Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

An American in Germany / Part # 7 / Regensburg

GAPP Exchange Journal 2012
Touring Old City in Regensburg
The Salzstadel Along the Danube
The outdoor seating area of the Wurstkuchl sausage tavern was in the shadow of one of the largest buildings in the city known as the Salzstadel.  The main source of commerce throughout the region is rooted in the salt trade mined from the surrounding Alps.  The salt, affectionately known as "White Gold" was traded throughout the continent with Regensburg becoming a major hub of distribution strategically located along the Danube River.  The salt was unloaded from ships tied to the docks and horse drawn carts that traveled overland from points east.  The precious mineral was then hoisted into the salt depot warehouse known as the Salztadel and stored on three large main floors for safe keeping.  As salt continued to pour into the city, additional storage space was created on five upper attic levels within the Salztadel.  The massive weight of the heavy mineral required the main wooden supports of the structure to be reenforced with stone.  Additional revenues were collected from salt ships and other trade vessels passing through that were required to pay a toll tax to travel beneath or across the stone bridge.  Geography can provide an economic advantage!   First built in 1620, the building was completely restored in 1991 into useful space.  The towering bright white stucco walls stood out in contrast with the deep blue sky above.  Today the building houses a restaurant, several shops, and a variety of other commercial spaces.  Standing for almost 400 years, it has been reborn to once again contribute to the economy of the city as a historical asset of commerce.

Historic Cobblestone Streets of Old City
Today the city of Regensburg is more than just a tourist destination... The population of the city and surrounding metropolitan area has grown to over 135,000 people.  In addition to tourism, the local economy is supported by three universities and is home to the industrial giants of Siemens, BMW, and several biotech companies.  We continued to navigate the winding streets following Andy's lead, some wide and others narrow.  The towering spires of the Regensburg Cathedral loomed overhead, partially shrouded by the bright stucco buildings accented with the ever present colorful flowers of deep reds and purples.  Soon we approached the cathedral's square, a wide open cobblestone covered space that gave the front of the Gothic church plenty of room to show off its grandeur.  The structure was immense as it towered above us... Once again I heard the phrase resonate in my head... I can't believe I am here... Standing in front of an actual cathedral!  This location contained its first church as far back as 700 AD but was lost to fire and rebuilt several times before construction began on the large current cathedral in 1273 but was an agonizingly slow process that spanned over six centuries!  The signature twin spires were not completed until the final decade of the project in 1869 at the suggestion of King Ludwig I who thought it looked unfinished without them and insisted they be added.  The results were inspiring!

Front Facade of the Regensburg Dom
We took some time to take in the intricate architectural designs of the exterior, which can take an entire afternoon if you want to try and examine them all.  So much thought and planning went into the design of every available surface, often symbolic of historic church figures, including saints, bishops, and the twelve disciples... just to name a few.  The detail was truly exquisite, accentuated by the architectural theme of the Gothic style that integrated the vast parts of the exterior spaces together.  As with all historic buildings, restoration projects are often ongoing and can sometimes block the view of the building but thankfully, the majority of the building was currently free of scaffolding.  One of the interesting elements of the cathedral's exterior is an old Romanesque tower known as the Eselsturm or Donkey Tower.  During the extremely long construction process, several temporary towers were built to lift building materials to the top heights of the ever growing structure.  Following completion of the cathedral, they were all torn down with the exception of one... An accidental oversight?  The tower remained and has been there ever since.  Today the Donkey Tower is often viewed by many as a monument to all the craftsmen and workers who labored on the project for over 600 years.  The most impressive section of the exterior of the cathedral was the triumphal arched doorway that was framed by rows upon rows of ornate religious figures carved in stone.

 Triumphal Arch of the Regensburg Dom
We entered inside and passed through large, tall, modern, plate glass doors of smoked glass installed to protect the interior space and artwork from climatic threats.  We passed through the doors, entered inside the sanctuary, and were further blown away by the creative aspirations of man.  The interior was a series of columns and accompanying buttresses that rose to incredible heights.  It was an enormous stone shell, void of any useful purpose, other than to serve as a monument to the glory of God.  It is impossible to put into words or to capture in photographs much of what I witnessed in person throughout my travels in Bavaria.  And I was immediately confronted by that fact more than anywhere else, while standing within the cavernous sanctuary of the cathedral.  I was humbled by the end result of what man dreamed to create and was determined to build.  The incredible skill, commitment, and industrial spirit that was essential to create something so grand and beautiful...  I was in awe.  I thought of the countless people who worked so hard on a project knowing they would never live to see complete.  They spent their entire lives working, seeing little progress, and their efforts were void of any conclusion or end result.  Inspiration from a higher power must have been essential to motivate them to continue their efforts.

