The Befreiungshalle, or Liberation Hall, sit atop the large hill named Michelsberg in Kelheim. One can see the hall from a distance away as it is very large and yellow in color. It is probably the most popular attraction in Kelheim.
Liberation Hall is an 18-sided polygon memorial commissioned by King Ludwig I of Bavaria to remember the battles won against Napoleon during the War of Liberation (1813-1815) as well as his concept for a united Germany. The supporting buttresses of the façade are crowned by 18 monumental statues which are allegories of the German tribes.
Ludwig I was very involved in the building of the Hall, including laying the cornerstone in 1842 and visiting the construction site during its building. Sadly, he was no longer living when the building was finally opened in October 1863. The statue of Ludwig I in the old city center of Kelheim shows King Ludwig with plans for the Liberation Hall in his hand.
Liberation Hall was designed by Friedrich Gartner, who used such buildings as the Pantheon in Rome for inspiration. Clearly one gets the feeling of being in the Pantheon when in the Liberation Hall.
Liberation Hall sits atop a large hill, Michelsberg, which means no matter how you get there, you have to go uphill first. There are roads that lead to the top which one can drive up (fee for parking) or you can take the little train to the top (fee). We opted to walk on the wide paved footpath for some exercise in the early morning. I’ll admit it was a heart pumper and we were a bit damp by the time we arrived at the top. But it felt good to walk up and the footpath goes through the trees with ample views of the Donau/Danube below.
Once you are at the top, you will need tickets to enter the Hall. From the parking lot, you will come to the ticket office (with café and bathrooms) before you see the hall. If you elect to climb the hill, you will walk to the left of the Hall and down the pathway until you come to the building.
Tickets are €3.50/per person (2013 prices). You get a ticket which is then scanned at the entrance to the Hall. The paid admission includes climbing up to the top of the hall.
Additional bathrooms are located outside the hall, to the right of the entrance in the little grove of trees.
The interior of Liberation Hall reminds me of the Pantheon in its shape and size, but not in its decoration. All along the lower part of the interior, from door all the way around and back to the door is a row of 34 victory goddesses that hold hands; they represent the 34 German states of the German Confederation in 1815.. They are large and rather beautiful. In the center of the floor is a mosaic amidst a beautifully patterned tiled floor. Unlike the Pantheon, the top of the ceiling is covered with clear glass (the Pantheon is open so when it rains, you can get wet inside).
Be sure to take the steps near the doorways so you can look behind the statues – you can get up close to them and see the detail and workmanship. As you climb up to the top and return back down, you can walk along the upper level gallery for a beautiful view below. Along the sides of the interior are the names of leaders and places of the battles.
Be sure to take the steps to the left of the entrance towards the steps that head up to the top for some truly wonderful views of the surrounding countryside. The steps are in a variety of forms – spiral, narrow, open, wide – depending on where you take them. And the going up is different from the coming down so you don’t have to worry about sharing the space with people going the opposite way.
You take the steps up to nearly the top before heading down with a stop at the second level gallery inside. As you depart the steps, you are on the backside of the lower level, behind the victory goddesses and you leave this area by the entrance way. At this point, you can either return to the center of the Hall or exit the Hall depending on what you still want to do. There are seats along the Hall if you need to take a break before heading out of the Hall and back towards your method of transportation.
The climb is part of your admission fee; if you are physically able to do it, I highly recommend the climb.
Stadtpfarrkirche Mariä Himmelfahrt (Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary) is the large yellow church near the Ludwigsplatz. It was a Sunday morning when we visited Kelheim and we could not get into the church due to services. By the time we returned to the city from Liberation Hall, we were so hungry we had forgotten to stop by the church. So I only can speak about the exterior of this church that dates back to the 15th century. The exterior was built in the Gothic style in the 1600s with the bell tower later added in the mid-1800s. The building’s nave was extended and the exterior renovated in a neo-Gothic style shortly after the bell tower addition. It is a bright yellow with a few interesting but primitive sculptures around the sides of the building. While the guides talk about an interesting marble high altar, I wasn’t able to see it on the day I was there.
The Mittertor can easily be seen from the Ludwigzplatz in the center of town. It is the gate that is closest to Michelsberg and the Liberation Hall atop it. In fact, if you are walking to the Hall from the old city, it is easiest to walk through the Mittertor on your way to the hill.
The original Mittertor was built back in the 1200s; however, what you are looking at today is a reconstruction which occurred in 1809 when the city rebuilt all three towers to look alike (albeit they all have different decorative items on them).
What sets Mittertor apart from the others is the painting showing the capture of Matthias Kraus, a Kelheim butcher that turned freedom fighter against the Austrians. His memorial is located outside the Donautor (see separate tip). The painting is done by Georg Lickleder.
Kraus, at the age of 34, stood up to the Austrian occupation forces and drove them from the city in 1704. He made himself Commandant of Kelheim and gained support from the locals and the town council. However, in 1706, he was betrayed, captured, beheaded, and quartered.
