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March 1999

Regensburg: Of Meanderings, Historical Musings and Royal Trinkets

A guide to the charming Regensburg.

Regensburg. For the art lover, the history buff, the connoisseur, the lover of royalty, the name alone triggers joy. A small smile will play across the lips of those who have visited the place. A soft sigh will escape from those who have lived or were born there. Regensburg. A diamond of particular brilliance in the crown jewels of Bavaria. Where narrow medieval streets open onto mighty cathedrals, meander past white-and -gilt town houses, and along the waters of the Danube. A city that boasts an exquisite castle, a skyline punctuated by renaissance towers, a bit of Roman ruin. What further gift could be bestowed on this burg of beauty? Low and behold, the culture gods of the state of Bavaria have amassed their powers and given Regensburg a noble museum which enhances the city’s already abundant glitter and glory. The thurn und taxis museum is officially a branch of Munich’s own Bayerisches Nationalmuseum. In 1993 Munich acquired more than DM 40 million worth of art objects belonging to the royal house of Thurn and Taxis in lieu of the high inheritance taxes that would have come due. Late in November 1998 the collection of more than 2,200 objects was returned to the citizens of Regensburg and installed in the classically impressive Marstall of the Schloss St. Emeram – the imposing castle of the Thurn and Taxis dynasty. When the museum doors were flung open, it was truly an historic occasion: for the first time the public was given a chance to see the priceless art works spanning three centuries (17th - 19th centuries) which have been in the hands of the still very active Regensburg royals. Fürstin Gloria, head of the family since the death of her husband Fürst Johannes, still lives in the castle with her son and daughters and has spearheaded efforts to promote more contact between the public and the house of T&T. The beauty of the museum’s collection lies in its abundance of unusual objects. Here we see the high art of refined collecting. Crafted pieces reflect centuries of taste and style: the work of gold-and-silversmiths, the sure hand of porcelain painters, the fine needle work of royal tailors. Those seeking vast canvases or lofty statues will be disappointed. This is a museum of details. A patient eye is rewarded with tiny brush strokes and miniature carvings. Among the finer objects on permament display is a reconstruction of a complete formal porcelain setting from the 18th century, the Viennese “DuParquier” service. It is a good example of the early art of European porcelain design, understated in muted red, pink and gold tones. Jewels make up a significant part of the collection and are deservedly afforded their own space or “Schatzkammer.” One of the rarest displays in the museum is a late-18th-century snuffbox collection. Fifty-five examples of this art form show a remarkable range of creativity and dexterity. The majority of the boxes are gold and enamel, decorated with miniature paintings, portraits and reliefs, enhanced with crystals, precious and semiprecious stones and ivory. The fine art of armaments design and decoration is extensively displayed in three rooms, as weaponry represents an important aspect of the life and privilege of the princely family. These are not weapons of war, but of the hunt, that essential ritual of courtly sport. Displayed are firearms crafted of burnished nut woods, embellished with brass, silver, and mother-of-pearl. Leaving the Thurn and Taxis Museum does not mean leaving behind the grandeur and splendor. Regensburg itself is an open-air museum. There is an historic encounter on nearly every corner. Although landmarks tend to be identified with plaques, a guide book is recommended, as is a visit to the tourist office at the Altes Rathaus. A distillation of Regensburg’s worthiest highlights is a frustrating task. There is only one way to go about getting to know the place and finding your own favorites: pull on a pair of sneakers and walk those cobble-stoned streets. Stroll over the Steinerne Brücke (Stone Bridge), the 853-year-old bridge that spans the Danube, and take in the skyline. Search out the spires of the Dom St. Peter, the exquisite gothic cathedral. Ask your way to the Porta Praetoria, the impressive Roman ruin, with its stones smoothed by time. Make your way over to Haidplatz, an open expanse with a particularly renaissance flavor. Make sure to visit the suprisingly unusual St. Jakob, better know as the Schottenkirche (Scottish church). The detail of the cryptic north facade, an important work of 12th-century romanesque art, is breathtaking. Walk along the Danube, up side streets, through twisting alley-ways; you can‘t make a wrong turn. Let yourself be pulled along by the flow of history. By now your soul may be satisfied, but you are starving. After so much tradition and history, you might want to enhance the experience by indulging in the substantial Bavarian kitchen. The Historische Wurstküche, located directly on the banks of the Danube, serves delicious Bratwurst made on site. The interior boasts a fascinating history - documented with lines on the wall - of the many floods which have ravaged the restaurant over the years. Kneitinger (Arnulfsplatz), Bischofshof (Krauterermarkt 3) and Hofbräuhaus (Waaggässchen 1) are all good bets for hearty fare and good beer. Dampfnudel Uli (Watmark 4), serves almost ridiculously large Dampfnudeln at its old defunct chapel location. For lighter lunch fare, the Bräuschänke Dicker ManN (Krebsgasse 6), is a comfortable place tucked away in a small alley, and, for those who don’t mind standing, Café-Bar (Gesandtenstr. 14), serves smaller snacks in the interesting setting of an old converted butcher shop. If it is already evening when the hunger pangs strike, and you’re looking for fine dining, head over to David (Watmarkt 5). There, on milder days and in summer, it is a particular treat to secure a table on the terrace and sip a cocktail while watching the last rays of the sun illuminate the cathedral. The Historisches Eck (Watmarkt 6) is considered one of the more exclusive restaurants in town; reservations are a must. For Italian food lovers, Lavacca (Holzlände 2) is the place of choice. Slightly expensive, but with a very creative kitchen. It is said that the heart of every European city beats in its cafés; Regensburg is no exception. The cafés here reflect the countless variations of style and taste, from the traditional to the modern. Not far from the Thurn and Taxis castle and the new museum is the Schlosscafé (Emmeramsplatz 6), an airy glass pavillion with lots of light and relative quiet. A great favorite is the Goldenes Kreuz (Haidplatz) where different worlds mingle: the university student sits with the retiree. The Prinzess Konditorei-Café (Rathausplatz 2) touts itself as being one of the oldest cafés in Bavaria, however its decor is rather modern. None of which matters since the joy of this café is in the artfully decorated cakes and oversized handmade chocolates. Roesch-Konditorei (Kassiansplatz 5) is old-fashioned, unpretentious, and relaxing.

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