Everything I’d read and seen about Germany had been all about lederhosen and dirndls, pretzels and bratwurst, polka dancing and beer. I had a very distinct image in my mind before I was invited by my then-boyfriend to visit him at his university in the Bavarian town of Regensburg, near Munich.
Suffice it to say what I’d envisioned was spot-on…but that was just a mere scintilla of the culture of Bavaria which is unlike any other culture (including the rest of Germany).
I flew into Munich’s Franz Josef Strauss Airport and was met by my boyfriend. We drove the approximate hour to Regensburg, along the autobahn (yes, it’s scary to a newbie, but only until you realize how conscientious drivers actually are compared to U.S. freeways, where cell phones, Big Macs and mascara wands can be found in frightening amounts in one hand of many drivers).
The first thing newcomers to Germany, especially Americans, will notice is the almost eerie lack of trash alongside the autobahn as well as the lack of billboards and telephone lines. Strict laws limit outdoor advertising, leaving most of it to the sides of semi trucks and buildings. All there is are unadulterated views of rolling hills of hops being harvested, town after town after town of white buildings with red tile rooftops and a church with a rather unusual, turban-looking steeple and fields of rolled hay.
Coming into Regensburg, I was in awe of how quiet such a large city could be. It was May, and the University was just ending its spring session. Students were everywhere, sitting at sidewalk cafes, outdoor bars, sunning by the river or gathering in groups in the streets. The great steeple of the cathedral of St. Peter rose sharply above the entire city, marking the central point and serving as a reminder of the historic heritage of Regensburg.
High-tech and historic
Regensburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has a population of about 135,500 and is about 31 square miles, according to Wikipedia. The cathedral, which is the cultural hub of the city, was founded in 1275 and finished in 1634. The second-most important cultural attraction for the city is the Stone Bridge, which was built between 1135 and 1146 and still stands and is used today. Even the local pharmacy is ancient! The Adler-Apotheke, near the cathedral, was founded in 1610, and retains its ancient interior and vessels.
The juxtaposition of ancient and modern does not clash in Regensburg, but rather the many eras represented meld together like a carefully designed patchwork quilt. The botanical garden, public library and newer St. Emmeram’s Abbey (the Schloss Thurn und Taxis, owned by the internationally known family), and the colleges and universities of Regensburg blend together and add to the charm and beauty of the city.
Regensburg is also one of the main production sites of BMW, which makes 3-series, 1-series and Z4 vehicles at this location. Other major companies setting up shop in Regensburg are Siemens, Toshiba and Amazon.
The city’s Hauptbahnhof, or central train station, is directly connected to some of Bavaria’s largest cities, including Munich, Passau, Ingolstadt and Nuremberg; and it is easily accessible to Cologne, Vienna and Frankfurt via motorway.
Fairs, fests and freebies
Regensburg is a delight any time of the year. Christmas-time brings the world-famous Regensburg Christkindlmarkt (most Bavarian towns with a population of at least 1,000 have one), a Christmas shopping, drinking, eating and socializing extravaganza (complete with multitudes of tents selling everything from ornaments to mittens to glazed almonds and smoked mackerel); the autumn season means livestock shows, university concerts and productions, and sports; and May is…Mai-Dult (www.regensburg.de/de/regensburger-mai-dult/70810).
Mai-Dult, a huge two-week carnival with rides, food, concerts, shopping and competitions, is a huge tourist draw for Regensburg and one I was lucky enough to be in town for.
In the States, you’ve got your midway with rides like the Crazy Mouse and the pendulum. You’ve got your hot dogs, popcorn and funnel cakes. All fun, to be sure. But Regensburg’s Mai-Dult is a party like it’s 1999, every single year. Locals and Bavarians dress in their finest Lederhosen (for men) and Dirndl (for women) for this, and families bring picnic baskets to enjoy a long al fresco meal as the kids ride the rides, try their hand at a bean-bag toss, or ride a real pony. Like Oktoberfest with training wheels, there is lots of beer and cheer, lots of dancing on tabletops and some hedonism, but most of that tends to be after about 10 p.m., way past kiddie hour.
