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April 2005

World Class

Castles, rivers and all that jazz—Burghausen’s got the lot

My visit to Burghausen was a preemptive strike. The town has applied for UNESCO World Heritage status, and should it succeed, it won’t be long before the tourist floodgates open. I decided to beat the crowds and head to the quaint riverside town, which, being less than a two-hour drive away, is low-hanging fruit for Munich residents.

According to the town’s mayor, Hans Steindl, Burghausen is well on its way to receiving the World Heritage honor. For in addition to its rich past, the town enjoys a lively present, as reflected in its internationally renowned jazz festival and charming Old Town. As if this weren’t enough, then consider Burghausen’s natural environs, which include the Salzach River, Wöhrsee and the numerous bike trails on which to explore the region’s towns and villages. “The harmonious, well-preserved cultural landscape of the lower Salzach is utterly unique,” explains Steindl. “And the World Heritage accolade is all about protecting this.”

The centerpiece of the World Heritage application is a sprawling medieval castle, which looms above the cheerful pastel buildings of the Old Town. The castle’s size is, in fact, a key argument for the UNESCO application. At more than one kilometer long (1,043 m), Burghausen Castle claims to be the longest in Europe. Its strategic perch on a bluff above the Salzach River is believed to have been fortified by Celtic settlers in the second century BC. However, it wasn’t until the eighth century that construction on the current fortress was started, by the Dukes of Agilolfinger.

In the 15th century the castle was enlarged under the Lower-Bavarian Dukes Heinrich (1393–1450), Ludwig (1450–1479) and Georg (1479–1503), known collectively as the Rich Dukes. During this time the castle was heavily fortified against the constant threat of Turkish invasion and served as a closed residence for the ducal family and a court of more than 100 members.

This period of the region’s history is the focus of the castle’s two principal museums. Adjacent to one another in the first courtyard are the Historisches Stadtmuseum and the Staatliche Sammlung (the town and state museum, respectively). True to form each has a separate administration, opening times and admission fees. From April 1 your chances of finding both museums open at the same time increase considerably.

The Staatliche Sammlung is in the former ducal apartments and features furnishings and paintings from the period of the Rich Dukes. Included in the museum is the adjoining St. Elizabeth’s Chapel, which was the private place of worship of the ducal family. Via the Staat-liche Sammlung visitors also gain access to the castle’s observation deck, which affords a view that easily justifies the € 3 admission fee.

The adjacent Stadtmuseum focuses on the apartments of the dukes’ wives and families and contains paintings, sculpture and crafts illustrating Burghausen’s long history. In the sixth, outer-most courtyard, there are two privately operated galleries, the Kunstgalerie im Liebenweinturm and the Dr. Robert-Gerlich-Museum—Haus der Fotografie.

Though the castle may be Burghausen’s main attraction for the Unesco World Heritage selection committee, for jazz lovers the international jazz week is the biggest draw. This month (April 13–17) Burghausen will host its 36th annual Internationale Jazz Woche, which attracts top performers and some 10,000 jazz enthusiasts each year.

With an emphasis on variety, the festival offers performances from virtually every jazz genre, ranging from big band to funk. This year’s program includes Latin jazz, blues, world fusion, big band and a few styles in between. Headliners include The Big Chris Barber Band, Ben Riley’s Monk Legacy and the McCoy Tyner Trio. With venues ranging from concert halls to cellar nightclubs, you’ll no doubt find something to suit your tastes. Ticket prices range from € 10 to € 40 and are best ordered in advance from the Munich ticket office or directly from the festival organizers.

For those coming from Munich, the festival offers JazzExpress packages on Saturday, April 16. The packages include roundtrip train fare (with a Sunday return), en route musical entertainment, concert tickets, shuttle-bus service, a tour of the castle and likely the company of fellow festival-goers. The JazzExpress packages are available for € 54 and € 79.

