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Published: February 15th 2018
The Viking Gullveig had moored only a few yards from the world’s oldest fast food restaurant in Regensburg. When McDonald was still a farmer, Sanders had not yet even enlisted, the only burgers to been seen lived in the City Hall and if you wanted ‘fast food’ you had to sit in the stocks whilst someone pelted you with rotten tomatoes!! At 09:15 sharp - not 09:13 or 09:17 but 09:15 we congregated outside ‘the Sausage Kitchen’ where we met Ursula, our guide for this two-hour walking tour of the old town.
The Sausage Kitchen was originally built in 1135 when it was a small construction office built for the Regensburg stone bridge. After the bridge was completed in 1146 the building became a restaurant called ‘The Cook shop near the Crane’ as it was situated near a crane and it was a shop that used to cook food!! The restaurant originally served dockers, sailors and the staff from St Peter’s cathedral. Nowadays, sausages are the main dishon the menu and have been since 1806. The kitchen serves 6,000 sausages to guests every day. The sausages come in portions of six, eight or ten, along with sauerkraut and mustard. If
every customer took an average of six sausages, that’s still a lot of portions each day. As I popped my head in the door, I counted two customers!! I guess it was a slow start to the day. I’m sure it would pick up later!!
The weather was overcast and drizzley, ‘…but that’s OK…,’ said Ursula ‘…as Regen means rain in German!’ We then were invited by Ursula or ‘Little’ Bear’ (she was quick to point out that’s what her name translates to in Latin!!) to follow her through the old city gate and in to the old town. At the top of a cobbled incline known as Brückstrasse (Bridge Street) on to Weiss-Lamm Gasse (White Lamb Alley) we stopped opposite the Hotel Goliath an der Donau. The unusual feature was the painting of the four-story high David and Goliath. It was no Banksy but by using vibrant colours the creator had brought this piece of art to life. David is bending down as if he is preparing to fire a stone from his sling shot toward Goliath who is just standing tall and upright holding a massive spear in his right hand. The artist has even
attempted a bit of humour to this mural by giving the illusion that Goliath is using the top of a window to lean on adding an air of arrogance to his stance. The building dates back to the 13th
century and the painting was done some centuries later in 1573. We were told that the origins of David and Goliath have nothing to do with this biblical duo. Back in the day, in the 16th
century it used to be a stopping off point for theology students known as Golliards as their guardian angel was called Golias. Unfortunately, due to a slightly deaf inn keeper and a splattering of Chinese whispers, a painted depiction of a 9 foot Philistine warrior and a Bart Simpson type kid called ‘Dave’ appeared on the side of the Inn!!
It’s easy to lose ones sense of direction in Regensburg for as soon as you reach a junction, square or platz, the narrow streets and passageways seem to shoot off in all directions. Weaving our way down several of these thoroughfares, passing a mix of traditional German restaurants and craft shops with the more salubrious designer shops, we came across a building known as
the Golden Tower. This 50 metre high, nine-storey house tower soars high above the roofs of the UNESCO World Heritage City. A house-tower? This sounds like a bit of a contradiction. However, in the Middle Ages, wealthy merchant families built these towers as status symbols - the more important a family was, the higher the tower they built. This guy was only a merchant and he had nine stories. I dread to think the size of the tower if it was a duke, an earl or even a prince!! Then again, this practice is still alive today: the Rockefeller Centre – 70 stories, and don’t forget the current US President – Trump Tower – 98 stories; and this guy wasn’t satisfied with one ‘status symbol’. Worldwide there are nine Trump Towers, seven Trump Hotels and five Trump Plazas. Beat that Middle Ages wealthy merchant family with your nine-story house-tower!!! (This blog has it all…even politic satire!!)
The Local Council have done their best to give Regensburg a festive feel. There were decorations atop many of the streets and each Platz had its own Christmas tree. Opposite the Town hall, the Prinzess caféhaus had gone a step further in keeping
with the yuletide spirit. Instead of the usual sponsored logo umbrellas on the pavement terrace theirs had been replaced by red umbrellas with white trim. They were all closed, today, standing upright in their concrete bases, resembling a row of red hats like the one worn by the jolly, fat fellow himself, complete with white pom-pom!!
The Regensburg Town Hall in keeping with the rest of the old town dates back to the Middle Ages. It also comes with its own torture chamber. This particular room full of racks, iron maidens and other nasty implements is known as the ‘fragstatt’, literally ‘place of questioning’. Talk about candy coating your intent!! ‘Excuse me sir! We just want to take you back to our place of questioning!!’
Just behind the town hall is the statue of Don Juan de Austria (Don John of Austria.) He was a 16th
century Spanish Military commander. So how did the statue of a Spanish military commander end up in a side street in Regensburg? He was the illegitimate son of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor who, whilst on business in Regensburg hoping to recruit allies for a war against rebels,
had a brief liaison with one of the locals resulting in, nine months later, the birth of a baby boy who would later become known as John of Austria. He was removed from his mother at an early age and brought up in concealment in Spain. After the death of Charles V, Philip II of Spain recognised him as his half-brother, provided him with substantial means and wealth and gave him the name John of Austria. I’m still not too sure why ‘Austria’. There is nothing in the history books to suggest Don Juan had any links with Austria and our guide did not know why this particular name. My theory is nothing more than Philip II was just shite at geography and thought his place of birth, Regensburg, was in Austria!!
