Weltenburg Abbey beer and Rhine cruise
Jun 17, 2016
|Today our agenda has been changed. Originally we were to sail to Regensburg and after lunch get on an optional Rhine canal cruise. The high water has the captain putting the pedal to the metal. There is an extremely low bridge ahead and right now we need to get there before the rains cause the river to get higher. So we are dropped off at Kelheim at 8 am and pick the boat back up at 1 pm downstream at Regensburg and keep going.
It is a sunny day so that is good news and we have passed through the #1 lock on the Main-Danube canal and are into the Danube. We board our bus for the short trip to Weltenburg and its famous Abbey. Here the monks have been brewing their infamous Weltenburg Koester beer for 1000 years.
Grant starts the day off totally putting his foot in his mouth. Suzanne, one of the American group, has incredibly long hair, down passed her butt. He starts by asking where Lady Godiva is… turns out she is 2 rows up. Then instead of asking ‘how long it takes her to wash her hair’ he says ‘how often does she watch her hair’. She takes it all in good stride and we all get a good laugh.
As we climb over the mountain we learn a little about the area. It is a beautiful forested area, 50 shades of green! The forest is inhabited primarily by red deer, fox and wild boars. It also has many mushrooms, but not edible ones. It turns out that when the Chernobyl clouds crossed this area and rained over this part of Bavaria, contaminating with radiation not only the mushrooms but the boar. Here hunters have any boar kill checked and are compensated if not edible, which one out of every two are not.
We have a short stroll along the very high water River Danube or Donau as the Germans call the river. Not sure why we have to always change the names! The Danube is not blue in colour as one would assume from the song as blue actually means ‘tipsy’ in German.
The St Georg Abbey is surrounded by the Danube and susceptible to flooding therefore the main gates have huge metal barriers that can be raised to prevent flooding of the courtyard. It was founded in 620 but eventually the Benedictine monks took it over and maintain it and the brewery today. Although a very massive structure, today only 8 monks and the Abbott live here.
The highlight is the church and it is spectacular. Two brothers who had been studying in Rome, one sculpture, one painting, were contracted to build it in 1716 after flooding destroyed the original. Unlike most churches built in the shape of a cross the brothers built this in the oval. The whole place was designed as a sacred theatre, Teatro e Sacrum. The high alter is dedicated to St George, the patron saint of England.
In the north frame is the wise man St Martin who was elected bishop but refused the position and hid in a goose shed. The noise of the geese gave him away and he was forced to become bishop. Today to represent punishment of the geese Germans have cooked goose, dumplings and red Cabbage on St Martins Day.
The brothers also used their design to teach geography with paintings showing the landing of the Santa Maria in America, coming to the land of green winged devils as the virgin points out. The pulpit is interesting with St Benedict on top telling that only those who live a proper life, as told by the preacher, will get to heaven. He shows the vices on the right for those who will go to hell and on the left those who are going to heaven and on that side there are only men. Bit of a false impression for sure!
As you look up the walls to the second level the colours brighten suggesting you are getting closer to heaven and illumination. Here Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are there to assist you. Finally at the cupola, the third level, you have reached heaven and are reunited with god. The ceiling has 12 hidden windows representing the disciples that fill the place with light. The amazing thing is that this is not a round cupola but flat, an incredible illusion.
After enjoying some of the monk’s beer in the inner courtyard we continue our walk down the Danube to our smaller canal boat. We have a short 6 km cruise back to Kelheim down the narrowest part of the river, only 80 meters wide. Here all the limestone cliffs and peaks have names and legends. For example Napoleon’s suitcase, where the story goes that Napoleon left in such a hurry one visit he forgot his luggage.
Out last stop is the Liberation Hall built high on the mountain by Ludwig I to celebrate the liberation of this area from Napoleon during the wars of 1813-15. Ludwig was the second king of Bavaria and fought to remove Napoleon even though his father Maximillian was an ally of Napoleon.
He is also known as the founder of Oktoberfest. The original being the 3 day party to celebrate his wedding. People had so much fun that it became an annual event.
The hall is modelled after the Pantheon in Rome. He also built a giant Greek style temple further down the river that houses busts of all famous Germans. Every 5 years a review is done to see if someone else should be added.
The other interesting story our guide shares is the story of when Ludwig was in his 60’s, married with 9 children, he took a mistress. Lola claimed to be a Spanish dancer but was of Irish descent. He was so infatuated with her despite her being a nasty individual. She demanded he make her royal so he declared her a countess. The people were outraged and he was forced to abdicate. And she flees to America leaving Ludwig behind. She became a relatively famous dancer on Broadway but returned to Germany and died at age of 39. We know her from the saying ‘Whatever Lola wants, Lola get!’
As we head to the boat through the town of Regensburg, we learn that we are in a major farming area. Crops here run from corn, canola, potatoes, barley and spargel (asparagus) both green and white. The cows do not roam the fields as crops are too valuable. Unfortunately with the need to get through the bridge we have to forgo the city tour and are back sailing about 1:30 pm.
About 3 pm we arrive at the incredibly low bridge. They have stowed all the upper deck furniture in the stairwells and the wheelhouse is all the way down. The captain is in a stairwell with a side bridge. We are going to backwards through so that if we have trouble we can move quicker back to where we came from.
Brian and Gary peak up the stairwell and the Captain invites them to stand with him but just keep to one side so as not to block his view. One crew member is lying flat on top deck eyeing the bridge and then scampers to the back stairs. The pool area at the back is packed one level below with a full on view. We literally clear the bridge by an inch! Wow.
On the other side we see a Viking Ship heading to the bridge and we know that we will see them back at the next port Passau as they won’t make it. Turns out our Captain took on 200 tons of fresh water and 800 tons of river water effectively dropping us by a foot. Everyone from other boats had told him we wouldn’t make it but he was smarter. Five ships, including a few Vikings didn’t make it so the next day they were packing up and swapping to a boat on the other side by bus.
Certainly led to a proud moment for our Captain and crew. And for us an uninterrupted schedule. Job well done.