Forchheim & Bamberg, Germany
With my handy Bayern ticket loaded on my phone, I jumped on a Deutsche Bahn train headed north from Nuremberg this morning. My first stop was the old Upper Franconian town of Forchheim.
Forchheim wasn’t a big town but it seemed like most of the locals were out on this sunny Saturday. Germany is half the size of Texas but has nearly three times the population at more than 83 million. With a high population density, most Germans don’t live in a house surrounded by a yard. At any chance, they’re outside strolling, biking, hiking or tending a small garden plot on the outskirts of town.
Germany is extremely developed, people have been cultivating the earth here for thousands of years. But as you roll through the landscape on a train, you notice the land is organized differently here than back in the States. Small towns are not far apart but houses are clustered tightly together and the towns are clearly separated by fields and dense forests. Walking trails abound.
Getting out into nature is an essential need for the Germans. They greatly value time away from their highly-industrialized society. It also hints at why preserving nature is prioritized here. Recycling rules are followed rigorously.
My strategy in exploring a new town in Germany is pretty well set by now. As soon as I depart the train station, I scan the horizon for the largest church steeple. Usually, that marks the area of the Altstadt (old town). It will house the most interesting buildings and historical sights.
I then start hiking and soon come across the Markplatz. That’s where you’ll find the local farmer’s market or people sitting outside enjoying food and drinks. If I’m hungry, I can usually find a cart grilling sausages or serving beer.
After a couple hours in Forchheim, I’d explored most of town so I hopped back on the next train headed north, this time to Bamberg. If you asked me my favorite medium-sized city in Germany, Bamberg would be near the top of the list. I’ve visited four or five times now.
The medieval core is well-preserved, there are looming churches and castle spires on the surrounding hills and a river cuts through the middle with plenty of walking bridges for views.
Probably Bamberg’s most famous landmark is its old town hall perched precariously on a man-made island in the river. According to legend the bishop of Bamberg would not grant the citizens land for construction of a town hall. This prompted the townsfolk to ram stakes into the river Regnitz, creating an artificial island on which they built the town hall.
I hiked across the main bridge and up into the hills to see the Michelsberg monastery, an area I had not explored before. It offered expansive views of the surrounding vineyards and back down over the rooftops of Bamberg.
By late afternoon, I was ready to find a Brauhaus. Bamberg is famous for its odd Rauchbier (literally smoked beer) which is an acquired taste I have yet to acquire. Avoiding that, I picked a relatively hidden place I’d noticed on an earlier visit. Founded in 1533, Klosterbräu Bamberg touted itself as the oldest brewery in town which is quite a claim considering the number of breweries in the vicinity.
In Bavaria, tables on the inside of the restaurant are usually reserved with a small sign on the table spelling out Reserviert. But for the tables outside and in beer gardens, you ask if a spot is free and slide in with people already seated. I’ve started eating dinner or drinking beer with complete strangers but this setting usually encourages socializing and you’re not strangers for long.
After an excellent Braunbier (brown beer; always order the local variants on tap), my Schweineschnitzel mit Kartoffelsalat arrived. Everyone was chattering away and enjoying the warm afternoon.
Too soon I was hiking back to the train station and leaving Bamberg behind.
I’m staying in a small family-run hotel in the old town of Nuremberg. Frau Keiml greets me with a hearty Guten Morgen as I head out for the day. After I arrived back this evening, I discovered an Easter basket she’d left in my room with a chocolate Lindt rabbit, eggs and candy.
A small but heart-felt gesture that you greatly appreciate when you’re traveling. Thank you Frau Keiml and Frohe Ostern!