It was an enchanting Christmastime visit a few years ago when I first discovered Passau with my daughter. It was December 23, the last day of the Christmas markets in Germany. We arrived in time to enjoy a gluhwein on the Domplatz before the kiosks closed their shutters for the last time that year. After a typical grey, gloomy December day, the early Winter darkness arrived allowing the Christmas lights and streetlamps to create a glowing, mystical ambience against the pastel colors of the buildings. We strolled the quiet, shadowy lanes, taking a left here, a right there, having no agenda except to get lost in the maze of streets. Hardly a soul was around. Someone walking their dog. A cafe owner closing up shop and scuffling home with a leftover loaf of bread under his arm, a silhouette fading into the distance, then turning down an unseen alley. We had the Altstadt to ourselves and it was the most hauntingly beautiful city walk in all my travels. It culminated in good fortune as we found one restaurant still open for dinner, the Altstadt Beisl. I don’t remember if there were other guests. It certainly feels in my mind like we were alone. I will ask my daughter later. She remembers details like that.
That city walk left Passau as a series of mysterious images which swirled in my mind like architectural angles, impressions, and fading colors as I arrived back in Passau earlier this summer during my holiday week in the Bayerischer Wald. Of all the activities that had been planned for that week, revisiting Passau was the one that I was most excited about. Passau is not part of the Bavarian Forest, but it was close enough to tempt. This was an opportunity to view the Baroque charms and pastel colors of the city under the summer sun and to see Passau full of life. At the same time, I would finally get a chance to explore the city’s beer culture. This time with two beer-loving buddies with me.
The walk started out in the city’s shopping district which already gave a completely new impression of the city. Heading towards the south side of the city and the Inn River, we passed the first two beer landmarks.
Wirtshaus Bayerischer Löwe
Founded in 1874. There are many independent breweries in Bavaria using the Löwenbrau moniker.
Passau sits at the confluence of three rivers and the Inn River provides the best promenade. The view of the Altstadt and the Marienbrücke from the river is probably not much different than what arriving boats would have seen 300 years ago.
The heart of the Altstadt is Domplatz in front of St. Stephen’s Dom, and one of the joys of visiting Passau is getting to it. Depending on which way you approach it, you may find yourself looking up a stairwell wondering if this is the way or following some narrow passages. Eventually you will arrive on it.
Domplatz is one of the more unusual squares I have seen in Europe. In December, it is bustling with the Christmas market. Otherwise it is a wide open space surrounded by classy but nondescript buildings and dominated by the glorious cathedral. Not a single cafe or attraction of any kind except for St. Stephens. In the center of the square is a statue of Maximilian Joseph I, who seems doomed to forever stand guard over the subdued atmosphere, always waiting for the next event. By contrast, the Residenzplatz on the backside of the cathedral is vibrant, colorful, and more alive.
On the Residenzplatz, I was re-united with the Altstadt Beisl, today bustling with guests.
Löwenbrauerei Passau Brauhaus
A short walk later, we were ready for our first beer at the Löwenbrauerei Passau Brauhaus. Located along the IIz Riverfront with a great view of the Veste Oberhaus, a former fortress of the local Bishop. The Stockbauer Weisse, named after the brewery’s founder, had all of the delicious banana characteristics that I look for in a hefeweizen.
After the first beer, the walk then crossed over the Ilz River where it became a hike up the Ludwigssteig and into a forest with some farmland on St. Georgsberg on our way to the next brewery. Along the way up, there are some amazing views overlooking Passau.
Andorfer specializes in hefeweizen beers. All of their hefeweizen beers are contract brewed at Löwenbrauerei Passau using their own unique recipes. The biergarten was not opening until 17h00, but it is clear that it would be cool place to have a beer.
The walk continues now back down towards the river thru a park until reaching the final brewery of the visit.
The Hacklberg brewery has been operating in this location since 1675. Hacklberg brews their own line of beers as well as the Innstadt brand. Since 2014, the rival Innstadt brewery which was on the opposite side of the Inn River, has been incorporated into Hacklberg.
When I visited Passau several years ago, it was such a fleeting experience, a one-night stopover between Nuremberg and Cesky Krumlov. One of the beautiful things about traveling is that there are certain places we visit that haunt us long after we have been there. These are the places that we imagine on a certain level as being a home away from home, and we leave behind a very small piece of ourselves that lives on there while the rest of you goes on living somewhere else. There is data on these places missing from our internal libraries, and we feel like that information should be there…needs to be there. What haunts you is that these places remain unfulfilled, like there are memories and experiences which float around the city like ghosts waiting to upload into the soul they belong to. Passau is one of those places. Even with this second visit, a few hours in the afternoon was not enough to alleviate this kind of homesickness. Putting it in terms of wanting to go back is not really capturing the essence of what I mean. It is something more aching than that. I know I will be drawn back and that small piece of me which is living on somewhere in the Passau Altstadt will find its way permanently back into my being. That day when I really feel like I experienced Passau and can conjure up its sights, sounds, and tastes wherever I am in the world. Just like we do when we think about home.