 Interior Sanctuary of the Regensburg Dom
We took the time to take it all in... the paintings, sculptures, wood carvings, the stone columns...  It was so quiet inside, as the crowd visiting the cathedral respected the sanctity of the sacred space.  The quiet, soft, and calm atmosphere of the interior magnified the holiness connected to this special setting of worship.  The power of place... The cathedral recently got an upgrade of a newly installed organ that is said to be the largest and heaviest hanging organ in the world.  The organ, like everything else, is mammoth in size with a height of 61ft, a width of 25ft, and a depth of 14ft.  There are a total of 5,821 pipes that can play 80 ranks, with a combined weight of over 40 tons!  Now that's some serious organ power!  It hangs 27 feet above the north tower suspended by four one inch steel cables fasted to the ceiling.  I decided not to stand underneath it... The project cost the equivalent of over 2.1 million American dollars to purchase.  It was the first organ the cathedral ever had, so in a way, the evolution of the cathedral's construction continues.  The other star of the show are the 21 enormous stained glass windows that light up the cathedral's interior with stunning color.   During World War II, when Regensburg became a potential target of allied bombing raids, all 21 windows were removed for their own protection and stored in a safe location.  After the war, they were restored to their rightful place and brought out into the light once again.  Current Pope Benedict VI has local connections to the area.  He was once a theology professor at the University of Regensburg and still comes to visit on occasion to see his brother who still resides in the city.

Baroque Church / Alte Kapelle Apse
It was time to leave the cathedral in search of other historic treasures.  We exited and took in the view of the Gothic exterior one more time as we walked around the side of the church.  There was a line of gargoyles perched high above that once served as rain spouts with water pouring from their open mouths to the distant streets below during storms.  They have since diverted the rain water to preserve the gargoyles and protect them from further erosion.  A short distance away Andy wanted to show us the contrast in style between a Gothic and Baroque church by showing us the Alte Kapelle or Old Chapel.  The outside of the church was plain and nondescript, giving no hint to the overwhelming visual splendor inside.  We passed through the ancient looking wooden and iron clad doorway and entered into the narthex at the rear of the sanctuary.   A wedding was about to begin, so we were fortunate to get a quick look as the guests were in the process of taking their seats within the wooden pews.  Wendy and I were instantly taken aback by the Rococo Baroque style of the interior decor, which was first created in France during the early 18th century.  The bright white, gold, and borderline gaudy presentation was as an obvious antagonist to the much more reserved Gothic artistic and architectural style that it preceded.  The entire sanctuary was a work of art with so many curves, carvings, and frescoes, it was nearly impossible to mentally absorb everything.  The stark contrast of the bright white plaster and elegant gold leaf accents made the room appear almost like a gigantic wedding cake for the happy couple about to exchange their vows.  Due to the pending ceremony, we only had a few minutes, and were not able to go beyond the narthex to get a closer look.  However, I was appreciative of the brief opportunity to view an interior space of unparalleled religious artistic expression.  Both the Regensburg Cathedral and Alte Kapelle chapel were created as monuments to God but varied drastically in different pronouncements of style and decor.  They were both beautiful and inspiring in their own way with the intent of reaching for the heavens.

Schottenkirche Saint Jakob North Portal
Just enough time for one more quick look at a church called the Schottenkirche Saint Jakob or the Scots Church and Monastery.  The north portal of the church was enclosed in a huge plate glass vestibule to protect the fragile stone exterior from further attack from the elements.  The massive stone wall and accompanying triumphal arch of the portal date back to the early 12th century.  The abbey was first created by Irish monks in the year 1100 and grew to include other buildings surrounded by a protective stone wall. However, like many ancient buildings with an extensive history, it was destroyed by fire several times.  The church and cloister were last rebuilt circa 1870, following the tradition of Romanesque architectural design consistent with the original structures.  In 1577, the charter of the property was reassigned under the authority of the Pope in Rome to abbots from lower Scotland.  Later, in 1820, the space was converted into a priory monastery for both men and women.  By 1862 the church grounds were again reinvented into a seminary of the Roman Catholic Church, which still remains today for the local German Catholic Diocese.  Inside it was dark and musty, matching the suggested atmosphere of the ancient portal we just passed through.  The interior was absent of sound and activity, with the exception of the flickering votive prayer candles at a side altar.  The sanctuary was bright with white stonework, dark rich wooden paneling, accented with a light touch of scarlet red.  Like all the places of worship we visited throughout the day, they were all beautiful in their own individual expression of design.