For reasons I cannot explain, I like the high water markers in these small towns. I know it sounds odd, but they fascinate me as I imagine what the town must’ve been like with so much flooding and how the water might have gotten so high. For Kelheim, the close proximity of the Donau/Danube is enough for me to understand the potential for flooding.
Kelheim’s high water marker is at the end of the Ludwigsplatz, behind the statue of Ludwig I (on the wall of the building). From this marker, you can see that the current highest level of water occurred in 1809. It doesn’t say how high the water was, but the marker was well above my 5’4” head!
Down the river (Donau/Danube) is Kloster Weltenburg (Weltenburg Abbey), a Benedictine Abbey founded in 600 on the site of an earlier temple from the Bronze Age. The abbey buildings date back to the early 1700s and were decorated by the famous Bavarian architects, the Asam brothers – Cosmas Damian and Egid Quirin – who are known for their heavy Baroque style.
The abbey is famous for another reason – it is the oldest monastic brewery in the world (coupled with Kelheim’s oldest wheat brewery in the world, I’d say that Kelheim has the beer thing well covered). Guests can enjoy the famous beer in the abbey’s courtyard beer garden.
Getting to the abbey is the trick – it is in a very secluded location along the Donau/Danube River. One can either hike to the abbey (maps at the Kelheim Tourist Information Center or online at their website) or take one of the cruises that go down the river and back daily, leaving from near the Donautor. On a beautiful day, either way will be satisfying as one heads down the river in this beautiful part of the country.
Another gate of the city, the Altmühltor, stands on the canal side of Kelheim’s old city. This gate, one of the three remaining has a coat of arms from Kelheim’s history – one that was used for the years between 1410-1809. The grapes on the coat of arms (along with the Bavarian blue and white colors) indicates the importance of the wine industry in Kelheim for so many centuries. Looking around today, you cannot see the vineyards; the wine industry of Kelheim is no longer there due to the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and changes in climate. Today, Kelheim is more famous for another beverage – its wheat beer.
Before you cross over the small bridge and go through the Donautor, you may spot a pretty waterfall with flowers all around it. At first, you will be inclined to think that it is just that – a pretty waterfall that the city created to beautify the area. But on closer observation you see a relief of a man in the stone that overlooks the waterfall. This is a memorial to Matthias Kraus, a local Kelheim man that stood up to the Austrian occupation forces and drove them from the city in 1704. Kraus was a master butcher and 34 years old at the time. He made himself Commandant of Kelheim and gained support from the locals and the town council. However, in 1706, he was betrayed, captured, beheaded, and quartered. There is a painting of his capture on the Mittletor.
We entered the old city from the Donautor because it was closest to where we had parked our car. It is one of the three remaining city gates and was built in the 13th century with recent restoration work being conducted on the gate in 2005. The Donautor (Danube Gate) was the customs house where it collected taxes on those entering Kelheim. There are two stone lions proudly displayed above the gate opening on the outside of the gate; these lions are from the old Wittlesbach Castle (now only parts remain within the halls of the Kelheim government building) and were installed on the gate in 1913.
As an added bonus, there are free bathrooms (WCs) just outside this gate for public use - very handy with the parking lot and boat docks across the street.
We just caught a glimpse of the tower standing tall behind a shorter building and happened to notice the sign indicating there was a historical item nearby. Today, the Erasmus tower is a private residence so we didn’t go inside, but it use to be a defensive tower that was part of Kelheim’s old city wall. Within the tower there was a meeting room in which the Weinzierl Brotherhood (local wine producers) met. In the 15th century the tower was converted into a church and remained that way until it became a private home in 1803.
In a small park setting near the old Wittelsbach Castle stands a statue of King Maximilian II of Bavaria. He is dressed in the garb of the Grandmaster of the Order of St. George (sans dragon). The Wittelbach dukes, especially Maximilian and Ludwig I, enjoyed coming to Kelheim and stayed in the castle. The town of Kelheim erected this statue as a way of saying thanks to the dukes for their favor given to the town.
Near the spot where you can board the cruise boats to the abbey stands a large yellow building that seems nondescript and it is easily overlooked. This is actually what remains of the old castle owned and used by the Wittelsbach dukes before the 15th century. You have to actually go inside the building to see the remains of the castle, which are large stone blocks. Prior to the 1600s, when the castle was demolished, it was used by the Wittelsbach dukes and the earlier leaders of the house of Scheyern. Today the building holds Kelheim’s government offices.
In front of the Tourist Information Center in Ludwigsplatz is an interesting fountain that shows the confluence of the Danube (Donau), Altmühle, and the Danube Canal. At the top of the fountain there is a type of relief map showing the rivers cutting through the terrain and all coming together in the center. As the water recycles itself, it flows off the map towards the ground off a ‘cliff’ on the fountain, which, thankfully, in reality is not there in the town. The fountain is different from most town fountains and worth a peek at.