The Old Town of Regensburg is a prime example of medieval architecture. The Danube and its tributaries offer refreshing bathing opportunities. Traditional beer gardens compete with modern coffee bars. And an excellent museum is dedicated to the history of Bavaria. A story by Thomas Linkel (text and photos)
Discover and experience Regensburg in a new way
The brown poodle stands in the middle of the narrow Kramgasse. Children want to stroke it, their parents forbid it, but then there’s a quick selfie with the dog after all, and the children are happy. A light reflection falls on its curly coat. This poodle, with its fine curls, holds its head a little higher and stands completely still, like a statue. The pedestrian traffic flows round it, surges past the walls of buildings and pours into Regensburg’s old town.
Not far from the spot where the poodle is playing statue is the site where the legion camp of Castra Regina once stood, some 2000 years ago. Apart from a few traces of wall, the only remaining feature is the Porta Praetoria, which exudes Romanesque flair just a stone’s throw from the Gothic St. Peter’s Cathedral.
The maze of streets of a medieval trading town
The Old Town along the Danube and between the cathedral and Bismarckplatz was designated a World Heritage Site in 2006 and covers less than one square kilometre. Despite its compact size, exploring this old town is a real adventure. Cobbled streets run this way and that. Many are somehow parallel, but only to a limited extent. For newcomers, it is a maze of streets, alleyways, junctions, forks, narrow passages and cul-de-sacs. That is precisely the charm of a medieval trading town, and one which earned Regensburg its UNESCO designation.
As you search for the attractive murals of Regensburg artist Andre Maier in the “Kunstbar Degginger” you may find that you keep passing the Neupfarrkirche, where musicians, bubble magicians and jugglers entertain their audiences on a warm summer evening. Or that you keep seeing the same cafés, restaurants, boutique hotels and wine bars in the beautifully renovated old town buildings, find yourself once more outside the Goliathhaus with its mural of David fighting against Goliath, or cross the Kohlenmarkt for the umpteenth time.
Goldener Turm: a magnificent work of patrician pomp
The Degginger is actually just one street away. It stands opposite the Goldener Turm, or Golden Tower, a 50 metre-high architectural declaration of prosperity from the 13th century. The highest and oldest patrician tower in Regensburg with dark-panelled Renaissance arcades, it currently houses a student hall of residence. Even seen from the other side of the main arm of the Danube, from the Stadtamhof, the Goldener Turm dominates the Old Town.
Stadtamhof: a small island in the Danube
The small island of Stadtamhof is a very charming, less imposing but quieter district, which was created when the Europakanal (Europe Canal) was dug. It really does feel like an island. Everything is a little smaller, a little less hectic, a little more neighbourly than the old town across the river. Many of the houses have gardens with fruit trees and flowers that poke up above the fences. In the evenings, families sit under vine-covered pergolas, while on a warm summer morning you are likely to meet residents of this district on their way to or from a swim in the river.
"The people of Regensburg are supple and have strong territorial behaviour"
Michelle “Lilo” Kincaid would love to go for a dip in the river, but first she has to finish an order of hand-crafted summer hats. Her millinery business “Lilo” is on the main street in Stadtamhof, and even if it’s too soon for bathing, now would be a perfect time to take a break in one of the nearby cafés, such as the “Early Bird”.
Wöhrdinsel: ideal for a short breather on the water
On this side of the Danube, Michelle suggests we try the roast pork or fried liver served under the chestnut trees in the Biergarten “Auer Bräu”. We can then work off the calories on a cycle tour around the Wöhrdinsel, which is connected with Stadtamhof via several narrow bridges.
On the northwestern end of the island, an avenue of poplars shades the route and there are various secluded bays where you can sunbathe whenever the Wöhrdbad pool or the meadows opposite are too busy.
At Grieser Spitz a couple of youths are jumping into the water. Mukhlis, one of these daredevils, recommends the open-air cinema “Paradiso”, which sets up a screen every summer between the river and the woods.
Steinerne Brücke: a must for all visitors
We cycle back towards the Steinerne Brücke (Stone Bridge) and enjoy a “Halbe” - a half-litre of beer - in the Spitalgarten, as advised by Michelle. Finally we saunter back over the Steinerne Brücke, a hotspot for selfie hunters. This magnificent medieval monument is around 300 metres long and spans the Danube with rounded stone arches.
On mild summer evenings like this one, locals and tourists sit on the quays enjoying the last rays of the sun. Some enjoy a drink, or “Bratwürsten auf Kraut” (sausages on cabbage) from the famous “Wurstkuchl” directly opposite the Salzstadel. Motor boats chug past, people raise their glasses to each other.
A modern history museum
A little way downstream, at the entrance to the Eisernen Brücke (Iron Bridge), visitors will find the beautifully designed Museum of Bavarian History, built in 2018. Multimedia displays, often slightly tongue in cheek, explain how the various tribes of Bavaria evolved over centuries to form the region’s unique identity, explore the different characteristics of Upper Bavaria, Franconia and Swabia, and look at the formation of the so called Free State of Bavaria.
The following morning, we take Michelle’s advice again and visit the Obermünsterviertel. We cycle through this district to the south of the Rathausplatz, which extends as far as the Basilica of St. Emmeran and the Thurn and Taxis Palace.
The squares are smaller, the houses less grand and only partially renovated. For that reason, rents are still affordable, making it popular with students and young families. It boasts various cafes, restaurants and small shops; second-hand clothes, home-made toys, a felt shop.
The district is changing, comments Juraj Sobolic, who enriches Regensburg’s coffee culture with his “Urban Coffee”. He does not roast his own coffee, unlike the “Cafe 190° Rehorik”, near the Alten Kapelle, which has been in business since 1928. Instead, Juraj buys in from various Bavarian roasting houses, and thus offers his guests a wide range of different coffee aromas along with useful help and advice.
Around the corner, four young women sit chatting in the Silberne Fischgasse. “Black lives matter” has been daubed on a wall, while next door someone is using the rainbow flag as a curtain. This no-through road is a parking place for bobby-cars, scooters and pushchairs.
Basilica & Palace
Just two streets further on, the Basilica of St. Emmeran and St. Emmeram's Palace tower over the bourgeois houses of the Obermünsterviertel. We don’t run into Gloria, Dowager Princess of Thurn and Taxis, but the entrance to the church inner courtyard is impressive.
Through a stone archway we enter a walled garden housing 35 graves, with the three-aisle basilica rising up behind. It is said that the first sacred building was erected here in the seventh century, and since then it has been extended, destroyed, rebuilt. In the 18th century, the interior of the Romanesque church was refurbished with Baroque opulence and now appears far more elaborate than, for example, the Gothic clarity and geometry of Regensburg Cathedral.