Germany’s rolling rivers: the dashing Danube

The Danube River
The Danube River

Germany’s rolling rivers: the dashing Danube

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

What do the words Donau, Dunaj, Duna, Dunav, Danubio and Tuna have in common? They are all proper nouns describing the same thing in different languages: the awe-inspiring Danube River, source of artistic inspiration and countless legends.

Russia’s Volga River may be longer, but it can’t compete in terms of number of countries touched. The Danube traverses 10 nations, the most of any of the world’s great rivers. It rises in Germany’s Black Forest and flows past Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine before emptying into the Black Sea, covering a distance of 1,770 miles in its wake. Ultra-keen cyclists can follow the EuroVelo 6 long-distance biking path from Tuttlingen, Germany all the way to the Danube Delta in Romania.

An important trade route in ancient times, a frontier of the Roman Empire for centuries and a boundary between nations today, the modern-day Danube remains a vital shipping route, an important source of drinking water and home to a great diversity of fish species.

The stretch of the Danube that flows through Germany is 384 miles long and passes through the country’s two southernmost states, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria. Two days would hardly be enough time to take advantage of the major sights along its course, let alone attempting this as a day trip, so keep this itinerary on the back burner until overnight stays for touristic purposes return to the agenda.

Donaueschingen: In this orderly Black Forest town, the Brigach and Breg rivers join forces; this is considered the Danube’s source. It’s also possible to visit the river’s symbolic place of birth. On the pretty grounds of the town’s stately Residenzschloss palace, the Donauquelle, a small blue pool surrounded by an iron fence and statuary, is signposted as the birthplace of the great river.

Tuttlingen: With its grid layout, getting lost in this town known as a center of medical technology shouldn’t be a concern. Things to see in Tuttlingen include the Pyramid Fountain, an art-nouveau Protestant Church and Railway Museum, featuring 26 vintage steam locomotives.

Sigmaringen: Even those less interested in castles will be impressed by the mighty Renaissance Hohenzollern Castle and its mountaintop location. The ancestral castle can be visited as part of a tour or during the numerous annual events it hosts, including an atmospheric Christmas market. Other sights of the town include the St. Johann Parish Church, Prince’s Garden and the Round Tower.

Ulm: The last city along the Danube as it flows through Baden-Württemberg is Ulm, whose underrated beauty should not to be missed. Ulm’s most famous landmark is its Minster, the highest church spire in the world. You’ll need stamina to get to the top— 768 steps lead up to its viewing platform. Another must-see is the Fisherman’s Quarter, a jumble of half-timbered houses and traditional restaurants.

Günzburg: This Bavarian town’s claim to fame is modern, not medieval: the 55 million bricks that build LEGOLAND Amusement Park.

Faimingen: This village is worth a quick detour to check out the remains of the Temple of Apollo Grannus, one of the most important Roman temples north of the Alps. Entry to what’s now an open-air museum is free.

Donauwörth: Once an Imperial Free Town, this city along the themed route known as the Romantic Road has seen more than its fair share of battles due to its strategic location. Stroll along the Reichsstraße, regarded as one of the most beautiful streets in southern Germany, and pay a visit to the baroque Monastery of the Holy Cross, home to a precious relic of the cross brought to the town around 1030.

Neuburg an der Donau: Medieval walls, town gates and the interplay of Renaissance and Baroque styles lend the Old Town visual appeal, but the town’s undisputed glory is found in the immense Neuburg Castle. Within its walls, the State Gallery for Flemish Baroque Art houses masterpieces from the brushes of Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. Every two years, the townspeople don splendid medieval garb to host the Neuburg Schlossfest, a Renaissance festival with Bavarian flair.

Ingolstadt: Home to around 130,000 inhabitants, this university town in the Jura foothills is a pleasing mélange of medieval and high-tech. Beer lovers can raise a glass to the city that birthed the Bavarian Purity Law, spelling out the only ingredients to be used in the brewing process. The world’s oldest food law came into force here on April 23, 1516. Ingolstadt’s main attractions include the New Castle, home to the Bavarian Army Museum, and the Asamkirche of Maria de Victoria, a baroque church famed for its trompe l’oeil ceiling painting. Museum lovers will gravitate toward the German Museum for the History of Medicine the Audi Forum Experience.

Kelheim: The Donaudurchbruch, or Danube Gorge, offers stunning natural beauty in the form of a three-mile slit through narrow limestone cliffs towering 200 feet above restless waters. This phenomenal sight is best observed from the deck of one of the shipping lines offering 45-minute excursions through the unique landscape. Other must-see sights include the monumental Hall of Liberation, commissioned by Ludwig I of Bavaria to commemorate the Wars of Liberation fought against Napoleon from 1813 to 1815 and a monument to German unity. Kelheim has a proud brewing tradition and is home to both the Weisses Brauhaus, Bavaria’s oldest wheat beer brewery, and Weltenburg Abbey, the world’s oldest monastery brewery.

Regensburg: A highlight of any Danube tour is a stop in this UNESCO-listed beauty. Considered one of the best-preserved medieval cities in all of Germany, the top sights of Regensburg include the Porta Praetoria, a Roman gate; Thurn and Taxis, one of Europe’s largest privately owned palaces; the Old Stone Bridge spanning the Danube and the awe-inspiring St. Peter’s Cathedral.

Donaustauf: While driving through the Bavarian countryside, the Walhalla makes for an unexpected sight. This sleek marble monument completed in 1842 was modelled after the Greek Parthenon and pays homage to the heroes of Bavarian mythology and other figures looming large in German history.

Deggendorf: As one of the gateways to the remarkable wilderness area of the Bavarian Forest, outdoor opportunities here abound, from golf to cross-country skiing. The streets surrounding the handsome main square trace the outlines of a moat that once encircled the town. In the nearby village of Niederalteich, the Gerhard Neumann Museum displays aircraft connected with the German-American aviation engineer who drove many innovations in the design of jet engines for General Electric.

Passau: Germany’s last city before the Austrian frontier sits at the conjunction of three rivers, the Danube, Inn and Ilz. Passau’s dazzling baroque beauty can be credited to Italian master artists and architects. Peek into St. Steven's Cathedral for a look at one of the world’s largest church organs, hike uphill to the Mariahilf pilgrimage monastery, or just enjoy a walk along the riverbank promenades. Need a place to stay for the night? The massive Veste Oberhaus fortress houses not only a museum, restaurant and observatory; there’s also a youth hostel offering budget-friendly accommodation to families.

From Passau, it’s a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Grafenwöhr and a three-hour trip to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The tour’s start point in Donaueschingen is close to those in Stuttgart, with a journey clocking in at around 1.5 hours of drive time.

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