Our walking tour ended at the Regensburg cathedral. Despite having finished a two-hour walking tour, St Peter’s cathedral is only about a ten-minute walk back to the boat…providing you start walking in the right direction!!! Twenty minutes later, having adjusted our direction on several occasions we found ourselves in a street full of schmucks. No, I haven’t released my inner Yiddish and taken it out
by insulting all passers-by. Although the meaning of schmuck has come to mean ‘idiot’ or ‘jerk’ in American slang, it is actually the word for ‘jewellery’ in German! However, stopping to peer in to one of the ‘schmuck’ shops, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Instead a row of small cushions to display a series or gold jewel inlayed rings, the jeweller had improvised and used wooden clothes pegs!! Rather than small labels tied to the rings depicting the price, it had been scrawled at the base of the peg. These rings weren’t the cheap end of the market either ranging between €445 - €1,120. In my opinion, using the pegs as display units made the rings look like the expensive tat they probably were!! What a schmuck!!
A trip to Germany wouldn’t be complete without a German buffet followed by German drinking games, usually, as the name suggests, involving lots of drink. This evening, the Viking Gullveig restaurant was decorated in red and white gingham - table runners and napkins to match. A stand with half a dozen giant pretzels was the centrepiece. Within a few minutes of being seated we were offered our usual complimentary beer,
wine or soft drinks. This, in the world of magic is known as misdirection for after having requested our chosen drinks I looked down at the table and an array of sausages looked back at me together with a bowl of sauerkraut and a basket of bread!! Where did all that come from? I don’t remember it all being there before! During our meal we were entertained by a guitar and accordion combo playing Bavarian folk song greats such as ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ as well as Jürgen, the Hotel Manger strutting in his rather nifty lederhosen.
After dinner, it was time to retire to the lounge for the compulsory German drinking games. The first game involved a number of female volunteers. They were each given a two litre beer stein. This was then filled with water. The contestants had to hold the full beer stein at arm’s length. The last person standing won the game. The twist in the game was that everyone (including spectators) had to take a shot of schnapps prior to the game then on announcing the winner everyone took another shot of schnapps to communally celebrate the victory!! (including the spectators!!)
Then it was the mens turn. Proceedings were repeated with the only difference being that the men had to hold TWO beer steins (in the same hand) More shots followed!!
For the second game, three men and three women volunteers were asked to come to the front. At one point I was nearly pushed then pulled up to the floor but I managed to resist as I was not keen on being the evening’s entertainment especially when I don’t know what I’m volunteering for. I like to have a laugh but on my terms!! I like to be entertained not be part OF the entertainment!! A sixth volunteer finally made it to the front and I could relax once more. Jürgen, our MC, explained the game. Our six contestants stood in a circle facing to the left. Five hats were placed randomly on our gamers heads. Music started up and each contestant wearing a hat started to move around in a circle whilst lifting the hat off their head and placing it on the contestant’s head in front. This was repeated until the music stopped. The person without a hat on their head was then asked
to sit down. One hat was removed and the whole procedure repeated. It was sort of musical chairs meets pass the parcel. Who would have thought children’s party games were based on German drinking games!! Each round was of course preceded by a traditional swig of schnapps. ‘That wasn’t so bad’, I thought to myself. Several more games followed, each seemed funnier than the last, although that may have had something to do with the quantity of schnapps we were being forced to drink!!
With all the games finished, a big round of applause was given to the participants as they were all asked to re-join Jürgen at the front. After another quick schnapps, the music started and the participants were asked to dance whilst everyone else was looking on. If that wasn’t humiliating enough the music that was blaring out of the speakers was…’the Birdie Song!!!’ That could have been me up there, losing what little dignity I would have had left!! I looked around the lounge. There were probably about eighty people who had experienced this evening of fun and laughter and everyone had a smile on their face. I then looked at
Jochim, the entertainments manager who in turn looked at Jürgen. A satisfactory grin came to both their faces…job done!!!
We were now well on the way to our final destination, Nuremburg. For the final leg we turned off the Danube at Kelheim into the Europa canal. This canal connects two of the most important waterways in Europe, the Rhine to the Danube. There are sixteen locks along the 171km of the Europa canal of which we had to navigate ten before arriving at Nuremburg. This canal is much narrower than the Danube and the locks are also much smaller. In fact, the locks are exactly 11.4 metres wide. Our ship is precisely 11.2 metres wide. That means there is only 10cm (4 inches) leeway either side of the boat. To add to the degree of difficulty all locks were navigated in the dark. I watched the skipper negotiate the first lock. This was done with two of his officers standing port/starboard looking over the sides of the boat as the Viking Gullveig steered perilously close to the stone walls of the lock. Traversing the lock that I witnessed, the Officers kept in constant radio contact with the Captain and
together they deftly guided the boat through the locks with not so much as a scratch or a bump. Impressed at this manoeuvre and pretty confident that we were in very capable hands, I retired to bed, something the Captain and his crew wouldn’t be able to do for some hours to come!!
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