Travel in Germany: Sipping smoked beer and soaking up culture in beautiful Bamberg

Like Rome, Bavaria's Bamberg is very much a seat of church power. Yet this jewel of a city has a character and soul all of its own, waiting for you to discover.

Travel in Germany: Sipping smoked beer and soaking up culture in beautiful Bamberg
Archive photo shows Bamberg's 'Altstadt'. Photo: DPA

Some call it the ‘Franconian Rome’ – ask some of the locals and they’ll insist instead that the Eternal City is, in fact, the ‘Italian Bamberg’. Like Rome, Bamberg is built on seven hills.

For around a thousand years, the city has been the home of a powerful Prince-Bishopric, and was once the very centre of the Holy Roman Empire under Henry II. Indeed it was the Emperor and his wife, Cunigunde, who had the first Bamberger Dom, or cathedral constructed in the 11th century atop the Domberg, the highest hill. 

Today’s cathedral, a rebuilt structure from the 13th century, is the city’s biggest tourist attraction. Inside the cathedral you can find the Bamberger Reiter, a 13th century statue depicting an unknown figure astride a horse.

This equestrian statue, the first north of the Alps since the classical period, has become the unofficial symbol of the city, consistently drawing a crowd of admirers. Elsewhere in the cathedral can be found the exquisite 15th century tomb of Henry and Cunigunde, carved by the master artist Tilman Riemenschneider. 

Outside the Dom you'll find the Alte Hofhaltung, the city’s former fortress and now the home of the Historical Museum, Residenz and Diocesan Museum, all accessible together with a combination ticket, or separately.

READ ALSO: Behold the beauty of Bavarian Bamberg

Bamberg by night. Photo: DPA

While the Historical Museum features a rotating series of exhibits about the city, the Diocesan Museum showcases a millennium of the cathedral’s treasures. Across the way, the Residence can be access with a guided tour that takes in the private quarters of the Prince Bishops and the incredibly extravagant Kaisersaal, or Imperial Reception Hall. 

World Heritage Site

Down the hill from the cathedral, almost the entirety of Bamberg’s Old Town constitutes a UNESCO World Heritage Site, protected for its incredibly well-preserved medieval and baroque architecture.

Covering the lower slope of the Domberg, the Inselstadt and part of the Gartenstadt, visitors walk between 15th, 16th and 17th century buildings, covered by intricate baroque statues depicting Jesus, Mary and various saints.

One of the highlights of Bamberg’s Old Town is the Alte Rathaus, on a bridge over the Pegnitz. According to popular legend, it was built there due to the fact that a 14th century Prince Bishop wouldn’t grant the land needed.

Today’s construction dates from the 15th century, and is covered with 18th century rococo frescoes by Johann Anwander. Look for the three-dimensional cherub’s leg protruding from the paintings of angels in order to find the artist’s signature.

Sip a 'Rauchbier'

For a real taste of Bamberg, you can’t go past the beer. In fact, Bamberg has more beer production per capita than almost anywhere else in the world. Surrounded by agricultural land, and on the confluence of the Main and the Pegnitz, the city is a natural home for breweries.

A woman with a beer in Bamberg. Photo: DPA

The city’s specialty is Rauchbier, created by using barley roasted over an open flame. This process imbues a smoky, tea-like flavour, not unlike Lapsang Souchong – and while at first sip it may taste odd, keep going.

For the best Rauchbier, head over to the Schlenkerla brewery and restaurant on Dominikanerstraße, that serves Franconian specialities alongside the local brew.

There’s a lot more to Bamberg, and I’m of the opinion that a weekend is not nearly long enough to discover all the place has to offer, but a few days sampling this historic city makes for a great starting point.

From the sacred atop the hill, to the earthy delights of smoked beer, there's something for everyone.


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Five of Germany’s most magical Christmas Markets to visit in 2021

Despite rising infection numbers, most of Germany’s Christmas markets will be open to fill our hearts with festive cheer this year. We give you a rundown of five of the country’s most magical Christmas markets.

Five of Germany's most magical Christmas Markets to visit in 2021
The entrance to the Stuttgart Christmas market in 2019. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Tom Weller

In 2020, many Christmas markets in Germany had to close or were scaled back massively because of the pandemic. This year – at least at the time or reporting – lots of markets are set to open in the coming weeks. 

