Living in an empty home for the past 3 weeks has made us desperate for getting out—simply anywhere, we haven’t been terribly choosy. This past week, we drove out to Passau for the afternoon. We had briefly entertained visiting Passau last summer when we were in the beginning planning stages of a Danube River bike ride from Passau (a common starting point for bikers) to Vienna. Since we never got past the internet research stage, Passau disappeared along with the vacation plans. That is, until the monumental floods that Germany experienced this past spring featured Passau prominently as it became completely submerged and traffic was diverted away from the town as crews worked to repair bridges and roadways.
Located on the banks of the Danube River, this jewel of a town is one of the stopping points for the riverboats that ferry passengers up and down Germany’s famous river. The town is actually at the meeting point of three rivers: the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers, which probably makes this a prime place for flooding. As we walked the streets, we noticed high water marks from past floods. For residents, the flood of 1954 was the last major one recorded; this past spring, the waters managed to climb above that water mark making it the most severe flood since 1501, more than 500 years ago. Repairs are still being made and most of the city’s parking garages were still boarded up. Ground floor apartments and shops had powerful floor fans working to dry the walls and many crews were sawing, hammering and painting damaged walls.
The big draw of Passau, besides the awesome shopping found on the main market street, is St Stephen’s Cathedral and its massive organ, which is the largest church pipe organ outside the US. It used to be the largest in the world, but knowing excess in America, the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles happens to beat the 17,774 pipes ad 233 registers found here. And, wouldn’t you know it? There was a 30 minute organ concert scheduled for noon at the church. We paid 4 euro for a grand tour of the cathedral and then sat mesmerized as we listened to the organ. The concert started out with Bach (the master of organ music) and featured other selections from different musical periods. It concluded with one of the loudest sounds I’ve ever heard from an organ. So loud, that I could feel the vibrations in the marble floor tiles of the church. Now, that’s a concert that gets deep into your bones.
We concluded our mini tour of Passau by walking slowly along the Danube River and looking across to Austria. Tim and I love to imagine what life was like for residents 400 years ago. There is something very alluring about living on a river and watching boats carry people and goods to far away places.