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October 2002

Inn Town

Lapped by the waters of the River Inn, the ancient city of Wasserburg is a year-round delight

“Medieval miracle,” “cozy peninsula” and “one of the loveliest towns in Bavaria” are phrases that have been used to describe Wasserburg, a town occupying a loop of the River Inn just 55 km east of Munich. This gem owes its nest-like location to the topography carved out by glaciers as they retreated some 15,000 years ago following the “Würm” Ice Age. The best panoramic views of the town are from the “Schöne Aussicht” (beautiful view) on the Kellerberg just above the Inn Bridge. Snuggled between steep craggy cliffs on one side and sandbanks on the other, Wasserburg began as a small fishing village in 1137. By the end of the 16th century, the town had become a key port along the historical Augsburg-Salzburg trade route and the third richest after Nuremberg and Regensburg. The town on the Inn owed its prosperity to “salt boats” operating between Bad Reichenhall and Munich. Although trade no longer plays a key role in its economy, Wasserburg’s medieval townscape, unscathed in both World Wars, remains remarkably well preserved. Distinctly un-Bavarian, the town’s densely clustered, pastel-colored buildings bear a closer resemblance to a settlement in the hills of Italy than Upper Bavaria.

Enter Wasserburg through the Brucktor (Bridge Gate), which has served as the main gateway to the town since 1374. A bullet wedged in the walls of the gate is a poignant reminder of the Thirty Years’ War. For a good overview of the town, join a guided tour starting in front of the 15th-century Town Hall (Rathaus). One of the major sights in the town, this twin-gable, Late Gothic building with its Banqueting Hall has traditionally played host to feasts and weddings. Renowned for its excellent acoustics, the building still stages popular Town Hall Concerts (next performances October 11 and November 23). Part of the ground floor, now home to a popular café, served as the town’s Bread Hall up to 1974. Until 1912, a law decreed that all bread baked in the town had to be sold exclusively at this location—a simple but effective way of maintaining quality. Any baker found delivering inferior produce was dragged down to the river and dunked. Chains hanging down the front of the Rathaus bear witness to a further means of punishing petty crimes, such as failing to attend confession in church. As late as 1812, some wrong-doers suffered in chains for as long as three days.

Across the busy main street stands the Kernhaus (1738–40), a patrician building whose stuccowork on the facade was executed by the celebrated Munich master Johann Baptist Zimmermann. If you look carefully you will see two buildings integrated behind a single facade: on the left the district court and on the right a hotel. Commissioned by the extremely wealthy Kern family, this is regarded as one of the most beautiful Rococo facades in southern Germany.

Three churches in Wasserburg merit a visit. The main attraction in the 15th-century St. Jakob’s Parish Church is the Baroque chancel, which was completed by the Zürn brothers in 1638. One of the most valuable wood carvings in southern Germany, it portrays the old and new covenant, representing salvation and victory over sin through the death of Christ. Parishioners were obliged to pay a small fortune for the privilege of having their own place in the pews—look for the name plaques on the back of the benches.

At the nearby Schmidzeile is the former landmark of the town, the 16th-century Doppelkapelle (Two-Story Chapel of St. Michael), the tower of which was dismantled during secularization. Churchgoers were presented with a symbol of the building, resembling a double-decker bread roll. Once word of the “freebie” got round, attendances at this church proved some of the best in Bavaria.

Just opposite the Rathaus stands the oldest church in town. The Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) was first mentioned in 1324 as the Market Church. Enthroned in the high altar of the church is a Gothic miracle-working image of the Virgin, created ca. 1430 in the style of a “schöne Madonna.” Look up to the clock on the church tower and you might be forgiven for thinking that it has been put forward an hour. The minute is longer than the hour hand—formerly common practice throughout Wasserburg. The town’s citizens traditionally believed that the hour was more important than the minute and ensured this was demonstrated on public clocks. This was certainly an original approach to timekeeping, but the source of much confusion for those who failed to appreciate the logic.

For another curiosity, study the checkered pattern on the nearby Gewandhaus Gruber building in the Schmidzeile. In the corner of each white-framed diamond shape appears a black square. This 3-D effect makes the black square appear like a threatening hole. Medieval folk believed this deterred evil spirits from entering their houses.

Visitors walking along the arcades will notice trap door-like openings on the sidewalk. These provide access to the large shop cellars. The arcades themselves made an excellent showcase for goods in summer, when shopkeepers would move the contents of their stores out into the shade of the archways. Nowadays the arcades are home to a host of arty boutiques, wood carving and antique shops. Indeed, there is something very Italian about the town. Wasserburg owes much of its Latin flair to the “Innstadt” architecture, fine examples of which can be found between the Rathaus and St. Jakob’s. This very distinctive style of architecture, introduced by traders from South Tyrol, is characterized by narrow alleys running down the sides of the houses and matchbox-like facades with porches. Since every roof was of a different shape and size, it was almost impossible for fire to spread. According to town records, between 1339 and 1874 there was not a single large fire in the town.

Visitors to St. Michael’s should look out for the nearby Gasthaus zum Goldenen Stern. This inn, renowned today for its excellent food, is where Mozart used to stay when he passed through town. The maestro had no particular affection for Wasserburg but was forced to spend the night there on the eight occasions when the post carriage carrying him between Salzburg and Munich broke its journey here.

Wasserburg also boasts a number of interesting museums. Just behind the Town Hall is the Stadtmuseum. Accommodated in three Late Gothic burgher houses, this local history museum contains important works of art and cultural artifacts, including reminders of many former professions. The museum is regarded as one of the best local history collections in Bavaria.

