Bamberg is over 1,100 years old, a heritage that has bequeathed it a startlingly beautiful old town filled with centuries-old half-timbered buildings and a couple of churches that can trace their origins back to the turn of the first millennium. Bamberg defies superlatives, this is the full package, with barely a modern building intruding into its medieval heart. Despite this, and a thousand-years of beer-making tradition, their principle culinary claim to fame is an onion stuffed with minced pork.
Albert Einstein was German and invented the theory of relativity in less than a single lifetime. Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440. Yet a thousand years of culinary experimentation in Bamberg has led to a pork stuffed onion. I don’t mean to go on about traditional German cuisine, but I challenge any non-German to spend a week in Bavaria and not crave a green salad. For breakfast. We found the next best thing, an actual French bistro.
The first recorded mention of Bamberg came in 902 AD. A century later, work began on Bamberg’s cathedral, which was finally completed in 1237. It stands high above the River Regnitz and is where the Holy Roman Emperor, King Henry II of Germany, his wife Cunegund, and Pope Clement II are buried. The cathedral is home to a mysterious and enigmatic statue. The Bamberg Horseman is most likely royalty as he’s wearing a crown, but no one knows who he is for sure.
The cathedral shares a prime location with the former palaces of Alte Hofhaltung, the old residence, and the Neue Residenz with its delightful rose garden. These were official residences of the Bishop of Bamberg. It’s a dramatic ensemble of ancient buildings, and the rose garden offers tremendous views over the town. For all its grandeur, this part of town doesn’t have the ambiance and charm of the old town centred on the river and surrounding the world famous Altes Rathaus.
We wandered through narrow streets and stairways to reach the rather beautiful Obere Pfarre. A church has been on this site for the best part of a millennium, but this Baroque version dates mostly from the 18th century. From here we made our way steeply uphill to the Church of St. Stephan, before heading back down towards the river, passing the oldest of Bamberg’s ten breweries, Klosterbräu. This area is lovely and we strolled along the quiet river bank for a couple of kilometres.
Against expectations for a town with this much to offer, the whole of Bamberg seemed quiet. It was Monday, so no weekend crowds, but there was a notable lack of tourists. We followed the river back to the most famous building in Bamberg, the Altes Rathaus. Even by Bavarian standards, it’s an exceptionally picturesque setting. Sitting on a small island and connected by two bridges, the timber-framed Rathaus hanging over the water.
Legend has it that the Bishop of Bamberg wouldn’t grant the townsfolk any land to build a town hall so they created an island in the River Regnitz and built it there. The main part of the Rathaus is covered in brightly-coloured frescoes, look closely and you’ll spot the leg of a cherub sticking out of the painting. This is medieval Bamberg’s epicentre, walk in any direction and you’ll soon be exploring cobbled streets with half-timbered houses.
This is exactly what we did, after all it was Monday in Europe and most museums were closed. We came across a few unusual things as we meandered around, including the Messerschmitt Weinhaus, the childhood home of the man who gave his name to one of the most feared fighter planes of the Second World War. Nearby is a statue of Claus von Stauffenberg, who attempted to assassinate Hitler, and who joined the army in Bamberg.