Living history in Würzburg

It was a pin in the map moment. When planning this trip I could have spent a few more days on trains travelling back to the UK. However, I then realised I had quite a few air miles stored away which would get me a business class flight from Frankfurt. So having sampled the delights of Munich, I needed somewhere en route to provide a natural break.

And so to Würzburg. I knew nothing of the place other than looking at out on the railway map. However, it has plenty of history, the most significant of which shaped how the town looks today. And it starts as soon as your exit the railway station.

Before the Holocaust, the Lower Franconia region had the highest concentration of Jews, according to The Times of Israel. The poignant memorial commemorates those who were sent from here to a concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic. Each suitcase has its own QR code, linking visitors to stories of individuals.

Würzburg itself suffered one of the worst Allied bombing raids during the Second World War – and it shows. There is no old town, no obvious historic centre, just a sea of mediocre concrete throughout. The main shopping area is a large, sprawling affair with lots of familiar retail names. Including a place for your pick n mix.

For UK readers of this blog, the sight of a Woolworth’s store is as bizarre as anything you’ll see. Just like the British version, this is very much a place based on value. Hardware items are mixed with beach balls in the widow display. It really does feel like you’ve gone back to 1978.

There are historic sights in Würzburg, many of which were carefully restored after the War. The Cathedral is one such landmark – though this picture doesn’t tell the whole story. The town’s tram rails are undergoing major maintenance, and just behind this vantage point we’re barriers, drills and concrete mixers.

Visitors come here for two main reasons. The Festung Marienberg is a fairytale castle on the other side of the Main River. And to get there on foot, the Alte Mainbucke – the Old Main Bridge is the chosen route. Even on a cold day in March, the place is packed out. Many people are sipping Franconian Wine from an overpriced bar at one end of the bridge, Although it’s closed to traffic, cyclists are allowed to cross – and do so with little regard to pedestrians. It’s all a bit chaotic.

It also looks like a bit of a steep climb up to the fortress, and there is no familiar funicular here. Later in the day I see a poster for the sightseeing tour, which looks to be a land train as lasts 40 minutes. However, that doesn’t sound like enough time to get up the hill, so I’ll give it a miss.

Although the town centre is bustling during the day, finding any kind of nightlife proves to be a challenge. There are restaurants, but all look either quite dull or very touristy, and none seem that busy as I walk back through the streets. What we know as traditional bars are in short supply, but both Hans Huckebein and Standard provide an evening of entertainment.

The first is very much a locals place – but Max the bartender is friendly and knowledgeable about the beers he sells. There’s a decent local Pils, and also a Dark Lager, something that isn’t widely drunk in the UK but is nowhere near as strong or heavy as it first appears.

The Standard bar is much busier, and the crowd here is mainly students. A kitchen deliveres great value food until late into the evening, and while there is no special event as such, each group makes their own (often loud) entertainment. This pair were even using a timer for their vocal game of chess.

Visually, Würzburg doesn’t have the wow factor of other places I’ve visited on this trip. But you have to scratch beyond the surface to learn about its past. The current train construction works (April 2023) do mean quite a bit of disruption and noise – in a place where you could otherwise sip a decent coffee or beer on the pavement.

As far as pins on maps go, it’s worth 24 hours of your time. But as mentioned previously, I think I’d rather have stayed elsewhere for an extra day.


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