For a “museum of museums,” visit the Erstes Imaginäres Museum, a collection of art replicas housed in the former almshouse. The present exhibition consists of over 500 reproductions of masterpieces from museums and galleries around the world. In order to maintain the original appearance, exhibits are reproduced on original surfaces, such as canvas, copper or stone. This is what makes the collection so unique, for anyone wishing to view the originals of all the paintings assembled here would need to make a journey around the world.

For further insight into the town’s history, sign up for a guided tour of the Old Town. Walking along the alleyways of Wasserburg, visitors suddenly find themselves whisked back in time as performers from the local theater enact scenes from medieval times. The 90-minute walk can be booked through the Tourist Information Office.

Hikers and art enthusiasts may like to walk the Sculpture Trail, also known as the “artistic mile.” The tree-lined path, which skirts the River Inn’s course around Wasserburg provides a picturesque setting for the presentation of locally made sculptures. This type of “pop art” might not be for everyone but views of dense woodland rolling down to the opposite banks of the pea-green Inn certainly make for a good stroll.

Another way to appreciate the peninsula is from the water. Round trips start at the landing place on the south side of the Inn Bridge and run daily, except Wednesdays, at 2:15 pm and 3:15 pm (€ 6). The banks of the Inn also offer a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of the town’s narrow streets, which were clearly not built with modern-day traffic in mind. Enjoy a little sustenance on the peaceful terrace of the Paulaner Hotel, one of the few al fresco eateries in Wasserburg that does not lie directly alongside the busy main street. Down a quiet alley in the heart of the town is another good address—the Pella di Calabria, where you can get the tastiest pizzas in town.

Although most of the sights in Wasserburg can be visited in half a day, staying overnight provides an opportunity to explore the attractive surrounding countryside. For a very special sojourn, book a room at Schloss Weikertsham, just 2 km out of town. Uninhabited for 30 years, the palace was recently bought and renovated by an antique dealer. Both a private home and an outlet of the delightful “Trödelei” antique store in Wasserburg, the palace offers accommodation in two very stylishly decorated bedrooms. Breakfast is served amid the exhibits. Every item carries a price tag, should you wish to take, for example, an antique candle holder or a painting home with you. More a manor house than a palace, Schloss Weikertsham makes a perfect setting for a romantic weekend.

Some 12 km southeast lies Amerang. This small town is home to two excellent museums: the open-air Farmhouse Museum (Bauernhausmuseum) devoted to over five centuries of farming traditions and the Automobile Museum. Regarded as the most extensive collection of historic cars in Germany, the museum exhibits over 220 German automobile classics from all periods. Do not leave Amerang without walking up to the 11th-century castle. The castle courtyard and arcade is the scene of a popular program of classical music concerts every summer. This autumn, the castle is set to be transformed into an Arabian fairy-tale land. “Oriental Night” (October 26) will feature music, dancing and culinary delights from Algeria to India.

Travel a further 15 km to enjoy one of the loveliest lakes in Bavaria. Although the Chiemsee and the surrounding Chiemgau region offer a wide range of leisure opportunities, most visitors from outside Bavaria seem interested in just one attraction: King Ludwig II’s palace on Herrrenchiemsee island. Schloss Herrenchiemsee, which cost Ludwig even more money to build than the fairy-tale Neuschwanstein castle, was intended as an homage to his hero the French “Sun King” Louis XIV. Reach the 19th-century palace by catching the ferry from Prien or Bernau and taking a 20-minute walk (or horse-drawn carriage ride) through lovely palace gardens. To escape the crowds, follow the 7-km woodland path around the island and enjoy parts of the island that most visitors miss.

Other family attractions closer to Wasserburg am Inn include “Badria,” a multi-purpose sports and leisure center and the Wildlife Park at Oberreith, 10 km northeast of the town. The park is home to many indigenous animals, including a number of species threatened with extinction. The flat countryside around Wasserburg is particularly popular among cyclists, of whom the fittest make the five-hour ride from Munich. Following quiet country roads, field and forest paths, the 69-km “Isar-Inn Panoramaweg” runs from central Munich to the Inn Bridge at Wasserburg. Cyclists wishing to pedal a shorter distance can join the route at any of the 20 parallel S-Bahn stations. Another favorite is the “Wasserburger Radrundweg,” a 110-km circular bicycle route devised along the theme of “From Farm to Farm.” Some dozen rustic attractions along the route include farmsteads specializing in ostrich breeding, organic produce and bed and breakfast.

Despite its wealth of sights, capable of making the tourist authorities of many larger towns almost green with envy, Wasserburg has managed to remain one of Bavaria’s best-kept secrets. The medieval town is an ideal stop-off point en route to the lakes and palaces of the Chiemgau or as a base for exploring the lesser known attractions of the beautiful surrounding countryside.

HOW TO GET THERE: >>>By car: B 304 Munich-Wasserburg Allow approx. 45 minutes >>>By train: S-5 Munich-Grafing connects with regional train (every 2 hours) to Wasserburg. Wasserburg-München-Ticket, € 12 (children half price), includes S-Bahn and public transport in Wasserburg Tourist Information: Stadt Wasserburg am Inn Postfach 16 80 83506 Wasserburg am Inn Tel. (08071) 1 05-22; Fax (08071) 1 05-21 Schloss Weikertsham 83512 Wasserburg am Inn Tel. (08071) 513 38 or 41 11; Fax (08071) 14 07 Schloss Amerang Tel. (08075) 91 92 99 E-mail: Schloss Herrenchiemsee Tel. (08051) 688 70 Admission: € 5.50, children under 18 free

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