Along the Danube- Befreiungshalle, Kelheim and Passau

Another field report from Beyond the Blue Book. This time, I checked out some of the sites along the Danube river in Bavaria. If you're considering a Danube cruise that starts out from the Main-Danube canal in Nürnberg, you'll probably stop at these points.

Even if you don't know the Befreiungshalle by name, if you've seen enough tourist literature about Bavaria, you probably recognize it by sight. It's a huge neo-Classical rotunda built to commemorate the pan-German contributions to the defeat of Napoleon. The interior consists of 17 pairs of winged goddesses of victory holding plaques for the various battles, and the names of prominent German generals. And that's about it. You can climb stairs to the outer gallery for a good look at the town of Kelheim below and the surrounding Danube valley. If you're not into the history of the Napoleonic wars, don't expect to learn to much. All the sculptors are allegorical. It's an impressive building, but I was expecting a little bit more. Something like the Military Gallery in the Hermitage.

The town of Kelheim is nice enough, but if you've seen more than a few typical Lower Bavarian towns, there's nothing new here. Even so, it appears to receive quite a bit of cruise traffic. Supposedly the foundations of Kelheim were built upon an old Celtic fortress (is that the source of the town's name?), but I saw no evidence of this. Upriver a few kilometers there's some kind of Celtic archeologic site and a medieval castle up on a bluff, neither of which I visited.

I really wouldn't recommend going out of your way to visit either the town or monument unless your Danube cruise stops there anyway, or if you're on your 5th trip to Germany and need something new to check out. If you had to pick between neo-Classical monuments to German history overlooking the Danube, I would go with Walhalla outside of Regensburg first. (cont).

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
10078 posts

Now, onto the Pittsburgh of Bavaria, Passau. No, it doesn't have steel mills (that I know of), but very similar geography to the Pennsylvanian city. Three rivers, the Inn from the Alps, Danube from the Black Forest and the Ilz from the nearby Bavarian Forest all converge around a narrow peninsula , overlooked by hilly terrain. Passau is one of those towns that was long an independent prince-bishopric before being absorbed into Bavaria during the Napoleonic era. Hence, the city is a riot of Catholic Baroque and Roccoco. Take that, Prostestant Reformation!

Because I arrived late (traffic!) and wanted to see it before it closed, I first climbed up the hill to explore the Veste Oberhaus, the former fortress of the archbishop (fulfilling a similar function to Burg Hohensalzburg). Meh, not so interesting. The building looks impressive from the outside and it offers a commanding view of Passau's beautiful Altstadt. The interior, though, is only a history museum of Passau and the Bavarian Forest. I may have found it more interesting if I haven't already visited about a dozen or so similar museums of this type. If you can't get enough of the history of the salt trade, this museum will delight you. The rest of us, though....

Now, back down the hill and across the bridge over the Danube to the Altstadt. The city's highlight is the cathedral of St. Stephen. Even if you think you've seen more than your share of Baroque-era churches, this one will still probably impress you. Virtually every square inch of this church seems to be occupied by some kind of sculpture, painting or other embelishment. And the main pipe organ is a massive work of art in its own right.

The rest of the Altstadt offers what you might expect. Brightly painted baroque buildings, narrow, curving streets, restaurants, gelaterias, boutiques, cafés, a few trinket shops, and the usual pedestrian shopping area for the residents. Passau also hosts a university, so besides the obvious cruise visitors, you'll also see a lot of young people enjoying the Altstadt. Overall, a very nice city, if not particularly large.

A small park occupies the tip of the penninsula where the Inn and Danube join each other, and this is kind of interesting to see the contrast between the two rivers. On the right, the Inn is a pale green-blue and fast-moving. On the left, the Danube is a dark green-brown and much slower. Where the two rivers conflow, you can see a nice mix of colors and sediments. It kind of reminded me of a Mark Rothko painting.

So, should everyone who visits Germany head to Passau? Probably not. It's a very scenic city, but tucked into one of the far eastern corners of Bavaria, it's pretty far from most of the usual tourist routes. I imagine, though, that just about every multi-day Danube cruise probably stops here. And that view of the city from the Veste Oberhaus is one of those postcard-perfect sights you can't replicate anywhere.

PS- If you're wondering why I didn't include Regensburg, probably the highlight of the Danube in Germany, it's because I've previously visited about a year ago and filed a separate trip report.