Winding our way back by train from Lindau, we stopped for two nights in Bamberg, Germany: an UNESCO World Heritage site and a Bavarian town untouched by the bombs of WWII; nicknamed the “Franconian Rome” for its seven hills, and compared by our Lonely Planet book to the student atmosphere of Paris’s Left Bank. Bamberg’s cathedral turned a thousand this year (jarige!) and there were plenty of tourists wandering its hilly, narrow streets, crossing its bridges where Bamberg is split by both the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, and the Regnitz River (below).
This building—the 1462 Rathaus (town hall)—is what you’re going to see photos of if you Google the town, and it was the most impressive site. Day, night, rain, sun, every time we had to walk near it I found myself stopping and staring.
The other thing that will come up in relation to Bamberg is beer. The brewing tradition is also around a thousand years old, and ten breweries still operate in Bamberg itself. Two of those ten brew the local specialty: the rauchbier (“smoked beer”), a reddish ale infused with smoked beechwood and tasting vaguely of bacon. When in Franconian Rome, we figured—so the first night we trekked to the Spezial Keller biergarten. While I’ve had bier in Germany before, this was my first true biergarten experience.
It was a good 15-20 minute walk from the city center up to the strange, barbed-wire gate marked “Spezial Keller.” (The address is on Sternwartstrasse–there is another location more in the city somewhere.) To be fair, it may be possible to accomplish the walk more quickly if one is not taking photos and occasionally making wrong turns. Through the gate, we followed a path up a glorious, grassy hill, to a wide area of picnic tables, umbrellas, and even a playground.
Uncertain of protocol (and deeply hungry) we tried to do as others seemed to be doing. The large tables, we gathered, were communal; so you sat wherever you could find room. It was a Friday evening but not too late, and there was a decent crowd but plenty of space for two. The Olympic-caliber event turned out to be Getting Your Waitress’s Attention, and I regret to say we did not qualify for the medal round. But eventually a friendly German woman planted two mugs of beer in front of us, and even unearthed an English-translated menu for the 5-6 German specialties on offer. I can’t eat German food often, but we were famished and “Pork Shovel (Scoop)” sounded just fine. There were also massive pretzels for a Euro apiece. When our second beers arrived, we clinked our steins wordlessly with the man who had joined our table.
I love the palpable separateness from the city, the feeling that we’d wandered into the country somewhere. The view as the sun set was lovely, and the summery night that drifted in was perfect for sitting and talking. (And for the table of older German folk nearby, hearty singing!) The bill was cheap and the evening was fine.
Bamberg is easily reached by the very user-friendly German rail, and everything in the town is walkable (though hilly!). Beyond the Dom, a former monastery called Kloster St. Michael (the Michaelsberg), and the Rathaus, Bamberg is more of an atmosphere town than a see-these-ten-landmarks town. There is an abundance of wurst-based cuisine, and plenty of ice cream at night.