History has twice been kind to beautiful BAMBERG, for centuries until secularization in 1802, capital of an independent Catholic prince-bishopric within the Holy Roman Empire. Occupied twice by the Swedes during the Thirty Years’ War, it was spared the wholesale destruction visited on so many German cities by that conflict. By some miracle, it came through World War II with barely a scratch too. It thus preserves a wonderfully complete historic townscape, notable not just for its highlights – the four-spired Dom, the Baroque Residenz or the picturesque old Rathaus on an island in the river – but also for its quaint corners and quiet, narrow lanes, worth exploring for their lost-in-time charm and traditional brewery-owned Gaststätten. No wonder UNESCO put Bamberg’s entire historic centre on its World Heritage list in 1993. Compact enough to be explored in a few days, Bamberg is a tempting place to linger, thanks to its unique atmosphere and history, hilly views, and distinctive Rauchbier (smoked beer).
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The Altes Rathaus
The Altes Rathaus
If a competition had been held to design the most picturesque building in Franconia, it might have been won by Bamberg’s Altes Rathaus, an enchanting combination of Baroque Lüftmalerei and half-timbered quaintness wedged onto an artificial islet in the Regnitz, bracketed on either side by the stone arches of the Obere Brücke. Yet picturesque effect wasn’t the reason for the curious site: depending which version you prefer, it was either built mid-river by stubborn burghers after the prince-bishop refused to donate any land for its construction, or to mark the division between the sacred and profane parts of the city and thus demonstrate the independent-mindedness of the burghers.
The half-timbered Rottmeisterhäuschen of 1668, which teeters over the rushing waters on the south side of the islet, is the only part of the Altes Rathaus to preserve its original appearance, but it’s not the oldest part of the complex, for the main body of the Rathaus preserves a fifteenth-century core beneath an exuberant Baroque and Rococo makeover, which dates from 1744 to 1756. Johann Anwanders’ lush allegorical paintings on the flanks of the building have startling depth – watch out for the chubby angel’s leg that really does jut out, on the side facing Inselstadt.
The Altes Rathaus houses the Sammlung Ludwig, a visual feast of Strasbourg faïence and Sèvres and Meissen porcelain, including Johann Joachim Kendler’s Monkey Orchestra of 1753 – a caricature of human virtues and vices in porcelain form. The ticket also includes entrance into the elegant Rococo Room, which dates from 1750 and has an attractive stucco ceiling by Franz Jakob Vogel.