Known as the "City of Three Rivers", Passau lies at the confluence of the Inn, the Danube and the Ilz Rivers. It is the last major German city on the Danube at the border of Austria. Originally a settlement of the Boii Celtic tribe and named "Boiodurum", it was later the site of the Roman fort, Castra Batava. In 739, an English Celtic monk named Boniface founded the diocese of Passau, the largest jurisdiction of the Holy Roman Empire for many years.
Passau was an important medieval center for the salt trade. The white gold, as it was called, was transported from the Alpine salt mines to Passau where it was processed by entrepreneurs called Salzfertiger. These city merchants established a powerful monopoly, until 1707 when all salt imports to Passau were forbidden and the once flourishing city lost its valuable trade.
During the Renaissance, Passau became famous for making high-quality knife and sword blades. Local smiths stamped their blades with the Passau wolf, and superstitious warriors believed that the wolf granted them invulnerability. The practice of placing magical, protective charms on blades became known as "Passau art".
When fires ravaged the city in the 17th century, it was rebuilt to reflect the baroque character that survives today. Old Town, with its baroque churches and patrician houses, is crowded onto the narrow tongue of land separating the Inn and the Danube. Located on the highest point of Old Town, St Stephen's Cathedral is one of the town's foremost landmarks and boasts the largest pipe organ outside the United States. The organ has 17,974 organ pipes, 233 stops and four carillons. All five parts of the organ can be played from the main keyboard, one at a time or all together, offering the visitor an unforgettable acoustical delight. We were lucky enough to enjoy an organ concert. St Stephen's is also dedicated to St Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
Today Passau is home to 50,000 people and has grown to become the economic, cultural and communications center of southeastern Bavaria.
Our guide to Passau was Daniel, a history teacher and an excellent guide. An interesting tidbit: Daniel was asked by one of our tour mates to comment on the situation in Greece. How do the Germans who have a financially secure country feel about bailing out Greece? And Daniel said: "The money is a pittance. Because of the forgiveness and acceptance that Germany has received after the war, anybody who doesn't understand what must be done is not a student of history or a very moral person."
Passau has a history of flooding due to its location. But June 2013's one was epic. Umbrella Alley was badly flooded and now no one can live there permanently. The buildings are occupied in summer by artists and craft workers. The umbrellas are a reminder of the rain and the flood.