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Visiting the Beer Town of Bamberg, Germany

Bamberg, Germany isn’t on many people’s travel itineraries. I discovered the city several years ago after hiring a summer intern in the United States who was from Bamberg. She told me about this city that had largely escaped damage during World War II and was now preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Advocating for her city, she told me about the great things to do in Bamberg and I knew I just had to visit!

The city is located in the north of Upper Franconia (part of the German state of Bavaria) and is far from any major population center. The city is 2 1/2 hours from Munich and just over 2 hours from Frankfurt. But this remoteness probably saved it from some of the devastation during the war.

Lovelocks on a bridge
Lovelocks on the bridge

When I arrived in Bamberg by train, I was greeted by block after block of nondescript, post-war, concrete office buildings. The first thought in my head as I walked along Luitpoldstrasse was – “how in the world can this possibly be a UNESCO World Heritage Site?”

The "Little Venice" neighborhood in Bamberg, Germany
The “Little Venice” neighborhood

But once I crossed the big steel modern bridge, everything about Bamberg changed. The large concrete buildings were left behind and replaced by pre-war and medieval half-timbered buildings…many showing their years by leaning or sagging. The modern concrete sidewalks in the new section of town turned into broad cobblestone pedestrian zones. Bamberg is straight out of a fairy tale.

Statue of a face by the Alte Rathaus bridge

The Top Things to Do in Bamberg, Germany

Self-Guided Walking Tour

May of the hotels in town provide free World Heritage Bamberg walking maps. This map lays out the old center of Bamberg building by building and provides detailed information for the first time visitor. Bamberg is such a compact town that I just loved going out wandering, getting lost and then using the map to find my way back to center.

The frescoes on the Alte Rathaus in Bamberg, Germany

Bamberg Alte Rathaus

As the streets narrow in Bamberg, you’ll encounter a tiny little island in the river at the very center of town, which housed the old town hall – or Alte Rathaus. I skipped the little Ludwig Collection Museum currently housed inside the Alte Rathaus, instead focusing my time on the frescoes decorating the exterior of the building.

The Queen Kunigunda Statue on the Alte Rathaus bridge in Bamberg
The Queen Kunigunda Statue

Little Venice and Queen Kunigunda Statue

Just off the end of the Alte Rathaus is the Untere Brucke (brucke is bridge in German). This bridge is the center of life in Bamberg. No matter what time of year, the bridge is packed with Bambergers meeting up at the statue of Queen-Kunigunda. From here, the view of “Little Venice” (the half-timbered buildings along the waterfront) is particularly impressive.

Exterior of The Bamberg Cathedral

The Bamberg Cathedral

The Kaiserdom, or just The Dom (Imperial Cathedral), atop the hill boasts to be the only Cathedral north of the Alps to be the final resting place for a Pope. In this case, Pope Clemens II is interned in marble up on the choir alcove. You can see it from afar, but not well. However, there’s a good picture in the little publication available at the entrance for Euro 1. If you like cathedrals (or even if you don’t), Bamberg’s Cathedral is a sight to behold!

Fascinating trivia item: the gate from the cathedral was removed and is now in the Powerscourt Gardens in Ireland.

Glasses on a table of the world famous smoked beer or Rauchbier in Bamberg
The world famous Rauchbier (or smoked beer)

Sampling Rauchbier

No trip here is complete without sampling the local beer. While every town in Germany lays claim to their local brew being the best, the been here is particularly unique. Beer aficionados travel from all over the world to this little town for a Bamberg beer tour and to sample the Rauchbier – or smoke beer. Sampling Rauchbier is something unique to this little corner of Franconia and is not to be missed.

The town has been brewing it since 1405 (some 50 years older than the brewery at Andechs Monastery). Bamberg Rauchbier has a very strong taste. The first few sips is like eating bacon and drinking beer at the same time. However, after the first few sips, the flavor mellows in your mouth. People either seem to love Rauchbier or hate it, but I liked it. There’s no better place to try Rauchbier than Schlenkerla on Dominikaner Strasse.

The sign for the Schlenkerla bar, home of the Rauchbier
The sign for the Schlenkerla bar
Ceiling painting inside the Bamberg Cathedral
Inside the Bamberg cathedral
A carved wooden altar inside the Bamberg Cathedral

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