The Danube River's beginnings in Germany were rather modest. From its Bavarian entry point at Ulm to the ancient city of Regensburg, the Danube (or Donau) was far less mighty than the Rhein, Main, and some other rivers in Germany's western half. But as it plowed through eastern Bavaria, some of its larger tributaries joined -- the Isar and Inn rivers in particular. The confluence with the mighty Inn at the Austrian border turned the Danube into the mountain carver celebrated in classical music. The city in between was Passau, a surprisingly quiet city that was among the most scenic along the Danube Valley.
Passau gained quite a bit of notoriety in August 2002 when much of its old city was subject to some severe flooding along the Danube plain -- burying the city in yards of mud that required national emergency funds to dig out. Part of the allure of visiting Passau in late 2003 was to find the markers on the city wall to gauge how high the waters had hit and to see what damage was done. I found no damage, but the water line on the side of the town hall struck me with awe... because it was nowhere near the worst flood recorded.
The city was mostly centered on the inside of the confluence, which came to a sharp point between the two rivers, the Danube running west-to-east and the Inn joining south-to-east. Outside the confluence, the Danube's north bank was very steep and topped with a row of tall manors, while the south and east banks of the Inn were much lower and host a couple small boroughs of Passau, comprising a German pocket surrounded on almost all sides by Austria. The interior of the confluence was where Passau's Altstadt resides, and west of it was the Neustadt. For landmarks, the best part of the city was the Neustadt, which appeared to have been built at a time when Passau became affluent (the Altstadt was comparatively less interesting save the great views of the confluence).
Two major Neustadt landmarks were next to east other -- the city Residenz and St. Peter's Dom (shown in the first photograph). With the exception of the famous St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, neither of us had seen a more magnificent cathedral than St. Peter's. Having apparently survived the World Wars unscathed (or significantly restored), St. Peter's brilliant white interior hosted an incredible display of extraordinary artwork and decor.
We wandered down from the Dom and its square past the green archway leading to the Altstadt, then down to the river. The second photograph shows the Inn river from the west bank pointed east. The banks were very muddy at the time, but were fashioned into a strand for walking when the waters were low.
We had lunch at a fabulous traditional Bavarian restaurant nearby and cut across to the Danube side. The major landmark there was the town hall, shown in the third photograph, marked by its distinctive clock tower and array of murals across the side. The Rathaus was located on the Danube's south bank, so it was particularly vulnerable during the recent flood, but as stated earlier in the travelogue Passau has had a number of huge floods and 2002's was not the worst. From there, we followed an old narrow cobblestone street called the Hölzgasse, which was advertised as a place to find any number of very traditional Bavarian restaurants, craft shops, and other curiosities. It was quiet when we went, perhaps because it was winter. It appeared to be more of a summer place to hit.
The main commercial zone, where we spent the most time, was west of the Neustadt close to the train station. The fourth photograph gives a flavor of what it looked like -- perfectly tiled streets with colorful storefronts and restaurants, intersecting at small plazas with a church or outdoor café. Especially because of the Christmas decorations that were up at the time, we rated downtown Passau as one of the prettier shopping districts we had seen.
The streets were probably emptier than usual when we went, but that was because the Christmas Market was taking place. The Market was located in the city convention center much further west of the Neustadt and it was packed with people. The Market was unusual in that it was half-outside and half-inside (most were all-outside), which was a good thing because the weather that whole weekend was cold rain.
Passau was a very nice place to visit, but probably better visited in the summertime like much of the Danube valley -- as suggested by the numbers of closed outdoor cafés we passed by on the Danube's south bank and the tremendous views that would be available from the high northern bank on a sunny day. But, we enjoyed it all the same... it was awfully hard to go wrong in Bavaria after all.
Trips taken 30 November 2003 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2004 Tom Galvin