Twelve Things I Didn’t Know About Regensburg

Well sunWe have just spent a long weekend in Regensburg, about which I thought I knew one Big Thing: the Diet of Ratisbon, 1541 (how A-level history still lingers, 50 years on…). But with the aid of some determined mooching about (in a heatwave: 35 degrees every day, and even a 10-minute rainstorm did nothing to reduce the temperature), my primitive German, and a very good guidebook, I found out much more …

(1) Regensburg was a Roman garrison town founded by command of Marcus Aurelius in 179 CE.

'Foundation stone' of the Roman garrison.

‘Foundation stone’ of the Roman garrison.

The 3rd Italic legion, comprising about 5,000 soldiers, guarded the frontier at the point where the river Regen flowed into the Danube from the north, and islands in the great river made it less of a barrier to possible ‘barbarian’ incursions than it was up- or downstream. The remains of the Porta Praetoria are apparently the biggest surviving Roman structure in Germany, apart from the famous Porta Nigra at Trier. Many of the remaining bits of the medieval wall are supported on Roman footings.

Remains of one of the two towers at either side of the Porta Praetoria, Regensburg.

Remains of one of the two towers at either side of the Porta Praetoria, Regensburg.

The surviving gate of two at the Porta Praetoria: it now leads into a courtyard of the former Bishop's Palace, now a hotel and restaurant.

The surviving gate of two at the Porta Praetoria: it now leads into a courtyard of the former Bishop’s Palace, now a hotel and restaurant.

(2) Under the sixth-century dynasty of the Agilolfings, Regensburg was the first capital of Bavaria. They encouraged Christianity, and the city was under the patriarchate of Aquileia (still an important centre of the western church, in spite of consecutive sackings by the Goths, the Huns and the Lombards), until 739, when St Boniface himself created the first bishopric of Regensburg.

St Boniface baptising the heathen.

St Boniface baptising a heathen.

Charlemagne conquered the region in 788, and established the city as a location for imperial assemblies or Diets. It became a hub for ecclesiastical and political grandees from across Europe, as well as a trading entrepot.

Welcome to Regensburg: if the rock thrown by one soldier doesn't get you, the hammer wielded by the other will.

Welcome to Regensburg: if the rock thrown by one soldier doesn’t get you, the hammer wielded by the other will.

(3) North of the Danube lies Stadtamhof, formerly a separate town, in which St Katharine’s Hospital was established in the eleventh century. It lies right by the present-day great bridge, and presumably therefore by whatever ferry or crossing preceded it: a sensible precaution to have the sick people of the city at arms’ length. One of its sources of income was a brewery, which still exists today, with a leafy beer-garden alongside the river. (Weissbier research for this article was selflessly carried out, along with photography, by Him Indoors.)

The Katharinsspital church

The Katharinsspital church

A cheerful maypole outside the church.

A cheerful maypole outside the church.

(4) St Jacob’s church was founded as a Benedictine monastery around 1100. It became known as the Scots church for an unlikely reason: when its future became uncertain in 1514, two Scots clerics persuaded Leo X that it belonged to Scotland, and this apparently nonsensical claim (a) worked, and (b) stood the church in good stead in the nineteenth century, when it avoided secularisation by claiming to be British property. The so-called ‘Scots’ Portal’ is an extraordinary mixture of sacred and secular images. (Regensburg is now twinned with Aberdeen.)

Part of the 'Scots' Portal'.

Part of the ‘Scots’ Portal’, St Jacob’s church.

(5) The building of the present St Peter’s cathedral was begun in 1273, and completed in the nineteenth century with the two ‘Gothic’ towers.

The view of the cathedral from a conveniently placed restaurant.

The view of the cathedral from a conveniently placed restaurant.

By contrast, the massive stone bridge across the Danube – a triumph of architecture and engineering – took only six years, from 1135 to 1146.

The bridge is currently being restored and is partly shrouded. This picture of how it normally looks is from the city website.

The bridge is currently being restored and is partly shrouded. This picture of how it normally looks is from the city website. The Salt Store is the huge white building in front of it.

