Sitting at the northerly most point on the River Danube’s 2,850 km journey from the Black Forest to the Black Sea, Regensburg has more than two thousand years of history to its name. Its a history forged by the close relationship with Europe’s second longest river, bringing immense prosperity to Germany’s best preserved medieval city. The river also explains Regensburg’s history as a Roman stronghold – it marked the frequently violent boundary between Ancient Rome and the German tribes to the north and east.
You can still see parts of the Roman walls, including bits of the Porta Praetoria gate, but Regensburg is genuinely medieval. Despite repeated bombing during the Second World War, it miraculously survived into the 21st century largely intact. So much so, that UNESCO made it a World Heritage Site in 2006. The weight of history is evident everywhere in Regenburg’s Altstadt, but twenty thousand students add a liveliness to a place that may otherwise be just another tourist town.
We arrived in Regensburg late on Friday night at the start of a Bavarian long-weekend. The weather on this, our second visit to Bavaria, was forecast to be far better than our first trip and we were looking forward to exploring more of the historic gems of the region – not to mention some of the legendary beers that are produced here. We started our explorations early the next morning, and found ourselves wandering people-free streets down to the river.
We arrived on the Danube just below the Bratwurstkuchl, reputedly Germany’s oldest sausage restaurant (now those are some bragging rights, right there). The 12th century, 310 metre-long, Stone Bridge arks over the Danube here, and has carried people across the fast flowing waters for more than 900 years. This medieval masterpiece offers panoramic views back to the town and the old medieval gateway into Regensburg.
The bridge connects the old town with two islands in the river, both worth exploration in their own right. This is where you’ll find the Spitalgarten, attached to one of Regensburg’s most ancient breweries at the St. Katharinen Hospital. Beer has been made on this site since the 1350s, which makes it a vital cultural experience as well as an opportunity to drink beer with some serious heritage. We meandered back across the river and came face to face with something Biblical.
The Goliath House is from the 13th century, the mural of the most famous slingshot in history was painted in the 16th century. It’s one of many well preserved ‘Patrician Houses’ of the former nobility. You can spot them quite easily with their Northern Italianesque square towers. Around the corner from here is the former home of Oscar Schindler, the Nazi Party member who saved some 1,200 Jews and was immortalized in the Spielberg film Schindler’s List.
One reason for the great wealth of Regensburg is that it was one of the most important cities in the Holy Roman Empire, the political union founded by Charlemagne which survived for a thousand years. Imperial Assemblies were held here, attracting the most powerful rulers in the Empire, and placing the town at the heart of government. It’s surprising that it isn’t better known outside Germany because it’s an extraordinary place.
We spent the day just wandering, popping into churches and beer gardens – sightseeing in Bavaria is thirsty work. On the edge of the old town, close to our hotel, is the Palace of Thurn und Taxis. Once a humble Benedictine monastery, it’s now a vast Rococo Palace. It was given to the Taxi dynasty for running the Holy Roman Empire’s postal service. Who knew there was such wealth delivering the mail? A piece of folklore has it that this early European courier service is where the modern taxi got its name.