A foray through Straubing and the surrounding area. The East Bavarian home of Danube fisherman Kathi Mayer is mystically enchanted on foggy November days
Autumn Tour Through the Gäuboden
Shortly before half past twelve, there is suddenly movement in the reeds. Greylag geese rise from their hiding places, first there are only two or three, then a few dozen, finally more and more rise from their hiding places. At the same time, geese buzz in from everywhere, from the other bank of the Danube and from the east further downstream. A cacophonous symphony of cackling many hundreds of times cuts through the silence of this cold, foggy November midday.
Whether they fly to Italy or Spain for the winter, to North Africa or just to Upper Bavaria, you never really know with greylag geese. Kathi Mayer stands in the river with her rubber boots up to her ankle. Above her, the dark silhouettes flutter into the distance against a grey sky. “Somehow I was never drawn away,” she says suddenly. “I just wanted to stay there.” Here in her Lower Bavarian home around Straubing.
The River in the Mist: Enchanted and Mysterious
The Mayers have stayed here for the last 300 years and probably much longer. Now in the 14th generation, Kathi runs the family fishery with her brother Michi. The river has always been a big part of her life, not only because she went out with her father from an early age, as a small child, on this branch of the Danube for which they have had fishing rights for centuries. An oxbow lake, from which they pull out nase, barbel and bream then as now ... and on good days also nobler fish like catfish, zander, pike.
"Somehow I've never been drawn away from here"
For Kathi, far from fishing, the river always had something fascinating and magical about it. “It is precisely on such uncomfortably foggy days,” she says, “that the Danube appears so enchanted and mysterious.” At the top of the embankment, a couple, thickly wrapped up, cycle past, heading west on the Danube cycle path, it’s still 40 kilometres to Regensburg.
In the opposite direction, a shallow cargo ship ploughs east through the river. The Danube is still quite at the beginning of the ship’s long journey. It is still over 2,300 kilometres to the mouth of the Black Sea. And yet it already flows here as an unagitated, sublime stream, sovereign and very relaxed. Somewhere a cormorant is crowing. The wind whistles everywhere.
“Fishing is Not for Girls.” Yes, it is!
Kathi Mayer tells us that she never wanted to become a fisherman in the first place as she walks towards the Öberau Danube bend, a nature reserve covering almost 300 hectares. It was her father who always said: “Fishing is not for a girl like you.” Fishing has always been a male domain. With the Mayers and in general.
That’s why Kathi first worked as a dental assistant in a practice in Straubing. But then her father became seriously ill five years ago, everything happened very quickly, and because she didn’t want to abandon her brother, she pitched in. A few minutes after she enthusiastically caught her very first zander, she got the call that her father was dying.
Kathi rushed to the clinic at that time and told him about her catch shortly before his death. “Even though he didn’t react,” she says, “I’m sure he was still aware of it all.” She was also sure at the time that there was no other choice but to switch to fishing. In support of her brother, but also in the spirit of her father. Because it would have made him proud, says Kathi.
At Öberau, the Danube once made an almost heart-shaped loop in its old riverbed. The six-kilometre-long side arm has not been used since the construction of the short-cut Direttissima culvert almost 40 years ago and, with its wild and rustic old water meadow landscape as a resting and breeding place, forms an undisturbed retreat for land and water birds.
Bogenberg: The Sacred Mountain of the Region
A very special retreat for Kathi has always been the Bogenberg further downstream beyond Straubing. The “Holy Mountain of Lower Bavaria”, as it is also called, forms the gateway to the Bavarian Forest as a lofty sentinel. The 75-kilometre candlelight pilgrimage from Holzkirchen in the district of Passau to the imposing Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, built in the 15th century, takes place every year at Whitsun and follows one of the most important pilgrimage routes in the Free State.