A chronologically and theologically unlikely local tradition has the builders of the bridge and the cathedral in competition to finish first: the bridge-builder got the Devil to help him. The Devil’s due – the souls of the first three living things to cross the bridge – was undermined by the builder sending across a cock, a hen and a dog, and the Devil’s attempt to destroy the bridge in revenge was frustrated by its devilishly clever construction.

(6) Next to the bridge is the massive Salt Store, now restored as the visitor centre explaining the city’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (There are several other salt stores, with characteristic steeply pitched roofs, in the city.)

(7) Next to the Salt Store is the famous Wurstkuchl, or sausage kitchen, built in 1615 to replace an earlier cook-shop, demolished to make way for the salt. It still functions as a restaurant today.

Frederick II, on the bridge tower. The person he is standing on prefers to remain anonymous.

Frederick II (with hawk), on the bridge tower. The person he is standing on prefers to remain anonymous.

On the Bridge Tower, facing across the river, is the statue (a replacement: the original is in the splendid Historical Museum) of Frederick II, who granted Regensburg the status of an Imperial Free City. As in so many portrayals, the Stupor Mundi holds a hawk.

(8) Regensburg was the birthplace of Don John of Austria, of whom there is a statue, and a relief profile on a memorial plaque.

The memorial to Don John of Austria: the verses mention the 'beautiful Barbara'.

The memorial to Don John of Austria: the verses mention the ‘beautiful Barbara’.

While attending the Imperial Diet in 1546, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was ‘attracted to’ Barbara Blomberg, a city councillor’s daughter, who was hastily married off when her pregnancy was discovered. Her son, then named Jeromin, was taken from her at the age of three, and farmed out among minor courtiers in the Low Countries and Spain, until in 1559 the newly succeeded Philip II recognised his half-brother. Charles had planned for him to enter the church, but his military talent became apparent, and culminated, of course, in the battle of Lepanto (1571). (In the UK, he is regarded as the great hero of the battle, largely thanks to G.K. Chesterton; whereas every right-thinking Italian knows that Sebastiano Venier was the man who did the business.)

(9) From 1663 to 1806, the Imperial Diet sat permanently at Regensburg (having previously been summoned only from time to time).

On the right, the door of the old Rahhus, in which the Diet sat. (The detail of the soldiers above come from the doorway.)

On the right, the door of the old Rathus, in which the Diet sat. (The detail of the soldiers (above) comes from the doorway.)

The Reichstag in session in the Rathus.

The Reichstag in session in the Rathus.

As a consequence, ambassadors from the Imperial states and from other European countries took up residence in the street which came to be called Gesandtenstrasse (Diplomats’ Street), and some of them are buried in the small graveyard of Holy Trinity church, the first purpose-built Protestant church in the city.

The memorial stone of an ambassador and his wife, in Holy Trinity graveyard: his wig is bigger than hers.

The memorial stone of an ambassador and his wife, in Holy Trinity graveyard: his wig is bigger than hers.

(10) Regensburg saw the first coffee house to be established in Germany, in 1686.

The site of Germany's first coffee house.

The site of Germany’s first coffee house.

(11) Napoleon Buonaparte stayed in Regensburg in a house on the Domplatz, 24–5 April 1809, his forces having captured the bridge on 20 April. He had of course declared the abolition of the Holy Roman Empire and its Perpetual Diet, and hence the raison-d’être of Regensburg, three years earlier.

Napoleon's headquarters for two days in April 1809.

Napoleon’s headquarters for two days in April 1809.

The commemorative plaque.

The commemorative plaque.

(12) Oskar Schindler, Righteous among the Nations, lived in Regensburg from 1945 to 1950.

Plaque commemorating Oskar Schindler's residence in the city.

Plaque commemorating Oskar Schindler’s residence in the city.

There is much, much more that we didn’t have time to see (or drink, or eat). It is a beautiful place (see more pictures below), and I’d welcome the chance to go back for more (but not quite as hot next time, please!).

Caroline

King Cyrus of Persia, riding a beast.

King Cyrus of Persia, riding a beast.

This splendid elephant marks an apothecary's shop.

This splendid elephant marks an apothecary’s shop.

The Three Kings, from a house wall.

The Three Kings, from a house wall.

The city at night.

The city at night.

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3 Responses to Twelve Things I Didn’t Know About Regensburg

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