Episode 96 – Postcards from Passau

NOTE: These travel pictures are from travels prior to us becoming nomadic in 2018. Like most of the world, we are staying put right now until the threat from COVID19 is either over or preventable via a vaccine.

Of all the beautiful cities we visited on our 2013 river cruise, Passau was my favourite in Germany. There was just something about the resilient spirit of the city, combined with the steep cobbled streets and colourful buildings, that spoke to me.

We arrived in Passau just 6 weeks after the worst floods the area had ever seen. The centre of Passau had been under water, with a water level reaching 12.85 metres (42.2 feet), outdoing the previous highest water level recorded in 1501 AD. (2013 had not yet been added to the watermark – I guess they were too busy cleaning up!!). What amazed us was that the building on which that level had been marked was still standing – and already reoccupied – and that there was absolutely no evidence of flood damage remaining beyond the fact that the stores were having a “Brutal Billig”Hochwasser Räumungsverkauf” (a “brutally cheap high water clearance sale”) The citizenry, including the many university students, fully mobilizes after flooding, and does an incredible clean-up job. Even the cobblestones looked back to normal, with no leftover silt from the floodwaters. A photo in one of the store windows showed us what the city looked like while flooded. The city is on a spit of land where the Danube and Inn rivers meet, but the city hall (Rathaus) front door is not normally accessible by boat!

St. Stephen’s Cathedral, built in 1688 in the Baroque style, remains by far my favourite of all the churches we have seen. While much less impressive from the exterior than the huge Gothic churches in other cities, I could have spent all day just looking at the interior frescoes and sculptures, especially the cherubs and angels.

Our guide explained that one of the unique aspects of St. Stephen’s is that all of the marble is real; most of the grand churches incorporated at least some faux marble in their pillars and statuary, but there was no expense spared in St. Stephen’s.

The chancel of the church is completely covered in gold leaf. Here was where we learned that gold leaf is made by pounding gold so thin that it would take 300,000 (yes, 5 zeroes) sheets stacked to make a pile ONE INCH high.

St. Stephen’s is home to the third largest church pipe organ in the world (it was the largest until the 20th century) with 17,974 pipes, 233 stops, and 4 carillons. I still get tingly remembering the noon hour concert we heard there. We were lucky enough to sit under the “angel hole”, supposedly the most perfect acoustic spot in the cathedral.

After that sublime experience, it was back onto our river boat, heading for the Wachau Valley and Melk.

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