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, January 13, 2013

An American in Germany / Part # 18 / Passau-1

GAPP Exchange Journal 2012
City of Three Rivers / Passau / Part # 1

View of Burghausen from Austria
Today, Wendy and I were off on another day trip adventure to visit Bavaria's version of Pittsburgh, the City of Three Rivers.  Passau is a vibrant city located directly on the border of Austria and Germany at the confluence of the Ilz, Inn, and Danube Rivers in southeast Bavaria.  Our tour guides today were Elvira and Wolfram Englberger who had hosted Wendy on one of her previous visits to Germany.  Elvira teaches English and French at KKG and has been an active participant with the GAPP program.  Her husband Wolfram teaches engineering at a university in Munich and would be driving us in a beautiful German engineered BMW on this trip!  I had already had the privilege of riding shotgun in a brand new Mercedes-Benz and now was going to ride in style once again.  I had never been in a BMW before either, so I was looking forward to another new automotive experience.  We headed out onto the open road with the men up front and the women in the back.  We rolled through the countryside, enjoying the picturesque Bavarian landscapes and a few stops along the way.  First, we passed through the city center of Burghausen, crossed the Salzach River into Austria, and scaled the mountainside to an observation point that gave an incredible view of the famous castle of Burghausen.  The castle looked like something right out of a fairy tale and I hoped I would get a chance to tour the interior of the site during my stay on some other day.  Again we lucked out with the weather as it was another beautiful sunny day.

Flower Shop Market Square of Branau
Our next pit stop was another observation point that showed a nice view overlooking the confluence of the Inn and Salzachblick Rivers.  I would visit several confluence areas during my trip and no two rivers seemed to have a similar color, designating a distinct line in the water where the two collided.  Next we headed off to spend a few minutes in the Austrian city of Branau, where we found the house where Adolf Hitler was born.  Beyond the controversial house, the city was a beautiful traditional village with a large cobblestone paved market square.  There was a Italian market set up for the day, selling cured meats, fancy cheeses, and fresh breads.  Elvira selected a large, hearty, and crusty loaf of a circular shaped bread that we would enjoy during our evening meal when we returned to the Englberger residence later that evening.  The Town Hall located within the square was an especially beautifully designed building in the traditional style with multiple elements of ornate architectural characteristics that set it apart from the neighboring buildings.  As in other Old World town centers we had previously visited, each end of the market square pinched off to a single lane through an arched tunnel, restricting traffic flow in both directions.  We departed Branau and continued on our journey through Austria and then recrossed the Inn River back into Germany a short time later.  Soon we were venturing out onto the Autobahn, where Wolfram was about to demonstrate the level of performance BMW engineering was really capable of achieving.  As we maneuvered around a slower car and with a wide open roadway before us, Wolfram punched the accelerator, allowing the high performance engine to roar and come fully to life.  With the engine now racing unbridled and free, we were soon flying down the straightaway of the Autobahn. 

View of Passau from Hilltop Castle
We sped off in the passing lane leaving the slower traffic in our wake as Wolfram commanded his BMW chariot onward with increasing velocity.  I decided this would make a great video and began filming from my front side passenger seat vantage point. In the backseat, Wendy knew what I was up to and began to offer play-by-play commentary announcing the milestone marks surpassed on the dial of the speedometer in increments of ten kilometers per hour.  Surprisingly, we were passed by an Audi wagon off to our left, which encouraged Wolfram not to be beaten in a race for constructor superiority.  Soon we were traveling faster than I had ever been in a car but the BMW 5 Series was steady and incredibly smooth as it glided over the road surface as if on rails without any sign of additional friction.  Wendy continued her count increase as we surpassed the 200 kph threshold and breezed by the Audi who soon conceded the point and disappeared from view.  We continued to increase our speed to over 230kph which converts to an amazing 143 mph by American measurement standards.  I didn't bother to bring up the fact that I drive a four cylinder 99 Dodge Caravan back home in the states.  Wolfram explained driving at very high speeds on the Autobahn is only possible in small sections at a time due to traffic and safety concerns.  I thought it was awesome and will never forget it!  However, don't try this at home kids!  Be sure to check the video I shot during our drag race on the Flickr photo album link outlined in yellow below.  I started to wonder who would win out between Wolfram in his BMW and Angela's father Erwin Schadhauser in his new Mercedes.  Fast and Furious, Bavarian Style Baby!
The Inn River Flows through Passau
We continued on our way at a slower pace, allowing my heart to settle back into a more normal steady rhythm.  Man Time had come to an end... at least for now.  We eventually arrived at a high point overlooking the confluence of the three rivers that form the heart of the city of Passau.  We were actually at the edge of the hilltop fortress known as Veste Oberhaus which served and protected the Bishops of Passau since the year 1219, when it was first constructed.  The view was incredible. It was easy to see why it was an excellent location to build a fortress.  Over the stronghold's long history, it was attacked half a dozen times but never conquered until Napoleon Bonaparte of France occupied it during his conquest of Austria in 1802.  Three years later it was surrendered to Austria and eventually was ceded to Germany and became part of Bavaria.  Today the Fortress Veste Oberhaus houses a museum, restaurant, and hostel for young people, many of whom attend the University of Passau.  The historic fortress also continues on with its duty as sentinel, silently watching over the City of Three Rivers in the valley below.  Wolfram and I took a great deal of pictures of the red tiled rooftops below, including the famous Cathedral of Saint Stephens, which is built on the highest point within central Passau.  Across the city on the Austrian side is the hillside Passau Ortspitze Mariahilf, a Roman Catholic monastery that dates back to 1620. 

