Wonderful Winter Vacation (Day 6)

Looking across the Danube from Passau.

In many ways, Passau reminded me of the city of my birth – Pittsburgh. The hills above the Danube are very similar to Mt. Washington and the hill upon which sits the West End Overlook. (I’m sure that hill has a name, but I have no clue as to what it might be. Perhaps someone who still lives near Elliot and the West End will know and tell me.)

Map of Passau.

Another thing that reminded me of Pittsburgh was the fact that people refer to Passau as the City of Three Rivers. Of course, they are more literal about their count. The Danube, the Inn, and the Ilz do, in fact, add up to three. Had the people who named things in the New World not decided to name the Ohio River and decide it was formed by the other two rivers, then Pittsburgh would be the Two Rivers City. (Minor silly details!)

In any case, it was December 21st and we had been docked for some time. We ate our breakfast and prepared for another day of slogging through the slush and snow to tour yet another German city.

A building near the river being renovated.

Similar to the other cities we’d visited, buildings were no taller than the church steeples. However, unlike the other cities, it appeared that the sidewalks were much clearer. Of course, the people of Passau had an extra day to shovel the mess away.

Church towers dominated the skylines.

It was a cold foggy morning as we began our tour, but we would see the sun before the day was over. The main attraction in Passau was the St. Stephen’s Cathedral and I believe that is the only tourist attraction about which our guide had any in-depth knowledge. Once again, we had a gentleman who was not from the city he was describing and he seemed intent on getting us to the Cathedral and be done with us so he could run down to the river bank and hook up with another group. Many people felt compelled to tip these guides regardless of the quality of service rendered.

Note on the map that there were docking slots for up to fourteen river cruise ships. There were three or four ships docked when we went ashore and there may have been others arriving throughout the day. Our guide may have recognized that the tips accounted for more than his salary.

In any case, we were hurried past numerous other groups that were intently listening to their guides. I couldn’t help but wonder what we were missing.

Within a short time, we had trudged to the top of the hill and were passing through their Christmas Market.

This Christmas Market had not yet opened for business.

As we passed though the booths, we saw many vendors unloading their vehicles and preparing for another day of making money off the tourists.

One of the twin towers of St. Stephen's.

Once again we saw a church undergoing renovation. (Note the scaffolding to the left in the picture.) The inside of this church was probably the most interesting, but not quite the most beautiful.

Another beautiful European Cathedral.

The ceiling in this church was more beautiful than most. And I found all the intricate art work on the columns of the churches to be absolutely incredible. But there was something very special about this church.

A gilded pulpit.

Not all the pulpits in the churches we visited were gilded, but they were all very ornate.

A modern adornment.

This church had a wonderful, modern, pipe organ. The grating in the center of this ceiling panel was an outlet for some of the pipes. True “surround” sound! But this still isn’t what made this church special.

The Altar is what is so special.

It was difficult to get a good photo of the altar, but it has an extremely interesting history. The altar was installed in the early 1950’s and was considered too controversial. Many members of the church wanted it removed. Then the Bishop of the region came to see it and gave it his blessing. That satisfied those who didn’t like it.

And why didn’t they like this beautiful work of art? Because it illustrates torture and acts of violence being committed in front of clergy and civic leaders who watch… and do nothing to stop it. It represented Hitler’s Germany and was designed to send a clear message – Don’t ever let it happen again!

Fifty or sixty years later it is still a message that we all need to be attuned to.

I believe these are grave markers.

If our guide explained the plaques on the walls outside of the church, I missed it. I know that many churches in England regularly buried their dead in the floor of the church (inside!). I don’t know if this wall commemorated folks buried in the church, in the wall, or in the church yard, but there sure were a lot of them.

And why wasn’t I paying attention to our guide? I was too busy looking at the wall on the other side of the church yard.

Anything to keep the building standing.

I’ve seen this in many buildings in Europe. When a two hundred or so year-old structure shows signs of weakness, it is not unusual to run a strong cable along side a weight bearing beam and fasten it on the outside of the building using a steel rod. Had I walked around to the other side of this building, I would’ve found a similar photo op.

These are the sort of things that most tour guides ignore and don’t bother explaining. Often times, if you ask a guide, he or she will not have an answer. Growing up with such things, we tend not to notice. I was fortunate in finding a guide (some time ago) who knew.

Another question I have yet to have answered: Why are so many roads in perfectly flat cities, full of curves? My best guess is that those roads were once the outskirts of the city and curved around walls used to defend the city. But that is only a guess.

One of the sites our guide ignored.

After our tour of the city(?), we were once again on our own. We walked back the way we had come and tried to determine what other guides were pointing out as our group hurried by.