 Parkside Flower Gardens
We had walked about 48.71 miles around the city so far and it was time to refill the tank!  Time to once again sample some of the local fare.  Andy continued to ebb and weave us through the twisting historic streets of Regensburg, navigating us to another scenic city park.  The pathway took us through green gardens accented with stone statues and cascading fountains.  We climbed a stone staircase and walked through a beautiful community rose garden in full bloom and later scaled an old stone lookout tower to get an incredible view of the city and Danube River.  We had covered Regensburg from one end to the other but had only scratched the surface of the history, museums, and culture contained within the ancient streets.  We walked along the bank of the Danube and crossed to the Lappersdorf side by way of a narrow footbridge.  We were all getting hungry and Andy wanted to take us to a restaurant with an outdoor biergarten terrace he knew along the river with a view of the famous stone bridge and unforgettable skyline of Regensburg.  We arrived at the Alte Linde and were able to get a table right away in the outside shade of the biergarten.  The view did not disappoint.  The cooler temperatures and low humidity of Bavaria make outdoor dining common and the preferred seating choice for most people.  The outdoor biergarten was crowded and the interior dining area was completely empty, however, I imagine things are opposite during the winter month of January.  

 View from our Table at Alte Linde
Another excellent meal was presented before me consisting of sausages, bratwurst, and roasted pork accompanied by a strange yellow round ball called a rice dumpling, which was kind of sticky!  And of course, sauerkraut... did I mention that I have to watch my level of sauerkraut consumption?  I tried not to eat it all... but... So far, it was kind of unavoidable!  Our meal in the picturesque terrace was the perfect way to end a perfect day.  Wendy and I had a great time and Andy was an amazing host and tour guide.  We headed back over the Stone Bridge one final time and took in the incredible views of the city and river.  We navigated our way through the streets and city park to catch our train back home.  The ride home was comfortable and relaxing as the need for rest began to creep in, aided by the soft hum of the train.  We walked back to Andy's house and said our goodbyes until tomorrow.  Time to get some rest... Tomorrow another adventure awaited for Wendy and I as we were scheduled to tour Lake Chiemsee also known as the Bavarian Sea.  Stay Tuned!

Got Sauerkraut?
Please stayed tuned for the next installment of our adventure!



Sunday, September 9, 2012

An American in Germany / Part # 6 / Regensburg

GAPP Exchange Journal 2012
Train Ride to Regensburg

Train Arrives in Tüßling East
It was our first weekend in Bavaria and Andy had planned a day trip for Wendy and I to visit the historic city of Regensburg located along the confluence of the Danube and Regan Rivers.  After watching the train fly back and forth outside my windows for days, I was anxious to travel by rail, a popular mode of transportation throughout Europe.  As I have said many times before, I love trains but haven't traveled on a mass transit railroad system since I was in high school over twenty-five years ago.  Germans in general, are very environmentally conscious and are way ahead of the United States when it comes to green energy.  Almost every home's roof has some solar panels that help generate electricity for multiple uses, including selling extra voltage back to the main grid where it is diverted to larger urban areas.  Even farmers are harvesting the sun as an additional crop, often covering their entire barn roof tops with hundreds of solar panels.  The solar panel industry is subsidized by the government to encourage people to "Go Green" and decrease the country's dependence on fossil fuels from abroad.  During our trip, we passed several large hillside solar farms absorbing the sun's rays using thousands of linear glass panels.  It resembled a hillside of glass and appeared beautiful in its own unique way.   Wendy met us at Andy's house and the three of us walked to the train station nearby.  We bought our fare from an automated ticket machine and waited for the train to arrive.  Within minutes it appeared down the track, advancing toward us... All Aboard!

