Die Reichsstraße in Donauwörth gilt als einer der schönsten Straßenzüge Süddeutschlands
Take it easy!

Donauwörth may be one of Bavaria’s smaller and less famous cities but you’d never guess based on its charm and history. An afternoon full of dolls, candy, and beer gave us a delightful look inside the character of the place and of the people who call it home. “Do they have a motto?” you might be asking. Sure do. “Take it slow!”

Reading time: 15 minutes

Sightseeing in Donauwörth: A City Tour

Out of nowhere, Reichstraße begins to bustle with activity. Three dozen tourists just climbed out of a coach that’s pulled up in front of the Goldener Hirsch hotel. The throng is racing to keep up with a tour guide with a green umbrella in her hand.

From our vantage point high-up on the church gallery we have a perfect view of the group scurrying toward the Town Hall before taking a right turn and continuing down toward the river Wörnitz and Ried Island. Holidaymakers just passing through, most likely. Probably on a turbocharged tour of the Romantic Road.

It’s a shame, really. After all, this is a perfect place to hit the brakes, slow down, and settle in. You have to allow the leisurely pace that characterises life in Donauwörth to fully sink in. You have to engage with the Slow Movement city.

We even started our tour by taking it slow, mindful of saving as much energy as we could on our climb up the 217 steps which make up the creaking wooden tower stairs that lead to the old Liebfrauenmünster (Minster of our Dear Lady) tower guard apartment.

Blick auf die Barockkirche Heilig Kreuz in Donauwörth
Ein Paar genießt den Ausblick vom Turm des Liebfrauenmünster in Donauwörth auf die Reichsstraße

Full 360º View of Donauwörth

Our first destination, shrouded in mystery, is the site where one of Donauwörth’s most important legends begins. It was in this location many aeons ago – so the story goes – that the caretaker looked north one night to see the Schellenberg in flames and sounded the alarm.

Eagerly, a team of figherfighters hurried out to bring the blaze under control only to discover that what they had believed to be a hellish inferno was in fact an optical illusion created by a rising blood moon. Since that fateful night, people from elsewhere in the region have lovingly referred to the residents of Donauwörth as “Moonsplashers.”

One thing is certain: the view of the Schellenberg and its newly-opened outdoor pool is spectacular from up here. The panoramic balcony is the best place to get an initial lay of the land. It provides a full 360-degree view of the city’s skyline.

The Fugger house and Minster of the Holy Cross are clearly visible to the west. The Danube and all of the natural beauty of the Bavarian-Swabian Danube-Ries district which surrounds it extend eastward. As a visitor looking across this magnificent panorama, I couldn’t help but think how fortunate it was that Donauwörth remained so small, compact and easy to look over.

Das Färbertor in Donauwörth

The 17th Century Boomtown that might have been

And to think, Donauwörth almost made it big – we’re talking major. As the 17th century began, Donauwörth was a flourishing and emerging free imperial city. Vicious street fighting between Protestant and Catholic groups put an end to any ambitions of grandeur, however. The city was sanctioned with an imperial ban and lost its imperial immediacy.

A drastic decline in population followed and whatever hopes remained for Donauwörth’s future as a metropolis were dashed once and for all by the denominational feuding that broke out in 1606 and 1607 and lead to the Thirty Years’ War. Alas, the boomtown went bust. Looking back, that’s probably for the best.

There’s plenty more history awaiting us at our next stop. After a slow descent down the narrow staircase, we step out of the church into Schustergasse Alley. Continuing along, we cross a lovely public park and pass by a number of spice and herb gardens before reaching our destination: the Käthe Kruse Doll Museum.

Die legendäre Puppe 1 von Käthe Kruse im Käthe-Kruse-Museum

Dolls, Dolls, and More Dolls

Thomas Heitele, the museum director, takes his time guiding us through the exhibition rooms. With over 150 historical pieces, the museum’s collection of the legendary puppet maker’s dolls and mannequins is the largest in the world.

Visitors are treated to exhibits such as Friedebald and Ilsebill, Margretchen and Jockerle, the “Schielböckchen”, and Baby Bauz from 1910 – the earliest period of Käthe Kruse’s work. Eschewing traditional porcelain dolls, which she considered cold and sterile, Kruse designed soft and flexible figures made of wood and fabric instead and modelled them on real children. For the first time ever, her creation had transformed dolls into perfect playmates for snuggling and cuddling.

Following the Second World War, Käthe Kruse and her husband Max left Berlin, deciding to settle in Donauwörth where they lived in a villa in Kapellstraße. And Donauwörth continues to be the home of the Käthe Kruse Doll Factory to this very day.

Standing in front of a display case filled with authentic Kruse replicas, Heitele tells us what makes him such a big fan of Donauwörth.

A Giant Chunk of Meteorite

The footpath along the bank of the river Wörnitz, Heitele tells us, is one of his very favourite places on Earth. As is the Mangoldfelsen (Mangold Cliff), located just 100 metres from the museum he holds so dearly. The mighty monolith is a remnant of an impact event that occurred 15 million years ago when a meteorite crashed to earth about 30 kilometres to the north-west and formed the Nördlinger Ries crater. Nowadays, the relict serves as a monumental backdrop for an open-air theatre series held every summer.

