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See the World; Adventurer's Log to Passau, Germany

Updated on October 30, 2014

Having the fortunate luck to have experienced many adventures and traveled frequently and far, it seems fitting to share some of those experiences. Of the various journeys I have partook, the city of Passau in Germany holds a particular place in my mind and heart. My bias is twofold: it is the first (and presently only) non-American city I lived in for more than a few weeks (in the case of Passau, close to a year) and because it was the city my wife and I choose to go to for our honeymoon. I hope my personal bias does not unduly sway anyone’s opinion of this great European city; its merits stand on its own. . .

Photos of Passau; Source: Wikipedia
Photos of Passau; Source: Wikipedia
Passau Coat of Arms; Source: Google Image Search
Passau Coat of Arms; Source: Google Image Search

A brief history

Passau started as a Roman colony for the Batavi, an ancient Germanic tribe. The city became the cite for many religious foundations, including St. Stephan’s Cathedral (German: Stephansdom) and the diocese of Passau. The city suffered a major fire in 1662 and the now current St. Stephan’s Cathedral was built upon the remains of its predeceasing church. While the city has been affected by the major conflicts of Europe (e.g. World War I and World War II), in neither conflict was the city exposed to any direct battle or physical harm. As a result, much of the architecture and buildings remain close to their original designs since the Renaissance; minus a few alterations due from maintenance and other minor repairs.

Where in the world is Passau, Germany?

Passau is located about two hours (by train) south-east from Munich (German: München). Called the Dreiflüssstadt (“city of three-rivers”) with good reason, Passau is nestled at the confluence of the Danube (German: Danau), the Ilz, and the Inn rivers. The city is also located right on the border to Austria (German: Österreich); to the point where one can walk across the border without too much trouble.

Sites

As with any city one intends to travel to, there are many sights in Passau to visit.

With its fame as die Dreiflüssstadt, das Dreiflüsseck of Passau is truly wonderful site to behold. Literally meaning “three-river corner” this is the peninsular tip of Passau where the three rivers converge. When the lighting is just right, you can actually see the three colors of the rivers collide and intermingle; normally, the Inn has a brownish coloration while the Danube and the Ilz are more bluish.

St. Stephan's Cathedral; Source: Wikipedia
St. Stephan's Cathedral; Source: Wikipedia

Deep within the downtown (Altdstadt) of Passau lies the magnificent Stephansdom. The cathedral is of baroque architecture and also has many examples of German baroque artwork within. St. Stephan’s also houses the world’s largest cathedral organ, containing over 17,000 pipes and 233 registers. During the summer there are daily organ concerts open to the public.

Veste Niederhaus; Taken by Kevin Debler
Veste Niederhaus; Taken by Kevin Debler

On the northern side of Passau, across the Danube, nestled on the mountaintop is das Veste Oberhaus. This was the fortress that housed the Bishop of Passau for most of its existence. As a fortress, it was continually improved upon as siege technology and techniques evolved. In all the attacks on the fortress, none of them met with success; das Oberhaus likewise survived the fire of Passau in 1662. Now das Veste Oberhaus is a museum with a restaurant and youth hostel.

Hochwasser

While not exactly any singular sight (or site), but an interesting feature of Passau are the plaques found throughout die Altstadt. These plaques are found both high up and below eye-level on the buildings. Each plaque has a date engraved on it and many have a height recorded as well. These plaques commemorate the height the annual flood waters reached on those dates!

Yes, there are annual floods in Passau. Each spring thaw brings new onrushing waters from the mountains; each filling the Danube, Ilz and Inn rivers. The swelling waters rise and the lowest parts of Passau submerge. Many walkways and promenades are closed off during this time; das Dreiflüsseck becomes almost inaccessible during this time. If you decide to travel to Passau, I almost recommend coming before Hochwasser (literally “high water”) so you can see the city before and after the flood; it is a surreal experience.

Univeristy logo; Source: Wikipedia
Univeristy logo; Source: Wikipedia

Universität Passau

Sitting prominently near the Inn River is the famed Universität Passau (University of Passau). Founded in the 1970’s originally as an extension to the Katholisch-Theologische Fakultät (Institute of Catholic Studies), Universität Passau is renowned in Germany for its institutes of law, economics, and theology among other subjects. Its libraries are open to the public as well as their computer labs. Many of the faculty buildings were repurposed from older standing structures; so like much of Passau, you can see a more classic architecture next to more modern styles hand-in-hand.

