Autumn is definitely here in Bavaria. The early mornings have been so foggy we can't even see the rooftops of the neighboring houses, or the microwave relay Largest church organ tower across the street. We start off the day wearing jackets against the chill. But the sun burns through by mid-morning, and by afternoon our jackets are stuffed in our tote bag. The leaves are just beginning to turn.
We determined to hear the noon organ recital at St. Stephen's Cathedral, which contains the largest church organ in the world. On our first visit we could see many of the organ pipes, but this organ, which would be an awe-inspiring sight in most churches, is dwarfed by the lovely columns and paintings of this church. Would the music live up to the art?
We reached the church about ten minutes before the doors opened. A crowd of people stood around in what they believed to be a line, only to have the group move and re-shape and re-form. The church ticket-takers were well-accustomed to this, including the several tour guides who bought dozens of Stephansdom tickets and then fought their way against the human tide to distribute them. We found pews almost in the middle of the cathedral and watched the people fill up all the available seats. By the time the recital started, every pew and folding chair had been filled. And recitals are held every weekday!
There is actually a system of five organs in the Stephansdom, located in different parts of the church. These organs were started in the first half of the 18th century, and the last organ upgrade was in 1978. All five organs may be played separately, or controlled from a single console. There are 17,388 organ pipes and 231 ringing registers. Following the path of the first arrivals, we sat near the center of the cathedral in order to hear all the pipes in balance.
The program was Bach's Prelude and Fugue in C Major BWV 545; Choralvorspiel "O Weigkeit, du Donnerwort" by Franz Schmidt (1874-1939); Toccata XI by Georg Muffat (1653-1704); Canzona secondo duono by Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643); and Te Deum op. 59, 12 by Max Reger (1873-1916). The selections were well designed to demonstrate the capabilities of the organ, using many different voices and registers. As we left the cathedral we saw the organist Prince bishop's palace ceiling standing at the rail of the organ loft, looking down on the crowds of people filing out. Not many were looking up, so we gave him a cheery wave.
We strolled through the old town, peeking into the prince-bishop's residence and two more churches. This area is filled with twisting cobbled streets leading from several large and busy plazas. When we entered the cathedral, a fruit and vegetable market was going strong; by noon they were packing up the unsold potatoes till the next time. Other squares contained tables under umbrellas, small vendors of notions and crafts and the occasional fountain and bench.
The entire city seems to be a pleasant, matter-of-fact place which just happened to have an ancient heritage. Certainly the shops and businesses are the standard year-2000 mix, and everybody seems agreeable and unrushed. But it is located at the junction of three rivers (Danube, Inn, and Ilz) and archaeologists have found traces of human settlement here as early as 5000 BC. Local market Their earliest written records only go back to the sixth century A.D!
We stopped to help a lady who tripped over a hose on the quay and barked her elbows and knees. She was from England, cruising on a Romanian boat down the Danube. We noted plenty of marine activity on the river: barges, cargo ships, and lots of good-sized tour boats. We've read there's a ro-ro facility 8 km upstream. It's a lively port.
It's been good for us to move from the glamor of Vienna to this common-sensible place, where the bus driver will wait for the woman who waved at him and is trotting to catch up, where smiles are exchanged between strangers, and where store-keepers are patient with customers counting out the unfamiliar coins. Because Passau is not a major tourist center, English is less commonly understood -- a circumstance which has concentrated our minds wonderfully on reviving our rusty German vocabulary.