What did April 2005 have in store for the old German? That month he was to celebrate his 78th birthday and, considering his unfortunate early days, his life had turned out rather well. At the age of 14, like all his contemporaries, he had been conscripted into the Hitler Youth. After two years, he was conscripted into the German armed forces and, after another two years, World War Two had ended and he found himself in a prisoner of war camp from which he was released after a few months. He then entered a seminary and this eventually led him to a distinguished career as a catholic theologian and university professor. A part of that career which particularly satisfied him was his 12 years as professor of theology at the University of Regensburg. Pat, our youngest daughter Anna and I visited the Bavarian city of Regensburg for the first time in November 2010 and we had no difficulty in understanding why the old German liked it so much. Regensburg stands on the River Danube at the point where its tributary, the River Regan, flows into it. Two thousand years ago, the Romans used the Danube to mark the northern frontier of their empire. Consequently, Regensburg was an armed Roman encampment at that time, then known as Castra Regina. It had existed as a Celtic settlement several hundred years before that.
Later, in medieval times, Regensburg became a wealthy city as its merchants benefitted from the trade moving up and down the Danube. What they built at that time provides us today with an unspoiled example of a medieval city center. Remarkably enough, the city escaped damage during World War Two. Indeed, it suffered more damage during its capture by Napoleon in 1809 during the Franco-Austrian War.
We saw the house where Napoleon stayed at the time. In the city center, we saw the statue of King Ludwig I of Bavaria on horseback. He had fought alongside the Napoleonic armies and was king of Bavaria from 1825 until 1848, when he was forced to abdicate. This was partly because of his relationship with a courtesan called Lola Montez, who was very unpopular with the locals. Ludwig was a great admirer of all things Greek, so he built on the banks of the Danube just outside Regensburg a replica of the Parthenon in Greece complete with 52 Doric columns. Called Walhalla, it memorializes the Bavarian war heroes of that time. The Greeks appear to have reciprocated Ludwig’s admiration because Ludwig’s son, Otto, was chosen to ascend the newly created throne of Greece as its first king in 1832. Yet, just as Ludwig finally lost the throne of Bavaria, so Otto finally lost the throne of Greece.
We came across in Regensburg something called the Scottish Church (Schottenkirche), the construction of which was completed in about the year 1200. In fact, this church was founded by Benedictine monks from Ireland, whom the locals mistakenly thought came from Scotland. One Celt must look very much like another in Bavaria.
The splendid atmosphere of Regensberg is further enhanced by its striking Gothic cathedral, which took some 250 years to build during the Middle Ages.
The stained glass windows dating back to that time are an important feature of the cathedral.
I admired in particular the silver high altar, which was donated to the cathedral in 18th century. The price of silver increased by about 50% during the latter part of 2010, an increase which I predicted. As I gazed at the silver high altar, I thought enviously about its increased value before I dismissed such thoughts as unworthy.
Certainly the old German would never have allowed his mind to entertain such vulgar commercial thoughts, even though he had always loved the cathedral. His elder brother had been the choirmaster there for thirty years and the cathedral had been an important part of his life during the years when he was teaching at the University of Regensburg. During those years, the old German had lived in a small house in the Regensburg suburb of Pentling, close to where his parents were buried. He had kept that house for his retirement, which had been much delayed by his work in Rome. By April 2005, he had already made several unsuccessful attempts to retire. He described his years in Regensburg as some of the happiest in his life and he must have been anticipating his retirement there with pleasure. However the plans of the old German were frustrated in April 2005, when he was elected Pope. At the age of 83, Joseph Ratzinger today continues to serve in that capacity as Pope Benedict XVI.