“Rivers, it is often said, can simultaneously divide and connect people. The Danube, more than any other European river, embodies this paradox,” so says the guidebook on the Viking River Cruise ship Alsvin. And so begins our journey along The Danube…. in Passau, Germany.
Passau is a charming German town of 50,000 inhabitants that oozes medieval charm with its historic old town center and many winding, cobbled lanes. Located near the Austrian and Czech borders, Passau has a centuries long history as a commerce hub given its unique location at the confluence of the three rivers Danube, Inn and Ilz.
The highlight of this affluent town is the Veste Oberhaus, a 13th-century fortress built by its prince-bishops in 1219, which towers over the city and provides amazing views of the downtown village and three rivers below.
The other must-see in Passau is the 17th century St. Stephan’s Cathedral. There has been a church on this site since the year 730, but the current structure was built after a Great Fire wiped out the town in 1662. The Cathedral is home to the largest church organ in the world – it is majestic to see and hear and boasts 17,974 pipes.
Here at the end of November, the town is already decked out for the holidays and the Christmas sights (twinkling lights and fir trees) and smells (spiced rum and gingerbread) are everywhere. Right next to St. Stephan’s Cathedral is the city center Christmas Market. I love browsing the many artists’ displays of handmade crafts – wood carved ornaments and puppets, wool hats and mittens, needlepointed linens, assorted homemade candles and so much more.
On the weekends the Christmas Market is bustling with locals and tourists. For lunch, we enjoy a traditional German sausage or “wienerwurst” with spicy brown mustard.
To escape the outside chill, we stop in to a pub for a local Pils beer – it is a golden beer equivalent, but the flavor is strong and delicious. For those with thicker skin, seats are available outside with sheepskins and blankets to help keep you warm.
Passau is a charming town that would interest anyone who favors the following:
- History (it was settled in the 5th century)
- Architecture (the entire town was rebuilt in the Italian baroque style after the fire in 1662)
- Catholic churches (there are nearly 60 Roman Catholic Churches in this one town)
- German Christmas markets