A day in Regensburg affords a look into Germany’s past. // © 2015 Michelle Juergen
I’m not a big history buff. Lists of names and dates go in one ear and out the other, and without context or visuals, the important events, people and places I hear about on a tour don’t quite come alive for me.
Regensburg, Germany, helped change that. Perhaps in an effort to make up for all those years I wasn’t paying attention on class field trips, I signed up for the Routes of Emperors and Kings pre-convention tour offered by the German National Tourist Board as part of the 2015 Germany Travel Mart. Exploring Regensburg’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the highlight of my whirlwind three-day tour of Bavaria.
The town, which sits along the Danube River, is one of the best-preserved historical city centers in Germany. Barely touched during World War II, Regensburg’s Old Town has been able to preserve its original medieval outline since the 14th century. Many structures were under renovation when I visited, including the Stone Bridge, one of the oldest in Germany, which until the 1930s was the city’s only bridge across the Danube; and St. Peter’s Cathedral, modeled after the Cologne Cathedral, which boasts a world famous boys’ choir (claimed as the oldest in the world).
As our guide, Mathias, led us across the bridge into the main part of Old Town, he explained how the gothic cathedral tells the story of Regensburg’s former economic life. Though modest in size, the city was no small provincial town back in the Middle Ages; it was a wealthy trading area because of its prime spot along the Danube. This is evidenced in the intricately designed, towering Catholic church, as well as in the architecture of the town’s former residences: Back in the 13th to 15th centuries, rich Regensburg residents would build a tower in their home —higher than the other buildings around them — in order to signify their wealth.
More status symbols abound in the town, most notably Schloss St. Emmeram. Also known as the Palace of Thurn and Taxis, Schloss St. Emmeram is a converted Benedictine monastery once home to the princes of Thurn and Taxis. Franz von Taxis had established the first European postal system in the 15th century, and when the royal family moved their residence to Regensburg toward the end of the 1700s, they brought with them economic prosperity that trickled down into the city.
In its heyday, the mansion was one of the most modern palaces in Europe, with luxuries such as flushing toilets, central heating and electricity. In fact, the palace is larger than London’s Buckingham. Contributions from the Thurn and Taxis family include a princely court library — which has been open for free to the public since 1786 — the Regensburg theater and the greenbelt trails and parks around Old Town.
After a heavy dose of history, our group felt peckish, so Mathias led us to Weltenburger am Dom, located across from St. Peter’s Cathedral. The restaurant is famed for its beer, brewed some 20 minutes away at Weltenburger Kloster, the oldest monastery-brewery in Bavaria. We gulped down our cold brew greedily while we munched on bratwurst, weisswurst and sauerkraut.
Of course, in Germany, one alcohol-fueled history lesson isn’t enough, so we also toured Spitalbrauerei, Regensburg’s oldest brewery. Spitalbrauerei, which means “brewery of the hospital,” is adjacent to St. Katharinenspital, one of Germany’s oldest hospitals that now serves as a convalescent home. And it wouldn’t be Bavaria if everyone didn’t imbibe: The elderly people who reside at St. Katharinenspital receive one free liter of beer per day.
After our group had a tasting of the brewery’s many offerings, which have been brewing since 1256, we relaxed over dinner in its beer garden. As the sun set below the Danube and we recounted our day, I found myself unusually fascinated with the city’s rich history — a history I could actually see and touch. There are many places in Germany that claim the oldest this or that, but a day in Regensburg truly feels like a trip back in time.
WHERE TO EAT
Established in 1686, Cafe Prinzess asserts that it was the first coffee house in Germany. Go here to people-watch over strudel and an espresso.
WHERE TO STAY
Best Western Premier Hotel Regensburg
Don’t let the brand fool you. This 125-room hotel near Old Town is sleek, modern, comfortable and — best of all — a better deal than most hotels in the city center.
WHERE TO SHOP
Also known as “der Hutmacher am Dom” (the hatmaker by the cathedral), this store is where Andreas Nuslan, one of the only hatmakers in Europe to craft both women’s and men’s headwear, works his magic. Nuslan has supplied chapeaux to the likes of Hugh Hefner, Pope Benedict XVI and Johnny Depp for “Alice in Wonderland.”