Passau, gateway to Bavaria.
Fall colors intensify as the boat ambles along the Danube. Picturesque German villages glide silently by. Beside the river, fortified structures dotted the landscape, once used to collect tolls from merchants as they made their way along the river; today most are in ruins. You find yourself humming “the Sound of Music” and expect to see Julie Andrews around the next bend.
Approaching by water, the sight of Passau is amazing. Sunlight sparkles behind spires reach heavenward, each crowned with a different style steeple. Three rivers the Inn the Ilz and the Danube meet, and at its confluence the other two merge into the Danube. Perhaps due to its old world charm numerous river cruise ships dock here, more than ten at our arrival. Tied to other ships we have to walk through the other cruise boats to reach the dock. Our captains word of warning, “cross over the boat only, this is not an excuse to tour the other ship.” With that admonition ringing in our ears, we do as directed.
Directly on the Austrian border, and once part of the country of Bavaria, Passau’s wealth came from salt, as well as knife and sword making. Originally ruled by a prince bishop, these rulers became princes of the Holy Roman Empire in 1217 and continued to rule this area until 1803. A both monastic and secular position, these men were more like kings than bishops. Remaining independent until World War II, it later became a part of Germany.
A castle looms over the city on the opposite side of the river, once home to the prince-bishops. Later replaced with a new residence adjacent to St Stephens Cathedral, the elaborate new palace features gothic, renaissance, baroque, and rococo architecture
Gothic St Stephen’s Cathedral burned in 1662. The only original remaining section was then incorporated into new church. In an effort to create harmony the original steeple was modernized to blend with the new baroque features. Containing the largest pipe organ in Europe with almost 18000 pipes, the smallest only 1/2 " and the largest over 11 meters, it’s a sight to behold. A mix of copper and aluminum pipes, five different organs are incorporated, but all can be played from one single location. Just to manage the over 200 pedals, and uncounted knobs you have to be an expert.
Over 50,000 residents live in this small community. Of them 11,000 are students, making Passau a college town, much like Tallahassee. The pedestrian shopping avenue features cafes, clothing stores selling modern apparel as well as the traditional German dirndl skirts, and bakeries selling lebkuken, a cookie made with molasses that resembles a gingerbread cookie. Most unusual is the store that sells nothing but gummie-bears. Who wouldn’t want to try a gummie pizza, authentic right down to the gummie mushrooms?
Infamous as a one-time residence of Adolf Hitler, and location of sub branches of the concentration camp Mathauson-Gusen, there is a great deal of World War II history in the area.
An optional ships tour takes “Sound of Music” fans to several of the actual filming locations in the area.
Charming but tiny Passau is easily explored on foot in a few hours, leaving plenty of time for an onboard chocolate tasting, and relaxing cruising time to the next destination.
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