Campus town

Nearly a fourth of Passau’s population are students, both local and from abroad (including many international students). This truly solidifies the notion that Passau is a “campus town.” With a large student population comes a more active nightlife-scene and the city has catered to this need. In other words, there is more than a fair number of clubs and bars in the city. Quite honestly, I could not begin to recommend any specific location because I don’t know of every bar or club in the city; nor could I guarantee that those same places exist given the last time I visited Passau. More importantly, I do not want to come across suggesting anything inappropriate or condone any improper behavior. Just providing the lay of the land as it were and informing you of your options, should you choose to pursue one.

Doner; Source: Wikipedia
Doner; Source: Wikipedia

Döner

A popular dish in Passau, as with much of Germany, is Döner, known in other parts of the world as “shawarma.” The reason for the popularity of this dish started primarily because of the settling of Turkish workers who moved to Germany in the 60’s and 70’s; from a personal point of view, I think the continued popularity of the food is because of its spiciness, a trend among the German youth. There are many vendors and restaurants that offer Döner in Passau. It is typically served sandwiched in a slice of warmed flat bread with lettuce, cabbage, onions and other fixings as determined by the customer.

Words of travel

Whenever traveling abroad, it is usually an important idea to have at least a gist of the local language. Here are a few words and phrases that may be what some are looking for when globetrotting:

Guten Tag!” or “Tag!” = standard high-German greeting; meaning “good day”

“Grüss Gott!” = fairly common Bavarian greeting; meaning “God greets you;” literally “greet God”

“Auf Wiedersehen” = goodbye; literally “until seeing again”

“Auf Wiederhören” = goodbye over the phone; literally “until hearing again”

“Danke schön!” = thank you very much

“Ich hätte gern . . .” = I would like to have . . . ; considered the polite version to order food or beverages in restaurants and other establishments

“Es tut mir Weh” = I’m sorry; literally “it does me pain”

“Wie viel kostet es?” = how much does that cost? / how much does it cost?

“Was ist das?” = what is that?

“Können Sie Englisch?” = can you speak English?; literally “are you able to (read, write, speak, understand) English?”

Leberkaese; Source: Wikipedia
Leberkaese; Source: Wikipedia

“Leberkäse” = traditional Bavarian meatloaf; literally “liver cheese”

“Wasser ohne Kohlensäure” or “stilles Wasser” = non-carbonated water; literally “water without carbonation” or “still water”; most Germans like sparkling water and so restaurants will serve it unless specified otherwise

“Reisepass” = passport

“Bahnkarte” = train ticket

Traveler's guide

Language aside, there are a number of cultural differences that are important to bear in mind when traveling in Germany and Passau.

Overall, Germans have a minor distrust of credit cards; the logic is simple, how do you know how much money you have unless you can count it in front of you? As a result the majority of businesses will not accept credit cards. So, be prepared and exchange plenty of money ahead of time for your trip.

It is important to note that Germans utilize military time country-wide. Conversationally, there may be references to AM and PM, but any bus or train schedules, store hours, or itineraries will be noted in military time.

Back to language for a moment, many Germans do speak English. The degree of proficiency is strictly on a person-to-person basis; so do not expect everyone to be able to understand you clearly. Also, while not every German can speak English well, almost all of them love it when non-Germans try to speak German. It is the effort they appreciate, even if the actual execution is less than perfect.

While not at all part of Passau, the Munich Main Train Station (German: München Hauptbahnhof) is part of the Passau experience; the best way to get from the Munich airport to Passau is through the Munich Train Station. It is a spectacular sight to behold. It has 32 platforms for trains, numerous vendors and restaurants and even terminals for buses and taxis if you so choose. What makes it a true marvel to partake is the sheer size and scope of the station; it feels like an airport, but for trains. The trains themselves are well-maintained, clean and ride smoothly. Not to mention, the view of the German countryside as you travel to Passau is also a beautiful experience to have on its own.

Munich Main Train Station; Source: Wikipedia
Munich Main Train Station; Source: Wikipedia

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