Weekend Wanderlust: Following Frankenstein’s footsteps in Ingolstadt

From Gothic architecture to Frankenstein and the Illuminati: we spent a warm summer's day in this picturesque Bavarian city on the banks of the Danube.

Weekend Wanderlust: Following Frankenstein’s footsteps in Ingolstadt
Ingolstadt's 15th Century Neues Schloss. Photo: depositphotos/kwelldodo

Last summer I travelled by train from Salzburg in Austria through Germany back home to Wales, hoping to practise my German whilst soaking in some German culture, sun and food. Keen to squeeze in a slightly smaller city, I arrived in Ingolstadt – an hour ride from Munich – on a hot summer’s day with my huge backpack weighing me down.

I jumped on the bus from the train station into the city centre and sat down at the first cafe I found. I was already struck by the beautiful Bavarian town surrounding me. Long gone was the hustle and bustle of the city and instead historic buildings dotted quaint, cobbled streets.

Ingolstadt had made it onto the itinerary for my trip mainly because of my love for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; about a third of the novel takes place in the city. The story’s tale of transgression, science and humanity had captured my imagination and I felt like I was stepping into the darkness of the novel as I took in the gothic architecture of the Liebfrauenmünster (Ingolstadt's largest church) in the centre of the old town.

The red roofs of Ingolstadt and the Liebfrauenmünster from above. Photo: depositphotos/kaschwei

Finding Frankenstein in the Old City Centre

Near the church I found the Kreuztor, a gothic red brick city gate dating back to 1385. But as I continued to wander around the Altstadt it didn’t strike me as the perfect setting for Shelley’s tale; the colourful baroque houses seemed more suited to a fairytale than to the well known gothic novel, where a young scientist animates human remains to create a creature set on destroying its maker.

I recognised the tall tower of the Moritzkirche as the ‘high white steeple’ which Victor Frankenstein remarks on when he arrives in the city for the first time and saw the Alte Anatomie of Ingolstadt University. Here, students like Victor Frankenstein carried out their medical experiments (they used dead pigs rather than the human corpses which Frankenstein prefers in the novel).

The building is now the German Medical History museum and there is no lack of gory exhibits and intimidating medical instruments.

The spires of Ingolstadt, as mentioned by Victor in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Photo: depositphotos/anfredxy2

Discovering the Danube

I wandered along the banks of the Danube, crossing over the river to see the city’s two fortresses. One, the Turm Triva, hosts the Bavarian Police Museum and the other, the Reduit Tilly, part of the Bavarian Army Museum focusing on the history of World War One and post-World War One Germany; both were built for King Ludwig I of Bavaria in the mid 17th Century.

It was however the Neues Schloss back on the Altstadt side of the river which particularly struck me. The white 15th Century castle was built for Duke Ludwig the Bearded in 1418 with three metre thick walls, Gothic net vaulting and individually carved doorways. Interestingly, the future French President Charles de Gaulle was held in the castle as a prisoner of war during the First World War.

It seemed like something straight out of a fairy-tale and not only could I imagine Rapunzel’s golden locks flowing down the side of the tower, but I could also see Victor Frankenstein in its shadow. Here was where my fairy-tale image of the city and Shelley’s Ingolstadt converged. Simultaneously I saw both the perfect Bavarian town and the potential dark the city’s Gothic architecture

Of course, Frankenstein never actually existed. but he and his creature were ever-present in my mind during my visit to the city. In fact, my preoccupation almost barred me from learning about the intrigue of the true history of Ingolstadt. Shelley’s choice of Ingolstadt as a setting was perhaps more to do with its association with the Illuminati than with a good university medical school.

A view of the Neues Schloss from the Danube river. Photo: depositphotos/manfredxy

The birth of the Illuminati

Yes, it sounds far fetched, but Ingolstadt is in fact the birthplace of the Illuminati. In 1776 Adam Weishaupt, a professor of law at the University of Ingolstadt, founded the Order of the Illuminati in the city. It was a secret organisation formed to oppose religious influence on society and the abuse of power by the state.

SEE ALSO: How the Illuminati society really did start in Germany

The Bavarian Illuminati was officially disbanded just 10 years after it had been set up, but it is still considered to have been an important Enlightenment force and many believe not only that they continued to exist, but that they were the intellectual fathers of the French Revolution. Scholars have seen the connection between Ingolstadt and the Illuminati as what which led Mary Shelley to set her novel about the limits of humanity in the city.  