Throughout its 36-year history the jazz festival in Burghausen has played host to some of the world’s most celebrated musicians, including the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz, to name just a few. As a tribute to these jazz greats the town of Burghausen has created the “Street of Fame.” Tastefully embossed into the Old Town’s pedestrian zone are plaques commemorating each honored musician.

Upon arriving in Burghausen, I made the 10-minute bus trip from the train station down into the Old Town. As I rode, I listened carefully to the passengers speaking among themselves and couldn’t help but notice a distinct Austrian accent. Suddenly it dawned on me that I was practically in Austria—it is, after all, only 300 m away, just over the river, as the woman in the tourist information center informed me. It was only later, when my desire for a drink and something sweet drove me further into the Old Town, that the absence of those famed little chocolate balls, Mozartkugeln, and the lack of the tiny glasses of beer assured me that I was still in Bavaria.

Yet, some of that legendary Austrian charm has certainly rubbed off on Burghausen. Unlike many of its Austrian counterparts, however, Burghausen’s economy does not revolve around tourism. A healthy manufacturing industry is the major local employer, which helps the place maintain a refreshing authenticity, a fidelity often lost in tourism-dependent towns.

That is not to say, however, that Burghausen is devoid of a tourist infrastructure. On the contrary, there are plenty of hotels and restaurants to keep visitors quite comfortable. The helpful staff at the tourist information center helps with accommodation bookings, makes restaurant recommendations and provides information about local attractions. Additionally, the town maintains an impressive Website in five languages, which is extremely useful in planning a trip.

Burghausen’s Old Town is tucked between the Salzach River and a narrow lake, the Wöhrsee, which stretches the length of the castle. In the summer, the Wöhrsee turns into a popular swimming spot and the Salzach provides the backdrop for riverfront eateries and cafés. Among them is the violet-colored Vier Jahreszeiten Café, whose tiny terrace overlooks the jewel-green river.

At the Old Town’s center is Stadtplatz, around which a number of hotels and restaurants are clustered. Directly on Stadtplatz are the Hotel zur Post and the Hotel Bayerischer Hof, both of which serve traditional Bavarian food in their homey ground-floor restaurants. Across the river is the Hotel Burgblick, which, as the name suggests, offers rooms with impressive views of the castle. By night the castle is illuminated and provides a dramatic view from the opposite side of the river. Hotels in and around Burghausen are mid-range and vary little in price, so time spent seeking a deal may be in vain. Less expensive options include the youth hostel or a stay in a private home, which can be arranged through the tourist information center.

Extending south from the Stadtplatz is the Grüben pedestrian zone, which is also the city’s “Street of Fame.” The Grüben is lined with an eclectic mix of second-hand shops, up-scale clothing boutiques, antique stores, art galleries and a handful of cafés and restaurants. One of particular note is the cozy Café am Bichl (on Bichlplatz), which also serves as a performance venue during jazz week.

Burghausen is a particularly popular destination for both botanists and bicyclists. It lies along several regional bike routes and makes for an enjoyable stop-over for both day trippers and overnighters. Detailed bike route maps are available at the tourist center. Also, last year Burghausen hosted a five-month garden show, which attracted more than 900,000 visitors, nearly twice the expected number. Most of the show’s exhibits were left behind in the town’s Stadtpark and can now be enjoyed by both locals and visitors alike.

Whether you’re a history buff, a jazz enthusiast, a cyclist or simply a Münchner seeking a weekend away, Burghausen has something to offer. Its quaint beauty and its comfortable distance from Munich make the town, and its surroundings, well worth the trip. <<<

International Jazz Week B’Jazz Burghausen
Tel. (01805) 28 29 or Website:
Munich Ticket Offices (Zentraler Kartenvorverkauf)
Stachus Einkaufszentrum: Tel. 54 50 60 60
Marienplatz: Tel. 29 25 40

Burghausen Tourist Information Center
Stadtplatz 112, D-84489 Burghausen
Tel. (08677) 87 71 40
UNESCO Website:

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