Day 9/15. 2023 Viking Bragi Grand European Christmas Markets Cruise. December 24, 2023. Christmas Eve. Bamberg, Germany.
The Viking Bragi on the inside of the ship called the Belvedere.
Our tour this morning was the included walking tour of Bamberg, Germany. We are docked in a fairly industrial part of Bamberg, on a canal, tied up to another non Viking river cruise ship, so we have to go up the stairs to the top deck of the Bragi, climb over a small ramp onto the roof of the other ship, and then down the other ship’s stairs, to the pontoon type dock that brings us to the shore. A bit of a convoluted way to get to the shore, but I guess the other ship will not let the Bragi folks walk through it, so this is our protocol to get to shore.
We had about a 3 minute walk to the shuttle buses where we could sit anywhere on the bus. We were one of the last people to get on the bus at 9:15am because our Viking umbrella would not open and since it was raining, Richard went back to the Bragi, informing Daniel the Program Director or his plans, to get a replacement umbrella, so Daniel would hold one of the buses for us.
When we got off the bus downtown Bamburg we met our guide, also named Richard, who was originally a teacher from England and who once visited Bamberg, fell in love with the town and decided to move to Bamberg to live. We could tell from the beginning of our tour that Richard was a very knowledgeable and experienced guide. He told us to be mindful of the “cycothpaths” as he called the cyclists who were allowed to cycle in the bike lanes right next to our walking paths. It was easy to take a mis-step into the cycle lane and then get run over! Richard said he really enjoyed doing Sunday morning tours though because there were less people out and it was easier for him to guide the group through the town.
Bamberg is a beautifully preserved medieval layout with gorgeous, colourful old buildings. It is a UNESCO World Heritage City which dates back to 902. In the 12th century and onwards the town experienced a great wealth and it was briefly the centre of the Holy Roman Empire. Emperor Henry II is buried in the old town, alongside his wife Kunigunde. The city is set on 7 hills which is similar to the topography of Rome and it is known as “Franconian Rome’ in Germany. Our tour guide called it “Italian Bamberg”. Bamberg became a part of Bavaria in 1803. The US military established a base close by after WW2, which closed in 2014.
The sign on the brewery. Of note the star is the ‘Brewer’s star’, not the Star of David.
Our guide took us to a pub which specializes in making the smoked beer called ‘Rauchbier’ that Bamberg is known for. The beer apparently has a distinctive smoke flavour imparted by using malted barley dried over an open flame. Before the 18th century, when hot air or kiln drying of malt became more common for drying malted grain, smoking the wet malt was generally accepted as the method used for making beer. Bamberg has catacombs or a maze of tunnels under the breweries from the 11th century which is where the beer is stored when it is fermenting. Our guide said that drinking the beer tastes like drinking smoky salami! Since it was Christmas Eve everything in town was locked up tight so Richard was not able to taste the smoky Rauchbier beer from Bamberg!
We continued walking up a steep hill towards the Romanesque Bamberg Cathedral which was completed in the late 13th century. The cathedral is Roman Catholic and contains the tombs of Henry II and his wife Cunigunde which are the only imperial couple that were ever canonized. During the 17th century, the interior of the cathedral was changed to the Baroque style, with frescoes being painted over and coloured windows removed. In the 1800’s the Baroque style was replaced with Romanesque Revival Art.
Our guide walked us to the Prince’s Portal entrance to the Bamberg Cathedral which was covered in draping unfortunately due to the weather. The Prince’s Portal was one that Henry II and his wife and the clergy would have used entering the Cathedral so the the sculpture work on the portal had a lot of significance which our guide explained at length.
Photo from the internet.
At the top of the portal the scene is “The Last Judgement”. Christ is sitting and the ‘damned’ are to his left (right when looking at the photo) and the ‘saved’ to his right (left when looking at the photo). John the Baptist and Mary kneel at Jesus’ feet. On the damned side a demon leads a king, a bishop, a pope and a Jew to hell. The faces of the damned grimace in reaction to their fate to eternal hell, while the saved smile smugly. If we look closer at the portal there were other figures on the archway, so I asked our guide to explain them. One that really got me was a female figure who is supposed to represent Judaism. Her blindfolded eyes are meant to symbolize that she is blind to the higher truth or in fact the Christian faith. I am constantly being reminded on this trip that anti semitism was prevalent not just from the recent 20th Century Nazi period but antisemitism dated back to biblical times and definitely to the 13th century, when this cathedral was completed. In Nuremberg we saw the same time of antisemitism on stonework on the exterior of the church, but I did not discuss it in the blog.
The architecture of Bamberg is truly very unique. Originally a medieval town, with classic medieval architecture. In the 18th century Bamberg was ruled by a pair of brothers who ruled as Prince Bishops. The brothers loved the Italian style of architecture so they offered tax relief and low cost building materials for locals to redesign their buildings in the Baroque style. What many people in Bamberg did though was simply slap Baroque facades onto the front of their timber framed homes. The tax relief to change the facades of the medieval homes only extended to the first 2 floors of the home though.
Baroque bottom, medieval top of this building.
Our guide showed us a clear deception on one home in particular where the steep slope of the roof line clearly outlines the telltale sign of medieval construction, but where the building has stucco on the first few floors and then wood slats on the top part of the building.
