When you see Bamberg, you’ll think you already know the place – it’s everyone’s idea of a dream city, something we’ve all fantasized about since the fairy tales and picture books of our childhood: nestling among seven hills which offer ever-changing views, straddling a broad but peaceful river, just the right size to walk around, a mosaic of picturesque, painted houses, winding lanes and noble palaces and churches, animated with the busy life of families, students and workers – you’ll even see our Symphony Orchestra players cycling to rehearsal.
The UNESCO World Cultural Heritage city divides into three main districts, the market gardening district on the west bank of the river; the older inner city nestled on an island in the middle of the river and then remarkable ecclesiastical centre which dominates the rolling hills on the east side of the river. On the southern hills are a medieval castle, the Altenburg, and a fine Baroque monastery, St. Michael’s, whose church has a unique 17th C ceiling frescoed with the flowers, fruits and herbs that gave past Bambergers their medicines and foods – and just below the hill is Bamberg’s pioneering 18th Century hospital, now a hotel.
A few minutes’ walk away is Cathedral Hill, with the great Romanesque church built by King Henry II, whose stone tomb, intricately carved by Tilmann Riemenschneider from 1499 to 1513, is one of many sights in the tall, austere interior. Another is the ‘Bamberg Rider’, perhaps the most remarkable medieval statue in Germany; nearby are a fine 1523 wooden altar by Nuremberg woodcarver Veit Stoss and the only Pope’s tomb north of the Alps, resting place of Clement II, Bishop of Bamberg (d. 1047).
And if you’d like to see Pope Clement’s socks… they’re in the adjoining Diocesan Museum! Home of Germany’s greatest collection of medieval church vestments, the Museum shares the imposing Cathedral Square with Bamberg’s grandest buildings: the Renaissance courtyard of the Prince-Bishops’ household, now Bamberg’s Historical Museum; and the 17th-18th Century New Residence, containing an elaborately decorated Imperial Hall as well as important collections of paintings and the State Library, guardian of some of Europe’s rarest and most beautiful old manuscripts, including the "Bamberger Apocalypse". Tucked in amongst all this pomp is one of Bamberg’s prettiest corners, the Rose Garden with its popular café housed in an 18th C pavilion.
Another short walk and you’re in the middle of Bamberg’s narrow, winding streets, where cloisters, half-timbered inns (do stop for a drink at Schlenkerla or the Hofbräu!) and merchants’ houses rub shoulders with Baroque palaces like the Böttinger House or the Villa Concordia. Its delicate baroque facade hides a modern pavilion, home to an International Artists’ Colony where outstanding talents from around the world enjoy year-long residencies, ensuring Bamberg’s artistic future.
Villa Concordia overlooks the river Regnitz, just where it divides to cradle Bamberg’s islands. The smaller island is a rustic idyll, with an old lock and lock-keeper’s house; another palace of Bamberg’s Prince-Bishops, Geyerswörth Castle; and, at its tip, the impossibly picturesque Old Town Hall, straddling the stone bridges which form a link in the grand ‘Baroque axis’ by which the Prince-Bishops united Cathedral Hill and City. Follow this axis and you enter Bamberg’s larger Island Town, where fine buildings from all eras line wider shopping streets or university campuses, while the tiny half-timbered fishermens’ cottages of Bamberg’s ‘Little Venice’ huddle along the river.
Playful architectural fantasies animate the 19th and early 20th C bourgeois villas – like that of the industrialist Dessauer, now the Municipal Gallery of art – while fans of modernism will enjoy the clean lines of the 1993 Concert and Congress Hall, home of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra; and here and there, among all the old houses, a bold new build or a renovated and converted factory.