Krems Tour: Trade and Prosperity, Heresy and Belief

Welcome to this Reloading Humanism tour of Krems. The tour works through the use of buttons which when pressed initiate a Google Chrome plug-in that reads the English texts. Once started, pressing the button again stops the reading while pressing a third time restarts the reading from the beginning. Street directions are therefore at the beginning of each tour item so that the repetition of instructions is straightforward.

To begin the tour go to Körnermarkt 14 and entering Museum Krems say that you wish to see the model of the town, which is located in Room 2 and for which there is no entry fee.


The model shows the town as it would have looked between 1760-1795. The main features of the town, such as city-walls, streets and churches were however already established by the fourteenth century. The first settlement was built on a rocky outcrop that overlooked a wet-land landscape caused by the meandering Danube. On the model the site of this first settlement can be seen above the town’s eastern gate. Here there was a pallas or stockade where refuge could be sought in times of danger. To the North-West, the trapezoid square with three trees and a covered well in the middle, was where markets were held and so is called the “Hohe Markt” or Upper Market. In due course the stockade was rendered superfluous by the building of a castle situated on the South side of the Upper Market. In the thirteenth century, this castle was transformed into a town palace identifiable on the model by its castellation’s.

The settlement was first mentioned in 995 in a document drawn up after the Battle of Lechfeld. This was fought near Augsburg in Germany and at the battle, a marauding army of Magyars from Hungry were defeated. Following this decisive victory, the soon to be Holy Roman Emperor, Otto III, initiated a program of colonisation in which the unsettled and uncultivated lands of the Wachau were given to monasteries in Southern Germany. The newly arriving monks quickly realised that the slopes of the valley were ideal for growing wine and a significant stretch of the Wachau and the area around Krems was transformed into a patchwork of vineyards owned by different monastic institutions. Craftsmen and traders were attracted and slowly, law abiding communities were established.


By 1014, the settlement had grown to such an extent that land was granted to the church so that a larger building might be built. Situated immediately below the original church, it was not until a century later that the new church was completed. Built as a Roman basilica, the new church was dedicated to Saint Vitus and was linked with the old church by stairways. Saint Vitus was the patron saint of apothecaries and dancers and was invoked in cases of epilepsy. In Room 2, a sculpture dating from around 1520, shows him in a vat with his hands clasped together in prayer. The Saint was martyred as a young man by being placed in a vat of boiling oil. Feverously praying that he might withstand the torment to come, he was saved by a swarm of angels who lifted him up to heaven.


Between 1120 and 1193/94, coins were minted in one of the castle’s towers and examples of these so-called „Kremser Pfennige“, or Krems Pennies, can also be seen in Room 2. The reverse of these coins often features a walled city with gates and the existence of a city-wall and gateways in Krems is attested to in documents that date from 1188 and 1193. The town depicted on the coins can thus be assumed to be Krems itself. Meanwhile the obverse often showed a figure holding two lions by their tails or a figure engaged in combat with a lion. As a result of these coins spreading abroad, Krems or „Garmisia“ was the only European settlement outside Italy that the Arab geographer, Idrisi gave a name to on his map of the world of 1153. In 1196, Krems was important enough to be made a judicial seat, with the judge having a sword as a symbol of office. In Room 2, there is  a cupboard where the town’s judicial documents were kept. Also on display are a judge’s sword and sceptre.


Leave Museum Krems and walking South past the golden rain tree, cross the Körnermarkt/Dominikanerplatz at its narrowest point and then turn around to look back at the Dominican Church. During the Middle Ages schools and teaching slowly became established and boys would be taught by monks at grammar schools. With education people began to think for themselves and started to question aspects of Church doctrine. This resulted in the heresy, the most well-known heretics of the Middle Ages being the Cathars. For the Cathars there were two gods, one good and one evil. The evil god was the creator of matter and was the god of the Old Testament whilst the good god was the creator of spirit and was the god of the New Testament. Cathars believed that human beings were sexless spirits caught in the material realm of the evil god. Otherwise fated to perpetual reincarnation in the material world, Cathars sought salvation through a return to the good god of the New Testament. In order to counter the potential for schism that these and other beliefs brought, the Order of Dominican Friars was founded in 1216. In 1238, Dominican monks from Hungry were summoned to Krems to counter heresy and two years’ later, work started on the building of a monastery. This was situated outside the city walls as there was not enough space available within and unlike the other religious orders, the Dominicans wanted to be close to the people whose souls they were supposed to save. Work on the church started in 1240 and the building was completed in 1260. Although only the building of the church is documentated it is assumed that these dates also apply to rest of the monastery. Despite the Dominican presence, in 1315 an inquisition identified sixteen people in Krems who denied essential aspects of the Catholic faith. In a report the heretics were recorded as doubting the authority of the Church and its priests. Burnt at the stake, the heretics were evidently not without sympathisers as the Dominican Friar, Father Arnold, was sized by a mob and killed with a sword. Buried in a stone coffin in the Dominican Chruch, his body was exhumed in 1639 and was found to show wounds to the head and upper arm which had been made by a sword. Although those burnt may have been Cathars, they may equally have been Waldensers who, less radical in their beliefs, nevertheless questioned whether Church officials really were qualified to preach the Word of God. Rejecting the cult of relics and Holy Water, Waldensers maintained that it was irrelevant whether a person prayed in a barn or in a church. Opposed to idolotry, they refused to recognise the authority of the Pope and are seen as precursors of the Reformation. Soon after this incident and in any case before 1330, the small apse of the Dominican Church was knocked down and replaced with a larger structure built and decorated in a High Gothic style.


Continuing for another twenty Metres, brings one to Gaheisgasse which leads down to the Obere Landstrasse. In Krems, the beginning of the thirteenth century was accompanied by a second phase of expansion and from the South, the town began to spread out towards the West, with the old high street, the Untere Landstrasse, being extended westwards to form the Obere Landstrasse.

At the Obere Landstrasse, turn left and then immediately right and proceed along the Kassengasse to arrive at Hafnerplatz. Continuing on along the length of this square leads a substantial barn-like structure and a church. These were built in around 1250 as part of a defensive complex that was designed to guard the town’s south-western corner. During the fourteenth century, the area to the north-west of Hafner Platz was partially occupied and as the century drew to a close, the town’s walls were moved outwards to include this area.


To see the last remains of these walls, leave the Hafner Platz by going West so that the pallas and chapel are on your left and follow the Fischergasse as far as Schwedengasse. Turning right into the Schwedengasse, immediately on your left there is a small fragment of city wall. Continuing on along the lane, brings one to a much larger, restored fragment. From here the Steiner Tor can be seen immediately ahead.


The Steiner Tor or gateway is named after the town of Stein, in whose direction the gateway points. Going through the gateway and gaining a distance from it affords a better view of one Krems’ most well-known distinctive building. The two round towers of date from the end of the fourteenth century whilst the central square structure was built a century later by Emperor Friedrich III. In 1477, the forces of the Hungarian King, Matthias Corvinus had encroached upon Austrian territory and placed Krems under siege. Although the town was able to hold out, the encounter had shown that old walls only offered partial protection against modern weaponary. Accordingly, the town’s walls were strengthend and its towers were made to protrude out further. This latter feature was so that defenders would be better placed to shoot at intruders attempting to scale the walls. In 1485 Matthias Corvinus sent a second force and the recently modernised defences successfully withstood the siege. On the outside of the gateway, next to the date 1480, when at Friedrich’s behest the square structure had been built, there are the letters „A, E, I, O, U“. These stand for „Earth Is Under Austrian Omnipotence“. Although Friedrich’s rule was challenged, not only by Matthias Corvinus but also by Friedrich’s own brother, his not unambitious motto can be seen as being prophetic, as a few hundred years later Austria lay at the heart of an empire.


