A city backdrop like something out of a historical film, a river landscape like a jungle and a truly refreshing beer culture
SPONSORED STORY The best way to arrive in Amberg is on a “Plätte” – a traditional, open-top passenger boat. These motorised long boats, which shuttle along at a leisurely pace on the little river “Vils” between the historic centre and the former State Garden Show grounds, ultimately set the pace for a visit to the city.
The casting off alone is spectacular. And the smell in the city is quite seductive, like the scent of roses from the secluded garden of the former Electoral Armoury.
When viewed from the Vils, the huge tower of St. Martin’s Basilica peaks high into the sky like a skyscraper. You can also get particularly close to Amberg’s landmark on the river boat when you pass through the “Stadtbrille” – the wonderful arches that sit above the river. The large water gate from the 15th century is part of the city wall and looks like a castle on its own with its turrets.
The real “Kurfürstliches Schloss” (Electoral Palace) comes right after that. The stately main building was the setting for a late-medieval “all you can eat” event that caused a furore throughout Europe: the wedding of Elector Prince Philip to Margaret, daughter of Duke Louis IX the Rich of Bavaria-Landshut, in 1474 was remembered far more for the vast quantities of food and drink than for the illustrious guest list. In Amberg, people have always known how to live well.
From the castle, the river Vils meanders through a wild parkland landscape where the gnarled branches of old trees serve as a lookout point for kingfishers. A jungle feeling in the middle of the city no less, which is why the section is also affectionately called the Amazonas by those operating the boats.
Historical Centre: The Middle Ages at Their Best
And while we’re on the subject of geographical references: More often than not, you feel like you’re in Venice on one of the numerous Vils bridges. Instead of St. Mark’s Square, however, Amberg has its own market square, which, on a beautiful summer’s day like today – enjoying a coffee under one of the large white parasols – easily conveys the feeling of a piazza.
During the subsequent stroll through the town, you can dive deep into the history of Germany’s Upper Palatinate at pretty much every corner and in every alley. Starting with the town hall, whose Gothic gables have crowned the market square for almost 700 years.
The historic centre of Amberg is considered one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Bavaria, it looks stunning and would make a perfect historical film set in many places. Even the prison is still in good shape here, but in contrast to the old days, it is an extremely popular place to be: the rooms of the “Hotel Fronfeste” used to be cells and are still called that. The reduced design with bars has remained, but TV and WiFi are new additions to this jail hotel.
And there is another very special hotel in the historic town, the smallest in the world! The “Eh’häusl” offers just enough space for two people. The name derives from the early New High German word “Ehalten” and was later reinterpreted as “Ehehäuschen”. In order to lower the birth rate, only couples with a “debt-free house and property” were allowed to marry in Amberg from the 14th to the 18th century.
That’s why one clever citizen of Amberg resorted to a trick: in 1728, he is said to have built the “Eh’häusl” (“marriage house”) to make it possible for couples without means to marry. After the honeymoon, the house was sold on to the next bride and groom.
Three-Kilometre-Long City Wall Fortification
The three-kilometre-long city wall fortification with its five gates, bulging walls and innumerable turrets looks as fortified as ever, as if it had been built from scratch. In fact, the people of Amberg call it the “egg”, but this is due to the peculiar shape with which it encapsulates the old town.
Construction of this architectural complex began in 1326, when the “Georgsvorstadt” and the hospital were also considered worthy of protection, resulting in the distinctive oval shape.
A Little Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo
Subsequent styles from different epochs are also perfectly preserved over Amberg’s cobblestones: the Renaissance at the Electoral Government Chancellery, Baroque at the monumental Jesuits Maltese building, or more modestly at the palace of the governor of Upper Palatinate. The rococo is quite restrained and playful at “Fenzl-Haus”, the residence of the government advisor, and quite stark in the school church of the former monastery of St. Augustine. It looks rather innocuous from the outside, yet it is one of the most important rococo churches in Germany. Inside, the sheer riot of colours, stucco and frescoes can make you feel dizzy.
Beer Culture: Maximum Pleasure & Girl Power
A beer on the go is good, no matter how history- or art-savvy you consider yourself to be! There has never been a shortage of beer in Amberg, in any case. This tradition has also survived, as have the many places and occasions to enjoy it.
The monasteries have always brewed in Amberg, and the sovereign commissioned brewing with his monopoly on “white beer”; brewing used to take place in every house! Which is why Veronika Beale can only smile tiredly when asked whether she, as a budding brewer, doesn’t feel exotic in the supposedly male domain.
At the vocational school, she is only one of six women among 50 apprentices, but in the third year of her apprenticeship, she nearby directs the fermentation process, wort boiling and mashing in the home brewery at “Schloderer Bräu” all by herself.
“In former times it was, of course, the women who made the beer! !“
The gold-coloured kettles and pipes situated in the quaint show brewery tower high over two floors, like the magic kitchen of a druid. While she checks the temperature in one of the kettles, the 18-year-old with roots in Amberg and Liverpool takes the chance to go back a long way in time: “The women of the Paleolithic Age were probably the first brewers ever, after they had dipped bread in water and after a while realised that it tasted all the better,” she says.
“In the home breweries of the Middle Ages, it was, of course, the women who made the beer! The magical effect of yeast was not yet known in that era, which is why belladonna and rowan berry were added to the brew if necessary. Emergency admissions as a result of different ingredients being used eventually led to the enactment of the “Reinheitsgebot” – the brewing purity law that still applies today.
In the course of secularisation, monastery breweries disappeared, while the home breweries were almost entirely transferred to commercial operations, of which there are still five in the city today.
Today, Amberg beer can be enjoyed in its pure and noble form in numerous beer gardens. One of the most beautiful, the “Winkler Bräuwirt”, is managed by Christian “Klossi” Klostermann and his two business partners. After working in numerous bars in the city, the Amberg native found his passion here. “Feel good” is how he sums up the underlying philosophy. The cuisine is regional and Bavarian, and vegetarians and vegans are not left out.
Every citizen of Amberg knows one very special feel-good event. In July, people meet high above the city for the festival week on the “Mariahilfberg”. In the middle of the forest at the foot of the pretty pilgrimage church, the beer tents run by Amberg’s breweries and the surrounding area are then set up, together with barbecue stands and food stalls. Sit, chat, eat and drink in truly stunning surroundings. Music? What music? Getting away from it all in Germany’s Upper Palatinate is a good fit for Amberg!
Further information: tourismus.amberg (only in German)