Thursday, 5 July 2018

Würzburg for the day

Just when I thought I’d finished recounting my recent trip to Bamberg and northern Bavaria, I realised I hadn’t written about the day Matt and I spent in Würzburg. This was on the Tuesday, which was the penultimate day of our stay in Bamberg.
Würzburg is roughly an hours journey, by rail, from Bamberg, so after buying our Bayern ticket  at the station, and purchasing a coffee plus a couple of rolls to eat on the train by way of breakfast, we boarded the Regional Express which was heading for the city.
We sat in the upstairs section of the coach, which is a feature of these double-deck trains I really appreciate. I hadn’t looked that closely at the map, but I knew our journey from Bamberg would first be in a northerly direction, following the valley of the River Regnitz, before turning towards the west, along the course of the River Main. With this in mind, I knew the scenery would be particularly interesting, and to be able to view it from our upper deck vantage point, would be a real bonus.
I was correct about the scenery, although there was a section where the train climbed up onto a plateau, presumably between the two river systems, which was less interesting. Würzburg lies right in the heart of the Franconian wine producing region, and is in fact the centre of this important industry, so as we journeyed along the course of the River Main, I was not surprised to see rows of carefully tended grape vines set out in terraces on the steep slopes of the river valley.
These became more noticeable as the train made the steep descent into Würzburg, and after a slight signalling delay, we pulled into the city’s main station. We’d arranged to meet up with my friend Ian from Tonbridge and his wife who, instead of staying with the rest of us in Bamberg, had opted to base themselves in Nuremberg. The pair had travelled by a different route, and would be arriving from the opposite direction to us, but both trains were timed to arrive within a few minutes of each other.
Our friends were waiting for us on the central concourse, and had already procured a guide plus a couple of city maps for us, but after looking at the map, and studying the tram and bus routes for a while, we decided it would be easier, and more pleasant to walk into the city centre, and then head up to our first object of interest, and the first port of call on most visitor’s itinerary.
This was the world famous Würzburg Residenz; an imposing palace, overlooking the city, which acted as the home of the Prince-Bishops, who ruled Würzburg until the late 18th Century.
It’s hard to believe that, like much of the city,  this magnificent structure was
severely damaged by a devastating air raid carried out by RAF Bomber Command, in March 1945. All of the city's churches, cathedrals, and other monuments were heavily damaged or destroyed in the raid, and the city centre, which mostly dated from medieval times, was decimated in a firestorm in which 5,000 people perished.  I won’t write too much about this act of wanton destruction, as I know there are people who, even today, will claim the raid was justified, but what I will say is this.
Unlike me, my two friends were unaware of what happened on that fateful March night, which was less than two months before the end of the war in Europe. They had read in the leaflet, picked up from the Tourist Information Office,  that around 90%  of the city had been destroyed in the raid, which only lasted for just over 20 minutes. Their only thoughts were why? What was the point of such destruction and the devastating loss of life which went with it.
I could only answer that it was man’s inhumanity to man, and before all the apologists for indiscriminate carpet bombing of civilians pipe up, “They started it,” let me remind you that two wrongs do not make a right, and by so doing there is no way in which we can claim the moral high ground.
We didn’t venture inside the Residenz. I would imagine it could take the best part of a day to fully explore all of the palace’s treasures, and time wasn’t on our side. It was also a lovely day weather-wise, so we decided to spend time looking around the extensive gardens at the rear of the building.  These were laid out in a formal style and, as might expected, were very well-maintained. The part which really stood out for all of us, including Matt who’s a bit of a Philistine regarding such things, was the topiary, with some immaculate examples , as can be seen from the photos.
It was lovely and peaceful in the gardens, and difficult to believe we were only around 20 minutes’ walk away from the city centre, but time was marching on, and there were several other attractions we wanted to see. We began our descent from the Residenz and moving in a zig-zag route, made or way towards the main thoroughfare, and the Alte Mainbrücke  across the River Main.
We stopped at the attractive looking Sternbäck pub, overlooking Dom Straβe, for a coffee at the insistence of my friend’s wife. Seeing as the weather was so good, we sat outside soaking up the atmosphere whilst watching the shoppers going about their business just yards away. 

