The Fischer/Holliday team revisit Würzburg, a town too often bypassed by Americans. Between draughts of Franconian wine they find some reasonably priced hotels and restaurants.
The history of large European cities is a litany of trial and tribulation. First came the Romans and early Christian missionaries, then the barbarians, the turmoil of the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation. Then came the Industrial Revolution, quickly followed by a couple of world wars and now the social and technological upheavals of the last fifty years.
During those tumultuous thirteen or fourteen hundred years an endless number of tiny settlements sprang up across Europe, many of which have long since disappeared. Even among the survivors, relatively few have played an important historical or political role.
Some achieved greatness: places like London and Paris, Prague and Vienna, Salzburg, Brussels, Berlin.
And Würzburg, Germany.
From the city's 8th-century beginnings all the crucial elements for success were in place: a convenient hill for a fortress, good climate, fertile soil, a navigable river and a strategic location on an important north/south trade route.
Today Würzburg is a beautiful and thriving city built on both sides of the Main River, picturesquely spanned by a 500 year-old bridge - the Mainbrücke - adorned with twelve life-sized statues of locally important saints.
On the far side, the imposing 13th-century Fortress Marienberg looks over steep, vine-covered slopes and the many spires and steeples of the city.
But the pride of Würzburg is undoubtedly the Residenz, a World Heritage Site, built during the heyday of the Prince Bishops in the early 18th-century and a splendid display of opulence and technological achievement. Even for the traveler who can't stand another castle or church, this is a must-see.
Unfortunately, Würzburg is often bypassed by Americans dutifully following the standard Frankfurt-Heidelberg-Rothenburg-Munich run. Germans comprise 80% of the city's visitors.
In order to do our bit to rectify this dreadful state of affairs we returned last month after an absence of several years and found everything we loved about the city is unchanged.
With over 4,000 beds in 45 or so hotels, pensions and gasthofs available, accommodations are rarely a problem even during busy periods.
Maritim Hotel Würzburg
Located just off the ring road, close to the train station and adjacent to the Congress Centrum, the Maritim understandably focuses its attention on the business sector. Though all the necessary features from meeting rooms to banquet facilities are present, they're of little benefit to the average tourist.
Our moderately-sized room had a decent view of the river and the usual amenities - color TV, radio, mini-bar and phone. The furnishings were typical but not unpleasant with a full length mirror, a small table and two upholstered chairs. We were surprised, however, that in a relatively new hotel there were few electrical outlets and, even worse, the room was poorly lit. Two bedside lamps had ultra low-watt bulbs and were totally inadequate for bedtime reading.
The bathroom was considerably brighter with both a tub and a shower in addition to a hairdryer, terry cloth bathrobes and, something of a rarity, washcloths.
The cost of the room was 388 DM ($241) with an extensive breakfast buffet that was a bit hectic but among the better ones we've ever ravaged.
This large hotel with 293 rooms also has an indoor swimming pool, sauna, sun room, three restaurants and a bar.
• Maritim Hotel Würzburg, Pleichertorstrasse 5, 8700 Würzburg, telephone 09 31-3 05 30, fax 09 31-1 86 82. Singles 219 DM to 339 DM ($136-$210), doubles 280 DM to 388 DM ($174-241). Major cards.
* Maritim Hotel Würzburg: II
Another well-known hostelry, the efficiently run Hotel Rebstock has a stunning yellow and white rococo façade, a history of hospitality that goes back to 1408 and a pleasant situation in the university district between the river and the Residenz. Just inside the front doors are a charming circular bar and lounge area with an enormous skylight and floor-to-ceiling French windows.
The hotel had a major overhaul in 1986 so the guest rooms are attractively decorated and furnished; fresh and up-to-date with double-pane windows to block out sounds from the busy street below.
• Hotel Rebstock (Best Western), Neubaustrasse 7, 8700 Würzburg, telephone 09 31-3 09 30, fax (09 31) 3 09 3100. Singles 167 DM to 234 DM ($104-$145), doubles 270 DM to 319 DM ($168-$198). During May, June, September and October there is a 20 DM ($12.50) increase per room. Major cards.
* Hotel Restock: II
Smaller, quieter and cheaper, with an unbeatable view of the Fortress Marienberg just across the river, is the Walfisch Hotel. A lot has been done to modernize the mechanics of the place since our last stay here six years ago but the big bowl of fresh fruit is still on the reception desk and the staff is as friendly as ever.
Most of the double rooms overlook the fortress; none are particularly large but all have the basic elements of comfort: TV, phone, minibar, etc. Our favorite is the round-window room on the top floor for 200 DM ($124); it's not very big and the twin beds are perpendicular to each other but the photographic opportunities are outstanding!
The excellent restaurant has a complete menu with main dishes in the 22.50-34.00 DM ($14-22) range.
One nice touch: just by the elevator is a special display of children's books about whales, making a happy connection with the hotel name which translates to what else but... 'whale'.
• Walfisch Hotel, Am Pleidenturm 5, D-8700 Würzburg, telephone 09 31-5 00 55, fax 09 31-5 16 90. Singles 150 DM to 180 DM ($93-$112), doubles 200 DM to 280 DM ($124-$174). Major cards.
* Walfisch Hotel: III $
Gasthof Zur Stadt Mainz
Our first choice in Würzburg. We've seldom had a more gracious reception. Fifteen rooms on three floors over a restaurant on a busy thoroughfare. Very simple, very plain but absolutely loaded with genuine hospitality and charm.
The gasthof, which has been making travelers happy since 1430, attracts passersby with its pretty rococo façade.
The rooms were all redone three years ago with white walls, flowered drapes, deep blue carpets, knotty pine furniture and good lighting. Each room has a crisp, clean bathroom with toilet and shower. The hallways and stairway landings aren't bad either with lots of plants, dried flower arrangements and a collection of antique cast-iron stoves. However, the hotel does not have an elevator.