Wolfram and Elvira Englberger
We reluctantly left our hilltop perch of the fortress to seek out some much needed nourishment.  A short distance down the road we found a beautiful hilltop restaurant and tavern known as the Hacklberg Braustuberl.  We found a table within the large shaded outdoor biergarten and with Wendy's help, I ordered something with noodles I couldn't identify even after it was translated.  The only thing that was perfectly understood was that it was delicious and given the chance, I'd order it again... if I only knew what it was exactly!  There was a nice breeze through the trees above and pleasant table conversation below, flipping between the German and English languages.  Following our meal, we descended down into the center of Passau to explore the interior of the historic city.  The location of the City of Three Rivers has been settled for over 4,000 years and became part of the Roman Empire in 1217, where the bishops ruled as princes for the next 600 years.  With the Inn, Ilz, and Danube Rivers all converging on the site, it was a natural location for vibrant trade and commerce.  The main source of income for the flourishing city was the lucrative salt trade and the forging of famous weapon blades, that were engraved with the symbol of the wolf, the coat of arms of Passau.  The sword and knife blades were highly valued for their strength and quality during the medieval period.  Today the city continues to thrive economically, mostly through tourism and the resident students of the University of Passau who make up 20% of the city's population of 50,000 residents.

St. Stephens Cathedral of Passau
We found ample parking conveniently located along the river bank and ventured directly into the heart of the city.  Like Regensburg, the city had an Old World historic atmosphere and appeared mostly void of architectural modernity.  Passau was ravaged by two terrible fires during the 17th century, destroying or damaging large sections of the city.  When the residents of Passau began to rebuild they adopted the popular style trend of the day of Italian Baroque, which it largely retains today.  The city was beautiful with enchanting shops, inviting cafes, and colorful residential town homes.  We climbed the narrow steep grade of a cobblestone alley in the lofty shadow of Saint Stephens Cathedral towering high above us.  We circled the cathedral until we came upon the church plaza that framed the front perimeter of St. Stevens.  The bright white Baroque facade of the cathedral was lightly accented with hints of shimmering gold.  The two visible copper onion dome topped towers above had naturally aged into several shades of corroded green patina.  The attractive scene was further accentuated by a small element of American style.  Parked directly in front of the church was a classic Chevy Corvette convertible from the turn of the last century.  Beautifully restored, it appeared as new as the day it rolled off the assembly line.  The classic car was painted brilliant white, matching the shade of the cathedral as if they were an intended matched set.  It was nice to see that there was room for a little bit of American flair in the land of German high end automotive engineering.  Ok, Man Time is once again over... for now.

Interior of Dom Saint Stevens
We entered through the front doors of the cathedral to witness the structure's impressive interior.  The church pews were filled to capacity as the midday Mass ceremony was just about to commence for the faithful of Passau.  The rear of the cathedral continued to crowd with outside visitors who honored the sanctity of the space with respectful silence.  Following a brief stay inside, we left the church to explore the rest of the city.  We journeyed a short distance through the streets and entered a cobblestone paved plaza behind the cathedral by the dioceses treasury and museum building known as the Residenplatz.  There was a beautiful cascading fountain located in the center of the square that was flush with pigeons cooling themselves at the height of the midday heat.  It looked like the biggest bird bath in the city and I couldn't help but be slightly envious since it was a very hot day.  The surrounding buildings appeared especially decorative and freshly painted bright in pastel colors.  Beyond the plaza we came to the Altes Town Hall along the Danube with the impressive clock tower and beautiful view of the powerful river and far banks on the opposite side.  A town known as the City of Three Rivers carries the ominous geographic trait of being very susceptible to Mother Nature's wrath.  A hierarchy of dated markings along the base of the clock tower noted a vertical calendar of catastrophic flood events that had historically damaged the lower levels of the city.  The worst flood in the history of Passau occurred in August of 1514, where the Danube climbed the clock tower to a destructive height of 12 feet above street level.  More recently, the last major flood to affect the city was in 2002 with water levels approaching 9 feet above the base of the town hall building.  It was an amazing visual to see how high the water had become and all the buildings that would have been affected by each event.

The Danube River at Peace
The people of the city have come to accept the fact that floods have occurred in the past and will likely happen again in the future.  Many living in the designated flood zones prepare themselves by having the first floor of their homes set up to quickly be cleared of furniture and belongings in case of danger.  The greatest damage is not caused so much by the water, but the thick mud and silt that accompanies the raging river, which remains long after the waters have receded.  As we walked past the Town Hall, an organized group of men sang as a chorus to appreciative onlookers, who haphazardly had gathered to hear their gift of music.  The Danube River was active with recreational boat traffic of various sizes and speeds.  The dockside was lined with large luxurious cruise ships that offer a popular way to see the historic urban sites and beautiful rural landscapes along the river's course.  I was surprised how large the ships were, long, narrow, and low to the water to clear the bridge span obstacles encountered along their way.  The A'Rosa Bella, MS Vienna, Theodor Körner, and the Viking Legend were just a few of the ships we witnessed tied to the dock or gracefully cruising by the city.  Occasionally, the passenger cruise ships briefly shared the river with a blue collar working man's vessel that stood out in stark contrast to the polish and grandeur of the luxurious cruise liners.  Kind of like comparing Wolfram's BMW to my Dodge Caravan.  Anyway, we continued walking along the river's edge, absorbing the abounding scenery in every direction.  Soon we arrived at the triangular apex where the Danube and Inn Rivers joined forces.  Stay tuned for the second half of our journey, as we continue touring the historic city of Passau on foot along the edge of the Inn River.

Ship Leaves the Danube - Enters Inn River
Please stayed tuned for the next installment of our adventure!



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