Beer lovers, rejoice! Bamberg's citizens down more of the brew than anyone else. And there's a lot more to enjoy in the beautifully-preserved corner of Bavaria. I've been featuring it in my travel guidebook Daytrips Germany ever since the first edition way back in 1984, and the place remains as enjoyable as ever.
A Daytrip from Munich
Of all the medieval cities in Germany, Bamberg stands out as perhaps the one least touched by the ravages of war. Well over a thousand years of history enrich this ancient ecclesiastical and commercial center in Upper Franconia. It is a place filled with picturesque corners, charming waterfront houses and narrow, winding streets, as well as magnificent churches whose spires cap the seven hills on which it is built.
Although this area has been settled since the late Stone Age, the earliest documented reference to Castrum Babenberg, as it was then called, dates from AD 902. Bamberg was well established as a center of learning before the 12th century. Despite occupation by the Swedes during the Thirty Years War, the town was spared the destruction of the Reformation and remained true to the Catholic faith. It was not until 1802 that it was secularized and made a part of Bavaria. Industrialization began in the late 19th century, but this took place at the eastern end of town, well away from its ancient core. Bamberg survived World War II virtually unscathed, and today offers visitors a chance to experience a city whose fabric has remained intact for centuries.
This trip can also be made from other bases such as Nürnberg or Würzburg.
Trains leave Munich's main station about hourly for the 2½-hour trip to Bamberg, which may require a change at Nürnberg. Return connections run until mid-evening.
By Car from Munich, take the A-9 Autobahn to Nürnberg, then the A-73 to Bamberg. Bamberg is 232 km (143) miles north of Munich.
Bamberg is compact and can be comfortably explored in any season. Some of its sights are closed on Mondays, Tuesdays, and holidays. The local Tourist Information Office (Tourismus & Kongress Service), T: (0951) 2976-200, W: bamberg.info, is at Geyerswörthstrasse 3, 3 blocks southeast of the Altes Rathaus. You might consider purchasing their Bamberg Card, which covers local buses, a guided tour, and entry to selected museums. Bamberg has a population of about 70,000.
FOOD AND DRINK:
The most famous specialty of Bamberg is its unique Rauchbier (smoked beer), an acquired taste definitely worth trying. Its regular beers are superb, and its citizens probably quaff more of the suds than anyone else on Earth. Some recommended restaurants are:
Weinhaus Messerschmitt (Langestr. 41, 3 blocks northeast of the E.T.A. Hoffmann House) A romantic medieval inn run by the same family since 1832. Excellent dining room. For reservations T: (0951) 297-800. €€€
Brauereigaststätte Schlenkerla (Dominikerstr. 6, 2 blocks west of the Altes Rathaus) The place for Rauchbier, a rustic old beer hall with a boisterous crowd and hearty food. The name, Schlenkerla, incidentally, implies “tipsy.” T: (0951) 560-60. X: Tues. €
Klosterbräu (Obere Mühlbrücke, by the bridge near Mühlwörth) Simple local dishes and fresh local beer. T: (0951) 522-65. €
Numbers in parentheses correspond to numbers on the map.
Leave the train station(1) and follow the map to the Kettenbrücke, a bridge spanning the Regnitz. You will probably see barge traffic on the river, as Bamberg is a major inland port. Cross the bridge and continue on Hauptwachstrasse.
Walk straight ahead past Maximiliansplatz, with its "new" town hall and market place, and into the delightful Grüner Markt (2). This large open square, dominated by the Baroque St. Martin's Church and the 17th-century Neptune Fountain, is reserved for pedestrians.
Obstmarkt leads to the Untere Brücke, a bridge over the left arm of the Regnitz. In the center of this stands the *Altes Rathaus (photo, top of page) (3), easily the most remarkable old town hall in Germany. Its extraordinary position in the middle of the river was determined by the local politics of the Middle Ages. At that time it had to administer both the ecclesiastical and civic halves of the city without showing preference for either, hence the truly mid-stream stance. Originally built in the 15th century, it was heavily reconstructed in the rococo style during the 18th. Among other things, the Old Town Hall now houses the noted Ludwig Collection of Baroque Porcelain and Faience. T: (0951) 871-871. Open Tues.-Sun. 9:30-4:30. €. Looking downstream, you will have a good view of the colorful fishermen's houses along the Regnitz, an area known as Klein-Venedig (Little Venice).
After crossing the river, make the first left and then another left onto the Obere Brücke, which goes through the Old Town Hall, allowing a more detailed examination. Return to the left bank and stroll to a small footbridge from which you will have the best possible view of the Altes Rathaus and the 17th-century half-timbered building curiously attached to it.
