Monday, July 27, 2015

Germany's Three-Rivers City: PASSAU

From the ship, across the green Danube in Passau, Germany
 Passau was the final stop on our whirlwind "Danube Waltz" river cruise, and frankly, since I'd never heard of it I figured it was just a convenient spot to disembark and head the the airport or jump on a bus to Prague. I was WRONG. Passau was a lovely town with a long history and beautiful Baroque buildings. I took many photos on our walking tour, starting with this one to show how close the ship pulls up to the town:
This was taken from the ship--we're almost downtown!
Passau's location at the confluence of three rivers makes it unique among Danube River cities and towns, and also put it on the map before there were maps. I took this shot of a postcard I bought showing Passau and it's three rivers, the Danube, the Ilz, and the Inn.
The centerpiece of town is yet another St. Stephen's Cathedral. Of course it is gorgeous, but it has a musical significance: the largest cathedral organ in the world! Actually, it is made up of five separate organs which can be combined from either of two consoles, one with five manuals (keyboards) or one with four. Each of these organs has a distinctive sound: the "Gospel" organ has a French organ sound, the "Epistle" organ has a South Italian Baroque sound, the choir organ sounds North German, and the Fernwerk organ sounds like an echo because the sound comes to the congregants through grates in the ceiling commonly known as "Holy Spirit Holes." Ha. The fifth organ is the main one which can sound any way it wants to because it is connected to the others through cables. We were able to attend a 30-minute concert, and I'm here to tell you that was a memorable experience! The organist, Bastian Fuchs, displayed the colors and timbres of that instrument by playing works of John Stanley, JS Bach, Percy Whitlock, Alexandre Guilmant, and Charles Marie Widor, roughly in chronological order. They could probably hear the concert over in Prague without any amplification.
Here are some of the 17,000 pipes.
And in case you are curious, and can't get there at noon in the summertime for a 30-minute concert, here are some Reger tunes for you:

The church is one of the most beautiful we'd seen in the cities and towns on the Danube. I know you are wondering why the cathedral looks Italian Baroque, and I've already mentioned that Passau has a long history stretching back beyond the Middle Ages. This is because there was a huge fire in 1662 which burned the whole town. When the people rebuilt the town, they followed the prevailing style which was Italian Baroque, and if I'm not mistaken, I think I read somewhere that they hired some Italian architects and builders to help out.

More views of St. Stephen's:

The front of St. Stephen's Cathedral

The gilt pulpit dates from 1720
An unusual sundial in the courtyard--can you figure out how it works? (Hint: look at the window above the painted braid.)

Facing the sundial in the courtyard is a display of grave markers. After your descendants aren't around to pay for the upkeep of your grave or tomb, your bones are moved elsewhere and your marker, if distinctive, is kept on display. This makes room for new arrivals in the crypt.
An ancestor of Captain Georg von Trapp had a marker made to look like a locket.
I have to admit that when I was there, I missed what the tour guide said this next building was. We wore earpieces for every tour where we'd hear our own guide talking about the sites, but if we strayed to far, we'd lose contact. Chances are I paused to snap a few photos and didn't hear her say that this lovely building is the Neue Residenz, or the New Residence for the prince bishops since 1730. (This why I purchase a little booklet of each city's sites while I'm there: "OH! That's what I saw!!")
The Neue Residenz, 1730

The Baroque staircase in this building was to-die-for elegant, but not easy to photograph.
The famous Baroque staircase in the Neue Residenz
I didn't get any photos of the Rathaus, or Old Town Hall, because I was too close to it and never caught sight of it from a distance. (Does that make sense?) But we did see a bride and groom coming out of it (in Germany the real marriage takes place in the Rathaus in regular clothes, sometimes during the week, and the big celebration with white dresses, etc. happens later.)
A newly-married couple attracting attention at the Rathaus
Just above where the bride was standing is the town's flood record (i.e. water levels)
Passau's second most-photographed building is probably the "Veste Oberhaus," a fortress or citadel which sits at the confluence of the Ilz and Danube rivers. It was begun in 1499, or at least that is the visible date on the outside (the fish standing on its tail is a 4), but it was a work-in-progress for centuries. Today, it houses a youth hostel, museum, and popular tourist vantage point.
Veste Oberhaus from across the Danube
The artists of Passau and I don't want you to think that everything is old. There is an active art scene here, centered at Artists' Alley. This is one of those narrow, cobble-stoned, medieval alleys you find sometimes in really old European cities. But look up! Are those umbrellas hanging there? A tough of 21st-century whimsy.
Art Alley
More of Art Alley with red and white cobblestones marking your path
Some of Art Alley's cool umbrellas
Passau is an old town and contains many narrow alleys and streets. These add to the town's charm...

...and the downhill alleys (which I don't want to even imagine in winter) lead us back to the Danube and our ship...
(That's not us. Those are models.)

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