The old rail tunnel located nearby, open these days exclusively to pedestrian and cycle traffic, is another one of the spots which Heitele believes makes Donauwörth so unique. Until 1877, the tunnel was used by trains serving the Ludwig South-North Railway line linking Lindau and Hof.

During World War II, the space was used to hide munitions and warehouse locally manufactured armaments. Combined with its strategically valuable location, this was one of the main reasons that the U.S. bombardment of Donauwörth was so ferocious, reducing all of the Old Town adjacent to Reichsstraße to rubble during the closing weeks of the war.

Die Reichsstraße in Donauwörth
Ein Mann bearbeitet die grüne Bonbon-Grundmasse in der Manufaktur Edel in Donauwörth
Eine Frau füllt die fertigen Bonbons in der Manufaktur Edel in Donauwörth ab

Isn’t that Sweet?

The destruction wreaked on the city in April 1945 directly impacted the next stop along our tour as well. We’re talking about the Eduard Edel candy factory, which is indubitably the sweetest part of Donauwörth’s business tradition. Starting in 1864, generations of Edels dedicated themselves to making confectioneries on Reichsstraße. When allied bombing left their manufactory in ruins, the family decided to relocate the business to the Zollfeld fields in the north of the city. After Robert Edel died in 2001, control of the company was passed on to two of his employees, whose sons continue to serve as its directors to this day.

One of the directors is Joachim Lang. We tried to strike up a conversation with Lang when we met him on our tour – a silly thing to attempt, in retrospect. The noise on the shop floor, with its old-fashioned confectionery equipment dating all the way back to the 1950s, was deafening. The cauldrons looked like something a wicked witch would use to lure in children. Inside the devices, a candy mass composed of sugar and glucose syrup brewed away at 150 degrees Celsius. When the mass finished cooking, the 30 kilo lump that emerged was placed on a cooling table where the aromas and colour extracts that go into the final product were added.

Sending out the Sweetest Greetings

A machine known as a batch roller is used to shape these hefty chunks into a snaking rope of pure candy which an impressive array of cutting and embossing machines then turns into some 7,500 sweets before the assembly line spits them out into a giant box. “The machine makes a solid million goodies every day,” Lang tells us afterwards in the quiet confines of his office.

When I show outsiders around my Donauwörth, it always reminds me of how beautiful the city truly is.”

There is plenty of demand. Edel exports all of its 250 candy varieties across the globe, from Scandinavia to South Korea and from the United States to China. You can even find candy from Donauwörth melting on tongues across Australia and New Zealand. Despite their success, Lang and his two co-owners have never given relocating the factory or its headquarters elsewhere any serious consideration.

Sure, Lang’s been around and seen the world. A plethora of business trips have made sure of that. But the discreet charm of his native Donauwörth is something special, as he observes any time friends or business partners from out of town come to visit. “It’s easy to take the place you call ‘home’ for granted,” he says. “But when I get a chance to show outsiders my Donauwörth, it always reminds me of how beautiful the city truly is.”

What does Joachim Lang mean by “my Donauwörth?” The King of Candy names favourites like the idyllic waterfront promenade at the old Danube port or the Schellenberg Lido, and highlights Calvary Hill as a haven of tranquillity.

Chef und Brauer Simon Baumer im Donauwörther Brauhaus

Break Time at the Brewery

A leisurely stroll brings us back to town along Reichsstraße. A former Bavarian State-Minister once compared this magnificent ensemble of buildings, erected almost entirely in the post-war period, to the Tuscan city of Siena.

On this afternoon, we decided to take a little detour to visit Simon Baumer at the Donauwörther Brauhaus Brewery on Zirgesheimer Street. Trained as a biologist and business administrator, Baumer taught himself how to make beer. In 2019, he revived an almost 700-year-old Donauwörth brewing tradition which had been dormant since 1981, when the last local brewery shuttered.

At this point, his brewing facility has a capacity of five hectolitres. When it comes to varieties, Baumer opted for the classics: pale lager, dark beer, wheat beer, a top-fermented local brew referred to as land beer, and the speciality of the house know as “Pilgerlust.” The latter is a dark shandy that Simon was inspired to create in 2021 while attending the unveiling of a peace dove sculpture nearby. The monument stands at the confluence of the Danube and Wörnitz and forms part of the Jerusalem Way, which stretches all the way from Spain to Israel via Donauwörth.

Das Liebfrauenmünster an der Reichsstraße in Donauwörth
Fischerbrunnen auf der Insel Ried in Donauwörth

The final stretch of our tour took us over to Ried, the island Old Town nestled between the two arms of the river Wörnitz. It is a popular retreat for locals.

After finding a seat in front of one of the many cafés, bars, and pubs, we sat back and enjoyed a cool sundowner and watched children over at the gelato shop engrossed in their cups of ice cream and observed the chance reunion of two old acquaintances chuffed to see each other again, over by Fischerbrunnen Fountain. We also saw a young couple, sauntering arm in arm towards Museum Square, moonstruck and off in their own world. Their pace? Easy and extremely leisurely. Just right for Donauwörth.

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