Forty miles north of Nürnberg in the German state of Bavaria is the historic city of Bamberg. Divided in half by the Regnitz River, Bamberg is a rare German city in that it escaped Allied bombing during World War II. While other cities have been rebuilt or redesigned, Bamberg retains much of its original infrastructure and charm. As a result, the city is a perfect example of the Franconian region of northern Bavaria.
The city survived the war because it did not house major weapons production and was not an industrial base for the Nazis. Escaping the catastrophic treatment of cities like Nürnberg and Dresden, Bamberg features some of the oldest standing buildings in all of Germany. The Bamberg Cathedral was constructed in 1237, the Michaelskirche Monastery erected in the twelfth century and what is now known as the Old Town Hall was built in 1386. In fact, the Old Town Hall was placed on a small island in the middle of the Regnitz River as a means of protection, with a bridge spanning the river allowing today for up close viewing of the beautifully painted exterior walls that have survived the centuries.
Bamberg can claim many historic anecdotes but perhaps most unique is its status as the final resting place of a Pope. This fact is unique because apart from Pope Clement II, no other Pope is buried north of the Alps. Clement II previously served the church as Bishop of Bamberg from 1040-1046. Elected Pope in 1046 after a series of controversial councils and deposed European leaders, he went to Rome to lead the church. Yet less than a year into his reign, Clement II died of lead sugar poisoning while traveling across Italy. His body was returned to Bamberg, the city he adored, and was interred in the western choir of Bamberg Cathedral where he remains today.
While Pope Clement II came to rest in Bamberg when his life was over, there is a world-famous product that began its life in the Franconian city. In German it is called Rauchbier, or smoke beer. This type of beer is known around the world as both an interesting variety of brew as well as having originated in Bamberg. The flavors and aromas are created by drying malted barley over an open flame, providing the drinks with an aura of smoke. The Schlenkerla brewpub is a tavern in the middle of the city that produces and serves the famous brews to tourists and locals alike. The tavern was first mentioned in 1405 and is currently owned and operated by the sixth generation of a local family.
Bamberg is a small but dramatic city. The Little Venice area bordering the river displays classic examples of half-timber construction and German architecture. Massive churches rest on each of the seven hills of the city providing panoramic views from every crest.
Yet despite the age of the city, Bamberg is young and alive with over nine thousand university students interspersed within a population of just seventy thousand. Though larger, more famous cities claim more publicity than Bamberg, none can match its intimacy, variety or authenticity.
Written by and photos by Michael Orr for EuropeUpClose.com