Returning back through the gateway, follow the Obere Landstrase East as far as Farbergasse. At Farbergasse turn left and then at the end of the street, right into the Schlüsselamtgasse. Here you will pass the Schlüsselamt or “Key Office” where, prior to the enlarging of the city walls there was a gateway and it was at this point that the older city wall was situated, with the Dominican Monastery lying outside its protection. In times of danger the monks would abandon the monastery and would seek refuge within the town. Following the Schlüsselamtgasse eastwards brings one to Krems Parish Church which due to its size is also known as the Cathedral of the Wachau.


At the end of the Schlüsselamtgasse, look up to the left for a view of the Piarist Church. Below, on the northern side of the square, a ramp leads up towards the church. Leaving the Cathedral of the Wachau for later, cross the square and go up the ramp, at the top of which there is the entrance to the original Bürgherspittal, or Burgesses’ Hospice. The burgesses were the wealthy and privileged citizens who ran the town and the hospital was run by them in conjunction with the parish church. During the Middle Ages, this was here that the sick, aged and infirm were cared and provided for.


After the Old Burgesses’ Hospice, a flight of covered of steps leads up the Piarist Church. This covered way is a Baroque construction and either side there are the original paths with the centre right path featuring a Gothic archway. Follow one of these ways up to the entrance to the Piarist Church with the tower on the left and behind one, a view over the town.

An essential feature of any community established during the tenth and eleventh centuries was an outlook tower that was manned by a look-out who would raise the alarm whenever bands of brigands or the troops of marauding armies were sighted. It was from such a tower that the Wachau received its name, for the word is an abbreviation for die Wache in der Au or, „the watch tower in the marshes“. In Krems the outlook tower was the Piarist Church tower, with the Romanesque windows hinting at the structure’s ancient origins. When times became more settled, such towers were manned so that the alarm could be raised when fire was spotted


The rest of the Piarist Church is for the most part Late Gothic. This was a Renaissance style that derives from the Gothic of the Medieval Ages. During the Renaissance Krems and the Wachau were largely Protestant and in Krems, the Piarist Church was popular with the burgesses of the town and those of Protestant persuasion. This resulted in the parish church in the square below, becoming so neglected that it fell into a state of disrepair.

In 1568 Emperor Maximillian II had acquiesced to a degree of religious freedom for Protestants in the Habsburg Empire through his partial acceptance of the Augsburg Confession. Full acceptance was however dependent on the drawing up and printing of an agenda, or order of service that prior to printing, was subject to imperial approval. Initiated by Protestant nobles in the Wachau, the first draught of the “Agenda” was written in Spitz in 1569. For this difficult task, the Protestant theologian, David Chyträus, was specially summoned from Rostock. Yet Chryträus’ order of service was only accepted once it had been given an extensive working over by Christoph Reuter who some years before had bought a property near Stein. Even so, to avoid upsetting the Catholic fraternity at Court, Maximillian’s approval was never officially announced but rather permission to print was granted on the condition that the operation be carried out in a secret, out of the way place. This was because those at court were more than aware of the power of the printed word and printers were only allowed to set up shop in regional capitals where an eye could be kept on what was being produced. Hidden away in the woods above Stein, Reuter’s recently acquired property of Scheibenhof gave the appearance of being perfectly suited and a temporary printing workshop was set up in 1470 with the first copies of The Agenda being printed in the autumn of the same year. Not as out of the way enough as had been hoped, word leaked out that something subversive was going on and whilst the Emperor was away, the printer and his assistants were arrested. Although the matter was later clarified, printing was transferred to the more remote location of Rosenburg and only resumed in 1571.

Following Maximillian’s death in 1576, the imperial throne was inherited by Rudolf II, who like Maximillian, had Protestant sympathies. These sympathies were not however shared by Rudolf’s brothers, who worked hard at inaugurating and promoting the Counter-Reformation in Bohemia, Hungry and Lower Austria.With the Counter-Reformation, Protestantism was eliminated from the region and as part of a series of demostrative gestures, the Piarist Church was made over to the Jesuit Order while the delapidated parish church below was rebuilt. As a part of the new program, in 1658, a series of sculptures with frescoed backgrounds were made that lead around the outside of the church. These show the Passion of Christ, with the story beginning at eastern end of the church and showing: The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemene, The Flagellation, The Crown of Thorns, The Presentation of Jesus as King of the Jews, The Carrying of the Cross, The Crucifixion and Christ in the Tomb.

After the Story of the Passion, one follows the Piaristengasse East. A major focus of the Jesuit Order was teaching and behind the high walls there is the Piaristen Gymnasium which is a flourishing grammar school.


The Piaristengasse leads out onto the top end of the Hohe Markt. Following the slope down towards the lower end of the square, one sees where the castle where, during twelfth century, the Krems Pennies were minted. During the thirteenth century the tax-collector and financial administrator, Gozzo, had the entire complex transformed into a Medieval palace which, losing its towers, was named after him. To the left there is Gasthaus Jell, behind which there is a house which was once a chapel known as the Katherina Chapel. First mentioned in 1503, the frescos inside the house can be seen by scanning the QR code on the information sign.


After the Katherina Chapel, go East and then turn down towards the South and follow the Wegscheidt down. At the bottom of the street, at Wegscheidt 1, looking upwards and you will see a derrick. This is one of many and serves as a reminder one that the prosperity of Krems was built on trading with the attic spaces of houses being used by merchants for storing commodities. Where the neighbouring town of Stein had the right to trade in salt, Krems concentrated on trading in ironware. Unlike Krems, Stein lay directly next to the River Danube and so could offering mooring facilities for barges. This disadvantage was however off-set by the fact that Krems lay on the North-South land route that lead from Prague to Venice. The prosperity of the two towns was thus very much connected.


From the Wegscheidt veer left on down to the Unter Landstrasse, or “Lower Land Street”. Follow this road as far as the ironmongers’ “Neunteufel”. Here, in the middle of the road there is a manhole with a cover that testifies to an important event in the interwoven histories of Krems and Stein. Although run seperately, many decisions were made jointly, including an important decision made in November 1462. In 1457, a dispute had broken out between Emperor Friedrich III and his brother, Albrecht VI. This was prompted by the unexpected death of the king of Bohemian and Hungary, with the two brothers arguing about who should take over the vacant thrones. Renouncing their loyalty to the Emperor, the Viennese favoured Albert. Although Krems and Stein initially sided with Albrecht, the councillors later decided to remain loyal to Friedrich and sent ninety soldiers to relieve the Emperor who was being besieged in his castle in Vienna. This tipped the balance and as a sign of gratitude, Krems and Stein were granted privileges and favours that greatly enhanced prosperity. These included the right to insist that all goods passing through the two towns should be offered for sale for a certain amount of time  and only being allowed to proceed onwards if no local merchant was interested in buying them. As shown by the manhole cover, also granted to the two towns was the right to use the imperial eagle as a coat of arms.


From the ironmongers’ follow the Untere Landstrasse towards the river and the site of the town’s eastern gateway. With the increased wealth and prosperity that the sixteenth century brought, houses in Krems were modernised and merchants would buy up two or three adjoining Medieval houses and convert them into single, spaciously laid out dwellings. The facades of these houses were then adorned, either with sgraffito or with sculptures and frescoes and at Untere Landstrasse 69 there is an example of such a house decorated with sgraffito and which is known as The Small Sgraffito House. Built in 1561, the dyed plasterwork shows scenes taken from fables, the Old Testament and from daily life.  


