Episode 360 – Beautiful Complicated Regensburg

History truly is both complex and complicated. Ted and I originally signed up for Viking’s included walking tour, but when we were given the chance to extend it by 30 minutes to allow for the inclusion of some of Regensburg’s Jewish history, we jumped at the chance. Ever since spending July in Berlin, and experiencing the way that city deals with its troubled history, we’ve wanted to learn more about what happens in other parts of Germany.

Our tour was not focussed exclusively on Jewish history, but did highlight it whenever relevant – and it has been relevant for many centuries.

We started our tour by walking across the almost 900 year old (1135 AD) bridge spanning the Danube River. The bridge construction was begun at around the same time as the cathedral, but the bridge was completed in about 11 years, whereas the cathedral’s completion took more than 600. The bridge, after all, was necessary for trade; cathedrals depended upon sponsors.

Being a city on the water is picturesque, and beneficial for trade, but the high water markers on the buildings attest to the flood levels the city has incurred. The flood of 2013, just months before we toured here last, is not yet marked, because the water reached higher than the top of the sign, even with the doorframes.

Regensburg is home to purportedly the oldest continuously operating
“fast food” restaurant in the world: the historic “sausage kitchen” dating to 1146 AD.

Regensburg’s crest has 2 keys on it: the crossed keys of Saint Peter seen on the city gates. But the city outside the gates has a crest with THREE keys; competition was alive and well in the middle ages. Due to its importance as a trade centre, the city was independent of the (then) kingdom of Bavaria.

Analogous to a wolf in sheep’s clothing, this statue in the Bischofshof (Bishops residence garden) seemingly shows a cleric looking beatifically at a gaggle of geese, but from the back, it is actually a fox disguised in the cleric’s robes, ready to feast on the unsuspecting birds.

There were 42 churches in Regensburg, but 60 “patrician’s towers”, like the 3 pictured, erected by wealthy citizens to show off their wealth. Often only the ground floor and one other were occupied; the point was to demonstrate that they had enough money to build tall.
Tall, but mostly empty – just showing off.

Top: The Danube is split into 3 channels in Regensburg, with mills historically operating on the side channels. Bottom: the fantastically painted David and Goliath adorn a downtown building.

Along with the Porta Nigra in Trier, Germany, the Porta Praetoria is the only partially preserved Roman gate north of the Alps. it served as the northern gate of the Castra Regina legionary camp, which was completed in 179 AD. The remaining portions here have been integrated into the Bischofshof (Bishop’s residence)

Having never seen a vertical sundial until Bamberg, we saw another today in Regensburg. The time is just after 12 noon.

Regensburg is a university town, with students often living in its 12th and 13th century buildings. The sign in this courtyard, put up by the student union, clearly prohibits the parking of bicycles. Hmm. Our guide assured us that the students could, in fact, all read,

Hidden in plain sight among the beautiful buildings in Regensburg was a darker history. The city was not attacked during WWII, meaning that both its architecture and its history was left virtually intact.

This building, once used as a dance hall, had a darker past. Citizens of the city daily had to watch the mostly Jewish prisoners march past them on brutal work details, and were under threat of severe punishment if they offered them food or comfort.
Oskar and the under-appreciated Emilie Schindler lived here in refugee housing after the end of the war. We were surprised (and pleased) to hear that the movie Schindler’s List is an obligatory part of every German student’s curriculum.

Antisemitism in Europe was not new in WWII. Our guide told us that in the 13th to early 16th centuries in Bavaria, Jews were generally treated fairly, and even allowed into trades (as opposed to being restricted to moneylending and then resented for it). Unfortunately in 1519 there was a leadership gap and economic downturn, the latter of which was blamed on the convenient minority (Jews). Although not killed, they were forced out of the city in only 3 days, without most of their belongings. Most heartbreaking to us was that the Jewish cemetery was then destroyed and, since stone was expensive, its 5000 gravestones used as building materials. Somewhat unbelievable to us was the fact that some citizens used Jewish headstones as “trophy stones”, displaying them in their masonry. Despite all of that, Jews returned to Regensburg in the early 19th century and flourished until the mid 20th.

A Jewish tombstone displayed as wall decoration,

Top: A Jewish artist designed the space which outlines the location of the Jewish synagogue, which was in the Old Romanesque style, erected between 1210 and 1227 on the site of the former Jewish hospital, in the centre of the ghetto, beside where the present Neue Pfarre Church stands. The design incorporating seating is intended to encourage “life” back into the space. Bottom left: sign indicating the location of a synagogue from 1814 to 1907: in 1938 the remains of the former synagogue from the middle ages was torn down. Bottom right: sign denoting the site of the synagogue built in 1912 and destroyed in 1938 by the Nazis.

Below is a horribly antisemitic sculpture prominently built into a pillar of St Peter’s Cathedral in the early 15th century, belying the secular tolerance of Jews. The plaque retrofitted onto the church reads: “At the top of this pillar, which pointed to the mediaeval Jewish ghetto, is the mocking figure of the so-called “Jewish sow”. Shown is a pig whose teats are being pulled by Jews. This sculpture as a testament to a bygone epoch must be seen in the context of a long-gone time. In its anti-Jewish content, it is disconcerting for today’s observer.The relationship between Christianity and Judaism in our day is characterized by tolerance and mutual respect.” I wonder.

And yet, the cathedral is otherwise architecturally beautiful, and clearly meaningful to many. After today’s tour, I find myself looking at it differently than I did in 2013.

In the cathedral, and in its crypt, are plaques dedicated to the priest who in April of 1945 advocated publicly for the surrender of Regensburg to the Allies, realizing that resistance was impossible. For speaking out, he was executed by the Nazis and his hanged body displayed in the square.

Several Stolpersteine that we stopped to read as a group during our tour.

Wrapped around the outdoor atrium of Regenburg’s new synagogue (above) are the words of poet Rose Auslände, born 1901 in Czernowitz Ukraine, died in 1988 in Dusseldorf, having survived persecution by both the Nazis and the Russians. After a very emotional tour for many of us, this was a touching and positive message.




  1. What is your opinion of the Viking river boats compared to the ocean ships? We just got back from doing the Mekong River cruise on the Viking Saigon. The Europe boats are much longer and not as tall. Our room was very large at over 300 sq ft. Our boat had only 72 passengers.


    • We travelled in the least expensive rooms on both – the river ships are definitely a smaller room, and in lowest price have 1/2 windows but no balcony. It’s really IMO a completely different experience, with (of necessity ) fewer dining options or public spaces – but I enjoy both for different reasons!


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