The Stadt Mainz is known for Franconian specialities: wedding soup, hot onion pie, oxtail stew; all in generous proportions and at reasonable prices.
The typical German stube always has plenty of atmosphere but not many can compare to this one for coziness and easy informality. Every inch of wall space is covered with antlers, paintings and photographs. Shelves and window ledges hold pottery and plants and copper pots. Sunlight pours in through leaded windows. Benches and long wooden tables line the walls, each with a pot of fresh flowers.
An indication of the management's thoughtfulness: the menus are translated into many languages - including Braille and Russian. Even better, while we were there a Japanese cook was called out of the kitchen to help two of his fellow countrymen order their meals. The Schwarzmann family are travelers themselves and know what it's like to be a stranger in a foreign land.
The Zur Stadt Mainz is also in a good location, on a pleasant street not far from the train station and only a short walk from the Juliusspital and the Burgspital.
• Gasthof Zur Stadt Mainz, Semmelstrasse 39, 8700 Würzburg, telephone 09 31-5 31 55, fax 09 31-5 85 10. Singles 130 DM ($81), doubles 180 DM to 190 DM ($112-118). Major cards except Diners Club.
* Gasthof Zur Stadt Mainz: III G $
Eating Well in Würzburg
Good eating places abound in Würzburg. The first one that local people always mention as their favorite is...
This 500 year-old Würzburg institution combines all the elements of a beer hall, wine stube and restaurant into a rustic, eclectic scene. It's hectic, it's casual and it's fun.
A beer costs between 3 DM and 4.50 DM ($1.86-$2.81) and bowls of soup average 6 DM ($3.72). Bratwurst and sauerkraut are tempting at 8.90 DM ($5.53) but on this our third visit we decided to expand our horizons. Pork loin chops in an excellent sauce of fresh mushrooms and cream with fried potatoes and salad cost 21.50 DM ($13.41). The marinated lamb chops were more expensive at 33.50 DM ($20.80) but served rare, as ordered, and smartly arranged on a bed of ratatouille, garnished with sprigs of fresh rosemary.
The exterior of Backöfele is unassuming and could easily be mistaken for some kind of storage facility, located as it is on a narrow, side street. In fact, at first glance you'd hardly suspect the faded green wooden door leads to a restaurant. Persevere.
• Gaststätte Backöfele, Ursulinergasse 2, 8700 Würzburg, telephone 09 31-5 90 59. Moderate. No credit cards. Reservations essential.
* Gaststätte Backöfele: 1 star
Weinhaus zum Stachel
On another evening we went to the Weinhaus zum Stachel, now celebrating its 580th birthday, and opted for a table in the courtyard. A beautiful place. Small, with only enough space for 40 or so people, this classic little garden is special. Wide steps wind up to the ornate balcony, huge pots of lilies, daisies, hydrangeas and roses sit firmly on the newel posts. There's a slender birch tree, huge ferns, stone arches, vines growing up the wall, red geraniums, potted trees.
Sadly, the rather ordinary food didn't live up to the romantic setting. Perhaps we should have ordered one of the five kinds of fresh fish available; even so this is not a place to miss. Come early on a warm evening, choose an inexpensive item off the menu and relax in the 5-star atmosphere over a glass of Franconian wine. Reservations recommended.
If the garden is full or the weather inclement, another eighty people can be served in the charming rooms within.
• Weinhaus zum Stachel, Gressengasse 1, 8700 Würzburg, telephone 09 31-5 27 70.
* Weinhaus zum Stachel: fair
Final Würzburg Notes
Not only is Würzburg an important tourist mecca, it is a busy, working, commercial city and not an easy place to drive in during the week. Streets closed to auto traffic and one-way streets compound the problem. Fortunately, the central area is compactly arranged and immensely walkable.
For train travelers, Würzburg makes an excellent base of operations. The Hauptbahnhof is within walking distance of hotels and 300 trains depart daily to every corner of Germany.
Try to visit Würzburg on the weekend when businesses are closed and activity slows down to an easier pace and the market square comes to life.
Altitude: 597 feet
Approximate distances from:
* Frankfurt 110 km 69 miles
* Hamburg 540 km 338 miles
* Cologne 300 km 188 miles
* Nürnberg 110 km 69 miles
* Rothenburg 60 km 38 miles
* Munich 280 km 175 miles
* Stuttgart 150 km 94 miles
• Tourist Info Pavilion at train station
* Monday-Saturday 8:00 am-8:00 pm
* Telephone: 09 31- 37436
• Tourist Information Office
* Haus zum Falken Falcon House
* Upper Market Square
* Monday-Friday 9:00 am-6:00 pm
* Saturday 9:00 am-2:00 pm
* Telephone: (09 31) 37398
Recommended tourist office publications in English:
1. Würzburg City Map. Free.
2. Würzburg Information for Tourists. Free.
3. Würzburg Tourist Guide. Color photos, detailed information on local sights. 96 pages. Approximately 7 DM ($4.34).
4. Guided strolls in English depart Tues.-Sat. (except holidays) at 11:00 am from Haus zum Falken. Mid-April to the end of October. Two hours, 10 DM ($3.80), includes entrance to Residenz.
Annual Events - 1993 Dates
* 62nd Mozart Festival June 5-26
* Wine Festival at Bürgerspital June 21-25
* Wine Festival at Residenz June 29-July 2
* Killiani-Volkfest July 3-19
* 35th Würzburg Wine Festival Sept. 17-27
* Würzburg Jazz Festival Nov. 5-7
* Bach Concert Days Nov. 20-28
* Christmas Market Nov. 26-Dec. 23