Retracing one’s steps back along the Untere Landstrasse, at Number 52 there is the Gattermann House. This is easily recognisable by an ornately decorated bay-window built on the corner, that extends over two stories. Both round and rectangular bay-windows were built so that proud house owners could look out over the street and show themselves to the world. Such citizens would send their children to universities as far afield as Padua in the South and Jena in the North. Trade contacts extended from the Mediterranean to the North and Baltic Seas and those who could afford to, wore cloth from Flanders and seasoned their food with spices that were imported from the East via Venice.

In the Gattermann House the burgesses would meet and over a glass of wine in a convivial and sophisticated environment, would discuss politics, topics of the day and themes of interest, such as the things they read in books and the new religious ideas coming from Germany. In 1559, 29 burgesses met in the Gattermann House, each drawing, as a record of having been there, their coat of arms on the upper part of the wall. By no means confined to Krems, the burgesses owned a house in Vienna, where they could stay for prolonged periods of time and play a part in national politics and policy-making.


Continuing on back along the Untere Landstrasse, at number 57, there is a house with Late Gothic window frames that also date from the Renaissance.

Further on, at the bottom of the Wegscheidt, a stone statue adorns a fountain and testifies to the existence of another gentleman’s club. This is “The Simandl Club“ which was first recorded in 1529. In Austria and Bavaria, Siman is an armchair hero while according to the oral traditions in Krems, he was a hen-pecked husband who, when wanted to go out at night, had to beg his wife for the key to the house. It is possible however that behind the stories there lies an element of irony that has since been forgotten


From the Siman Fountain, follow the Untere Landstrasse along the high street to number nine and turning right, follow the winding steps up to Althangasse. Here there is the Large Sgriffito House, with sgraffito decorations that are spread over two stories. As at the Small Sgraffito House, fables and scenes from The Bible are shown, along with motifs depicting daily life. Apart from depictions of musicians playing a variety of different instruments, including a bagpipe, there are also scenes that tell of a merchant’s journey to Russia.


From the Large Sgriffito House retrace your steps back to the Unter Landstrasse and turning right, continue on along the Untere Landstrasse to the Täglicher Markt, where the Obere and Untere Landstrasse meet. As the name implies, this Daily Market was the marketplace for the new town and was an important intersection with each of the four houses being adorned with a personification of one of the seasons. Above the apothecary, there is a personification of Summer, whilst the house diagonally opposite shows Winter warming his hands over a brazier. As the effigies at the Täglicher Markt were painted, Summer, having a dark tan, was referred to as a moor and the apothecary on the ground floor is known as the Moor Apothecary. Today the original statue, complete with its paint can be seen in Museum Krems.


In 1532, the house and apothocary at Obere Landstrasse 1, was destroyed by fire and on the Obere Landstrasse side, below the statue, an inscription reads: “In this year of 1532 when Emperor Charles waged war against the Turks, this house was burnt down but within two years, Wolfgang Kappler, medicus, built the same”.

Around the corner, above the personification of summer, there is a relief that depicts a wild man, who in one hand holds a pruning knife, whilst in the other he supports a coat of arms. The motif of the wild man derives from the Roman god, Silvanus. Silvanus was thought of as a friendly god of woods, who would plant trees in desolate places and tend to neglected saplings. He was however, also a god of herded animals. Wild men are a feature of Slavic and Germanic folklore and occur repeatedly in Medieval and Early Modern Age art. The wild man who supports the Kappler arms wears what is generally seen as a turban but might equally be a woven crown of foliage that spirals up into a point.

Born in Strasbourg, Doctor Wolfgang Kappler evidently came from a wealthy family as he had been able to study medicine in Venice. Thereafter he practised as a physician in Brno, before moving to Znaim, where he practised as an apothecary. In 1527, he received an invitation to be made a burgess of Krems, should he chose to move there. Accepting, Kappler bought the house on the Täglicher Markt and moved with his family to Krems. Of Kappler’s wife, Magdalena Gmundner, little is known except that she was the daughter of a baker and the mother of the couple’s thirteen children. Portraits of the couple and a family tree showing their children may be seen in museum Krems along with apothecary’s jars that date from the period.


During the Renaissance an important body of writing was a collection of texts known as the Corpus Hermeticum. This was thought to have been written by a „thrice-great Hermes“ and in the inscription below the wild man, there is a reference to one whose greatness is also three-fold. This is Emperor Charles V, who was king of Spain, Austria-Hungary and the Spanish Netherlands and the inscription records that the insignia were given to Kappler by the three-fold king/emperor. If there was a thrice-great king on Earth, for the Renaissance mind, the implication was that there was a being in the heavenly realm who was also thrice-great  ̶̶  this being the Hermes Trismegistos of the Corpus Hermeticum. Echoing this, the inscription below the wild man points out that the awarding of a coat of arms was a sign of merit and while he who bears them is corporal and mortal, he nevertheless has the capacity to address and pay homage to all that is divine.

The Corpus Hermeticum taught that at the heart of each individual, there was a spark of divinity which, if it were kindled, had the capacity to radiate. Through ignorance and bad habits however, this divine spark was often stifled and suffocated. By the time it reached the skin of a neglected and ill-kept body, the divine spark was nothing more than an animal hide of sensory impressions. Yet if the soul were to become purified and abandon the hairy hide of sensory impressions, symbolised by the wild man, it could ascend up towards the true light. This makes the pruning knife held by the wild man an emblem of purification. Although speculative, this interpretation is entirely in tune with Renaissance thinking. The importance of the Corpus Hermeticum during the Renaissance is shown by the fact that many scholars see the Renaissance coming to an end in 1620, when Issac Causabon showed that the work dated from the beginning of the first millennium. This undermined its supposed authority and showed the necessity for a new way of critical thinking when it came to the interpretation of evidence and phenomena.


At the Täglicher Markt, the top of the house on the south-western side is ornamented with coats of arms whilst below, there is a juxtaposition of Medieval and Renaissance images showing scenes from daily life. Originally emblems of the aristocracy and landed gentry, coats of arms were bestowed with increasing frequency on burgesses, this emphasising their position and status within the community. Next to this once colourful house on the Täglicher Markt, there is the Gögl House which is graced by a Late Gothic bay-window which formed the eastern end of a chapel.


Continue West along what is now the Obere Landstrasse, at number three, turn left into the Dachsberggasse where, towards the end of the street, there is an impressive courtyard with arcades that extend over two stories, with the coats of arms of the people who lived rendered in sgraffito. Like bay-windows, arcades enabled residents to see and be seen, yet they also allowed rooms to be accessed individually, so that with the new architecture, there was an increase in privacy.


Retracing one’s steps a little, at Dachsbergergasse 4, go through the archway into a courtyard where there is an arcade with simple, rounded arches. This complex of buildings formed the new Burgesses’ Hospice. Completed in 1470, it was built on the site of the Jewish Ghetto which the Jews had been forced to abandon fifty years before. During construction work, a pot of gold coins was found, doubtless buried by a worried Jewish citizen. Invoking treasure trove, Friedrich III saw the find as his. Yet the burgesses argued that in this case, it was a gift from God, donated so as to help fund the building a hospice church. Fifty years later, it was somewhere in this complex that the statue of Saint Vitus in a Vat seen in Room 2 of Museum Krems stood, after having been commissioned by the burgesses of the town.


Returning to the Obere Landstrasse by going through the courtyard and turning right and then at the Obere Landstrasse turning to the right again brings one to a Gothic doorway that is the entrance to the Burgesses’ Hospice Church. Above the door, as at the Steiner Tor, there are the initials of the Emperor’s motto, A,E,I,O,U, carved as a message of thanks to the Emperor, who resolved the dispute over the pot of gold by donating 150 Gulders to the building of the new church. Inside, the gracile, inter-laced fan-vaulting on the ceiling is typical of the Late Gothic style and is characteristic of many churches in the Wachau.

