I sat down to write about Passau, to highlight this nice little German town I experienced but then I realized, most people (at least here in the US) probably have never heard of Passau. It’s a problem really; all of the major cities in Germany get attention but once we drill down to the smaller towns and villages, not much is available. Keeping all of this in mind I decided to instead provide some context and in the process share why I fell in love with this great German city.
1. Where it is and how to get there
Passau sits on three rivers, including the Danube, which is how I found myself there. It was a stop on the Viking River Christmas market cruise I took and quickly became a favorite port of call. Located in Lower Bavaria, the city is known for its university and student life; in fact about a fifth of the town’s 50,000 residents are students. But it’s as far away from being a traditional college town as you can get. Beautiful alleyways and side streets, they all seem to lead up away from the river. And with good reason, the Danube has caused serious flooding in the city over the centuries including in 2013, one of the worst Passau has ever seen. Passau is also easy to reach if you’re not taking a river cruise, especially by train and many folks include the town in their explorations of Bavaria.
2. Largest pipe organ in Europe (More interesting than it sounds)
We were lucky enough to have an architect as our walking tour guide in Passau, and his excitement for the grand St. Stephen’s Cathedral made the massive building come alive in a way that is rare to be honest. Located in Passau’s Old City, St Stephen’s is typically baroque in style, common in this part of Germany, but for as beautiful as it is outside, the real star of the show is located just inside. In the quiet and unassuming town of Passau rests the largest pipe organ outside of the US, and the largest cathedral organ in the world. It currently has 17,774 pipes and 233 registers, all of which can be played with the five-manual general console in the gallery and has reverberated with some of the most famous and beautiful music ever produced. More than just the organ though, be sure to get a knowledgeable guide to show you around the cathedral as the altars and decorations are amongst the most intricate and impressive you’ll ever find.
3. Gingerbread tradition
Before visiting Germany during the Christmas holidays, I thought I knew what gingerbread was. However, I learned in Passau that what we call gingerbread and the German equivalent – Lebkuchen – couldn’t be more different from each other. Stopping by a Passau institution on our walking tour, the folks at Café Simon have been making delicious confections for five generations, but one of their specialties is their rich variety of Lebkuchen. Lebkuchen differs from baker to baker and can include a variety of different ingredients including honey, spices such as aniseed, coriander, cloves, ginger, cardamom and allspice, nuts including almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts, or candied fruit. They’re popular year round of course, but are a staple snack during the Christmas season. Meeting with two generations of bakers at Café Simon, they showed us the detailed process of making these delicious treats come to life and gave us the chance to sample the different flavors. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have tried the cookie, which looks like a cross between gingerbread and fruitcake, but after one taste I was hooked. I bought a bag’s worth of cookies for myself and as gifts and spent the rest of my trip along the Danube tasting the regional differences between Lebkuchen varieties wherever we went. Trust me, if you haven’t enjoyed these holiday treats before, you’re in for a very pleasant surprise.
4. Fantastic city to meander through
I realize that I say this about a lot of cities, but it is particularly true for Passau. A small city, it’s easy to explore and navigate the town’s older sections without really knowing where you are going. I love old German towns like Passau, no clear organization in the city plan just streets and buildings that popped up over time. We spent some time at the Christmas market, nibbling on snacks and listening to local music before wandering through the commercial district, stopping to escape the rain at coffee shops and doing some window-shopping. I didn’t do anything per se, I was just there. I just soaked up the look and feel of the city and tried to commit as much of the experience to memory as possible. From an American point of view at least, this is one of the best parts of exploring lesser-known areas of Europe and especially Germany, experiencing daily life there and learning more about the traditions that make it so very special.
Have you been to Passau? What did you do?
14 thoughts on “4 Things You Don’t Know About Passau Germany (And Why You Should Visit)”
I loved Passau, too. This was a magical town to visit at Christmas time.
The pipe organ looks absolutely stunning! I never knew Passau had the biggest organ in Europe, otherwise I would have definitely visited there when I was living in Germany… But, in fact, Germany has so many gorgeous places to visit that it’s almost impossible to see them all unless you make it a personal challenge or something :)
My husband and I went to Passau in 2012. We loved our time there. We saw a picture of Passau in 2013 at the back side of city hall and It was the same place I had my picture taken in 2012. We could not believe how high the rivers had gotten. The water was at the top of the door way which is a lot taller than American door ways. We were sure glad we went the year before the flooding.
I am planning on studying at the university of Passau but I am not sure if its a place to live and study considering its small and isolated nature. Any advice?
Hi, I’m an American who is living in Passau and studying a Master’s Degree full-time at the University. I’m rather infatuated with the city, myself, and I would certainly recommend living here. Of course, if you’re looking for a busy and bustling city vibe, then you won’t find it here. But it is a small city, with a rather wide assortment of restaurants, cafes and eateries, and even a rather decent night life. We also have a rather thriving student life, considering we make up a good share of the population. Munich is only about a 2.5 hour train ride away if you’re wanting to visit a major city, and Vienna and Salzburg are lovely nearby destinations as well.
Hello Alexandra, I am a summer exchange student and will be arriving at Uni Passau in April, Could you please help me in guiding with stuffs, if that’s not an problem!! Thank You.
Married a german gal from Passau in 1955. My second home! Many memories!
I grew up near Passau in Biberg bei Malching. Oh how exciting it was to travel to the “big” city of Passau via train!
Going there in April, cannot wait!!!
Nice post. Hi Anne.How was your visit?
I have been to Passau twice now. The first time it was just a stop over on our way to Budapest, where we gave a concert with our youth orchestra from the Netherlands. The second time, like you, was on river cruise so we had time to explore. We loved the city, the cobble stones, the organ. Beautiful!
Enjoyed reading this post, thank you!
I was born in Passau in 1941 and it was different then but it is still amazing and fun.
Agree with the author, Passau is truly remarkable for a city so small in size. You don’t really get the Roman feel as you would in say, Trier, but Passau has a striking medieval/Baroque feel to it.As an aside, I was surprised to learn Passau’s American “sister city” is Hackensack, NJ (??) and not Pittsburgh, an American city that also lies at the confluence of Three Rivers.
Visited Passau in 2008 when my brother-in-law gave me a short tour of his hometown. Although some medical problems did not allow for a whole lot of walking, the city’s history was amazing! My brother-in-law had just sold a family bakery dating from at least the 1700’s he had inherited and was still being operated as a bakery. The ostentatious residence (in town) was an amazing sight to see as were the ‘vendor market sites’ on the street level in the cathedral. Would like to go back and tour the city at a slower pace than in 2008. My sister and I ‘found’ a walled city along the Rhine River completely ‘stuck’ in the Middle ages or earlier a complete shock to the mind……I expected some maidens and knights to come out of the houses unto the cobblestone streets, but neither one of us can remember the name! Houses from the 1300’s being lived in or having businesses in them still! Streets barely wide enough for a small German car to maneuver, etc. etc. It was magical!
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