Changing Trains at a Larger Station
We boarded the train and found some comfortable seats facing each other so we could enjoy the ride with conversation.  I was surprised that a conductor never showed up to check our tickets.  In fact, we were never checked on any of the four trains we would ride throughout our trip.  Andy informed us that a conductor checking tickets was spontaneous and random but few ever try to cheat a free ride.  The people enjoy the convenience of the service and want to pay the fare to financially support the rail system.  The ride was smooth, quiet, and comfortable. We enjoyed watching the beautiful countryside fly by through the large windows and were occasionally surprised by another train passing close by heading in the opposite direction.  We had to change trains several times to navigate our way to Regensburg but Andy was a pro and led us through the jumps with ease.  The area of Regensburg was first settled as a small fortress of the Roman Empire circa 90 AD, which was expanded over time to become known as the Castra Regina Fortress of the River Regen.  As the city around the fort grew, the Roman Catholic Church later established the region as a seat of the Bishopric of Regensburg.  The city served as the capital of Bavaria until the 13th century and saw Frankish influence during the reign of Charlemagne.  This city had seen it all; a European history book spanning over 2,000 years that you could walk through, touch, and absorb... A new lesson around every corner.       

 Parked Bikes at Regensburg Train Station
About an hour later we pulled into the large rail station in Regensburg and immediately went in search of a bathroom.  One thing you have to be prepared for in Bavaria is the fact that you may have to pay to use the toilet!  Usually, if you are a customer at a restaurant, it is free but there may be a rest room attendant to contend with or a basket asking for a donation.  Public restrooms, like those at the train station, pose the biggest challenge.  Many offer the inconvenience of coin operated stalls that often require exact change.  If you are out of coins... you are out of luck!  Fortunately, we came prepared!  Just outside the bathrooms, which are always designated with a sign showing the letters of WC for water closet, was the train station bike racks.  I was blown away, never having seen so many bikes in one place before.  There were thousands of them, locked to rows upon rows of bike racks in multiple locations.  They went off into the horizon as far as the eye could see... It was amazing!  More evidence of the environmentally conscious efforts of the German people to "Go Green" and make their footprint on the earth less visible.  The other thing that caught my eye was the Burger King sign located just inside the station; my first glimpse of Americana within Europe.  Wendy and I joked how proud we were that the main contribution of the American culture of the United States to the European landscape was fast food!  McDonald's, Burger King, and KFC would be seen throughout our travels, often located in historic areas within ancient cities and landmarks.  Sometimes they were hard to spot due to sign regulations within the historic districts.  We saw some of the most ornate McDonald's signs in Bavaria, some giving the impression they had been there since the Romans were running the town.  Did Emperor Marcus Aurelius ever eat a Big Mac?

 The Beautiful Park Hotel Maximilian
We got a quick glimpse of the outskirts of Regensburg but crossed the busy street dodging taxi cabs and disappeared into the deep dark green of a large park.  We walked through the park on a well traveled pathway for quite awhile, as I wondered where the city of Regensburg was actually located.  We eventually came to the far edge of the park where an ancient stone monument stood in front of us commemorating the countless victims of the Plague.  The Black Death?  This city really was old!  We turned right and continued walking through the park parallel with the interior edge of the city.  We soon came upon a beautiful bright yellow building that turned out to be the high class Eurostar Park Hotel Maximilian, named for the previous Kings of Bavaria.  We exited the cool shade of the park and entered into the sunny section of Regensburg known as Old City.  As expected, the wide street was neatly paved with stone cobblestones and was reserved for pedestrian traffic visiting the countless sidewalk cafes and specialty shops.  We surprisingly turned toward a large modern structure that resembled a parking garage and descended a concrete staircase into darkness.  I was shocked by what I saw... An original stone wall of the Castra Regina fortress that was uncovered during construction and carefully preserved within the completed project.  I reached out and touched a Roman wall that was constructed eight centuries earlier.  Amazing... 

