Episode 361 – Passing Through Passau

Today we were back at one of my favourite stops on the Grand European itinerary: Passau. Although I admit that Vienna is my favourite city in the world to date, Passau is home to what remains my favourite church in the world, St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

We took the included city walk that took us through the gorgeous old city, and the cathedral, and then had the afternoon to ourselves to explore the Veste Oberhaus, a castle stronghold high above the city on the opposite side of the Danube. Founded in 1219, it was the longtime residence of the Prince-Bishops of Passau.

Our guide started along the Danube waterfront and narrow artists’ alley, and then took us through winding streets to the Inn river on the other side of the peninsula that is old Passau. Along the way, we passed many high water markers, and walked on cobblestone streets that regularly end up under water.

Top left: a beautiful door, but definitely not straight. Top right: artists’ alley is identified by brightly painted cobblestones, and gave us our first (foggy) glimpse of the town hall tower. Bottom left: historic sign for a horse butcher. Bottom right: more of artists’ alley’s walk.

Top: the Wilde Mann (wild man) inn, with saints protecting its corners from the rivers (spoiler alert: it doesn’t work). Bottom left: it’s now a restaurant and comedy club, but the Scharfrichter Haus (sharp judge’s house) was once the home of the judge and executioner of Passau. Bottom right: more religious iconography as building decoration.

We were last here in July of 2013, just 4 weeks after the second-highest flood waters in recorded history (which goes back to the 12th century here!), and remember how amazed we were that the city had already been returned to normal. The water in 2013 rose to the second storeys of buildings nearest the river, and turned the city’s steeply sloped streets into waterways for a few days.

Note the height of the flood waters!

The Rathaus (city hall) features painted depictions of King Ludwig I and his nobles. Notice that behind the king is the city of Passau as it looked in the middle ages, including the fortress.

We were able to go into the staircase hall of the old bishop’s residence and marvel at its rococo embellishments, all of which are original, as is the ceiling fresco.

The fountain in the bishop’s palace square was erected in 1903 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Passau becoming part of Bavaria. The three cherubs (2 shown below) on the fountain represent Passau’s 3 rivers: the Danube, the Inn, and the Ilz.

Of course, my favourite stop was St. Stephen’s.

St. Stephen’s is the white church with the green domes.

Despite the extensive renovations going on inside the church which obscured many of the beautiful angels that I remembered so well, the church still made me gasp in awe as we entered.

The pipe organ, which when it was installed was the world’s largest, was still visible, but the organist is on vacation in November in preparation for the busy Christmas music season, so we did not get a noon hour concert as we’d had on our previous visit.

Since we’d never been up to the castle/fortress, that was our afternoon goal. We climbed the 200-plus terraced stone stairs and then hiked the half-kilometre hillside path to the restaurant at the east end of the fortress.

Our goal.

After delicious draft beers (from an Augustine brewery established in 1325) and excellent currywurst and pommes (fresh crispy fries), we bought our €5 tickets and explored the Veste Oberhaus (Festung/fortress upper house).

I always look happy of beer and currywurst are involved.

The views that rewarded us on our climb and at the top.

The fortress has been turned into a really interesting museum, focussed mainly on the middle ages, dealing with lifestyle, religion, weaponry, art, and architecture.

Some of the 16th century armour on display, and a VERY fierce Gramma and Gramps (we sent those pics to our grandsons). Behind me is a padded shirt, and a chain mail tunic that weighed about 20 kg/44 lbs. I cannot imagine sitting on a horse wearing that, nor being able to move well enough to fight. The metal gauntlets really aren’t much fun either.

From the year 1299, the Bernhard City Letter granting all inhabitants, guests, and foreigners freedoms and rights.

L to R: a metal chest with a 12-part mechanized lid lock; the Wittelsbach family tree (Bavarian prince-bishops for almost 800 years); Duchess Hedwig’s bridal crown from 1475 AD.

Mediaeval wooden shoes. Note the ingenious way the wooden sole is cut to “bend”. (Note: they were 100% uncomfortable)

Castle windows bearing coats of arms of nobility from the 14th to 16th century.

Top: a painted limestone crest from 1570 AD. Bottom left: images like this 1510 AD wooden carving of the crowning of Mary by God and Jesus were common in the 16th century. How else could Mary be the “Queen of Heaven”? The polychrome painting was renewed in the 19th century. Bottom right: stone and polychrome sculpture from around 1460 AD depicting St. Stephen holding the rocks used to stone him,

This mid 15th century oil on wood when looked at head-on seemed to have a plain gold halo around Mary, but from and angle the gold leaf was etched with the Latin words for Saint Mary Virgin.

Left: dating to around 1400 AD, a limestone statue of a suffering Christ displaying his open wounds. Right: circa 1790 AD carved and painted wood Wedding at Cana figures, precursors to multi-figure nativity scenes.

Three interesting mid-15th century oils on wood. In the top painting, Mary is depicted almost in nun’s robes as opposed to her usual flowing hair and blue gown. The centre painting had a gorgeous carved wooden Gothic canopy. In the lower painting, Ste Dorothea with her basket and roses, and Ste Juliana with her sword are both heavily outlined in black, making them look almost like modern animated characters.

Saint George’s stone chapel, dating to the 13th century, features original frescoes. Naturally, touching them is forbidden.

Top: the date on the Veste is a stylized 1299.if you look closely, you’ll see that the “comma” in the number is really an archer’s hole.
Centre & bottom: two views of the entry courtyard.

Only a very few of the windows on the residence walls are real. The windows, cornerstones, and upper pillars are all trompe l’oeil.

From the western overlook of the Veste we had a view of the confluence of the 3 rivers that meet in Passau: the blue Danube, greenish Inn, and almost black Ils. If you look closely, you can see the three colours at the point at which they flow into each other.

As the sun started to set, which happens around 5 p.m. here in November, Ted got some beautiful photos of Passau and our docked ship.

Since this is our last stop in Germany (tomorrow we’re in Austria), Chef Olaf prepared an absolute feast of German food for us: 2 kinds of sausage, crispy pork knuckles, fried chicken, pan-fried fish, bread dumplings, red cabbage, sauerkraut, spätzle, and salads. Our tables were bedecked in red and white checked tablecoths and had cheeses, cured meats, pickles and bread pretzels waiting as our “appetizers”. Our bar and wait staff delivering beer and schnapps were also decked out in red and white checked shirts, with our program director and hotel manager in very fetching lederhosen. Our head of housekeeping sported a lovely green dirndl.

Ready for the feast!

After all that food and drink, there was still dessert: Kaiserschmarren with warm plum and vanilla sauces, pflaumenkuchen (plum cake), cheese crepes/blintzes, gingerbread, chocolate cake, cherry cake, and more.

We’re not leaving Germany hungry!


  1. Passau was my favorite stop on our 2017 GE trip for the amazing cathedral and glorious pipe organ concert! Glad you got to hear it in your 2013 trip.

    Liked by 1 person

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