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 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!



No comments:

Post a Comment

Total Pageviews