The church is dedicated to Saints Phillip and Jacob and although the Baroque furniture dominates, a Renaissance detail that deserves attention is the tabernacle on the right-hand side of the main body of the church. At a synod decision made in 1274, it was decreed that in the Diocese of Passau, the consecrated but not yet dispensed sacraments, were to be kept in secluded space protected by an ironwork grill. There thus arose a tradition of making intricate wrought-iron grating’s which lasted up until the sixteenth century, with the Burgesses’ Hospice Church in Krems providing a fine example. Although it cannot be seen at close quarters use the zoom of a camera or phone to look more closely. At the top Christ is shown as the Judge of the World, while below there is a monstrance with Maria and Saint George either side. In the next row there are three “IHS” symbols, which stand for, in hic salus, which means, “in this sign”. Below, these invocations are followed by scenes from the Passion and hunting scenes. Above, between the Gothic pinnacles, a six-winged cherub announces the presence of God and bestows blessings.


On the other side of the Obere Landstrasse, the building opposite the Burgesses’ Hospice is the back of the Rathaus or Town Hall, with a sumptuously ornate bay-window hinting that this is a municipal building of significance. At the Rat or “advice” house, citizens could and still do, seek advice on all manner of municipal matters. Featuring coats of arms and two soldiers in relief, the window is supported by a sculpture of Hercules fighting a lion. This stands for the strivings of the city and its burgesses in tackling the problems that confront it.


Leaving the Obere Landstrasse and following the Kirchengasse up a slight slope, leads to the Pfarrplatz, on the South side of which, a short flight of steps leads up to the Rathaus, or Town Hall of the Municipality of Krems. Passing through the glass doors, one enters a large hallway with a vaulted ceiling. Here the columns are notable, as their capitals betray a lack of awareness of the difference between Romanesque capitals and the Greek and Roman originals that comprise the three orders of classical architecture. This ambivalence is important, as it gave northern Renaissance architects and masons the freedom to invent new forms, resulting in architectural gems such as the Toll Collector’s House in Stein. In the Town Hall, there is a photocopy of the decree issued by Holy Roman Emperor, Otto III, stipulating that the Wachau was to be colonised by monasteries as far as the town of Krems.


Next to the Town Hall is the Parish Church or Cathedral of the Wachau already encountered. After years of neglect, the building and its fabric were so dilapidated that already in 1529, permission had been granted by the Pope for it to be knocked down. Nevertheless there were delays and it was not until 1616 that work on a new building was finally begun. In 1589, the citizens of Krems and Stein had been urged to return to the Catholic faith and in an act of open defiance in front of the Town Hall had refused. For this, the various trading privileges that Krems and Stein had enjoyed for over a hundred years were revoked. As a result of this, many protestants left and prosperity plummeted, nevertheless the overriding aim had been achieved and Krems and Stein had been re-integrated back into the fold of Catholic belief. The rebuilding of the parish church was thus a major Counter-Reformation statement and while  outside the church does not look unduely ornamentated, inside the full gamut of the Baroque illusionism awaits. The new building was designed by the Italian architect, Cypriano Biasino, with the fabric of the building being completed in 1630. Enter the church to experience a huge vaulted space of Baroque opulence that is nevertheless harmoniously balanced and orchestrated. Once completed, it was only during the course of the eighteenth century, that the altar, pulpit and other items of church furniture added, with one of the last contributions being the images on the walls and ceiling which were painted in 1787, by Martin Johann Schmidt from Stein.


From the Parish Church, go back to the Obere Landstrasse and continue on West in the direction of the Steiner Tor, admiring the ornately ornamented facades of numerous Baroque houses along the way. At the Steiner Tor turn right and walk up towards the Körnermarkt. At Schmidgasse 3 you will pass the Baroque house where Cypriano Biasino lived. Continuing on, at Körnermarkt 4, which is immediately on your right at the end of the Schmidtgasse, you will see “The House of the Four Seasons” with another rendition of the cycle, this time in a Rococo style, a lighter style of architecture that came after the Baroque.  On the corner there is a statue of Saint Nepomuk,  a saint from Prague who, often depicted in Central Europe, was a patron of bridges and of the confidential nature of confession.


As the name says, at Körner Markt or, the Corn Market, corn was sold. Yet for two weeks a year, starting from 28th October, the Corn Market became the Simon and Judas Market and was where saffron was sold. From the Middle Ages up until the end of the eighteenth century, saffron was grown in large quantities in the Wachau and in 1786, a staggering 4.5 metric Tonnes of saffron was sold in Krems. At the centre of the square there is a column topped by a Baroque sculpture of the Virgin Mary, while on the base below, a cherub with a sword drives a fallen angle back down to Hell while another holds a fish and a third a cornucopia, these latter being symbols of health and plenty.


With the Counter Reformation and the foundation of the Jesuit Order, the Dominicans were no loner at the forefront when it came to the mission of preaching and keeping the populace on the straight and narrow path of orthadox belief. This resulted in their becoming an order that was dedicated to poverty. As the cultivation of poverty was not something that Emperor Joseph II, saw as being useful for society, he had the Dominican Order closed down and in 1786 the church was secularised and became a button factory. Later it the nave was used as storehouse and a fire brigade station, whilst the apse was used first as a theatre and then as a cinema.

At the end of the nineteenth century, it was on the first floor of the Dominican Church that the newly established Krems Museum held its first exhibition. At the end of the 1960’ies the first floor and partition walls that divided the space of the church, were removed so as to reveal the original decorations. In the nave, these date from 1260 and in the apse from around 1320. Today Museum Krems is housed in the monastery buildings behind the church and apart from telling the story of the town and the region, also tells the story of wine and wine-growing. In the museum, information is available in English and German, this making it an ideal place to continue learning about the region and the history of the much-valued commodity that it produces.


The tour of Krems starts with a model of the town that can be seen free of charge in Room 2 of Museum Krems. Thereafter a figure of eight route is followed through the old town where historic highlights are pointed out and explained. Included in this tour are developments in religous thought over the centuries: Medieval heresy, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation and the dissolution of certain monastic orders. If all items are listened to, a minimum of one and a half hours must be allowed. To open up the itinerary and start the tour click on the title above.

Stein Tour: Salt, Houses, a Bridge and a River

Welcome to this Reloading Humanism tour of Stein. The tour works through the use of buttons which when pressed initiate a Google Chrome plug-in that reads the English texts. Once started, pressing the button again stops the reading while pressing a third time restarts the reading from the beginning. Street directions are therefore at the beginning of each tour item so that the repetition of instructions is straightforward.


At the Krems-Stein Schifffahrts- und Welterbezentrum or Shipping and World Heritage Centre, an open air exhibition gives an informative introduction to the history and culture of the Wachau in English and German. Looking South across the river one sees the Benedictine monastery of Göttweig, which is old German for “Where God whiles”.


From the World Heritage Centre walk inland. Using the two zebra crossings, leave both roundabouts on your right and cross the Steiner Donaulände. During the Middle Ages, on the other side of the second round about there was a harbour which was only discovered when the State Gallery of Lower Austria was built. For hundreds of years, where Krems was blocked off from the Danube by an island, at Stein barges could moor along the river bank so that cargoes could be loaded and unloaded. This advantage was matched by the fact that Krems was on the North-South route that lead from Prague to Venice. The economic prosperity of the two towns was thus linked and although run sepeartely, many decisions were made jointly.


Leaving the State Gallery of Lower Austria on the other side of the street, continue on up the slope and take the first left to arrive at the Kremser Tor, or „Krems Gateway“. This is the eastern gateway to Stein is so named as  it faces in the direction of Krems. Built in 1470, the steeply pointed roof is a Renaissance feature.


