Sunday, June 26
After breakfast we went for a tour of the Jewish quarter. Of course, the vast majority of the Czech Jews are gone. Many died in WWII from the Nazis, others fled from the Communist regime, so from a population that once totalled hundreds of thousands, only about four thousand or so live here today. We visited several Synagogues, including the Old New Synagogue. It was originally just the New Synagogue, then an even newer one was built, so it became the Old New Synagogue. And we went through the Jewish Cemetery, which is now higher because they built it in layers. There are about 50,000 people buried here, and the rule is there has to be 30 centimeters between the layers of bodies, and when it was full they brought in more soil and added a new layer. They finally stopped in the 18th century. Then we saw an exhibit of children’s drawings from Terezin, where Jews were shipped during the Nazi era, prior to being sent off to the death camps. In one synagogue the walls were covered with the names of people killed by the Nazis. We visited one called the Spanish Synagogue, but it had nothing to do with Spanish Jews (Sephardic), which are not found in this area, but simply because the decoration was done in a Moorish style typical of Spain. Outside this Synagogue there was a statue honoring Franz Kafka, a local writer. We finally returned to the hotel, and boarded a coach to take us to Passau. We boarded the Viking Rinda, did the orientation and the mandatory safety drill, then had a very nice dinner with some very friendly people who seemed to all connected to St. Louis somehow. As always, the food was delicious. It made for a full day, so we went to bed, looking forward to Passau in the morning.
Monday, June 27
We had the usual great Viking breakfast, then off on our tour of Passau. The town of Passau is situated where 3 rivers meet, the Danube, the Ilz, and the Inn. The Inn starts in Switzerland (Innsbruck), passes Salzburg, and arrives in Passau. At one time all of the salt that came from Salzburg into Bavaria had to pass through Passau, which made it a wealthy place. The town was the major town in this area at one point, site of the Cathedral, and Vienna was part of the Passau diocese. Like in Salzburg, the chief authority was the Prince Bishop, who combined both ecclesiastical and secular authority, and we toured his residence. The Bishop no longer lives there, he lives modestly in an apartment nearby, and the building now houses offices. But it is still pretty impressive. Then we went to the Glass Museum, which is in a hotel in the center of town, but still has an extensive glass collection. We spent about an hour there, and then returned to the Cathedral for an organ concert. The Organ is the largest in Europe, with 17, 974 pipes. And we heard a concert of Mozart, Muffat, Storace, Buxtehude, and J.S. Bach. All the pieces were good, but when it comes to the organ, Bach is the master, no doubt about it.
The center of Passau is on a peninsula where the Inn and the Danube meet, and periodically there is flooding. The most recent occasion was in 2013, and it stopped traffic on the river and covered the first two floors of buildings along the river. This was the second worst flooding recorded, the worst being in the 1500s.
The Cathedral of St. Steven is richly decorated with plaster work and with frescos on the walls and ceilings. The altar has a statue of St. Steven being stoned. There is also a King St. Stephen who was the first king of Hungary, so there are also cathedrals and churches named for him, such as the Cathedral in Vienna.
After lunch we went through a lock, and they had an afternoon tea on the ship, so I had an English Breakfast tea. We had dinner with two couples from Canada, and after dinner we had Movie Trivia in the Lounge where we teamed up with a couple from Ohio. We placed a respectable third place in the competition.
Tuesday, June 28
Up at 6 as usual, and at breakfast we were joined by David and Suzanne, a very funny and interesting couple who met in the Air Force. We just swapped stories the whole time. After breakfast, it was off to the walking tour of Linz. We began by walking on the “Walk of Fem” which had yellow stars commemorating accomplished women. Linz is the third-largest city in Austria, after Vienna and Graz, with a population of about 210,000 today. Linz is infamous as the place where Hitler grew up, and where he planned to retire. As a politician he promised to “Make Linz Great Again.” But it is also where the composer and musician Anton Bruckner lived, and also where Johannes Kepler the astronomer/mathematician lived. Mozart also got a boost here from the local Count who recommended him to the Empress Maria Theresa. In gratitude, Mozart wrote, in 3 days, a Linz symphony. That Mozart could write a symphony in 3 days is a miracle, but don’t overlook the musicians who had to play it for the Count with virtually no rehearsal. They had to more-or-less sight-read the music, I expect. Linz was an industrial city, referred to as the “Pittsburgh of Austria”. Our guide proudly explained that it was a lot cleaner now, but I would observe that so is Pittsburgh. In the local tourist office there is an aerial photograph of the city. In the old town center there was a moat which was filled in long ago and turned into a garden, but later when they excavated for an underground car park they found a bridge where the lowest level of foundation was Roman. The Danube was the frontier of the Roman Empire in this part of the world, with Roman cities on the south side and barbarian Germans on the north side. Because of its industry, and also because of its ties to Hitler, it was bombed heavily in WWII, so many of the buildings are either new or restored. After the walking tour I picked up some sandals, then we went back to the ship for lunch. After lunch it was time to relax. We spent three hours walking this morning, and I need to pace myself. We’ve done a lot of walking, and we are not yet at the half-way point of this trip.
Wednesday, June 29
Today we spent a few hours in the morning cruising the Danube and seeing the castles and vineyards that line the river. Not as spectacular as the Rhine Castles, but quite enjoyable with the narration from our cruise director Paul. The Danube was for a long time the border of the Roman Empire. North of the Danube were barbarians like the Goths, and south of it was the Empire. Periodically the Goths would be disturbed, such as the Huns coming in, and they would try to take refuge in the Empire. Sometimes they were given sanctuary, other times they were not and then they just might attack the Empire. Pacifying the border areas was an ongoing problem for the Empire, but over time it became one group of Goths fighting for the Empire against some other group. In the West, the Rhine was the border, but the issues were the same. Towards the end of the Western Empire, in the 4th and 5th centuries, the Roman Army was almost entirely made up of Romanized Goths. In the East, the Empire was beset by the Goths and other German tribes in the north, along the Danube, and by the Persians in the south. Particularly capable Emperors could hold back these pressures for a time, but the combination of military pressure and disease left the Empire (and Persia) fatally weakened when the Arabs burst out of Arabia in the 7th century. When the Ottoman Turks came on the scene their first target was the remnants of the Roman Empire, and finally in 1453 Constantinople fell. Then they turned north and set their sights on Austria. The defense of Austria against the Turks is a major theme of history around here.
We docked at Krems, and spent a little time walking through the town. Then we boarded a coach to take us to Göttweig Abbey. This Benedictine monastery was founded in 1083 by the Bishop of Passau. There are only about 40 monks there, and yet it is a large building. The reason is that the Emperor Charles VI wanted to have a royal residence here.
The Abbey is self-supporting using the revenues from the forest resources, the wine, and the apricot brandy.
As the day went on I was feeling a cold coming on, so when we got back to the boat I took some medicine and lay down for a nap. Dinner was a mix of traditional Austrian foods, and the staff were all in costume. And after dinner, it was straight to bed.