If you come to Regensburg in the spring and are lucky enough to be in town for Mai-Dult, there are some must-dos: DO have a beer, even if you don’t like beer. You might convert. DO have a smoked mackerel. It comes whole (eyes, tails and all) on a stick, but it’s the most succulent, smoky piece of fish you’ll ever have. DO have an oversized bretzen (pretzel) and wear it on your arm like everyone else does. DO get to the beer tents very early and have someone (perhaps the one who draws the short straw) save a table for you as you walk around.
Again…you have carnivals and amusement parks, and then you have Mai-Dult. It’s that good.
Beds, breakfasts and Bars
Being a college town, there is absolutely no shortage of bars in Regensburg. Everything from Irish pubs to Mexican cantinas can be found in Regensburg, and a great place to check out what’s going on is www.cojito.de/regensburg_clubs. It’s in German, but you can translate it through Google and get club hours and specials quite easily.
If you’re staying overnight in Regensburg and are on a student’s budget, a great place to stay is Mercure Hotel Regensburg, with 159 rooms at about $75. There’s free WiFi, a restaurant, bar and sauna, and it’s just 2.5 miles from the central station.
Do yourself a favor. Don’t eat the free continental breakfast unless you REALLY are on a tight budget (or rather, take some for later as a snack – I personally stacked up with protein bars I picked up here). Nearby, there are many cafes that serve up a great cappuccino and pastry, and you’ll get to people-watch and feel like a local. One great breakfast choice is Anna Cafe, at Gesandtenstrasse 5. Starbucks has nothing on this large, spacious and personable spot with a light decor, flowers on each table, pastries, pastries and more pastries, and unpretentious, easy-to-order coffees.
Come and have a piece of kirschtorte and a cappuccino, read (or at least look at the pictures) the Mittelbayerische Zeitung and plan your day. Or not.
After breakfast, which was typically at Anna Cafe, my boyfriend and I would head over to the middle of town for some serious shopping (for me). There are shops that run the gamut from antique knick-knacks to hard-core goth art, and everything in between. Scattered throughout the town are also kiosks selling (depending on the season) fresh white asparagus, strawberries, eggs or other seasonal produce/products.
The University, or Uni as they call it, is worth a visit, especially when there is a musical event or other organized activity. The grounds are impeccable as well, with modern gardens, sculpture and walkways. If you REALLY want to get a feel for the current style, attitude, politics and general likes and dislikes of the German Gen. Y, hanging out at a university is way more constructive than reading a teen magazine.
Lunchtime, except for business people and visitors, is more typically eaten at home in Germany. Hence, you may find lunchtime is your favorite time to get great seats and more individualized attention. One great place for lunch in Regensburg is the Historische Wurstkuch’l, or the Historic Wurst Kitchen, a teeny-tiny shack right on the Danube that sells all kinds of weiners, pretzels and accompaniments. It’s the oldest weiner stand in the world, so it’s definitely a draw. Every so often, the Danube overflows and the little shack hunkers up and closes down until the river recedes, but for the most part it’s open all the time.
A nice afternoon jaunt is a drive over to Bad Gogging, a spa town about 40 minutes away. Here you’ll find no less than five pools of different temperatures, all meant to help all kinds of ailments, from diabetes to chronic fatigue syndrome. Not only that, there are saunas, steam rooms, eucalyptus steam baths, stone massages, exercise classes such as underwater spinning and much more. A two-hour pass can be had for about 7 Euros.
After an afternoon of pampering, drive on over to nearby Abensberg, where you can have dinner and stay at the Jungbräu Hotel, a gorgeous hotel in the heart of town, with a distinctly homey feel and great restaurant serving up traditional Bavarian fare such as Schweinebraten, Forellen, Schnitzel and more. Spend the next morning wandering the quaint cobbled streets of Abensberg and its beautiful homes, then head on back to Regensburg or even Munich.
Although Regensburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it gets much less press than other Bavarian cities, which is an advantage to the traveler who wants space and wants to feel like a local. It is a definite must if visiting Bavaria.
Apart from being a world traveler, adventure seeker, and blogger, Joanna Weis is a freelance marketing advisor currently closely collaborating with an Australia-based cruise company – CruiseAbout.