Passing through the gateway, on the right-hand side one immediately comes to Steiner Landstrasse 14. Stein occupies a narrow strip of land between the steep slopes of the plateaux above and the course carved out by the River Danube. Although the fabric of the houses on the Steiner Landstrasse date from the Middle Ages, buildings were repeatedly adapted and rebuilt over the centuries so that today, the town is largely defined by the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Earlier architectural fragments however abound such as here, at Number 14 where an extended bay dates from the Renaissance. Once common, this form of Late Gothic pipework was used as an adornment on doorways, window-frames and supports and is now rare.


After the example of Late Gothic pipework, take the first right to approach an archway over which a Gothic chapel with an eight-sided tower has been built. This is the Göttweigerhof Chapel and dates from the fourteenth century and so from the Middle Ages proper. As can be seen from the sign on the right hand side, the frescos that decorate the chapel, hallway and oratorium are important examples of Gothic fresco painting and the interior also features rib-vaulting and niches.

For those who can spare the time, the key to the chapel can be borrowed from Museum Krems. During the winter months (when the museum is closed) the key is available from the city’s Cultural Office which is situated above the museum on the second floor. Borrowing the key costs € 2 per person and includes a highly informative folder which is available in either English or German.


Going through the archway one enters the Göttweigerhof or “Göttweig Courtyard” itself. So that they could keep themselves financially afloat, monasteries were granted extensive areas of land which over the centuries was then added to through wills. Like many monasteries, the monastery at Göttweig owned land on both sides of the River Danube. This was let out to tenants on a tithe basis, with the monastery having a say in how crops were grown and harvested and with tithes being delivered to central depots where everything coming in was counted. The Göttweig Courtyard was the agricultural collecting yard for Göttweig Abbey and was where the farm factor lived who oversaw operations. Here, crops such as wheat and barley were stored while grapes were pressed to make wine.

Crossing the courtyard and going through the archway on the other side, leads out of the old town. Turning right and looking at the eastern wall, one can see that the outer buildings have a defensive character and that on the landward sides of the town, beyond the walls, there was once also protective ditch. Returning back through the Göttweig Courtyard, at the Steiner Landstrasse turn right and carry on along the high street towards the West.


At Steiner Landstrasse 27 and 27a, two imposing houses form the southern side of the Minoriten Platz and it was in these Salzstadl, or “Salt Steadings”, that salt was stored prior to re-sale. Built in 1579, they testify to the importance of the salt for the town. Rock salt was mined near Salzburg in an area known as the “Salzkammergut” and was then shipped by river to Stein. This was done using craft that increased in size as the salt was carried first along the tributaries of the River Traun and then along the Traun itself, down towards the Danube. As Krems was cut off from direct access to the river, for hundeds of years only Stein had the right to buy and sell salt. Although this privilge was hotly disputed, Krems was only ever able to acquire the privilage intermittently.

In 1457, following the death of the King of Bohemia and Hungry, Lasislaus Posthumus, a dispute broke out between Emperor Friedrich III and his brother, Albrecht VI about who should take over the vacant thrones. During the dispute salt was a major item of contention between the brothers, with Albrecht claiming the salt mines of Hallstatt and Friedrich those of Altaussee. As the dispute disrupted the salt trade, the two villages resolved the problem by signing a treaty. For Krems and Stein however, being much closer to Vienna, this was not an option. Renouncing their loyalty to the Emperor, the had Viennese favoured Albrecht and although the two towns initially sided with Albrecht, the councillors later decided to remain loyal to Friedrich. To this effect in November 1462, ninety soldiers were sent to relieve the Emperor who was besieged in his castle in Vienna. This tipped the balance and in 1463, as a sign of gratitude Krems and Stein were granted privileges and favours that greatly enhanced prosperity. These included the right to insist that all goods passing through the two towns be offered for sale for a certain amount of time and only be allowed to proceed onwards if no local merchant was interested in buying them. By the end of the year the dispute was resolved permanently through Albrecht’s dying without an heir. Inside the Salt Steadings, closely spaced, thick beams were designed to support the weight of the salt stored on the first floor. This guarded against the damage caused by floods. These took place on average every five years and were often a result of snow melting in the spring.


Continuing on along the Steiner Landstrasse, pass through Ludwig-von-Köchel-Platz and approach the Church of Saint Nicholas. Before entering this lower church however, those who can should climb the steep steps that lead to the upper church. This is Lady Hill Church and it was on this rocky outcrop that the beginnings of Stein as a settled community are to be found. The first people to live here were Slavs who inhabited the Northern banks of the Danube during the Late Roman Era and the Age of Migration. The current church stands on the site of an older church that dates from the eleventh century, the foundations of which in turn, stand on a structure that dates from the Roman era. Passing through the base of the tower, continue on to arrive at the Rebentor, or “Vine Gate”. Either side of the Rebentor, the town’s northern wall once extended along the length of the Kellergasse.


Returning back towards Lady Hill Church, if instead of going straight on, one turns right and follows a narrow flight of steps downwards, one arrives at a well from which, for hundreds of years, water was drawn. Once a busy meeting point, this is now a tranquil spot where a refreshing drink of spring water may be enjoyed. From here, turn left to return to Lady Hill Church.


During the thirteenth century, even though it was not yet finished, the lower church was made the official parish church of Stein, with the upper church being dedicated to the Virgin Mary and becoming Lady Hill Church, or the Frauenberg Kirche as it is known in German. The church’s current form derives from the 1380’ies with the interior dating from around 1470. Meanwhile the tower dates from late sixteenth century which is then capped by a distinctive Baroque roof. The tower has seven stories and unusually there is a chimney. This is because up until 1970, the top floor was where a watchman lived who would keep a lookout for outbreaks of fire. In 1966, the church was dedicated to the memories of those who had fallen during the First and Second World Wars.


Going back down the steps and turning right leads to the entrance of the new church, which in 1263 was declared the parish church of Stein. This is the Church of Saint Nicholas which as a finished building is first mentioned in the fourteenth century, with the current structure dating from the fifteenth century. Built in a Late Gothic style, inside there is a kind of webbed rib vaulting that is typical for the region.

During the eighteenth century, the church was fitted out with a dominating array of Baroque furniture which enclosed large paintings by the acclaimed artist, Martin Johann Schmit who lived in Stein. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the black and gold furniture was replaced by furnature in a much lighter Neo-Gothic style. Nevertheless as a tribute Martin Johann Schmidt a large altarpiece with a painting by the artist was allowed to remain. This is located in an alcove on the North wall and shows Saint Nepomuk. A side altar on the South side of the church also features a painting by Martin Johann Schmidt and shows the church’s patron, Saint Nicholas. Reflecting the importance of the river, both altarpieces address saints who may be called upon by those in danger of drowning and the saints are depicted in the process of saving people from watery graves.

Nine other paintings in the church by Martin Johann Schmidt were sold in order to pay for the new Neo-Gothic fittings. Nevertheless the pews, font and organ are all Baroque. The Neo-Gothic fittings are well-designed and masterfully executed and admirable compliment the Late Gothic architecture. While the small main altar allows light from the specially commissioned stained glass windows to flow in, the pulpit is particularly gracile, despite the fact that it is surmounted by an almost life-size statue of Saint John the Baptist. All this serves to re-endow the church with an airy quality that for two hundred years was suppressed.


