Undamaged by war and chock full of great buildings, Bamberg is one of Europe's most appealing little cities. In addition, we find six comfortable, reasonably-priced hotels in the center of the old town.
Put Bamberg near the top of our list of favorite European towns. It has nearly everything one could ask for in a medium-sized European city: Germany's largest preserved old town with narrow, winding cobbled streets untouched by war, a great cathedral, 10 breweries and 40 different beers to slake the thirst of its 70,000 inhabitants, an acclaimed symphony orchestra and a handful of interesting, moderately-priced hotels. And a river runs through it—the Regnitz, which gives Bamberg much of its character and charm.
Everywhere one turns in Bamberg there are clock towers, coats of arms, intricate scrollwork, steep roofs with dormer windows, wooden galleries, picturesque corners and antique stores crammed with chandeliers and highly polished furniture. More than 2,000 of the town's buildings have been deemed historically or architecturally significant. Try to walk the town at twilight when there is still light in the sky but the illumination on the old buildings and statuary is just beginning to take effect. In your stroll you may cross and re-cross this smaller fork of the Regnitz on one of several bridges. You will be charmed by the illuminated buildings which seem to float on the river. The Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall...note the funny, little half-timbered house hanging on the back of the much larger stone building) is one and a hotel we will recommend to you, the St. Nepomuk, is another.
On a hill above the town is the Gothic cathedral, built in the first half of the 13th century. In the church is a statue of a soldier on a horse - The Knight of Bamberg - that we would have passed with no more than a glance but which Michelin Green Guide gives three stars. It is one of seven pieces in the cathedral Michelin calls "masterpieces of German Gothic sculpture." Because Bamberg has survived 1000 years of European wars intact, its architecture ranges from medieval to Romanesque to Gothic to Baroque to Renaissance. Inside the cathedral one can see how the main arches became ever more pointed and Gothic as construction continued from east to west.
The cathedral is clustered with other impressive buildings. By standing in the center of the Domplatz, and turning 180 degrees to the right, you'll get a fast panorama of 800 years of European architecture. The church is Gothic, the Old Residence is Renaissance and, finally, the buildings of the New Residence which face the Domplatz are Baroque. Nearby is a lovely formal garden overlooking the old town.
One has to admire small towns that can do big things. Green Bay has the Packers and Bamberg has a symphony orchestra among the best in the world. Until now, however, it has been virtually inaccessible to visitors because its concerts were played in a small facility. But soon a new, much larger hall will be ready and tickets will be set aside for out-of-towners.
Perhaps the best thing about Bamberg is that it is relatively off the beaten tourist path. There are, of course, many visitors roaming its byways, but nothing like the swarms attracted to Salzburg or Rothenburg
Before we move on to discuss Bamberg's hotels and restaurants we'll leave you with a "do" and a "don't." First, forgo the river boat that leaves regularly from the center of the old town for tours of the Regnitz. Except for the first half mile of the trip, views from its deck are mostly unattractive industrial installations featuring cranes, barges and rusty dockside equipment.
Do not fail, however, to stop at the Brauerei Schlenkerla (Dominikanerstrasse 6) for a half-liter or two of the famous Rauchbier (smoky beer). Someone said it tastes like "liquid ham," a less than appealing but accurate description. Nonetheless, the beer is very good. Sit at one of the long wooden tables in the first room on your left as you enter. Both nights we were there we found it full of townspeople who had obviously included a stop at the Schlenkerla on their after-dinner walk. The fresh beer is poured the old-fashioned way directly from small, dark barrels and costs 2.8 DM ($1.65) for a half-liter. Servers are very friendly and the atmosphere in the rather small, rustic, low-ceilinged room is definitely gemütlich.
Each of the six hotels reviewed is centrally located enough so that exploration of the town on foot is possible. If you're arriving by rail, however, the station is too far - more than a kilometer - to walk to any of them with luggage. The hotels are listed in price order, most expensive to least expensive. Prices may have increased by the time this is published.
In terms of traditional luxury, the 48-room Bamberger Hof-Bellevue, located across from a little park, is the best of these six. Some of its newly remodeled rooms such as Number 115 which rents for 250 DM ($148) are quite opulent with marble tiled floors and large, sumptuous bathrooms with huge curving bathtubs.
