and some grand steps to the massive, four spired Imperial Cathedral. King Heinrich II consecrated the church in 1012, but several fires destroyed the original buildings and the present Romanesque/gothic structure arose in the thirteenth century. The church was filled with tourists and guided groups. We wandered through the massive structure, taking turns with others viewing the various sites, including the resting place of Pope Clemens II, the only pope buried north of the Alps.

Canal Bridge
Imperial Cathedral
Imperial Cathedral crowds
Imperial Cathedral rear towers

Actually, it was kind of a relief to leave the packed cathedral, which is flanked by the Old Household, where the bishop lived before a grander palace was built across the wide courtyard. We did not visit the Old Household, but rather opted for the grand New Residence, erected in the early seventeenth century by Prince-Bishop Von Gebsattel. We took the guided tour which, of course, was all in German, but with English handouts for those of us that required them. I understood maybe half of what the young tour guide told us. She welcomed our questions, but spoke about as much English as I do German. The rooms she led us through were sumptuously baroque, and a highlight was the beautiful rose garden which may be seen from many of the rooms in the palace.

Old Household front
Old Household courtyard
New Residence
Lawna in the Rose Garden
After our tour, we began to feel hungry, but I wanted to see one more church before eating. The trek up the hill to St Michael's monastery is fairly steep, and we met a German couple who knew how to get there. The gentleman, who had been born in Bamberg, led the way and spoke some English. We emerged at the great steps leading to the church, but unfortunately it was closed for renovation. Today much of the monastery complex is used as a retirement home. Pictures of the inside reveal a fabulous baroque interior, but we could not see it that day. There is so much to see in this well preserved city!

We did discover a restaurant in the rear of the monastery that overlooked the red tiled city. Our German acquaintances assured us that the prices were reasonable, so we ate there, though our friends moved on. Lawna ordered ox meat and I ate venison. It was all quite delicious, washed down with local Bavarian beer and coffee.
St Michael's Monastery

St Michael's on the hill
dinner overlooking Bamberg

Once we finished eating, we made a walk down the hill back to the old city. The crowds had thinned by this time, but it was getting late, and Spesbach is about four hours away. We decided that there was too much to see for one day, and we would try to get a room. We checked with the hotel over the parking lot where I had left the car, but the friendly young lady at the front desk regretfully informed us that they had no vacancies and that most of the hotels had booked up for the weekend because of the American, British and Bavarian coincedental holidays. So, back to Spesbach it would be, driving on the dark autobahn on a moonless and starless night. The German autobahn is not nearly as well lit and marked with flourescent markers as are the freeways in the states, and the drivers travel much much faster. It was not my favorite choice, but we had not planned for a weekend--we had too much else to do at home. We gassed the car and headed into the darkness toward Pfalzerland. My night vision isn't what it used to be, and it really was a black night. Three hours in, we stopped at a McDonald's, our first in Europe, and it actually tasted good to have a small order of chicken nuggets and a small chocolate milk shake. I never order that kind of stuff anymore, but it tasted like home. I enjoyed every morsel. We reached Spesbach around 11:30 p.m., a small hamlet that rolls up around six. Even with its hanging yellow street lights, it seemed terribly dark, and it felt good to stumble into our apartment and fall into bed. Nights are already growing chilly, and we had a good sleep.

Bamberg from the restaurant

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