Last Updated on December 13, 2022
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
By Jim Ferri
When I first visited Bamberg, Germany, I was a bit taken aback. I never expected there would be so many things to do in the city.
First of all, I never expected it would be such a beautiful and stunning city. It has one of Europe’s largest fully intact old town centers and is a beautiful medieval city. Thankfully, it has retained its historic beauty since it survived several regional wars over the centuries, the black plague and was relatively untouched in World War II. In fact, the entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. But there’s more.
I spoke with a tour guide who, despite the rain and sleet and cold wind, was wearing his lederhosen. From him I learned that two famous American families had emigrated from here. One was the Levi Straus family (of Levi jeans fame) and two brothers named Lehman. The latter went to New York and founded Lehman Brothers.
He added to the potpourri of local lure by boasting that one of the Popes is buried here. And also that modern-day Bamberg has the top basketball team in Germany, thanks to American GIs who introduced the sport here.
But what makes Bamberg really fascinating is that the city was significant even back in Roman times. In fact, Bambergers bragged about it being as important as Rome, saying their city also had seven hills. The truth, however, is that the city only has six hills. Bambergers cheated by naming one hill twice when they gave a different name to each side. Also, incredibly, for a brief time the city was the center of the Holy Roman Empire.
We started our walk on the other side of the river in the colorful green market, a local farmer’s market that takes place around the statue of Neptune (locally known as The Gabelmann (“Fork man”)) six days a week. It’s primarily a food market with a few other stands tagged on.
Bamberg’s Beautiful Altes Rathaus
From there we crossed Langestrasse, along which there seemed to be no lack of pastry and food shops and headed for the Altes Rathaus, the old town hall, which sits on an island in the middle of the river. With its beautiful exterior and dramatic location it’s probably the most photographed building in town. Visiting it is one of the most interesting things to do in Bamberg, Germany.
There are plenty of other buildings around to take pictures of, as well, since there are so many original buildings from the Middle Ages to the Baroque era, around almost every corner you find something intriguing. It’s really quite interesting walking along and seeing the old timbered houses, with every once in a while a statue poking out from one of them. Bamberg just screams with color, from pastel buildings lining its little lanes to the blazing red geraniums that tumble out of window boxes.
It all seems like old Germany at its finest, especially as you walk along the cobbled streets in its old town – which encompasses 3200 buildings and is a UNESCO world heritage site – towards the Imperial Cathedral perched on one of the city’s hills.
A Magnificent and Historical Cathedral
A visit to the 800-year-old Cathedral, formally known as St. Peter’s and St. George’s Imperial Cathedral, is another of the best things to do in Bamberg, Germany. It’s built on the site of two other cathedrals, both made of wood and which, not surprisingly, had burned down. It’s here that Pope Clement II, who was the second Bishop of Bamberg, was buried after he died after being Pope for only nine months.
The church is probably known less for Clement, however, than for both the tradition and modern religious art in it. It also is home to the statue called the Bamberg Knight, although to this day no one knows who he really is.
There are a number of restaurants in the old city that serve tradition Franconian food as well as plenty of shops that cater to tourist’s interests, especially, at this time of year, Christmas shops that were doing a brick business with both American and Japanese tourists.
A City of Breweries
As we wandered around town we noticed a number of those old craft signs that hang out in front of old shops in these towns. Several seemed to be the Star of David, the Jewish symbol, which seemed odd until we learned that in Franconia, the northern part of Bavaria where Bamberg is, it’s the symbol for a brewery, something which many Germans outside the area don’t even realize.
And since many of these breweries (there are nine of them in Bamberg) operate restaurants, we saw many of the signs along the main streets of the old town.
Bamberg’s known for rauchbier, a smoked beer that does have a unique smoky taste. I didn’t like it that much and preferred the standard local types, but some others I was with liked it.
It’s all a matter of taste, I guess, just like the city’s local delicacy, a stuffed onion.
If You Go to Bamberg, Germany:
German National Tourist Office
122 East 42nd Street, 52nd Floor
New York, NY 10168
Tel: (212) 661-7200
Bamberg Tourismus & Kongress Service