The hotel's stately, high-ceilinged public rooms have such flourishes as crystal chandeliers and ornate wood moldings.
The Bamberger Hof has the feel of a big city hotel which seemed to us slightly out of place in this historic small town.
There is no doubt, however, that you will be comfortable at the Bamberger-Hof.
To park in the hotel's garage is a pricey 25 DM ($15) per night.
• Bamberger Hof-Bellevue, Schönleinsplatz 4, phone 09 51/9 85 50, fax 09 51.98 55 62. Singles 135 DM to 185 DM ($79-$109), doubles 190 DM to 280 DM ($112-$165). Major cards.
Bamberger Hof-Bellevue: II
Hotel-Restaurant St. Nepomuk
The 35-room St. Nepomuk sits squarely in the middle of the Regnitz, a charming location inasmuch as most rooms have river views and an open window lets in the comforting sound of rushing water.
The hotel recently acquired the adjacent Gästehaus Steinmühle and now operates it as an annex. Our immaculate corner room, Number 216, was in the Steinmühle and offered a fine view down river to the old town. It was nicely furnished, rather small, and came with a standard issue, fully-tiled bathroom which had its own window; always a pleasant feature. At 220 DM ($130) it might be a shade overpriced. A third person in our party had a single of similar size and amenities which cost 140 DM ($83).
Parking in the hotel's ingeniously designed little garage was free.
• Hotel-Restaurant St. Nepomuk, Obere Mühlbrücke 9, D-8600 Bamberg, phone 09 51/2 51 83, fax 09 51/2 66 51. Singles 120 DM to 160 DM ($71-$94), doubles 170 DM to 240 DM ($100-$141). Major cards.
Hotel St. Nepomuk: III
Hotel Weinhaus Messerschmitt
Perhaps the most atmospheric of the Bamberg hotels we saw is the Romantik Weinhaus Messerschmitt. With its yellow, almost Rococo façade, and painted scrollwork around its windows and gray shutters, the Messerschmitt stands out from surrounding buildings.
Each of the 13 guest rooms is unique in size and decor. The most appealing double is Number 21 (185 DM/$110) which has a cozy, separate sitting area with small couch and upholstered chair. A comparable single, Number 31 (115 DM/$68), has a wonderful wood canopied bed with matching armoire.
The Messerschmitt, one of the Romantik hotels group, is so "old world" it has no elevator. It does, however, have a good restaurant which we cover later in this story.
• Romantik-Hotel Weinhaus Messerschmitt, Lange Str. 41, phone 09 51/2 78 66, fax 09 51/26 1 41. Singles 75 DM to 115 DM ($44-$68), doubles 185 to 215 DM ($109-$126). Major cards.
Romantik-Hotel Messerschmitt: II
It is said that buildings in the Baroque style can always be identified by their steep, layered roofs. If that is so, the Hotel Brudermühle is a classic. The lower layer of its roof is so steep as to be almost vertical. Projecting from it are several dormer windows. Another arresting exterior feature is the elaborate religious sculpture attached to the corner of the building beneath the eaves.
Inside, the 14-room Brudermühle is rustic and simple. One guest room stands out. Number one, a bright, twin-bedded corner room which rents for 150 DM ($88), is perched above a place where the river falls several feet creating roaring rapids, a favorite spot for kayakers. The room has three windows, one looks over the rapids and the other two provide a good close-up look at the Altes Rathaus.
There is no elevator.
• Hotel Brudermühle, Schranne 1, D-8600 Bamberg, phone 09 51/5 40 91, fax 09 51/5 12 11. Singles 105 DM ($62), doubles 150 DM ($88). Major cards.
Hotel Brudermühle: II
Hotel-Gasthof Wilde Rose
The 29-room Wilde Rose provides solid comfort and good value. Most of its rooms are of moderate size, have good furnishings and most of the usual amenities. Room Number one, for example, has a double bed with two comforters, writing desk with chair, a small table, upholstered chair and small bath with shower. There is also a radio, TV and minibar. At 130 DM ($77), it is one of the better values we found in Bamberg.
If you wish to dine on carp, one of Bamberg's traditional dishes, a good place to do it is in the Wilde Rose's rustic restaurant. Half a baked carp mit Kartoffelsalat und Salatteller goes for about 17 DM ($10).
