Passing through Passau

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December 20th 2017
Published: February 9th 2018
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Passau is a city (albeit small) with a population of just over 51,000 inhabitants. It is close to the Austrian border. As you would expect being on a Danube cruise, Passau lies on the Danube. However, not being content with one river, Passau has the unique position of also lying on the banks of the River Inn and River Ilz, for this special city sits on the confluence of where all three rivers meet. Therefore, not surprisingly Passau is known as the Three Rivers City. This is not the snappiest nickname ever thought of but you can’t argue with German logic; it does what it says on the tin!!

Today all four of us ventured out and joined the inclusive walking tour. One of the optional tours was a visit to Salzburg - a 2 ½ hour drive. This was a full day of which five hours would be sat on a coach. On another optional excursion, one could visit a traditional beerfest. This tour proved popular with quite a few guests even though the alcohol was free on the boat so they couldn’t have been going for the beer. They must have been going for the culture
Passau's worst floods!!Passau's worst floods!!Passau's worst floods!!

Being demonstrated by Helena our tour guide
of Lederhosen, bratwurst and oom-pah music.

We collected our hotel card and tour number from reception and on reaching shoreside, we were immediately introduced to our tour guide, Helena.

The boat docked in the centre of Passau so it was only minutes before we entered the narrow-cobbled streets of this baroque style medieval Old Town (der Altstadt) After an introduction to Passau, Helena told the group that this was definitely NOT an ABC tour (Another Blummin’ Church!!) and we’ll only be visiting one church (although we may pass a few more!!)

It was a very snowy Passau making the scenes even more picturesque. With being at the confluence of three rivers, Passau is rather susceptible to flooding. There are flood lines on many corners of the old town buildings, the next one, higher than the last. Some houses have just one or two markings, denoted with the month, year and height. Others with a stream of flood marks (no pun intended!!) starting at one metre and rising to as high as three metres. Somehow, I had the feeling that these were some sort of badges of honour if you get any of these painted on the side of your house!!

We stopped at the ‘Executioners House’ (Scharfrichterhaus). This was built in the 13th century but as nowadays, public executions are frowned upon, the building was converted in to a jazz club in 1977 developing into an important venue where political cabaret is now performed. I was afraid to ask Helena what is ‘political’ cabaret although I couldn’t stop conjuring up visions of an Angela Merkel impersonator holding talks with a Donald Trump look-a-like sporting suspenders and a basque when suddenly a shadowy figure enters stage right looking suspiciously like Osama bin Laden singing a rendition of ‘Hey Mr Taliban, tally me banana, day light come and I wanna go home!!’ On the other hand, it’s probably just another musical genre!!

Speaking of executioners, Passau’s most notorious resident was one Mr A. Hitler. I thought to myself ‘Who do you think you are kidding??’ But it was true. His parents (yes he did have some!!) lived there between 1892-1894. He was only three years old. I doubt he had his famous toothbrush moustache then!!

From the executioner’s house we entered Höllgasse. We couldn’t help notice the graffiti on the ground. Looking down at a manhole cover in the centre of the alley, the cobble stones immediately surrounding the relatively plain cast iron cover were brightly painted in yellow, blue, orange and green. They weren’t even alternative as that would be too regular to be considered art!! From this starting point, the coloured cobbles extended down the alley, some rows of cobbled having two painted and other rows having just the one coloured cobble. This is known as the artists alley. The coloured cobbles, we were told, lead to all the art shops that could be found in this area whether on Höllgasse or one of the alleys leading off. The colours are changed each year but for now we followed the yellow, blue, orange and green brick road! Turning left we walked a few hundred yards up a slight incline that is Steiningergasse, up towards the bishop’s residence. Now the Bishop, as in most cities, is a very important pillar of the community. In Passau, this is no exception. Next to the Mayor, the ‘Bish’ is the number two citizen. In medieval times, when the Holy Roman Empire swept across much of Europe, he would have been the law and order in such a community living in a big house and driving a state of the art sedan chair!! Today the size of a house or the type of car you drive are considered status symbols but for a bishop in this day and age it would not be very Christian-like to use material goods. But an Advent Crown??! When we got to the top of Steiningergasse we were met by the largest advent crown I have ever seen. It stood at the front of the Bishop’s residence. It used a stone fountain as a base and must have been at least four metres diameter. An inch of snow lay on the main garland. Above this was suspended a much smaller circular garland supporting twenty-four candles. This garland was also covered in snow. ‘I doubt that was bought in B & Q’, I thought.