Here are five we love at The Local Germany. If you have any suggestions for magical Christmas markets in Germany, please leave a comment below. 

Maritime Christmas Market on the Koberg, Lübeck

Lübeck, the so-called “Christmas city of the North”, will be welcoming the festive season this year by lighting up its old town with over 500,000 Christmas lights.

The northwest of the old town island is where you’ll find the maritime-themed Christmas market which has been going since 2011.

Centred around the gothic, middle-aged church of St. Jacob, this Christmas market celebrates the city’s historical sea-faring residents by creating a cosy harbour atmosphere with old wooden barrels, nets and a stranded shipwreck as well as a Ferris wheel with an unforgettable view of Lübeck’s old town and harbour.

Culinary stands offer visitors sweet and savoury dishes, and beverages such as hot lilac punch, mulled wine and, of course, rum.

Extra info: The current rules for events and hospitality in Schleswig Holstein is that 3G applies (entry for the vaccinated, people who’ve recovered from Covid or people who show a negative test)  but from Monday, November 15th, indoor areas will be enforcing the 2G rule (excluding the unvaccinated).

The Christkindlesmarkt in Augsburg Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

Christkindlesmarkt, Augsburg

With its origins in the 15th century, the Christkindlesmarkt in Augsburg is one of the oldest in Germany, and the Renaissance town hall provides a particularly beautiful backdrop to this winter wonderland.

As well as a wide variety of stands selling handcrafted nick-nacks and tasty treats, the Augsburg market also has some especially magical features, including the “Heavenly Post Office,” and “Fairytale Lane”: an animated fairytale depicted in ten scenes in decorated shop windows around the market place.

Extra info: In order to keep dense crowds to a minimum, the Angel performance will not take place this year. The market will also be spread out over more locations in the historic centre and there will be fewer mulled wine stands than in previous years. The stalls will be distributed over the Hauptmarkt, Lorenzer Platz, Schütt Island and Jakobsplatz.

Meanwhile, masks will have to be worn due to the high Covid numbers in Bavaria – and there will be 2G rules around the mulled wine stands, meaning unvaccinated people will not be served alcohol.

READ ALSO: State by state – Germany’s Covid rules for Christmas markets

Medieval Market and Christmas Market, Esslingen

The Medieval Market and Christmas Market in Esslingen, with its backdrop of medieval half-timbered houses, offers visitors a trip back in time, with traders and artisans showing off their goods from times gone by.

The stands show off the wares of pewterers, stonemasons, blacksmiths, broom makers and glass blowers, as well as some old-fashioned merchants selling fun themed goods like drinking horns and “potions” in bottles.

Extra info: This year the number of stands will be reduced from more than 200 to around 120 and the stage shows, torch parade and interactive activities will not be taking place.

View from above the historic Streizelmarkt in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael

Streizelmarkt, Dresden

No Christmas Market list would be complete without the Streizelmarkt – Germany’s oldest Christmas market in the “Florence on the Elbe”.

This market, which you will find in Dresden’s city centre, first took place in 1434, and since then it has acquired quite a reputation.

The ancient market is home to the tallest Christmas pyramid in the world, as well as the world’s largest nutcracker.

Amongst the dozens of traditional stands, visitors to this market must also try the Dresdner Christstollen: the famous fruit loaf that is baked according to a traditional recipe with chopped dried and candied fruits, nuts and spices and dusted with powdered sugar.

Visitors can also take a ride on the historic Ferris wheel and gaze down upon the lovingly decorated huts of the Striezelmarkt.

Extra info: This year there will be no stage program and the mountain parade has been cancelled.

Old Rixdorf Christmas Market, Berlin

Although not as well-known as some of Berlin’s other Christmas Markets, the Old Rixdorf Christmas market is a romantic and magical spot which is well worth a visit. In the south of city in Richardplatz, Neukölln the old village of Rixdorf was founded in1360.

This charming setting is home to historic buildings such as the Trinkhalle and the Alte Dorfschmiede, and is illuminated every year with kerosene lamps and fairy lights. The stalls and booths are run by charitable organizations and associations. There are homemade trifles and handicrafts, but also culinary delights such as fire meat, waffles, pea soup, and numerous varieties of mulled wine and punch.

Extra info: The Old Rixdorf Christmas Market will be following the 2G model, meaning that all visitors over the age of 12 will be required to be fully vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19.