• Hotel-Gasthof Wilde Rose, Kesslerstr. 7, D-8600 Bamberg, phone 09 51/2 83 17, fax 09 51/22071. Singles 65 DM 80 DM ($38-$47), doubles 130 DM to 140 DM ($76-$82). Major Cards.
Hotel-Gasthof Wilde Rose: II $
Here is a look at two Bamberg restaurants. Neither merits raves but at both you will eat well in attractive surroundings. The Messerschmitt is the better restaurant.
Dinner in the enclosed garden of the Romantik Hotel Weinhaus Messerschmitt turned out to be a wet but pleasant experience. The little patio is open to the sky and only a few tables are under cover. Since it rained during dinner it was fortunate ours was one of the few.
There is a small fountain in the patio. Walls are pale yellow with Russian-style pillars decorated in white and pale blue and bas-reliefs depicting bacchanalian delights. Each table had a pot of impatiens. Inside, the decor relies heavily on dark wood paneled ceiling and wainscoting.
We started with an excellent cold soup of cucumber puree topped with sprouts and served with sliced French bread and herb butter.
A venison stew—Rehgoulash—with mushrooms and a sliced dumpling was rich and very good.
Another venison entrée, medallions of Reh, had a heavy wild taste and needed the two stewed mini-apples (the size of cherry tomatoes) to balance the taste. The dish also came with spätzle and a compote of diced apples and currants to help cut the flavor. The medallions were tender and cooked medium rare, just a little too wild for our taste buds.
Desserts were run-of-the-mill: Erdbeerbecher—vanilla ice cream, strawberry ice cream, fresh strawberries, whipped cream; and the ubiquitous Coupe Danemark, which disappointed because of weak chocolate sauce.
• Romantik-Hotel Weinhaus Messerschmitt, Lange Strasse 41, phone 0951/2 78 66, fax 0951/26 1 41. Major cards. Moderate.
Weinhaus Messerschmitt: 1star
Its location in the middle of the Regnitz makes dining in the restaurant of the Hotel St. Nepomuk feel like being on a boat. The room has windows on three sides and offers a good view not only of the river but of the Altes Rathaus and a flower decked bridge, the Bischofsmühlbrücke.
Upstairs, is a banquet room whose noise drifts down to the dining room. When it is loud upstairs it can spoil the dining room's atmosphere.
The meal started with a little gift from the kitchen, an aspic of dill and small shrimp in a light sour cream-based sauce. Cold gurken soup a thin broth with chunks of cucumber was a bit too sharp for our taste.
A pair of entrées, veal medallions in a light mushroom cream sauce, served with a small mixed salad and excellent rösti, and an entrée of Pfifferlinge (sliced mushrooms), were served in what seemed to be the same sauce. It tasted fine but such things make one wonder what other shortcuts are being taken in the kitchen.
Without beverages or dessert, the dinner for two cost 72 DM ($42).
Hotel-Restaurant St. Nepomuk, Obere Mühlbrücke 9, D-8600 Bamberg, phone 09 51/2 51 83, fax 09 51/2 66 51. Major cards. Moderate.
St. Nepomuk: very good
Elevation: 792 feet
Approximate distances from:
* Munich 232 km 144 miles
* Berlin 405 km 251 miles
* Nürnberg 61 km 38 miles
* Frankfurt 212 km 131 miles
* Tourist Office
* Geyerwörthstraße 3
* Postfach 12 01 63 8600 Bamberg
* Hours Mon.-Fri. 9 am-7 pm
* Sat. 9 am-5 pm
* Phone: 0951/87 1161
* Fax: 0951/87 1160
Recommended publications in English at tourist office:
1. Bamberg a View Into History - A map with self-guided walking tours of the city's 25 major sights. Includes information on admission fees, addresses, phone numbers and hours of operation.
2. Zauberhaftes Bamberg - Color brochure of major Bamberg sights.
3. Romantisches Bamberg - Another color brochure. 1 DM. - The revised Michelin Green Guide for Germany (new in 1993) is also highly recommended for Bamberg sight-seeing.
* Bamberg Beer Seminars
* Amateur brewers can attend five-day seminars on brewing beer. The per person price (double occupancy) is 446 DM ($262) and includes hotel accommodations, breakfasts and certain other meals. The program is conducted in German. Seminars are scheduled for October and November. Contact the Bamberg Tourist Office (see above).