|Viking River Longship “Tor” and the Bishop’s Lair overlooking Passau, Bavaria|
|In Passau, the buildings are color-coded by ‘occupation’.
The pink building means a Patisserie is there,
the green, an apothecary, the yellow a food market.
Picture perfect sums up these last three days of our trip. These are the Postcard towns, the television commercials, as seen on Downton Abbey, come alive. Here are the beautifully painted houses, the flowers cascading from window sills, the cobblestone streets and the castles looking down from perches high above the river. Poor Passau however, has a somewhat darker side.
The three rivers have not always been kind to Passau. Flooding has been an age-old problem: the most recent, and one of the most devastating, occurred just three years ago in 2013. Then the waters rose to extraordinary heights as seen in the high water mark visible on this medieval tower next to the Inn river. But if there’s a silver lining for all us lookie-loos, it is that the German government quickly stepped in with the help needed to bring the town back to life. The whole place looks freshly painted. A comparison to how Superstorm Sandy has been handled is hard not to make. But then, this is Germany and Jersey is Jersey.
|Frau Bachmeier is holding the
obligatory sign so that we can
locate her if we stray
away from the group
I’ve mentioned before how, at every stop, we are ushered through each place by local guides. Because there are 180 of us on these tours, we’re broken into much smaller groups. The guides I’ve had have been superb. Facts, figures, history, all roll out of their mouths, sometimes with the most picturesque use of the English language. But here in Passau, we reached the apogee.
|The Monastery in question is
on the hill in the background
behind Frau Bachmeier
Here’s one example of how the Frau’s experience makes the facts and figures so much more human: Across the Inn river, sits a monastery known for its pilgrimages. The one hundred steps leading up to the sanctuary are regularly used in prayer on one’s knees. The Frau recounted how, when confronted with a 40 year old son who was still unmarried, she herself made the pilgrimage. The result, she informed us, was that she is now the grandmother of three boys.
|The Bishop retreated to this Palace
above town where he proceeded
to lob cannon balls from his perch.
There were more stories to tell all along the way. History became as good a yarn as you could ever hear. Passau was once the exclusive domain of the Roman Catholic Bishop who controlled the wealth brought to the city by the Salt Trade. Finally, the Bishop was replaced by lesser human beings and the town hall was built. Frau Bachmeier recounted how the displaced cleric retreated to his palace above the Danube only to use cannons to rein down on the populace below!
Passau is home to yet another spectacular Cathedral and yet another one dedicated to St. Stephen the Martyr. Quite coincidentally, my own Episcopal parish in New York is Christ and St. Stephen’s so for me, this has been a kind of spiritual homecoming. This St. Stephen’s, unlike my beautiful little parish church, is the largest Baroque Cathedral north of Rome itself. And, in an odd bit of irony, it contains the largest pipe organ outside the United States. My Christ and St. Stephen’s proudly replaced our venerable instrument with a spectacular new one just a few years ago. In case you were wondering, the largest pipe organ in the world is the one at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, UT.
Included in the tour was thirty minute pipe organ concert held in the vast sanctuary. Sadly, out of the five components that make up the massive instrument, three were not functioning and so we had to make do with a somewhat muted version of what the organ sounds like. The poor organist was effusive in her apologies. But it only gave me a reason to go back to Passau in the future!
If there is any downside to beautiful Passau, it is that the town is a huge tourist draw. Three Longships were tied up here as well as several competitor’s vessels. Despite the best efforts of the guides to vary their routes, the tour groups kept running into each other in the narrow streets. I can scarcely imagine what a tourist deluge must descend on the town during the summer season if what I saw the first week of June is any indication.