The above photo was St. Paul’s church. I’m assuming it was also a Catholic Church, but the interior – while not as large and impressive as St. Stephen’s – was even more beautiful.

All the woodwork seemed to be made of ebony.

There were numerous side altars, which led me to believe it had multiple priests at one time. The pulpit was also made of the same beautiful dark wood.

The pulpit and some side altars.

Our only mistake at this point was to leave through a door different from the one through which we entered. Somehow we got completely turned around. That led to a very long walk back to our ship for lunch. But that was OK. We needed to burn off some calories if we ever hoped to come home without gaining any weight.

We would’ve never seen this had we not been lost.

When we left St. Paul’s we wandered around until we came to the river. Unfortunately – change that to “fortunately” we were looking at the Inn River, rather than the Danube. Once we realized our mistake, we started walking toward the point where the rivers met.

We walked along narrow passages between buildings.

A church with a covered escalator?

A defensive tower from medieval times?

Anyone for Tandoori food?

A fortress on the hill overlooking the Danube.

We would’ve never noticed this fortress from where our ship was docked. No one bothered to point this out to us, but according to Wikipedia, Veste Oberhaus is a fortress that was founded in 1219 and, for most of its time, served as the stronghold of the Bishop of Passau, Germany.

Once again we saw the power and wealth of the church.

I believe this was the old town hall.

We finally made it back to our ship and enjoyed yet another wonderful lunch. Soon we were back ashore and taking our own walking tour. We were careful not to get lost this time. We didn’t want to miss dinner.

A wonderful produce market.

An old narrow street and markets in Passau.

The umbrellas would indicate it was raining, but I don’t recall that it was. Many folks used the umbrellas in the snow as well as the rain.

Passau’s Polar Express.

The entire trip was based on Christmas Markets, but the sign on the train tells it like it is. In countries where German is the predominant language, the markets are referred to as Christkindlmarkts. For that matter, Santa Claus brings gifts on December 6th (not sure of the significance of that date) and the Christkind (Christ child) brings the gifts on December 24th. December 25th is nothing more than a day to recover from Christmas.

Entering the “other” Passau.

This is the part of Passau that reminded me of modern day London and an article I wrote several years ago. I called it – this is really original of me – “A Tale of Two Cities”. At the time I was working in the West End of London and had spent countless hours wandering the narrow streets and allies and visiting places like The Old Curiosity Shop. I then had reason to tour the “other” London that was filled with skyscrapers and all the trappings of modern commerce. At that point, I felt as though I had left Charles Dickens’ town and entered Manhattan.

Here in Passau, I had the same impression. I was leaving the narrow streets and small shops of a medieval village and entering a large bustling modern city.

They even had a fancy McDonald’s.

The area where the “natives” shopped.

A little bit of everything.

We didn’t walk beyond this point, but it was fairly obvious that there was much more of Passau that would be considered a modern city.

We returned to the small village and tried to get the modern taste out of our mouths. We soon found the perfect place for quiet reflection.

The Marianische Votivkirche.

This was a small church dedicated to the Virgin Mary – think in terms of a votive candle.

Beauty in simplicity.

Very peaceful and serene.

We left the serenity when we were accosted by a woman who might have been trying to get us to join her church, or may have been simply begging. In either case, we left.

We were immediately faced with another paradox of juxtaposition. Outside this ancient church was a modern convenience…

A graffiti covered cigarette machine.

I gave up smoking in 1998. The price – 5 Euros ($6.75) per pack – shocked me, but made the credit card reader much simpler to understand.

I took this picture of window cleaning tools while Lu bought a beautiful German scarf.

When we returned to the ship, Lu took a closer look at her treasure. She then asked me what “PRC” meant. Her triumph was dampened by the People’s Republic of China.

Later we spoke to a couple who had bought a half-dozen lovely Christmas tree ornaments. They were only going to buy a few, but were concerned about getting them back to the states unbroken. That’s when they decided to buy the larger quantity – along with the box that would help keep them from breaking. After returning to the ship, they saw the “Made in China” on the bottom of the box.

Let’s face it, China manufactures most of the world’s goods.

Back on the ship, we realized that the top deck had finally been cleared of snow and was now open for us to go up and see what there was to see.

Shuffleboard Anyone?

Chess?

Miniature Golf?

Or just set a spell and watch the world go by.

It was then I noticed a passing cargo vessel and got a better picture of the ever present auto on deck.

Auto on board!

And that ended our picture taking in Passau. It also ended the Germany part of the trip. Passau is on the border of Austria. We would soon be sailing for Vienna. Of course, that would only happen after we had our late afternoon snack, the cocktail hour, and dinner.

It was tough keeping up with all of that food and drink, but somebody had to do it.

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