On the other side make a right at Geyerswörth Castle, built in 1585 as the town residence of the prince-bishop. Continue along to the next bridge and turn right. Midway across this you can stroll out on Untere Mühlbrücke for a wonderful view.
Now follow the map through the Old Town to Domplatz, one of the most attractive public squares in Germany. The *Cathedral (Dom) (photo, above) (4), first consecrated in 1012 by Emperor Heinrich II, was rebuilt in its present form during the 13th century after two fires destroyed the original structure. It contains the only tomb of a pope in Germany, that of Clement II, who died in 1047 and is buried in the west chancel. The cathedral is exceptionally rich in works of art, the most renowned of which is the *Bamberger Rider (photo, left), a 13th-century equestrian statue of a king by an unknown sculptor. Just to the right of this is the elaborate *Sarcophagus of Emperor Heinrich II and his wife Kunigunda, carved in 1513 by Tilman Riemenschneider. Another masterpiece, on the west wall of the south transept, is the Marien Altar by Veit Stoss. The Diocesan Museum, adjacent to the cathedral, contains many more treasures, including the imperial cloak of Heinrich II and the robes of Pope Clement II.
Walk across the square to the:
NEUE RESIDENZ (New Residence) (5), T: (0951) 519-390. Open April-Sept., daily 9-6; Oct.-March 10-4, closed on some holidays. €.
This massive Baroque structure was erected between 1697 and 1703 for the very wealthy Prince-Bishop Franz von Schönborn. Step inside for a look at the magnificent Kaisersaal (Emperor's Room) and the luxurious apartments of the prince-bishops. There is also a splendid art gallery with pictures ranging from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. While there, be sure to get out into the Rose Garden for a superb view of the town.
Across from this is the Reiche Tor, a richly ornamented gate leading into the Alte Hofhaltung (Old Imperial Court) (photo, above) (6), one of the most enchanting sights in Bamberg. The grandiose, quiet inner courtyard is surrounded by half-timbered buildings and the remains of the old Diet Hall, which was used as the seat of local government for over 500 years after 1085. One wing now houses the Historisches Museum, with its exhibitions on the history and culture of Bamberg and Upper Franconia. T: (0951) 871-142, Open May-Oct., Tues.-Sun. 9-5. €.
A gate at the rear of the courtyard opens into Domstrasse. From here follow the map to St. Michael's Church (7), part of a former Benedictine abbey originally founded in the 17th century. Inside, there are several interesting things to see, particularly the Tomb of St. Otto behind the high altar. Crawling through the hole in this is, according to local tradition, a sure cure for lumbago. The ceiling is also unusual, featuring paintings of over 600 different medicinal herbs. As you leave the church, turn right and amble out to the terrace, which offers a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside.
The same monastic complex also houses the:
FRÄNKISCHES BRAUEREIMUSEUM (Franconian Brewery Museum) (7), T: (0951) 530-16. Open April-Oct., Wed.-Sun. 1-5, closed Good Friday. €.
Here is where the local art of making great beer is explored. This is particularly appropriate in a town whose average citizen consumes some 330 liters of beer a year, the world's record.
The route back to the Old Town takes you by the 14th-century Obere Pfarre (Upper Parish Church) (8), considered by many to be Bamberg's finest Gothic structure. Turn right on Judenstrasse and take a look at the Böttinger House (9), one of the finest examples of a private mansion in the Baroque style. Built in 1713, it was the winter residence of the court privy councilor Böttinger, who thought of himself as the supreme ruler of Bamberg — although Prince-Bishop von Schönborn entertained similar notions. Böttinger also had another mansion, this one for summer use, just a stone's throw away on the Regnitz.
Walk along the narrow Concordiastrasse for a block, then turn left and cross the tiny footbridge. In this area there are several old mills that have been converted into homes. An alleyway on the other side leads to the Mühlwörth, with an interesting view of Böttinger's other palace, the Concordia House (10) on the water's edge. Continue on past the locks of the former Ludwig Canal (11) for a short distance, then return and cross the Nonnenbrücke. Along the water, to the left, you can see two interesting old cranes.
The very narrow E.T.A. Hoffmann House (12) on Schillerplatz was the home of that great romantic writer from 1808 to 1813. It was his stories that formed the basis for Offenbach's opera The Tales of Hoffmann. The house may be visited from May-Oct., Tues.-Fri. 4-6 p.m., and on weekends from 10-to noon. €. Now follow the map back to the train station.
Text, map, and B&W photo copyright © 2009 by Earl Steinbicker