Opposite the church there is the vicarage with a Baroque façade by Johann Michael Flors who was responsible for a number of façades and moulded ceilings in Krems and Stein. Turning right, on the South side of the church’s exterior there is a larger than life-size image of Saint Christopher. This dates from 1537 and was once clearly visible from the river. Renowned for having successfully carried Jesus across a river despite the ever-growing weight of the cares that the Son of Man bore, Saint Christopher was popular among the Schiffersleute or „shippers“, who worked on the river and the fresco shows the Saint stepping into a river with the Christ Child on his shoulder.


Following the Steiner Landstrasse on towards the West, brings one to Rathaus Platz where the Town Hall is. Here citizens could and still can, ask for “Rat” or advice, on all manner of matters relating to life in the town. The building only became the Town Hall in 1701 and is fitted with an impressive staircase and an official reception room with a moulded ceiling that dates from 1740/1750. This latter is also reckoned to be the work of Johann Michael Flors. In 1779, the façade of the Town Hall was rebuilt by the renowned Baroque architect, Johann Michael Ehmann who has a square named sfter him and shall be encountered again.


At the centre of Rathausplatz there is a three columned monument that honours Johannes Nepomuk (1350-1393). Nepomuk was a Bohemian priest and martyr who became popular during the eighteenth century. He was martyred by being thrown into the River Moldau from the Charles Bridge in Prague and left to drown. According to legend, as his body floated downstream, it was accompanied by flickering tongues of fire. An inversion of the circumstances of his death has thus made him a patron saint of bridges who offers protection against death by drowning. Built in 1715, the monument utilises the latest in Baroque illusionist technology and suspended from the baldachin, a cloud and a cherub are held aloft by a chain. Like the Virgin Mary Nepomuk is often depicted with a halo adorned with five stars. Although this is not the case here, the five cherubs surrounding him, are holding his stars for him.


After the Rathausplatz, at Steiner Landstraße 76, there is the Großer Passauerhof, which has a Renaissance façade topped by dog-tooth castellation’s and ornamental, miniature turrets. Krems and Stein belonged to the Bishopric of Passau and the so-called, „Large Passau Courtyard“, was the bishop’s episcopal residence in Krems-Stein. The building was originally three houses that in the middle of the sixteenth century, were moulded into one. Like the Göttweigerhof, the courtyard was an agricultural collecting yard where a factor lived and where crops were collected and grapes were pressed.


Continuing on along the Steiner Landstrasse, one comes to Schürerplatz, which is much the living heart of Stein. In the north-western corner there is the „Toll Collector’s House“. The Toll Collector was the person who organised the tolls that were due for crossing the bridge situated just outside the town. On the ground floor, the most noticeable features of this forgotten gem of Northern Renaissance architecture, are the columns that support the bay-window. These derive from a tradition that, lacking an in-depth acquaintance with the Greek orders of architecture, did not distinguish between genuine Roman capitals and their Romanesque descendants. This misunderstanding lead to an innovative and unrestrained approach that resulted in a uniquely northern style of Renaissance architecture and design.

Higher up, enclosed in the ends of the scrolls that hide the gable ends, there are portraits of Emperor Ferdinand I and his wife, Anna, whilst above the windows of the two-storey bay-window, there are the arms of Ferdinand and the imperial crown and eagle of Austria. Above, a cherub holds a tablet with an inscription that reads: Jupiter in coelis Caesar regit omnia terris 1536. This translates as: „Jupiter, the heavenly Caesar rules all Earth 1536“. Above the first floor window, a second  inscription reads: Verbum Domini manet in aeternum ex. This is taken from Isiah 40:8, in which the prophet says: „The grass withers and the flowers fade but the word of the Lord endures for ever“, with the inscription only giving the second phrase. The emphasis on the Word of God that suggests a Protestant inclination, while the inscription above implies humanist learning. This hypothesis is supported by the building’s other decorative elements which consist of dolphins and floral motifs. These are typical for the Renaissance and derive from a style of decorative, ornamental painting known as grotesque. This was a form of ornamentation that going beyond the strictly ornamental, was alive with interconnected elements, flowers for example, being linked with masks, whilst singing birds stand next to dolphins, all held together by filigrees of twirling, interconnected lines.


Continuing on along the Steiner Landstrasse, at Number 90, there is the Holzinger House which was built by Christoph Holzinger between 1595 and 1599. Over the entranceway, a relief shows a knight in armour holding an up-raised chalice while below him, the key-stone shows Holzinger’s coat of arms accompanied by a lion and a griffin on either side. The letters CHVL stand for „Christoph Holzinger von Linz“. Holzinger’s coat of arms were bestowed on him by Emperor Rudolf II for his services in the wars against the Turks and after retiring from the army, he administrated the Salt Office in Krems and Stein. In 1605, he was elevated to the nobility and awarded a second coat of arms which is shown on the keystone of Number 88 which he bought three years later in 1608. At Number 90, the fragmented frescos on the façade date from between 1540 and 1580 and show Saint Florian, the patron saint of fire-fighters and Lucretia, both accompanied by verses that can no longer be reconstructed. Saint Florian chose to die as a martyr rather than renounce Christianity and Lucretia, after she had been raped, chose to die rather than live as one defiled. Here one can see that the confident vivaciousness of the Renaissance is beginning to fade and a limpness has begun to set in that is matched in religion by the dogmatism and intolerance of the Counter-Reformation. In view of Holzinger’s rapid career, it is unlikely that he was a Protestant.


Dating from the same period as the Toll Collector’s House but built in the Late Gothic style, at Steiner Landstraße 92 there is the Karlingerhof, also known as the „Green Castle“. Although this appears  Medieval it is in fact Late Gothic and if one looks carefully at the remaining decoration, one can see that the motif’s and imagery again exemplify the grotesque style of decoration that was very much en vogue.


Continuing on along the Steiner Landstrasse brings one to Johann-Michael-Ehmann Platz where there is a Baroque statue of the Virgin Mary, flanked by Saint Sebastian and Saint Rochus. Apart from re-designing the façade of the Rathaus in Stein, in 1786 Ehmann was awarded the commission of re-building the church and monastery at Maria Langegg. Located on the other side of the river in the Dünkelsteiner Wald, during the seventeenth century, Maria Langegg became a place of pilgrimage to which the citizens of Stein repeatedly journeyed to in times of plague.


After the statue at Johann-Michael-Ehmann Platz, turn left down towards the river to see on western side of what was once a gateway, a relief known as „Bathing Jesus“. This name refers to the fact that floods often subjected the depiction of the crucified  Saviour to a partial and sometimes total immersion. As the florally-derived decoration is related to that on the Green Castle, this alienated and transposed fragment can be assumed to date from the Renaissance.

On the other side of the street, at Steiner Donaulände 90, a mooring ring for barges may be seen, with there being another one at Number 88. Up until the nineteenth century the Danube was where the Steiner Donaulände is now. Along the length of Stein there were no harbours as such and mooring was simply a matter of approaching the bank and making fast. This implies that the Danube was once much closer to the houses than it is today and as shall be seen later on, this was indeed the case.


Returning to the Steiner Landstrasse, at Number 102 there is the schnapps distiller Bailoni. The Bailoni story begins when Eugenio Bailoni met Rosa Amon whilst travelling in Austria. Romance blossomed and the distiller’s son soon found himself moving to the Wachau. Once there he realised that the apricots for which the region was so famous, could be fermented and distilled. In 1872 the First Wachau Apricot Distillery was established and has flourished ever since.


At Numbers 106 and 108 there are two houses with Late Gothic window frames decorated in the same style as the fragment next to the Kremser Tor. Number 108 dates from 1500. As can be seen from the ends of the stone beams that support the protrusion of the first floor, the house was once a bakery and the emblems are the baker’s products and include a loaf and a distinctive pretzel.