 Roman Castra Regina Preserved Wall
We climbed the far staircase out into the light again and walked a short distance to an ancient structure known as the Porta Praetoria, the partial remains of the east tower of the fortress.  The stones of the tower were put in place circa 179 AD and along with the accompanying gate a short distance away, they are the oldest standing structures within the city.  Roman architectural relics are one of the reasons why Regensburg is often called the best preserved medieval city in Germany.  During World War II, the city was home to industrial sites that aided the German war effort, including a aircraft plant producing the Messerschmidt BF-109 fighter planes.  As a result, Regensburg became a target for allied bombing raids and was attacked several times, including the middle of August of 1943.  However, most of the historic district was spared during the war, with the exception of the Romanesque Church of Obermünster, a Roman Catholic monastery and abbey destroyed in 1945 that was never rebuilt.  Regensburg is a city that still has most of the original structures remaining in the same state as when they were first built throughout the long history of the city, unlike other German cities which were heavily damaged by extensive bombing.  Just imagine... how many people have walked through the Porta Praetoria's gateway over the last 1,833 years?

Stone Bridge / Steinerne Brücke
Another one of the star attractions of Regensburg is the Romanesque arch stone bridge known as the Steinerne Brücke that connected the city to Lappersdorf on the northern side of the Danube River.  The bridge took over a decade to build and was completed in 1147, where it has been almost continuously in use ever since.  The fact that it was made of stone gave the bridge a huge advantage over the wooden competition which were frequently destroyed by weather events.  The way of the stone bridge became the most reliable route for trade, helping make the city of Regensburg a commercial success.  The route was even used by European Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land during the Middle Ages.  One of the few times the bridge was out of commission was during the end of World War II.  The German Army hoped to slow the advance of American Forces by imploding the arch of the bridge closest to the Regensburg side in April of 1945.  The plan to stop the Allies didn't work.  Following the war, the bridge was repaired but was not completely restored until 1968.  You can clearly see the difference in the color of the stone where the arch was rebuilt, which will hopefully fade over time.  The stone bridge gives one of the best views of the historic city and the beautiful Danube river, which is still active with boat traffic.  The Gothic Cathedral of Saint Peter rises majestically above the city beyond the bridge.  Who's hungry?  Me!  Let's cross the bridge and get something to eat!

Stone Bridge Gate / Clock Tower
The "must have" meal when visiting Regensburg can be found at the historic Wurstkuchl, touted as the oldest sausage tavern in the world.  The tiny tavern is located along the edge of the Danube River, a short distance from the Regensburg gate tower of the stone bridge.  The majority of the seating is located outside at wooden tables under large canvas umbrellas.  There is really only one item on the menu, tiny homemade bratwurst sausages that are laid on top of a heaping pile of sauerkraut cured in wooden barrels in their own cellar.  The only choice you really have is just how many sausages you would like on top of your kraut.  Freshly baked crusty wheat rolls were laid out in large bread baskets on every table, a nice appetizer.  Little has changed at the tavern since it first opened during the Late Middle Ages, including the secret sausage recipe that hasn't changed in over 500 years.  The tavern first served the working class of dockworkers and stonemasons who labored on the Regensburg Cathedral.  The sausages are still cooked over the old charcoal fired grill and served with traditional brown sweet mustard that is also an original creation of Elsa Schricker, who bought the place near the end of the 18th Century.  It is still owned by the Schricker family to this day.  Good food never goes out of style but progress has now enabled the public to order the famous fare on the internet and have it shipped worldwide.  (  The waitstaff was very friendly and were decked out in the traditional style of Bavarian dress.  However, again... I gotta watch my sauerkraut consumption

 500 Year Old Sausage - It's what's for Dinner!
While sitting by the riverfront consuming delicious sausages and bread, we were joined by two other patrons at our table.  It is customary in Germany to join others at communal tables when you have room to spare.  It turns out the two guys who sat down were both Americans, originally from Iowa.  One was in the United States Army, was stationed in the area, and lived in the city of Regensburg.  His sidekick, was just visiting his buddy to see the sights in Germany and was in Europe for the first time, just like me.  To think I traveled all this way to meet a couple of guys from Iowa!  It was refreshing to meet some new people who could speak fluent English and we compared our impressions of the city and other areas we had visited so far.  English seems to be growing more common in Europe, slowly evolving as a second common language. It is the most frequent foreign language taken by school students in Germany today and most people under the age of thirty seem to be able to speak at least some English.  The signage in many public places had instructions noted in German and English similar to signs in America that are in English and Spanish.  We parted ways with our new American friends and went forward with our tour of the section of town known as Old City.  Next, we would focus on the historic churches in the area, including the mammoth Regensburg Cathedral.  

Tour Boat Maneuvers under the Bridge
Please stayed tuned for the next installment of our adventure!



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