Passau, the “City of Three Rivers”, Germany
Old Passau from the Tunnel
It amazes me how European cities manage to preserve the gothic and baroque architecture of their ancestry in the midst of thriving modern metropolises.
My husband was born in Passau, Germany.
Or, so they tell him; he doesn’t actually remember.
It is named as his birthplace on his papers, which always causes some consternation at border-crossings, because he has a Hungarian name and an American passport. His parents escaped from Hungary after the Soviet Red Army invaded in September 1944. Some years later, when my husband was five, they emigrated to the USA with their three children.
So, we were extra curious to visit the Bavarian city of Passau: to find out what kind of place it was, and to see if he recognised anything.
Called die Dreiflüssestadt, the “City of Three Rivers”, Passau sits at the confluence of the Danube, the Inn, and the Ilz Rivers in southern Germany, near the the Czech and Austrian borders. It was first mentioned by the Romans in the 2nd century BC, after they pushed the resident Boii Celtic tribe out of the area and back across the Alps to make way a for a fort.
Some time in the second half of the 5th century, the Italian (Saint) Severinus of Noricum established a Christian monastery in Passau. In 739, the Anglo-Saxon monk (Saint) Boniface founded the Roman Catholic Diocese of Passau – the largest diocese of the Holy Roman Empire for many years. The city is still predominantly Catholic.
Passau was once an important centre for the medieval salt trade, and later became known for its guilds, especially those crafting quality swords and knives. A medieval fortress – the Veste Oberhaus – which was built in 1219 to be a stronghold for the Bishop of Passau, still sits on a hill, overlooking the city from across the Danube.
Much of the original architecture in the old city was destroyed by fire in 1662, and the buildings were subsequently rebuilt in the Baroque-style that was popular during that period. These are some of the ornate and beautiful buildings one sees today.
We arrived by canal boat early one summer morning, and were able to explore much of the old city – as well as the Veste Oberhaus fortress-museum – by foot before cruising away and into Austria at dinner time.
Do join us.
Passau from the Portal
One of the beauties of travelling by canal boat is waking up with a new city outside your window in the morning. (iPhone5)
Andrea, our smiling guide for a walking tour of Passau’s Old City, meets us on the banks of the Danube in her dirndl: the traditional Bavarian women’s costume of bodice, puff sleeved blouse, full skirt and apron.
Boats on the Canal
Passau is the last train-stop in Germany before the Austrian border. It is also a day-stop for the increasingly popular European river-cruising tourism industry.
“Den Opfern der Donau”
“The victims of the Danube: erected by the friends of the rivers and seas.” – Passau 1971
Much of the Altestadt, the Old City, is located on the low-lying peninsula at the confluence of the Danube and Inn Rivers. From the tip of the peninsula, the Paulinerkloster Mariahilf – a pilgrimage church built in the early 1620s – can be seen to the south, across the Inn River.
The Neumarkt – New Market – grew up between the 10th and 13th centuries. In 1209, it was surrounded by a stone wall, separating it from the old town centre.
Schaiblingsturm – Schaibling Guard Tower
The best-preserved portion of Passau’s former city wall fortifications, the Schaibling Guard Tower, was built in 1481.
Cleaning the Schaiblingsturm
Passau’s location on a narrow, low strip of land at the confluence of three rivers makes it subject to regular flooding. A graph on a nearby wall shows the high water marks dating back to 1501. On June 2, 2013 – about a year before our visit – the waters had risen to levels not seen in over five hundred years. The clean up was ongoing.
Artwork adorns the old city walls and doors.
Arch and Clocktower
Walking through the old city brings a new delight at every turn.
Rathaus – Town Hall
The colourfully decorated Venetian-style town hall building dates back to 1405.
Rathausturm – Town Hall Tower
The current 38-meter neo-Gothic Rathaus clock-tower was finished in 1892. It houses Bavaria’s largest carillon (glockenspiel), ringing tunes out over the city three times a day.
Residenzplatz – Residence Plaza
The baroque-style Wittelsbach Fountain (Wittelsbacher Brunnen) was built in Residence Square
(Residenzplatz) in 1903.
Inside the New Bishop’s Residence Museum
The early-18th century Bishop’s Palace is now a museum showcasing some of Passau’s treasures from its days as the capitol of the largest diocese in the Holy Roman Empire.
Saint Stephen’s Cathedral
The beautiful Saint Stephen’s Cathedral was built in 1688, after the 1662 fire destroyed most of its predecessor. (iPhone5)
St. Stephen’s Ceiling
The baroque stucco-work and ceiling frescos inside the cathedral are just stunning. (iPhone5)
St. Stephen’s Cathedral Altar
St. Stephen’s Organ
This the world’s largest cathedral organ. The sound resonating through the cathedral when it is played is magnificent – although I can’t say I enjoyed the choice of pieces we were treated to!
Veste Oberhaus over the Schanzl Bridge
After lunch back on our canal-boat, we crossed the Schanzlbrücke over the Danube and climbed the 200 steps of the Oberhausleiten-Stiege – the Upper House Stairs, …
… stopping occasionally to take in the view (and catch our breath!), …
… before finally reaching the old fortress, built for Passau’s Prince-Bishops in 1219 to control commerce in the rivers below.
Goldhaubenfrauen – Gold Bonnet Women
We were surprised, when we stopped at the coffee shop outside the fortress, to find the courtyard filled with women in period costume.
Woman in a Goldhaube
A Goldhaube is a headdress that women from wealthy or bourgeoise families have worn for 200 years in this region of Eastern Bavaria and Upper Austria. Today, it is more a symbol of regional cultural identity than of wealth. Listed as an item of “Intangible UNESCO Cultural Heritage“ in 2014, the Goldhaube is normally reserved for special occasions. These women were at the fortress for their bimonthly “Goldhaubengruppe” Gold-Hat Group meeting.
Inner Courtyard in the Veste Oberhaus
The fortress is a rambling affair, with buildings in gothic, renaissance and baroque styles.
The fortress museum illustrates Passau’s long history.
Wooden Wax Moulds
The different rooms house exhibits of a particular focus, …
… and we quite enjoyed our time wandering through them.
Goldhauben in a Glass Case
When we returned to our boat, we discovered that “Passau Gold Domes” are not just ladies’ hats!
Making Passauer Goldhauben
They are also a praline sweet, made from apricot and nut truffle with caramelised almond flakes, in light and dark chocolate …
Painting Passauer Goldhauben
… painted with 23-carat gold leaf.
It was a “sweet” ending to an interesting visit.
And at least now my husband can say he remembers Passau!
Until next time –