We were to return to this particular pub, for something stronger, later in the day, but it’s worth mentioning if only for the “tickers.” The Untapped contingent from Maidstone CAMRA, who’d remained in Bamberg for the day would have cursed themselves for missing the distinctive Distelhäuser beers which are brewed in the small village of Distelhausen, to the south of Würzburg.
Suitably refreshed, we headed down towards the River Main and crossed by means of the centuries old bridge. The Alte Mainbrücke is now closed to road traffic, but was certainly busy with pedestrians when we walked across. The bridge towers high above the Main, which is quite wide at this point, and because of the height it provides a vantage point for lots of photo opportunities.  Looking along the river, we could see on the steeply sloping valley sides, the extensive terraces where the vineyards are situated, covering virtually every available square metre of free land.
We also stopped to take some photos - not selfies, I hasten to add, but shots looking back across the bridge as well as some of our next destination, the Marienberg Fortress, which dominates the west bank of the river. Rising some 200 metres from the riverside, the massive bulk of the Marienberg cannot be missed. This natural defensive mound, is crowned by the an equally imposing fortress, and climbing to the top was our next objective.
It was certainly a climb and a half, but I impressed myself by not getting out of breath as we followed the winding path, interspersed by flights of steps, inexorably upwards. My daily lunchtime walks had obviously paid off. Even so, by the time the four of us reached the summit I was ready for a nice cold beer. That was the plan, anyway!
Unfortunately much of the fortress is given over to a conference centre, which doesn’t really cater for casual visitors. We could have had a coffee, but somehow that just didn’t feel right. Fortunately I had done my homework and had looked up the location of Würzburg’s main brewery; Würzburger Hofbräu. The brewery, plus attached beer garden, lay on the far side of the Marienberg mount, at the foot of it, so after resting a short while, we began the long descent from the other side.
Eventually we found the brewery and beer-garden complex. It was a little further than it looked on the map, but was well worth the extra walk. Würzburger Hofbräu are a relatively large brewery producing over 100,00 hl per year. The  company’s products are well regarded, and easy to find, locally.
Since 2005,  Würzburger Hofbräu GmbH has been owned by the KulmbacherHYPERLINK "" Brewery, a subsidiary of Brau Holding International. As we discovered, there was a pleasant, shaded beer garden attached to the brewery, and it was at a table, close to the adjacent beer hall, that we plonked ourselves down. We were certainly glad of a rest after the walking and climbing we had done earlier.

We were even more glad of a nice cool beer, and the Würzburger Premium Pils did not disappoint. Something more solid to accompany the beer was also called for, and whilst it was on the dear side I grasped the nettle and went for a plate of Spargel – white asparagus served with hollandaise sauce and new potatoes. It was worth every cent. 

The Germans make a big fuss about the Spargel season, which lasts from May into June. Take a walk through any local fruit and vegetable market and you will see bundles of white asparagus piled up on display. Most pubs and restaurants will feature at least one Spargel dish on their menus, whilst this vegetable is in season, and it is definitely worth trying.
 The beer garden wasn’t particularly busy, but it was mid-afternoon on a Tuesday, so this wasn’t that surprising. It was still a very pleasant place to spend the afternoon and just chill out. After a couple more beers, we walked along to the nearby tram stop, for a ride into town.
As mentioned earlier, we called in at the Sternbäck pub we’d been in earlier, but with the threat of thunder in the air, decided to sit inside. The 5.4% Kellerbier from the Distelhäuser Brewey was particularly good. Matt and I left Ian and his wife to make their way back to the station, whilst we had a brief look around the shops. 

We got caught in a light shower as we made our own way to the station, and on the train journey back to Bamberg, the rain increased in intensity. Despite the soggy end our visit to Würzburgwas a really enjoyable day out. The city had long been on my list of places to visit, so I was glad to have taken advantage of the opportunity.

 Würzburg today is thriving after the almost total destruction which took place. It took around 20 years for the buildings of historical importance to be painstakingly and accurately reconstructed, but as most of the surrounding buildings date from the 1960’s or later, it is difficult to imagine, what medieval Würzburg must have looked like.


Russtovich said...

"was the topiary, with some immaculate examples , as can be seen from the photos."

I don't know why, but those tops remind of garden gnome hats. :)

"The Alte Mainbrücke is now closed to road traffic, but was certainly busy with pedestrians when we walked across. "

A bit like the Charles bridge in Prague.

"Rising some 200 metres from the riverside, the massive bulk of the Marienberg cannot be missed."

Definitely like Prague then. :)

"We could have had a coffee, but somehow that just didn’t feel right. "

Not like Prague then. My wife and I managed to refresh ourselves at the top in Prague:

"Fortunately I had done my homework and had looked up the location of Würzburg’s main brewery;"

Smart man. :)

"It was worth every cent."

Sometimes on holiday you just have to say "what the heck". ;)

"Despite the soggy end our visit to Würzburgwas a really enjoyable day out."

Agreed. Some exercise, good food, good company... and good beer. :)


PS - "before turning towards the east, along the course of the River Main. "

I could be wrong, but don't you mean west instead of east?

Paul Bailey said...

Hi Russ, thanks for pointing out my geographical error. We were travelling from the east, in a westerly direction towards Würzburg, so I have now corrected the narrative.

The Alte Mainbrücke definitely reminded me of the Charles Bridge in Prague. It’s not as wide, and possibly not as long, but the statues were very reminiscent of those on the latter structure. There may be some sort of medieval symbolism associated with these; perhaps the statues of the saints were there as tokens, to help keep travellers safe?

Whilst the climb up to the Marienberg Fortress was very worthwhile, the fortress itself was something of a disappointment; although I suppose it you were staying there for a conference, it would be pretty cool. However, it’s nowhere near as impressive as Prague Castle, and apparently it wasn’t particularly favoured by Würzburg’s ruling Prince-Bishops either. This was why they upped sticks and moved their abode across to the other side of town. The Residenz palace they constructed there - now that is impressive!

It was definitely a good day out though and, as you point out, exercise, good food, good company and good beer, what more could a person want when on holiday?

Dave said...

Thanks for this Paul. I have had Wurzburg on my list for a while. Nice to see this information. Great stuff.