After learning this, I walked around the streets of Ingolstadt with even more intrigue. I stood looking at the pale blue building on Theresienstrasse, Weishaupt’s former home, wondering if the plaque marking it as a late 18th Century Illuminati meeting place was actually signalling that Ingolstadt's picture-postcard Bavarian streets were hiding bigger secrets than the tale of Victor Frankenstein. Maybe if you visit the city, you’ll find out.

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Travel: Six reasons why the Spreewald near Berlin is worth visiting

Situated only a 45 Minute train ride from Berlin, this lush UNESCO Biosphere reserve and cultural gem transports visitors to another world.

Travel: Six reasons why the Spreewald near Berlin is worth visiting
Tourists canoeing through the scenic Spreewald. Photo: DPA

Around Germany, the colloquial verb herumgurken (pickle around) has the meaning of traveling around and around when lost.

While I was equipped with a map, the word still seemed the most fitting way to sum up my time in the Spreewald, known not only for its vast pickle production, but also stunning nature and culture to discover by bike, foot or – especially – canoe.

READ ALSO: Travel in Germany: 10 must-see places within reach of Berlin

Here are six reasons it’s worth a visit, whether as a Tagesausflug (day-trip) from Berlin or a week-long adventure.

1. Pickle paradise 

The pickle harvest in Kasel-Golzig in the Spreewald on July 17th. Photo: DPA

Known for some 50 percent of the production across Germany, Spreewalders take pride in their pickles. In the three days I was there, it felt like I sampled every sort of gourmet Gurken delicacy there is, from creamy Gurkensuppe (served both chilled and warm in the summer), Gurkenaustrich (spread) and a surprisingly good Gurken and raspberry Radler

Tucked into the forest, the town of Burg even offers Gurkeneis if you fancy the summer sweet with a green tint. 

2. The Sorbian language 

People going for a Gondola ride in Lehde. Photo: DPA

You might mistake the text under German signs around the area for Polish or Czech. Yet it’s actually Sorbian, an official minority language of Germany spoken by over 60,000 people. 

Many of them live in the Spreewald, and the little village of Lehne – a two kilometre walk or cycle from the old town in Lübbenau  – pays tribute to their way of life and language, including an open-air museum that gives a glimpse of how the Wends (as they are known locally) lived in the 19th century. 

3. Bunte Biodiversity 

Otters are often spotted swimming in the Spreewald. Photo: DPA

With its more than 5,000 species of animals, Spreewald is so rich in biodiversity that the 475 square metre area was given the title of an UNESCO Biosphere reserve in 1991.

One particularly striking species are the white storks, which are often spotted perched atop large nests they’ve created on large protected pillars. The species is critically endangered elsewhere in Germany. 

The Spreewald can also at times feel like the tropics with colourful animals and amphibians like the fire-bellied toad and over 900 species of Schmetterlinge (butterflies).

4. Rural charm

It felt like we were much further from Berlin as we hiked past Hütte (cottages) with thatched roofs and cozy country stores with local products that closed at 2 pm each day. From Lübben, we hiked along a 14-kilometre riverside trail to Schlepzig, known for both its Bauermuseum (farm museum) and Brauerei with locally brewed beer.

5. Water Wanderung

A true streaming service: a postal woman delivers mail by water at the start of the Post's canoe delivery season on May 14th. Photo: DPA

With 1,500 kilometers of waterways, one of the best ways to explore the Spreewald is by water. The area is so-well connected by water that even mailmen and women from the Deutsche Post pragmatically paddle from home to home to deliver post.

We had a sporty Sunday, leaving Lübben at 9:30 am and paddling 14 kilometres to Lübbenau, just in time to a devour a hearty lunch of potatoes and Quark cheese with linseed oil, a Spreewald specialty, at a beer garden affixed to the side of the river. We then headed back for another adventure, as small waves formed amid the windy afternoon weather. 

Families of swans, cranes and ducks joined the journey at times, unfazed by their human companions. 

If you're looking for a more leisurely journey, all sorts of canoes, kayaks and other boats can be rented by the hour, or you can sit back in a Venice-style Gondola as a host in tradition garb guides you through the landscapes.

6. Official bike trail

Bike riders in the Spreewald town of Leipe. Photo: DPA

Distinctly marked by yellow signs of a cycling pickle, the Gurkenradweg forms 260 kilometres of scenic trails that lead through the forest, starting in Lübben and leading to Cottbus, the heart of Brandenburg’s Sorbian-speaking community. Bridges break up the journey (and sometimes, this being Germany, construction projects as well.)

If you’re timid about trekking longer distances, most bike rental shops also offer daily e-bike rentals for around €25 a day. Just be advised, especially in the summer months, to reserve bikes at least a week in advance.