Over the centuries, the interior of the church has seen a colourful smorgasbord of decorations in a wide variety of styles, from Baroque to Rococo to Gothic. “Even though I was never the big churchgoer who went to mass punctually at ten every Sunday,” says Kathi Mayer, “I have always found inner peace here.”
"I have always found inner peace here"
A wonderful, now very rare gem can be found in the side aisle. A small square showcase with a chapel inside. It is one of those glass boxes that stood in so many Bavarian churches from the 1950s onwards. All you had to do was put in five pfennigs and the bells would start ringing inside. At the little fountain on the left, the water was splashing and an angel came out of the open chapel door on a rail and made three signs of the cross.
Over the decades, the boxes disappeared from the churches, and today there are only a handful of them left – in St Peter’s in Munich, for example, and in St Anton’s in Partenkirchen. And also in the Assumption of the Virgin Mary at Bogenberg. Of course, inflation has also left its mark here: Today you can get the blessing for a tenner.
Watzmann? Wendelstein? Quite hopeless Today
Completely free is the impressive panorama from the viewpoints on the south side of the mountain. If you can see anything. The display boards with the directional signs reveal where the view could reach. Watzmann, Zwiesel, Wendelstein. On this day, we at least recognise the other bank of the Danube. But there’s something about it. A picture-perfect foggy day. Anyone can do sun.
With Kathi we still stroll along the nature trail, where we learn a lot about the geology and the different rock layers, about the first settlements in the Bronze Age, and that the locals called the hill “Grintel” until the 13th century. Because Grintel was the word for mountain back then. Makes sense.
The Bogenberg appears mystical, mysterious and enigmatic; one can well imagine that the area was just the right place for the Mühlhiasl, the legendary prophet of the forest Matthias Lang, whose prophecies from the 18th century sometimes seem very topical today. After all, he made statements like: The forest will become as light as the beggar’s skirt. When you can no longer tell summer from winter... When a big fish flies over the forest...
Am Salzstadel: Once a Warehouse, Today Meeting Place
It’s half past four, the grey of the clouds gradually shifts into colourlessness, the light slowly dims. Time to end the day in the city. Time for Straubing. Kathi leads us to the Adler monument, right next to the Salzstadel on the banks of the Danube, where salt traders used to dock when they delivered their valuable cargo on the Inn and Danube and deposited it here in the large storage facility.
Today, it’s locals like Kathi who stop here by the river and make the place an atmospheric meeting place, especially on summer evenings on the tiered terraces. The warm nights aren't long enough...
To the Geiss: Where Merkel Once Got her Reindlgmias
This evening, after a long day outside, you look forward to warmth in a pub. For example, in the “Goaß” at the western end of the town square, Straubing’s centre with many small shops, inns and cafés. The “Goaß”, as many people in Straubing call the inn, originally has nothing to do with goats; officially the pub is called “Zum Geiss”, named after the hatter and former house owner Josef Geiss. Whether it’s the Geiss or not, it doesn’t matter; in any case, the inn is Straubing’s oldest pub. The house dates back to 1462 and is thus even older than the pilgrimage church on Bogenberg. Their construction did not begin until a year later.
The "goat?" It doesn't matter! In any case, Straubing's oldest inn
For many centuries, the shop must have been a great venue for hearty pub brawls. Later, the “Goaß” spruced itself up, and during a joint Franco-German Council of Ministers in the city in 2008, even Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy stopped in – for Tafelspitzsülzchen, Reindlgmias and raspberry mille-feuille.
Today Kathi Mayer’s good friend Michaela Stöberl runs the restaurant with a successful mix of rustic-traditional and quite different. Simple, fresh and young. On the table is a newly interpreted Bavarian cuisine.
Also because Michaela, as a trained beer sommelière, still brings some of the stored beers out of the cellar for tasting, it becomes a wonderful, long evening at the corner table of her restaurant after a very cold, but ultimately warming day. A day on which you learned so much about Kathi, her life, her history, her Lower Bavaria. A day on which only one question remains unanswered: Where are the geese from noon now?