Weekend trip: Weltenburg monastery, Befreiungshalle, Donaudurchbruch

We set out early before the sun would get too hot and arrived in Kelheim at about 10.00. This town of 1600 has plenty of well-marked parking lots, n°5 Wöhrd (green) being the closest to the passenger ships with n°4 Donauvorland (red) a bit beyond and free of charge for longer stays. We checked the departure times of the ships and headed up the steep hill to the Befreiungshalle (Hall of Liberation), an elegant and high rotunda overlooking the town and the Danube Gorge.

The Bavarian King Ludwig I had this building erected from 1842-1863, first by Gärtner, then upon his death, by Leo von Klenze. It stands on top of the Michelsberg to commemorate the battle of Leipzig in 1813 against Napoleon’s troops. The different hues of yellow and cream are supposed to produce a certain color effect from the distance, much as an impressionist painting. The golden shields held by the 34 Victory angels created by Ludwig Schwanthaler are supposedly the melted bronze of the cannons.

You buy the tickets (€4,50) at the bottom, walk up the hill and steps and enter a turnstile. You can walk on the bottom floor, climb the 132 steps half way up or all the way up to the section that Leo von Klenze added.

After our visit of the Befreiungshalle (Hall of Liberation), we drove down to Kelheim and had an excellent lunch for about €12,- per person at the Weißes Lamm (White Lamb), fresh asparagus and Schnitzel. Then we bought tickets, €4,-, for the Archaeological Museum around the corner, formerly a grain silo.

After an hour or so in the museum, we were glad for some fresh air and wandered over to the landing of the five ships officially permitted to travel through the narrow gap, 80 m wide, between the chalk cliffs towering over the Danube. The little blue train takes tourists around town.

We paid about €12,- each for a return ticket and shoved our overnight cases on board. The crew serves delicious food, coffee and cake, beer and water and everything was very clean and shiny. You will hear a tape in English and German telling you that the current runs at 2.5m/sec, that the deepest spot is 20m down, that private craft may not go through certain parts, that one or another cliff is called “Napoleon’s suitcase” (left after the battle) or the “Virgin” or the three round boulders are the “Three Brothers”.

At the far end you can see the monastery Weltenburg, founded by St. Columbanus disciples as an Iro-Scottish cloister in the 7th century to be missionaries in Bavaria. The monks, currently 11, have changed to the rules of the Benedictine order. The Abbey grew to more prominence in the 18th century and a larger church dedicated to St. George was built by the famous brothers Asam (paintings al fresco and stucco) from 1716 to 1739. 1803 led to the secularization of the buildings which were reappropriated for the village, until King Ludwig I reinstated the monastery, which became independent in 1913.

Nowadays, after its big renovation, the Abbey invites backpackers, singles, seminars, families etc. to stay in its simply furnished, but comfortable rooms, dining area and cafeteria (€85,- for two). Among the weekend courses offered there is learning to paint al fresco and talking about Christian topics. And yes, there is internet!

You can also toss your cell aside and tarry in the church, stop in the shop for books and Weltenburg cookies, buy a ticket for €2,50 to see the historical exhibition including a 60-minute tour of the brewery, sit in the restaurant Klosterschenke (closes at 7 pm sharp when the ships have stopped running!) and enjoy a delicious Brotzeit with a Maß of beer (1 liter, the word derives from ‘measure’) or roast pork, a Bavarian specialty.

City trip: Passau in Bavaria

Passau is a small town in Lower Bavaria, well-known for its geographical situation at the confluence of three different rivers in three different colors : the Danube (Donau) which sometimes reflects the blue sky, the black peat swirled in by the (schwarze) Ilz and the green Inn. As you can tell in the photos, we visited just when it had rained a lot and many roads and passageways were flooded, so the river water had more of a muddy hue.

The buttresses (arc-boutants) over the narrow alleyways between the buildings actually support the walls on either side. Older walls have flowers growing out from between stones and some wooden doors show elaborate carvings. The alleys lead up from the waterside to the higher areas of the town. The colorful cobblestones are part of an art project leading to different ateliers; just recently the Passauer had their first Art Event. Passau boasts a Modern Art Museum, the Cathedral Museum, a Roman Museum and a wonderful Glass Museum near the Rathaus.

The Gothic facade of the Rathaus (Town hall) is a kind of trompe-l’oeil: behind it eight smaller buildings are hidden. Formerly lovebirds had to climb up and down stairs trying to find the Justice of the Peace. Nowadays lovers can find his door much more easily in the adjacent new building on the right of the plaza.

The Cathedral /Dom St. Stephen is the original of the diocese St. Stephen in Vienna. Burned down in 1622, it was rebuilt by the baroque architect Carlo Lurago , the stucco by G.B. Carlone and the frescoes by C. Tencalla. Visitors can walk into the courtyard and buy a ticket for €5 for the 11.00 or 12.00 concerts. The magnificent music is played by one of the eight organists on the largest organ in the world. It consists of five different sized organs in the choir loft, the fifth is ensconced in the vault. From the bottom you can only see some small holes in the ceiling. All of the 17,974 pipes and 233 stops have meanwhile been coordinated into the central console. So one organist can play any one organ from his bench up in the choir.

For very good lunch with a great view we drove up the hill to the Brauerei Hacklberg (brewery). Mine was pork filet with noodles and a crème bavaroise with raspberry fluff for dessert. They have many rooms, a large beer garden, a shop and brewery tours.

After lunch we headed down again and walked around building due to the fact that the walkways were flooded to the boat dock. Seeing Passau from the water with a cup of coffee is a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.

Our last stop was the fortress Veste Oberhaus. Unfortunately our bus chose the wrong road and in the first especially steep and winding curve we got stuck with white smoke billowing out of the motor vent. Our driver carefully inched back down close to the precipice and we all started breathing again when he backed into a forest road and turned to go find a regular street leading up the hill.

At the top of the hill there are a youth hostel, football fields and other buildings. One group was doing a drama course with a “freeze” game. The fortress has a tower to climb (or take an elevator) and a large, sunny terrace café with a birds-eye view of Passau and its confluence of three rivers.