Baroque on the left and Medieval on the right, on the same building.
Once we knew this trick it was easy to walk around Bamberg and say “Medieval”, “Baroque”, “Baroque”, “Medieval”….etc. when looking at the town’s buildings. The town’s facades actually conceal their true form, but yet the town is still very, very beautiful and charming!
Our guide walked us to the ‘Old Town Hall’ which is the ‘piece de resistance’ of things to see in Bamberg, and what a stunning place the Old Town Hall was! According to legend, the bishop of Bamberg did not grant the citizens any land for the construction of a town hall. This prompted the townsfolk to ram stakes into the river Regnitz to create an artificial island on which they built the town hall.
As our guide was walking us back over the river Regnitz we walked past a very neat sculpture which looked like it was missing a part of its head. The sculpture is called ‘Centurione’ and was created by Polish artist Igor Mitoraj in 1987. I’m sure there is a meaning behind losing the top of his head, but I could not find what the sculpture was about.
Our guide dropped us back at the pedestrian area of Bamburg where a few Gluwein stands were still in business on Christmas Eve.
Bamburg’s Christmas Market closed the day before on December 23rd and there was a construction team loading the solid looking panels from the market booths onto trucks to take them away for another year.
We walked to the end of the pedestrian shopping area and found a bridge and then turned around. Little did we know that getting our bearings from this bridge would be very helpful.
Our guide had told us that to get back to the shuttle bus for a noon or 1pm pick up we should walk left out of the Christmas market until we saw the big trees opposite the butter coloured Messerschmidt restaurant. We saw our Program Manager Daniel talking to another set of Viking Bragi guests, so we walked behind them back to the bus.
‘Meeting’ by Chinese artist Wang Shugang depicts eight men squatting in a circle
I saw a neat red sculpture across the street that I had to go and photograph and while I was taking photos of the sculpture the shuttle bus came early and Richard did not know what to do. I signalled to get on the bus and I quickly walked back to get on the bus so we could get back to the ship earlier than planned. The rain had stopped and at 9C the temperature was actually quite pleasant, but it was time for lunch and I had blogs to write!
I spent the afternoon catching up on finishing my blogs from Regensburg and Nuremberg and then it was time to get festive for our Christmas Eve port talk in the Lounge.
We sat with our Australian friends to listen to our Program Manager Daniel tell us what our fate would be going forward on the Bragi, and as we suspected, the Bragi is not moving. We have to move and do another ship swap! Christmas Day we will be docked in Bamberg and shore excursions to Wurzburg will still take place but anyone wanting to go on a shore excursion will be bused the 1.5 hours to Wurzburg, where a 1.5 hour walking tour outside (nothing is open because it is Christmas) will take place for 1.5 hours, followed by a 1.5 hour return bus ride. Those not wishing to go into Wurzburg on Christmas Day could walk around Bamburg or stay on the ship. I think we know what we are going to do on Christmas!
Daniel said that in all of his years working on river cruises he has never had to do a 3 ship swap with a group of guests on a river cruise. The Viking Ve will be our new ship and the Ve is being sailed to Mainz, Germany, 188km from Bamberg where we are presently located. We will meet the Viking sister ship, the Ve on Tuesday December 26th after completing another long day on buses.
The kicker with this ship transfer though is we are still docked next to this other ship and we have to go up and over and then down the other side of that ship with everything that is on board this ship. Guests, Crew, luggage, food, drinks, office stuff, gift store items…absolutely everything must move over to the Viking Ve and it has to be done in about 4 hours while we are on a shore excursion in Wertheim!
Our planned shore excursions in Wertheim will still take place on the 26th. We will be bussed the 1.5 hours to Wertheim am Main, after which we will have lunch at a ‘burger joint’ (as Daniel called it) which will be 20 minutes further north of Wertheim, and then we will have about another 1.5 hours on a bus to get to our new ship the Viking Ve which will be waiting for us in Mainz, Germany. Apparently Viking had trouble finding anywhere that would take 4 bus loads of passengers for lunch on Boxing Day which is still a holiday in Europe, so the lunch will not be up to Viking’s standards!
Talk about a nightmare! Moving people and luggage and swapping ships is something that Viking is familiar with and while they do not like having to do it, they have done it before and as recently as the Bragi guests moving to the Skadi and us who were on the Skadi, moving to the Bragi. Other than a long day on a bus and the inconvenience of packing and re-packing, everything for us went fairly smoothly in the last ship swap. The problem will be the food and the crew having to move everything to a ship that has nothing on it and was already set to go into winter storage in Amsterdam, in such a short time - and then be able to feed the lot of us when we arrive on the Viking Ve, with little time to prepare anything for us.
Viking has to get us to Amsterdam by Saturday morning. That is the contract that they have to fulfil. How we get there is still the question depending on the water levels and if the Ve will be our final ship of this 15 day Viking Grand European River Cruise. I guess we are setting a precedent and making history for Viking and in a few years from now we will be able to spin the tale about how we went on a 15 day river cruise and ended up on 3 different ships along the way. The SKADI, the BRAGI and the VE. We are certainly hoping that the “third time’s a charm!”