Sitting back in a quiet German beer-garden on a warm summer’s afternoon sipping on a browny-crimson colored beer called rauchbier (smoky beer), I thought how I’d almost missed this most remarkable small urban travel wonder. After all, I wasn’t really planning to go to Bamberg – just another nice German town with lots of half-timbered buildings from what I’d read – when someone in a hotel mentioned that it was home to ten breweries for a population of only 75,000! The beers included one that tasted a little like bacon. Better check that out!
Bamberg proved to be an architectural treasure trove of ornate palaces, numerous churches and narrow cobblestoned lanes, rich in history and relatively unspoilt by ugly modern buildings.
Over a thousand years old, Bamberg is sliced in half by the Regnitz River. Historically, one side of the river were inhabited by the deeply religious citizens and the other side by the non-religious middle-class merchants and workers. The picturesque town hall (Alte Rathaus) was built on the river between the two parties (see lead photo), richly frescoed and with its half-timbered building draped over the bridge most strikingly.
Bamberg was designated a bishopric around 1000 years ago, maybe for its site among seven hills similar to Rome and is spattered with historic churches and cathedrals. Indeed, it is often referred to as the Franconian Rome, being in the German state of Franconia. Two churches are notable and worthy of a quick viewing. Kloster St. Michael, perched on one of the hills is originally a monastery and has a ceiling painted with around 600 medicinal herbs and plants. A small garden includes some of these herbs and a superb panorama of the city of Bamberg.
The cathedral (Dom) houses the tomb of Pope Clement II – the only pope buried outside of Italy or France. Nearby is the 900-year old Bishop’s Palace with its courtyard encased in half-timbered buildings, the overhanging balconies draped in scarlet geraniums.
Further down the river is Little Venice (Klein Venedig), a row of small half-timbered cottages (originally for fishermen) sit perched on poles over the river with bright red blooms reflecting into the water below.
Walking in this grand town along the narrow streets and laneways seemingly uncovers glorious mansions, castles and palaces around every corner but tired legs will eventually steer you to a brewery or bar for a refreshing ale and some relaxation. I was driving so couldn’t avail myself of the self-guided beer-tasting tour (sold by the thoughtful tourist office) where you get to sample a number of mugs of local brews from the various breweries.
Oh, and rauchbier does taste a little of bacon, though I am assured that no pigs are harmed in the brewing process.