This was almost the end of the walking tour. We strolled down along the side of St. Stephen’s cathedral, through a small Christmas market that stretched out in front of the Cathedral on Domplatz. We’d have time a-plenty after the excursion comes to an end but for now, we had an appointment with a gingerbread demonstration. We cut through the narrow Luragogasse and left on to Paulusbogan before being ushered around the back of Konditoerei Simon, run by the owner and head chef Walter Simon. On arrival in to the tent we were offered a cup of rum punsch. Some of us managed to secure slightly more than the allocated cup. It brought a whole new meaning to the phase: ‘Being Punch drunk!!’

Twenty minutes or so was given to Walter himself demonstrating how to make various types of ginger cake. It’s not how I’d choose to spend what limited time we had in Passau but as free samples were constantly being handed around, I could make an exception!! Once Mr Walter’s demo came to a natural end, a lady continued the demo showing the not so much captivated but captive audience on how to make an advent crown! ‘Ha! Call that an advent crown? You want to visit the Bishop’s residence. Now THAT’S an Advent Crown!!’

On the way out of the demo tent, one of Walter’s ‘assistants handed everyone a festively decorated, cellophane-wrapped gingerbread. These were in the shape of snowflakes (although unlike real snowflakes, all were identical in size and shape!!) A small piece of looped ribbon was threaded through the top of the wrapping so they could be displayed on a Christmas tree. Christmas is still a week away. I doubt these yummy treats would make it until the end of the day!!!

Two thirds of our excursion done, the final leg was a specially organised organ recital in the nearby cathedral. St. Stephen's cathedral is a ‘mash up’ of both late Gothic and the Baroque style. With two octagonal bell towers either side of the main nave and a sixty-nine-metre-high dome, coupled with being constructed on the highest elevation of the Old Town, the cathedral’s a powerful and characteristic skyline for passing boats. There are eight bells in the bell towers with the two largest weighing in at 7500kg and 6000kg respectively which hang in the west tower, the other six are crammed into the East tower. The interior is a true masterpiece of Italian Baroque. There were a series of ceiling frescos in the main nave, culminating in the dome painting with God in the midst of various angels. According to our guide, the fresco above the main altar depicts St Stephen getting stoned. Well I’m sorry but I personally don’t think it was a very good portrayal as his pupils didn’t look in the least dilated and he wasn’t even holding a spliff!!

Now on to the organ recital. With 17,774 pipes (I counted 178!!) and 233 registers, this organ is the largest church pipe organ outside of the USA and second in size only to the organ at the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles. That didn’t make the actual recital any less excruciating!! The ½ hour programme were all unknown pieces (to the common person!) by the composer Bach. This was hardcore organ at its worst (please don’t Google the ‘hardcore organ’ bit!! I Googled it to see if Hardcore Organ was a musical genre and got something completely different!! I have Googled it several times since just to make sure!!!) The organist had certainly cranked up the volume. Either that or he was as deaf as a doorpost as the wall of sound that hit us was painful. It was louder than standing next to a Boeing 747. It was not in the least melodic sounding. It’s as if he had the manuscript upside-down (blind as well as deaf??) Looking around, I could see many people shielding their ears and after five minutes one or two started to make a swift exit. Once back on the ship, I overheard a few passengers complaining to Jochim. Viking have tried to get the recital pieces changed to popular classical tunes that people know but the organist said, ‘I play the organ. I get to choose!!’

Late afternoon we had an enrichment lecture on Germany – fun facts about this world economic power and their people. We were reminded that Germans are renowned for their efficiency and ruthless punctuality. Ironic really – the lecturer was late!!

Additional photos below
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Schaibling TowerSchaibling Tower
Schaibling Tower

A 14th century fortified tower part of the old Passau salt harbour

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