Steiner Landstrasse 122 is the house where Martin Johann Schmidt lived and worked. In the window there is the plaster portrait of the artist from which a bronze statue was made. Martin Johann Schmidt was pious and the house includes a private chapel. In order to have the space to execute the larger pieces that he was often commissioned to paint, above his studio on the first floor, the artist had the floor of the second story removed.


Facing in the direction of Linz, this gateway is called the “Linz Gate”. Although parts of the remains of the city-wall that once enclosed Stein date from the thirteenth century, the Linzer Tor in its current form mainly dates from 1477, when, following an unsuccessful siege, the town’s defences were upgraded. Eight years later, the Hungrian king, Matthias Corvinus again encroached on Austria territory and again failed to take Krems and Stein. Surmounting the Linzer Tor there is a charistically Baroque, mansard roof. Meanwhile the clock confuses and defies convention by having a minute hand that is short and an hour hand that is long.


Passing through the gateway, on the northern side there is the Danube Private University. The building was once a school but is now where all aspects of dental medicine are taught. On the southern side there is a park named after the local composer Ernst Schandl who composed a number of well-known songs that celebrate the Wachau.

From the Ernst Schandl Park, a clear view of Mautern Bridge may be seen. The village of Mautern, on the other side of the river, derives its name from the word “Maut” which means “toll” as crossing the bridge was subject to a toll collected by the Toll Collector. The bridge owes its origins to the 1457 dispute between Emperor Friedrich III and Archduke Albrecht VI. After sending ninety soldiers to relieve the besieged Emperor, among the various privileges granted to the Krems and Stein was the right to build a bridge across the Danube. After decades of debate about where the bridge was to be sited and how the challenges of the undertaking were to be tackled, a wooden bridge with nineteen crossbeams was finally built at the end of the fifteenth century.

Known as “The Wooden Gate” this structure remained in use up until the end of the nineteenth century when it was replaced by a bridge made of iron. Of this, only the northern half is original as at the end of the Second World War, the retreating German army blew up the southern half so as to delay the rapidly approaching Red Army. Due to its importance, the missing sections of the bridge were rebuilt in just over two months. This was overseen and directed by engineers of the Russian army with prisoners of war being conscripted for the manual work. The re-built bridge was re-opened by Field Marshal Iwan Stepanowitsch Konew and the Austrian Chancellor, Dr. Karl Renner. At the southern end of the bridge, plaques in Russian and German attest to the re-building. After 125 years, the bridge is in need of renovation and after an extensive program of refurbishment, will be back in service in 2027.


From the park, a flight of steps leads down towards the Steiner Donaulände and at the bottom, a granite plaque shows the levels of the major floods from 1740 up until 2002. Prior to the building of flood defences, floods were to be reckoned with every five years, either as a result of the winter snows melting in the spring or as a result of heavy thunderstorms in summer. For this reason the ground floors of houses in Stein were never for living in but rather were used for storing things that could quickly carried up to the first floor in the event of a flood. In well to do houses, the ground floors also functioned as impressive entranceways.


From the steps, turn left and using the zebra crossing, cross the Donaulände before going down into the underpass to cross the B3. Leaving the underpass, turn left and follow the towpath back East towards the World Heritage Centre. Above the Linzer Tor there are the remains of a small castle. This marks the western end of Stein’s defenses. During the Renaissance the fortification was also a small palace which was destroyed by Swedish troops during the Thirty Years War. This was fought between 1618 and 1648 and was one of the most destructive conflicts in Europe. In this war, as a result battle, famine and disease, it is estimated that some 4.5 to 8 million soldiers and civilians died. Initially prompted by the deposition of the king of Bohemia, the war was fuelled by the differences between Catholics and Protestants within the Holy Roman Empire. As the conflict wore on however, it became a contest for the domination of Europe with the contenders being the Habsburgs who controlled Spain and Austria and the Bourbons of France.


For hundreds of years, as testified to by the mooring rings already encountered, at Stein the northern banks of the Danube were where the Donaulände is now. When the river froze, the ice repeatedly broke into large blocks and thick sheets. These were then pushed by new layers of ice up and out of the river, towards the houses, with the process having the capacity to cause considerable damage. To prevent this, in 1890 a dam was built. This ran from above the Mautner Bridge downstream to Johann Michael Ehmann Platz. The dam was then extended to the railway bridge which lies downstream of the World Heritage Centre. This resulted in the formation of a long pond which was quickly filled in to create a road and a promenade. The thus extended bank served as a buffer where the ice pushed up by the river could accumulate. In 1954, work started on the B3 that runs along the Wachau from Krems to Melk, with the road being opened four years later.


Looking across the road one can see that the towers and houses have thick walls and that the towers have loop-holes for shooting out of. Following the unsuccessful sieges of Krems and Stein of 1477, the need was diagnosed for an up-dating of the defenses of both towns. This was not because the defenses had been neglected but because of the use of new weapons and more destructive cannons. The walls of both towns were made thicker and towers were built so as to protrude further out. This enabled defenders to shoot more accurately at those who would scale the walls. As the Hungarian king, Matthias Corvinus found out in 1485, these measures were eminently effective. This in shows that the numeous designs for defensive structures drawn up by artists and engineers during the period were not without relevance and application.

Originally closed off from the river the four squares that are characteristic of Stein, were only opened when the walls were no longer needed. At Schürerplatz immediately to the West of the tower there was a gateway, known as „The Fishers‘ Gateway“. On the otherside of the tower, the square was closed by the town slaughterhouse, which was only pulled down at the end of the nineteenth century. Near the south-eastern corner of the square there is a bronze statue of Martin Johann Schmit, the plaster original of which has already been seen.


The first laws regulating how and by whom fishing on the Danube was to be conducted were drawn up in 1506 by Emperor Maximillian I. The regulations identified seven „noble“ fish. These were the pike, carp, barbel, Danube salmon, burbot, catfish and trout. The first fishing regulations that specifically refer to Stein date from 1579. Fishing as a commercial activity in the town is recorded from this time on up until 1809. As it was understood that overfishing the smaller fish would ultimately reduce the populations of larger fish, the regulations regulated the fishing of all kinds of fish. In Stein, fishermen and fish mongers sold pike, carp, eels, trout, chor, common gudgeon and European bullhead also known as miller’s thumb. As elsewhere on the Danube, most of the fishing techniques used involved nets which, if not fixed with poles to the river bed were either raised or drawn through the water.

In Lower Austria there are today sixty-four different kinds of freshwater fish. Twenty-nine of these are either endangered, strongly endangered or are by ways of becoming extinct. Another nine are at a critical level and the eel is already regionally extinct. Ten kinds of fish are not indigenous but were introduced to Lower Austria by human beings after 1492. From the tributries of the Danube, fish that are less well adapted to the deeper waters are washed down and may be found as rarities. A recent new-comer is the Black Sea gobie which by clinging to the bottoms of ships with suckers, over the last twenty years has become a permanent feature of riverbed fauna. For fishermen today, in the Lower Austrian reaches of the Danube the following fish are common: bream, white bream, vimba vimba, crucian carp, pussian carp, barbel, rudd and roach. Less frequently occurring but not necessarily endangered are: pike, the wels catfish, the brown bullhead, tench, ide, common dace, chub, rutilus virgo, white-eyed bream, zope, schneider, bleak, aspius aspius, common nase, gras carp, Danube ruffe and European perch.


Continue walking eastwards along the towpath and try to imagine a very different River Danube to what we see today and a very different way of navigating its dangerous and treacherous waters. Prior to the introduction of steam shipping, conveys of barges were laboriously hauled upstream by teams that could involve anything up to a hundred men and horses. The towpath was neither extensive nor permanent and most of the time, there were long stretches where there was no path and only a treacherous patchwork of ox-bow lakes, bogs and wet-patches. At the front of a convey there was a lone figure mounted on a horse, who with a pole would try to sound out the way ahead. Sometimes all that one saw of the Wagehals or „daredevil“, was the head of a horse and the head and shoulders of the rider.

