Weltenburg Abbey- Come for the Beer, Stay for the History
Sitting somewhat precariously on the shores of the Danube not too far from Regensburg, you’ll find Weltenburg Abbey. I visited on a warm day in July. The plan was to tour the Brewery, but I was delighted to learn that there is much more to see at the Benedictine Abbey than just big vats of beer (not that big vats of beer aren’t interesting…). The Abbey also houses a small museum, and even more exciting, an Asam church.
Kloster Weltenburg’s location on a gravel spit of land near the Danube Gorge makes it a tough place for floods. (And there are markings on the archway showing where the high water reached.) Yet somehow, this monastery toughed it out close to 1000 years, even losing their land for a while. Today there are only a few monks left…but on a summer’s day, the Abbey grounds are bustling with activity.
A Visit to Weltenburg Abbey
You enter though a small archway, and suddenly the courtyard opens in front of you. Visitors are welcome to enjoy the afternoon in the Biergarten with its rows and rows of umbrella shaded tables under large Linden trees. You can have lunch, or maybe cake. Or try the cheese, made by the monks in the Abbey’s dairy.
But you should definitely try the beer.
Weltenburg Abbey Beer
There’s a mostly good-natured rivalry going on in Germany about who can lay claim the oldest brewery. Weinhestephaner brewing goes back to 1040 CE, but monks have brewed Weltenburger Abbey beer since 1050 CE… and the Abbey foundations on the shores of the Danube, date back to the 700s. In the end, whether those 10 years make a difference is totally up to you. And the beer brewing rites are “Pacht” (leased) to a company out of Regensburg.
The Weltenburg Abbey Beer Tour shares the history of brewing on the site. Four beers are brewed here. Weltenburger Kloster Barock Dunkel (Winner of the World Beer Cup award in 2004, 2008 and 2012 for best Dunkel), 1050 (referring to the date of the first brew), Helles, and Weißbier. You can taste each of them in the very cool beer tasting cellar. Tour the on-site brewery (you can to reserve that here).
Don’t feel like a tour? But, as I mentioned, visiting the Weltenburg Kloster is more than just a chance to drink beer.
The foundations of the Weltenburg Abbey date back to circa. 610 CE by Agilolfing Duke Tassilo I, making it the oldest monastic foundation in Bavaria according to the brochure (of course I grabbed the brochure). There is “evidence of human habitation from the Neolithic Age (4500-3500 BCE). (Makes sense, a nice spot on the river is a great place to settle).
In the 8th century, the Benedictine order took over the space, started brewing beer in 1050, and then consecrated a church on the spot in 1191. And so it went on until 1713, when Abbot Maurus Bächl took over. A strong leader and organizer, he breathed new life into the order. AND (and this is the exciting part) he brought in the painter Cosmas Damian Asam to update the simple rectangular church.
The Church Gets a Redesign by the Asam Brothers
Cosmas took the ball and RAN with it. First he reshaped the nave (that central part of the church where the people sit) into a domed ellipse. Then he painted frescos with stories of the spread of Christianity across the globe. (Side note- 12 Benedictine monks traveled with Columbus on the Santa Maria… so the spread of Christianity to the Americas is depicted in the paintings).
He also added an apse (the end of the church for clergy) on the east end to get more dramatic space for the altar. Then Cosmas brought in his sculptor brother Egid Quiri Asam to build massive sculpture of St Georg slaying a dragon, which dominates the space.
St George and the Dragon
Like most Asam works, the church is simply breathtaking. (Read more about the Asam Brothers here) You can’t just walk through and say, “I’ve seen it”. Sit, and LOOK. The Asam brothers, and later Cosmas’s son Franz, covered every surface with a story. Paintings, Friezes (dimensional sculptures in the wall), and Sculptures (even one of Cosmas himself laughing down at you!). Color and gold. I try to imagine what it must be like for the monks… then and now…to sit in that place and experience the history of Christianity all around you.
Cosmas looking down on you
Delivering the message of Christianity to the world.
Changes for the Monastery
From 1804 to 1812 Germany underwent a period of secularization and mediatistation. Which meant that many small principalities from the Holy Roman Empire coalesced into larger states (basically it went from over 300 to just 39) and a lot of religious entities lost their status, and became secular. The brewery and much of the land surrounding the Kloster were sold off. The church itself became a parish church for the area.
Then in 1841 King Ludwig I (the Oktoberfest king) gave the Benedictine’s their charter back. The Weltenburg Kloster went back to being an Abbey.
The museum may be small, but it’s a nice place to step out of the heat on a warm day. The history of the Abbey is laid out. There are old books and vestments, as well as old tools used in brewing.
I really found the exhibit detailing how the work was done in the church fascinating. There were unfinished sculptures showed how the plaster covers straw! And you could see the layers needed to paint the many murals.
Visiting the Weltenburg Kloster
Today, only 7 Monks live on the grounds (they must rattle around a bit). The Abbey Biergarten is open during summer months, and people are welcome to come enjoy themselves in the beautiful surroundings. It’s possible to wade or swim in the Danube…or you can just enjoy an Eis on a warm day (like my friend Carrie!)
For information about visiting the Weltenburg Abbey, check out their Website –> Visiting the Weltenburg Abbey
Kloster Weltenburg can be found just 5 Kilometers from Kelheim, approximately 30 minutes southwest (by car) from Regensburg. Be aware that the parking lot is a 10 minute walk from the entrance, and you walk between a wall and street.
And maybe on your way out, you can grab a go-cup (or small barrel) of Weltenburger Abbey Beer
You could also take an excursion to Kloster Weltenburg from Regensburg or Munich
Exclusive Bavarian beer tastings with Danube cruise from MunichViator
Regensburg: Day Trip to the Danube Gorge in WeltenburgGet Your Guide