Bavaria’s Bamberg is a remarkable example of a central European town with a still intact medieval street pattern, and surviving ecclesiastical and secular buildings from the same period.
It boasts timber framed buildings painted in bright colours and frescoes, impossibly lop-sided or leaning into each other over narrow passageways, as well as a smart collection of baroque buildings introduced when Bamberg was the centre of the Enlightenment in southern Germany.
UNESCO has awarded it World Heritage Status primarily because of its influence on urban design and evolution in central Europe from the 11th century onwards.
When Henry II, Duke of Bavaria, became King of Germany in 1007 he made Bamberg the seat of a bishopric and intended to create a second Rome. Over the next 500 years the town developed across seven hills where the Regnitz and Main rivers meet and perhaps its loveliest individual sight is the Altes Rathaus, perched on a tiny island in the Regnitz, decorated with frescoes and reached by two bridges.
Bamberg was the seat of prince-bishops until the early 19th century and they built many beautiful and baroque private and public buildings. A particularly lovely fountain commemorates King Maximilian I of Bavaria, the emperor Henry II and his wife, Conrad III and Saint Otto, bishop of Bamberg.
The town had darker notoriety during the Bamberg Witch Trials which reached a terrifying climax between 1626 – 1631 and claimed around one thousand victims, women and men. Later in the 20th century it was briefly linked to the Nazis in 1928, when Hitler used it as a meeting place of the then young Nazi party in Bavaria.
Bamberg survived the second world war intact and since the 1950’s it has taken on a programme of small and manageable renovation and restoration works. It was a delight to wander through on a sunny late afternoon.
Dettelbach along the river Main’s right bank is prettily set amongst the hillsides of vineyards above the river’s green waters. The almost complete medieval town wall circles the cobbled streets of half timbered houses. Dettelbach has managed to keep two medieval towers and two of its original fortress gates.
We pottered around it on a quiet weekday afternoon when the local shops and businesses were all, inexplicably, closed. It gave the small picturesque town, little more than a village really, a quiet museum like feel as the only other people around were visitors and cyclists like us.
Cycling a round route along the Main we visited Kitzingen, a larger and busier town with a riverfront setting. Lunching locals and office workers were taking their seats outside bustling cafes and inns.
The annual ‘White Dinner’ was about to be hosted on the riverbanks and publicity shots showed diners all dressed in white, seated at white liveried tables above the water and dining by candlelight. It seemed a lovely thing to do!
Crossing onto the right bank we pedalled through large fields of open vegetable plots, all meticulously tended. It was a quiet and unsung corner of Bavaria but a very gentle and genteel one, which struck a note of charm with us both.
We hadn’t visited the Main river before and had only ever passed through the region. After spending three days alongside the busy waterway, it’s an area we would like to return to.