Germany’s only preserved medieval city, 2,000 years of history in fast forward – Regensburg adorns itself with many superlatives, and yet the expectations they raise are exceeded when you see this unique ensemble of buildings for yourself and feel the special atmosphere. Around 20,000 students and thus almost one seventh of the population give the venerable old lady a very youthful and fresh face. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Upper Palatinate city has also become an important economic hub for traffic with Eastern Europe, its Danube port an important goods transshipment point.
Recent years have brought the city additional notoriety: Joseph Ratzinger’s election as Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 made it a papal city and place of pilgrimage overnight – although Ratzinger was not born there, but spent long years of his life and career in the church hierarchy here. With the UNESCO accolade in 2007, it also became a World Heritage Site, joining the exclusive club of sites that humanity is concerned about preserving.
However, this title is also a burden: on the one hand, because certain modernization and construction projects can now only be implemented under observation – think of the Stone Bridge, which is in urgent need of renovation and would require a modern bridge to relieve the burden – on the other hand, because since then a veritable flood of tourists has poured over the city, which the previous infrastructure with hotels and restaurants can hardly cope with. Anyone who wants to visit the city in peace and quiet should therefore make an effort to reserve a room in good time.
Tip 1: Cathedral of St. Peter
The beginnings of this church are lost in the 8th century, when St. Boniface declared the city a bishop’s seat along with Passau and Salzburg. There is evidence of a cathedral of the Carolingian period from the 11th century – its foundations adjoin today’s cathedral in the east and are partly built over by it. City fires then led to ever new conversions and extensions until the cathedral building project was completely restarted under Bishop Leo the Thundorfer.
The construction work had to be interrupted several times due to financing problems; it was not until 1785 that the imposing cathedral was completed, then in the late Baroque taste of the time. In the 19th century it was regotized and the two towers were raised to their present height.
Tip 2: Valhalla
The world-famous Hall of Fame of the Bavarian King Ludwig I, which was built by architect Leo von Klenze, is already visible from afar. High above the slopes of the Danube, the Valhalla is enthroned – from here you can enjoy a fascinating view over the surrounding landscape with its numerous rivers.
This monumental structure, also called the “pilgrimage site of the nation”, was built within 12 years and is one of the most important creations of King Ludwig I. You can reach this structure either on foot via 358 steps, by car or by bicycle. There is also the possibility of barrier-free access to the building via an access ramp.
The interior of the temple was built on the model of the Pantheon on the Acropolis. Visitors can expect over hundreds of marble busts and memorial plaques of the most important personalities such as King Ludwig, Barbarossa, Goethe, Schiller and many more.
Tip 3: Stone Bridge
Today, the nearly 309-meter-long Stone Bridge connects Regensburg’s Old Town with the Stadtamhof district. It crosses the Danube Island.
It is one of the city’s most important landmarks and played a major role in the city’s inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The round arch bridge was built within only eleven years, presumably from 1135 to 1146, and was the only way to reliably cross the Danube until 1935.
At the time of its construction, the bridge was 336 meters long and had 16 arches. When the Salzstadel (Salt storage) was built 500 years later, the first two arches were installed. Since then, only 14 arches can be seen.
The bridge tower at the beginning of the bridge, which is now only open to pedestrians, is the only one of the original three bridge towers to survive. At the apex is the Bruckmandl (little bridge man), which stands for the city’s rights of freedom.
The odd shape and the different piers are not arbitrariness of the builder, but served the adaptation to the subsoil and the flow of the water.
Today, the Stone Bridge in Regensburg is considered a marvel of medieval engineering and is regarded as a “small” model for the famous Charles Bridge in Prague.
Tip 4: Old Town Hall
The Old Town Hall of Regensburg comprises a complex of several historical buildings. The oldest and most famous part of it is the Gothic ensemble of buildings built in the middle of the 13th century with the Imperial Hall and the Town Hall Tower. As early as 1355, an Imperial Diet of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation was probably held here. In later centuries, the place became a regular meeting place of the imperial estates. The imperial diets, which had previously always been held in different places, were held only in Regensburg City Hall from 1541 onwards. This custom became the Perpetual Diet from 1663 to 1803.
The old assembly hall of the princes and estates of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, which has been preserved true to the original, is now home to the Reichstag Museum. A lot of interesting information about the function of the imperial assemblies and their importance for the German Empire and Europe is presented here.
The deliberation and side rooms are also very impressive, as well as the guardroom, the interrogation room and the poor sinners’ room.
Tip 5: St. Emmeram Castle
Thurn und Taxis Castle on the southern edge of Regensburg’s old town is a “city” in itself. The complex, originally a monastery, developed around a probably pre-Carolingian church with the tomb of St. Emmeram. In the 10th century Abbot Ramwold arranged for the expansion of the monastery, in the 11th century the western part and the Wolfgang crypt were built, in the 12th century the church of St. Rupertus was built next to St. Emmeram, the two churches connected by a common porch.
Fires, rebuilding, destruction during the Thirty Years’ War and finally in 1730 the complete baroque remodeling by the Asam brothers repeatedly changed the face of the church and the monastery. In 1748, Prince Alexander Ferdinand von Thurn und Taxis moved into the east wing with his family as principal commissioner, i.e. as the emperor’s representative at the Perpetual Diet.