Topography has determined the character of Eastern Bavaria every bit as much as the Alps have shaped the south of the state. A vast, uninterrupted belt of forested upland – the Bayerischer Wald or Bavarian Forest – guards Bavaria’s eastern flank on the border with the Czech Republic. It’s a sparsely populated and – compared with much of the rest of Bavaria – still relatively little-visited tract, which was for decades a sort of rural cul-de-sac running northwest to southeast along the Iron Curtain. In contrast, immediately to the west of the Bayerischer Wald, the valley of the Danube runs parallel to the border, and is one of the great natural trade routes of Central Europe. Strung out along it is a series of attractive small cities, each of which has known some glory in its past: Regensburg, the largest of them, is a former free imperial city with one of the best-preserved medieval cityscapes in Central Europe; in the south, Passau is a former prince-bishopric with more than a touch of Italy in its monuments. Between the two, Straubing looks back to a distant golden age as the capital of a strange medieval Duchy that straddled Bavaria and the Netherlands. Not to be forgotten is Landshut on the River Isar, the ancestral seat of the Wittelsbach dynasty.
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