Springtime in Bavaria, when the sun shines everyone heads out doors. You never know when you may see the sun again, and you learn to enjoy it when you can. On a recent sunny day, we decided to take a trip to a well-known site near Regensburg, Walhalla.
Because we’re a family that can’t pass up the opportunity for a good hike, we opted for the slightly longer scenic route through the small town of Donaustauf. There is parking closer to Walhalla, but it’s still a bit of a climb up to the monument.
We followed the town’s main street to a park near the town’s war memorial, and from there took a path past the Maibaum (May Pole), where we ended up at an enormous Spielplatz (playground). Though we’d only been walking 10 minutes or so, the kids called a halt to the hike so they could engage in a more thorough investigation of the playground equipment. In the quiet morning shade of the empty park, the children scaled mountains, escaped bad guys and became heroes, or so they told us. Half an hour later our little adventurers were ready to continue with the hike.
The next stop on our scenic route was the Chinesischer Turm (The Chinese Tower). According to the website, it was built around the same time that Walhalla opened. It is an interesting building, but an iron gate surrounding it precludes a closer examination. I didn’t see any placards around so after a perfunctory glance we were on our way.
Once past the park, signs indicate two approaches to Walhalla. We opted for the Wald route, which took us on a nicely groomed path through the forest. It was a fairly quick and easy hike, even for the kids. Half an hour later, we stood in a clearing overlooking the Donau, Walhalla towering ahead of us.
Walhalla is an impressive structure, one of several memorials built by Ludwig I. He is also responsible for the Befreiungshalle in nearby Kellheim, and the Ruhmeshalle in Munich. I couldn’t help comparing the smooth white stone of Parthenon-like Walhalla, with the jagged ruins of the medieval castle standing watch on the next rise over.
We stood for a moment at the edge of the clearing. Boldly painted signs shouted at us in several languages, warning of the potential for our immediate demise if we dared to cross the white lines painted on the edges of the monument. Like most places in Germany, there are no safety rails here. We followed the path downhill to the front of the building. At the bottom of the staircase looking up, the steep climb before us was daunting. We made our way up the steps, slowly winding past the scattered groups of visitors soaking in the warm midmorning sun and the beautiful view of the Donau.
At the top, we paid a small fee to enter the hall of German heroes. I recognized several of the names, composers, authors, scientists, military leaders, politicians and royalty, but most were unfamiliar to me. The busts are interesting and the interior is stunning, but it didn’t take too long to tour. Back outside, we took a short break before heading back down the hill to search for a trail to the castle ruins.
We followed the signs for the Burg (castle) through a few residential neighborhoods, stopping to talk to some locals along the way. The fact that the children had walked to and from Walhalla and were now on their way to the castle seemed particularly interesting to the people we met. Since both hikes were pretty short, and both sites were fairly quick visits, combining them provided us with a full morning of adventure.
The entrance to the castle grounds is partially hidden, but the remnants of the wall that now form the border of a garden directed us onward. Just inside the entrance is a small cemetery, beyond that lies the remains of the castle. The Burgruine Donaustauf is one of the larger castle ruins we have visited, and we thought it was worth the trek up. We followed the walls toward the castle interior, and unexpectedly reached a wooden bridge connecting the hill to a small arched doorway.
As the children and I went to explore under the bridge, a fellow visitor warned us to keep a watch out for the castle ghost. I don’t know that the castle actually has a ghost, all we found under the bridge was stinging nettle. As we travelled deeper into the crumbling remains of the castle, the children rebuilt the castle in their imaginations. They ran from room to room telling us where the inhabitants slept, where they ate and what they did.
Sitting in the upmost floors of what remained of the castle, we took a moment to enjoy our surroundings. From Walhalla on our left, to the Donau in front of us and Donaustauf and Regensburg to the right, the views alone made the hike worthwhile. The Burgruine Donaustauf is part of the Regensburger Land Burgensteige, a set of hiking trails centered on ruins and intact castles throughout the region.
Following our day of hiking and exploring we were somewhat hungry and decided to go to Landgasthof Hammermühle’s Biergarten, which I located that morning on the internet. I probably should have taken a closer look at the menu before we set off, because rather than meals, they served brotzeit food, which is more or less the German version of bar food. Usually you will find schmaltz (a spreadable fat), obazda (a spreadable cheese dip), bread, pretzels and a few other small dishes. The kids had pretzels, and we had an assortment of cheese spreads. We enjoyed our brotzeit in the shade near the stream that runs past the Biergarten. It was adorable, and the food they did have was good. We had enough to tide us over until we returned home. It was adequate for a little snack, but if you have a big appetite, you probably want to look elsewhere for your meal.
Donaustauf is just outside Regensburg, if you are traveling in the area and have some free time, it is worth a daytrip.