While other towns and cities across Germany were razed to the ground during World War Two, one lesser-known town in the heart of Upper Franconia escaped unscathed. Even under perpetually grey skies, Bamberg is a beauty. Labyrinthine cobbled streets were lined with original medieval buildings; wrought iron signs hung above bakeries and pubs (located, more often than not, side by side, according to tradition); flags fluttered in the breeze. With classes over and invigilating sessions few and far between, I finally had the time to take Simone up on her invitation to visit her in Bamberg.
I baulked at the cost of the train – €120 one way, no thank you – so opted for the sixteen hour overnight coach journey instead, on the basis that I’m pretty adept at sleeping on public transport. Unfortunately for me, in the middle of the night a woman took the space next to me and then proceeded to take up half my seat and elbow me for the rest of the journey. Suffice it to say that I was somewhat bleary-eyed and feeling rather sleep-deprived when I arrived in Munich, where I had a couple of hours to wait for my transfer to Bamberg. I hadn’t seen Simone since her farewell pizza party in Colmar two years ago, but when we met up it was as though no time had passed. It wasn’t long before we were reminiscing over hot drinks in Fika, a kitschy independent coffee shop on Luitpoldstraße.
Over the course of my trip, we tried the new season asparagus, embraced the café culture and even went to La Table Ronde, Simone’s French club, where I learnt the expression “retourner le couteau dans la plaie” (to rub salt in the wound) from a true Breton. Germany is – especially when compared to France – a very cheap country to eat out in, and we never paid much more than €10 each for a main course and a drink. (Hofcafé, Café Müller and Aposta are all worth munching at if you ever find yourself in Bamberg.) Beer enthusiasts should take themselves to one of the (many) pubs and indulge in the local smoked beer – the malt’s smoky flavour is a result of the kilning process, where the malt is dried by a beech log fire. (Sorry to disappoint, Dad, but I didn’t try it.)
Sightseeing – both in Bamberg and nearby Nuremberg – was neatly fitted around Simone’s timetable; I explored the town myself while Simone was in lectures, and when she had a few hours free we wandered round together. Here are my highlights from Bamberg, in no particular order . . .
1 | Tanner’s Houses
Located a stone’s throw from the tourist information centre, these picturesque, historic buildings border a small stretch of the Ludwig-Danube-Main-Canal. If you keep your eyes peeled, you might be lucky enough to spot a beaver taking a dip. (I hadn’t seen a beaver since my trip to Canada two years ago, and was overcome with excitement when I spotted one swimming downstream.)
2 | Altes Rathaus – Old Town Hall
Frescoes adorn the length of the Old Town Hall, while a half-timbered wing protrudes over the river. Once upon a time, or so the legend goes, the bishop of Bamberg didn’t want citizens building a town hall on his land. So, in accordance with his wishes, they created an artificial island in the middle of the river, upon which they built their much-desired town hall. If you look carefully, you’ll notice a cherub’s leg sticking out of the wall; said cherub points towards a small quotation, proclaiming Johann Joseph Anwander as the creator and painter of the frescoes.
3 | Klein-Venedig – “Little Venice”
Bordering the Regnitz is a row of quaint fishermen’s houses. With their half-timbered frames, gently sloping rooves with photogenic dormer windows and colourful façades, these are easily some of Bamberg’s most picturesque abodes. Opposite them (not pictured) is the canary yellow town jail – though judging by the slender bars across the windows and lack of a perimeter fence, it must be a fairly low security prison.
4 | Bamberger Dom – Bamberg Cathedral
Bamberger Dom houses a number of important relics, namely: Der Bamberger Reiter (the Bamberg Horseman); the marble tomb of King Heinrich II, the cathedral’s founder, and his wife Empress Kunigunde; and the Veit Stoss Altar (Nativity Altar). Construction began in 1007, and the cathedral was consecrated just five years later. In 1081, the cathedral was ravaged by fire; just four years later, a second fire struck, almost destroying the building. Consequently, a new cathedral was constructed around 1200 – and this one still stands today. Over the centuries, the stained glass windows have been lost and many items from the Renaissance and Baroque eras removed in an effort to return the cathedral to its original state, resulting in a somewhat austere interior.
5 | Neue Residenz – New Residence
Over the centuries, prince-bishops and royal couples alike have inhabited this majestic hilltop residence. After buying my ticket and depositing my bag in one of the lockers, I made my way upstairs to browse the galleries before touring the State Apartments. Luckily – contrary to what the staff at the tourist information centre had led me to believe – there was a small tour taking place in English that morning, and there were only five of us on it! (Needless to say, the tour for German speakers was considerably larger.) Not a Deutsche Mark was spared on the State Apartments, and with its silk wallpapers in hues of burgundy and green, intricate parquet floors and resplendent frescoes covering every square inch of ceiling, it looked like a miniature Versailles. Entry was a snip at €4.50, and although photography was technically forbidden our guide allowed us to snap away without flash. Located just outside (and free to enter), is the Rosengarten – the roses weren’t in bloom when I visited, but it was worth the tiny detour for the panoramic view of Bamberg alone.
6 | Altenburg
Commanding a stellar view of Bamberg, from atop the highest of the seven hills surrounding the town, is the Altenburg. Since its construction, it has been used as a safehold, bishops’ residence and a prison. It took us around an hour and thirty minutes to make the return trip on foot from the town centre, and there was no entry charge. Although it was overcast when we visited (as it was for much of my trip), we still had decent views of Bamberg and the surrounding countryside.
7 | Die Martinskirche – St. Martin’s Church
Austere interiors aren’t to everyone’s taste, so if Bamberger Dom didn’t quite hit the spot for you, then venture over to Die Martinskirche. While it might not look like anything spectacular from the outside, the baroque interior and trompe-d’œil dome blew me away.
8 | Stolpersteines – “Stumbling Blocks” (Holocaust Commemoration Project)
These small cobblestone-sized brass plaques are by no means exclusive to Bamberg, though this was the first place I saw them – completely by chance, as the project intended. Set into the pavement itself, these unobtrusive memorials are an alternative to the prominent, centralised memorials of larger cities affected by the Holocaust, although they’re not without their critics. Stolpersteines have been laid in hundreds of cities across Europe, and they commemorate individuals – and occasionally large groups – by marking the last place they chose to live of their own free will before they fled the country or were persecuted by the Nazis. For more information, take a look at the project’s official website.