All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2015 unless otherwise noted.
Thursday, October 22, 2015
By 8:30 AM, we were off on another full day of enlightenment, departing from the river town of Regensberg via coach to the Franconia region for a visit to Nuremberg. An alternate excursion to the medieval quarter of Regensburg was also provided.
Our first stop was the Documentation Center in the remains of Ludwig and Franz Ruff’s unfinished Congress Hall, which was the Third Reich’s intended equivalent of the United States’ Capitol Building. Today, the Roman-inspired ruin serves a noble afterlife as a museum, recounting the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party. We embarked on a self-guided tour with audio handsets that could be programmed at numerous stations along the way.
Nuremberg was the epicenter of the Nazi movement, from its “Racial Laws” of 1935, onward. The Congress Hall had a U-shaped footprint and was intended to house an arena that could accommodate up to 50,000 Nazi spectators.
Allied bombing and the fall of the Reich intervened and the Congress Hall was never completed. Today, it is symbolically “punctured” by the arrow-shaped glass and steel structure of the museum.
From the nearby Zeppelin Field, scene of six massive Nazi rallies between 1933 and 1938, we had a parting view of the Congress Hall.
Taking its architectural inspiration from the Pergoman Altar (an ancient Greek site in Asia Minor), Albert Speer designed the imposing Rally Grounds at Zeppelin Field. The giant swastika that loomed above the grandstand was blown up after the war and the grounds, themselves fell into disrepair.
The site used by Hitler to inspire his followers is now used as a race track and campground.
Today, there is ongoing debate about whether to fund much-needed repairs to the site or demolish it.
After a ride past many of Nuremberg’s highlights, including the courthouse where the Nazis were tried and brought to justice, we had time to wander the Medieval quarter and get lunch. In a wonderful gesture, our Tauck guide gave each of us 20 Euros and suggested several dining venues.
After a quick bite, coffee and apple strudel, we explored the old quarter, with its cobblestone streets, impenetrable stone wall and myriad arch bridges over the River Pegnitz.
We roamed the Old Town’s narrow alleyways, past shops, cafes and up to the base of the Nuremberg Castle, which flanked its uppermost wall.
Back at Regensburg, we had a final evening to pack and enjoy the luxurious, welcoming surrounds of the MS SAVOR.
A twilight jog along the banks of the Danube paid it forward a bit before we indulged in a final night of dining and wine-ing, Tauck style.
Friday, October 23, 2015
Although our Danube cruise was over, we still had two nights to savor the wonders of Prague, which we reached at noon after a four hour coach ride from Regensberg. This would be my first visit to the capital of the Czech Republic, which is situated on the Bohemian banks of the Vlatava River. After circling the city’s most alluring sites, we arrived at the InterContinental Hotel, which now enjoys protected status for its Brutalist-style Communist architecture dating from 1974.
Since our rooms wouldn’t be ready until late afternoon, Tauck once again exceeded all expectations and gave us each the equivalent of 20 Euros in Czech korunas for lunch.
We walked a few blocks to the Old Town Square where a wonderful vegan place called Maitrea offered a delicious alternative to the usual meat and potatoes so popular in the region. At 2:00 PM, we returned to the hotel to join Tauck’s Fountains and Gardens Tour.
Our first stop was Wallenstein Gardens and Palace, which were built for Albrecht Wallenstein, one of the most powerful Czech noblemen at the beginning of the 17th century.
One of Wallenstein Gardens’ most unique attributes is its artificial grotto, which is actually a giant Mannerist stone sculpture with the occasional mask, snake or gargoyle hidden in its contours.
We continued to our next stop, the 18th Century Baroque Vrtba Gardens, which are laid out in three terraces and interspersed with statues of Roman deities by Matthias Braun.
From the uppermost terrace, there was a stunning view of Prague’s sky-piercing highlights.
After so many days of rain, the golden sunlight was a most welcome sight, especially as it illuminated the distant Art Nouveau facades of Prague’s Old Town.
After tea in a local cafe hosted by our guide, our tour concluded with a walk across the famed Charles Bridge, named for King Charles IV who began its construction in 1357. Built atop sixteen arches and a half mile long, it took over five decades to complete. Today, the Charles Bridge is one of Prague’s most popular (and crowded) sites.
Saturday, October 24, 2015
The thick, dewy fog that greeted us when we left on our early morning tour of Prague Castle suddenly lifted as we entered the castle compound.
After a very cathedral-intensive week, our jaws nonetheless dropped at the architectural scale and Gothic grandeur of St. Vitus Cathedral, which rises to a height of 407 feet.
Begun in 1352, its construction took almost six centuries, thanks to a lack of funding and numerous wars.
In the 1920’s Art Nouveau master painter Alfonso Mucha rendered the stained glass windows in the north nave.
The morning sunshine cast a brilliant glow on one of St. Vitus’ mosaic-festooned walls.
After our return to the hotel, we ventured off on our own to explore some of Prague’s other highlights. Near the Charles Bridge, there was a mandatory falafel stop.
We crossed the Charles Bridge and meandered through the cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways of the Mala Strana district.
On our way to the Kampa Museum, which has a fantastic collection of works by Czech artists Kupka, Gutfreund and more, we encountered the Lennon wall. Inspired by the late Beatle, it has since the 80’s been a place for locals and visitors to post messages of peace and love.
We headed back to the Old Town via the Vitezna Bridge.
Prague’s soon-to-fall colors were glowing in the bright sunshine.
Located in a neighborhood of Art Nouveau and Baroque buildings overlooking the Vlatava River, the Dancing House, often called Fred and Ginger for its representation of static and dynamic (honoring the Czech transition from Communism to Democracy) in the form of two dancers. It is a fascinating Deconstructivist project that was designed by Frank Gehry and Czech architect Vlado Milunic. Largely misunderstood when built in 1992, it is now one of Prague’s most prominent attractions and has recently been featured on a gold Czech koruna.
Our Tauck journey ended much as it began, with a gala evening in the Intercontinental Hotel’s rooftop restaurant with a view of Old Town Prague. We toasted new friends and an utterly seamless travel experience rich in culture and history.
End of Tauck’s Danube Reflections
Special thanks: Tom Anderson, Mark Helbig, Aaron Saunders
Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea. With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications. Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India. He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."