The horses were shire horses, arranged in pairs, with each pair having a driver who rode on one of the horses. Apart from being strong, the horses were specially trained so as to be able to jump into barges, wade through water and not to get themselves caught in the 60 metre long hawsers that they pulled. A convey typically consisted of three freight barges, in front of which there were smaller boats, with short stubby masts and it was over the masts of these vessels, that the tow-rope was hung. This was so as to prevent the tow-rope from touching the water. Where at sea, the dried salt was enough to prevent ropes and cordage from rotting, inland, fresh water quickly rotted ropes made from natural fibres. Conveys were often 500 Metres long. After the freight barges, the last vessels of a convey were the supply ship, followed by a galley-boat where cooks worked hard to cater for the crews and riders.


For the 450 Kilometre journey from Vienna to Regensburg, a horse-draw river convey would need between six and eight weeks. Starting and stopping were time-consuming processes and when it was necessary to change from side of the bank to the other, the operation could take a whole day. Where the passage upstream was slow and laborious, progress downstream was a process of controlled drifting achieved through the use oars.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, some 850 barges were floated downstream to Vienna every year while only 350 were pulled upstream. This was because the costs of a convey were such that barges were seen as being semi-disposable and empty barges were never pulled upstream. Wherever possible rafts were used and large timbers were transported on rafts that were made using the timbers to be transported.


Gregarious, during the winter, when no shipping work could be undertaken, shippers would spend their time in taverns and would work on preparations for the carnival that concluded the winter period. For some linguists, the word „carnival“ derives from the Latin, vale carne, announcing the arrival of Lent with a bidding farewell to the eating of meat. Yet for others, it derives from, carrus navalis and refers to the „ship-cart“ or float that, followed by a procession of boatmen dressed as fools, would be pulled through the streets when the ice and snow of winter began to thaw, heralding the time when the shippers could once again take to the river. Among women, the advice was „Never marry a shipper, in the summer you’ll have no husband, in the winter you’ll have no money“.


Proceed onwards until you see a house with a portico on the otherside of the Donaulände. The building was once an inn called the Gasthaus zum Elefanten. This was because in 1551, an elephant named Solomon and his mahout, Subhro, spent a night here. The elephant was a wedding present from the king of Portugal, King João III, to Archduke Maximilian of Austria and Solomon and Subhro walked all the way from Portugal to Vienna. Everywhere the elephant and his mahout went, the great beast was seen as a marvel and in the towns and villages where they stopped, inns and hostels recorded the event by renaming themselves with such names as „The Elephant’s Rest“ and the „Elephant’s Guest House“.

Leading away from the portico out into the Danube, there was a landing-stage. Here, in 1762, Mozart and his father and brother alighted from a barge and spent a night. Arriving in Vienna, the precocious siblings were presented to Viennese society, performing to rapturous applause.

Ten years later, in 1772, the English musician and music historian, Charles Burney (1726-1814) travelled through Austria, Germany and Bohemia and enthused at the high level of musicality that he found in both Krems and Stein. One evening, from a barge on the river he chanced to hear four women singing privately in a house in Stein and was delighted at the competence with which the four voices of the polyphonic composition were sung. Ashore, he observed that in Krems „undistinguished citizens in taverns and farmers at work in the fields, will sing for pleasure, songs in two more voices“. Confirming the high level of musicality in the region are the organ and violin-makers in Krems who, after the turmoil and destruction of the Thirty Years War, from the eighteenth century onwards, were able to establish themselves and live from the making of high quality instruments.


The end of the house with the portico forms the western side of Ludwig-von-Köchel-Platz. This is named after a scholar who was born in Stein in the Großer Passauerhof in 1800. During the first half of the nineteenth century Mozart’s prodigious output was uncatalogued and no-one knew how many works he had written. The awesome challenge of addressing of this gap in musical scholarship was taken on by Ludwig von Köchel. First published in 1862, the „Köchel-Verzeichnis“ or KV, catalogues all known works by Mozart and still to this day is used by scholars throughout the world


Continue on eastwards towards the World Heritage Centre. The regulated Danube of today is a far cry from the wild, unregulated and uncontrollable Danube that for thousands of years had meandered this way and that across a huge flood plain. The story of the regulation of the Danube is the story of mechanised shipping. This story begins in 1829 when „The First Royal and Imperially Warranted Danube Steamship Company“ was formed. A year later the first steamship set out from Vienna, arriving in Budapest 14 hours later. Although the return journey took 48 hours, the trip was a sensation and was considered such a success that a regular service was quickly established. From the 1850’ies onwards, the demands for steamships and faster travel lead to nearly all Austrian reaches of the Danube being regulated with rapids and cataracts being dredged and outcrops of rock blasted away.

Where the first steamships carried people, by the 1870’ies, the river was regulated enough for steam-powered freight shipping to undermine traditional barge transport and thousands of shippers were deprived of their livelihood. This in turn had major consequences for the economy of Stein as suddenly there were no longer thousands of shippers staying at the town’s pubs and inns. Between 1665 and 1839 there had always between seven and nine inns in the town. The trades associated with traditional shipping were also rendered superfluous and prosperity in the town plummeted. To keep the newly regulated reaches navigable, ships would drag specially constructed ploughs along the bed of the river. With the introduction of the internal combustion engine, the amount of people required to operate a ship was further reduced and freight ships are now manned by two or three people conveying an amount of cargo that is comparable to and often exceeds, the tonnage that was carried by a traditional horse drawn convey of three barges and a hundred men. Nevertheless the old Danube lives on and made be seen when maps are studied and its once meandering course reconstructed with reference to abandoned side-arms, oxbow lakes and place-names.


The tour of Stein starts at the World Heritage Centre next to the Danube and enters the town via the eastern gate to follow the high street along towards the western gate with historic buildings being pointed out and explained. The tour then focuses on the River Danube, the bride across the river and the historical aspects of shipping and without crossing the river, follows the towpath back East towards the World Heritage Centre. If all items are listened to, a hour and a half’s time should be allowed. Time spent looking at the World Heritage Centre exhibition is additional. To open up the itinerary and start the tour click on the title above.

Dürnstein Tour (coming soon)

Welcome to this Reloading Humanism tour of Dürnstein. The tour works through the use of buttons which when pressed initiate a Google Chrome plug-in that reads the English texts. Once started, pressing the button again stops the reading while pressing a third time restarts the reading from the beginning. Street directions are therefore at the beginning of each tour item so that the repetition of instructions is straightforward.

A tour of Dürnstein is currently being prepared and will be uploaded in the near future.


The tour of Dürnstein starts at the eastern end of the town with a scenic view of Dürnstein Castle where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned. The route follows the high street from East to West with sights and monuments being explained and shops pointed out. After the tour, Dürnstein Abbey and Dürnstein Castle await your visit. To open up the itinerary and start the tour click on the title above.

Melk Tour (in planning)

Welcome to this Reloading Humanism tour of Melk. The tour works through the use of buttons which when pressed initiate a Googe Chrome plug-in that reads the English texts. Once started, pressing the button again stops the reading while pressing a third time restarts the reading from the beginning. Street directions are therefore at the beginning of each tour item so that the repetition of instructions is straightforward.

A tour of the town of Melk along with instructions of how to go by foot up to the Abbey is in planning.


A tour of the town of Melk with instructions of how to go by foot up to the Abbey is in planning and will hopefully be ready by the autumn of 2023. To open up the itinerary and start the tour click on the title above.