These days, river cruises are all the rage and a Danube River cruise is, perhaps, one of the most popular. But for a magical day trip, visitors can take a river cruise to Kloster Weltenburg, the oldest monastic brewery in the world, from Kelheim, Germany. Although brief, the cruise takes travelers through the Danube Gorge (or Donaudurchbruch), a stunning nature reserve lined with remarkable rock formations, to the tip of a peninsula where the famous Weltenburg Abbey offers solace and award-winning beer.
Brief History of Kloster Weltenburg
Kloster Weltenburg (or Weltenburg Abbey for English speakers) sits along a narrow crook in the Danube River about halfway between Ingolstadt and Regensburg while also midway between Nuremberg and Munich.
Bavaria‘s King Ludwig I designated the area as a natural monument in the 19th century and then in the late 1930s it was named a nature reserve. The area covers nearly 1400 acres. The limestone rock facades that line the river are up to 260 feet in spots and includes waterfalls and caves.
A Benedictine abbey, Abtei St. Georg in Weltenburg, was founded on the spot around the year 600 by monks from St. Columbanus. Remarkably, this makes Weltenburg Bavaria’s oldest monastery.
Today, it’s still an active monastery. The monks that reside there are busy men. In addition to their religious responsibilities, they run and maintain the abbey and its properties, including a gift shop, a guesthouse, and more.
Weltenburg Abbey Brewery (Klosterbrauerei Weltenburg)
The Klosterbrauerei Weltenburg, or Weltenburg Abbey Brewery, dates to the year 1050. Today, Weltenburg brews about a dozen or so beers, including an alcohol-free variety and Radler, a popular German style that combines beer with (in this case) lemonade.
Cruising to Kloster Weltenburg
The Danube River Cruise to Weltenburg from Kelheim isn’t the only way to reach to the monastery. But it sure is worth experiencing. With its natural park settings, the monastery is a popular destination for hikers and cyclists. From the clear, glass-smooth waters of the Danube, you get a completely different perspective on things.
Cruises leave from boats on the edge of Kelheim, a small town with a charming old city center of painted buildings. (Be sure to go for a stroll through Kelheim before you leave!) There are no reserved seats on board the multideck ships and the top desk is completely open air. The ships offer table service of drinks and light bites if you find it difficult to wait for the monastery.
The cruise, which takes about 40 minutes going and 20 to return, includes an audio track in German and English pointing out notable spots along the river and sharing important anecdotes and historical information. The audio tour guide is quite interesting. Passengers will get to see the series of metal rings in the stone mountain face that were used once upon a time for pulling boats upstream. There’s also a small historic cave church that the ferries sail by. But it’s when the ship passes through the narrow gorge that passengers get a thrill and a peek at the Befreiungshalle, or Liberation Hall, that sits high above the river. (Keep reading for a future post on the Befreiungshalle!)
Tips for Danube River Cruise to Kloster Weltenburg
There are a number of parking lots in Kelheim, including one directly next to the dock where the ship boards.
Things to See and Do at Kloster Weltenburg
Visitor Center (Besucherzentrum)
A first stop for new visitors to Weltenburg Abbey is the surely the visitor center. The spot is worth a visit, if only for its location inside a rock-cut cellar. But the visitor center also provides great information as well as a small museum that you can visit for a modest fee. The museum includes artifacts found at the site through the centuries and some background on the wildlife in and around this area of the Danube. There’s also a video (in German) on the history of the monastery, the monks who currently reside there, and the monastery today.
From outside, the white facade of the abbey’s church seems relatively modest. A kind of courtyard exists in the heart of the abbey, ringed by buildings and the Biergarten. The church sits quietly in a corner of this courtyard. While the exterior seems petite, the inside is a different story.
The Klosterkirche St. Georg is a remarkable piece of art and architecture. Work started on the church in 1716 and it was completed more than two decades later in 1739. Bavaria’s famous Asam Brothers, Cosmas Damian Asam and Egid Quinn Asam, were responsible for much of the project.
For anyone who has visited churches or royal buildings through Bavaria, the mention of the Asam Brothers will surely pique interests. The brothers are, after all, responsible for the Asam Church in Munich: an outlandishly lavish and indulgent church in the smallest of spots that initially served as their “private” place of worship. They also left their mark at spots including Munich’s Alter Peter and Trinity Church as well as the new palace at Schleissheim.
In addition to the four intricate and ornate altars in the church at Weltenburg, the brothers’ most memorable contribution to the project is, perhaps, themselves. Literally. Both brothers are depicted high above worshippers’ heads. The church’s impressive ceiling fresco, which shows a swirling spiral leading up to heaven that is lined with celestial figures includes Egid. Just below, a stucco figure of Cosmas, dressed smartly in a red jacket with voluminous curly hair piled atop his head, humorously keeps watch. (Look for the figure on the label of the brewery’s Asam Bock beer, too!)
The decoration throughout the church is remarkable. The church also features a historic organ from 1729.
By now you’re probably rather eager to get a taste of the Weltenburg beer. The Klosterschenke Weltenburg is the restaurant and Biergarten that sits in the heart of the abbey under the cover of lovely mature trees. The restaurant is open much of the year, but if you’re looking to visit during the winter, it’s worth checking their schedule.
The restaurant serves typical Bavarian fare that always seems to compliment the beer. And with the setting in the beautiful nature reserve, there are no shortage of ways to work those calories off. Or you can simply float back to Kelheim!
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All opinions, as well as all photos, are my own.