Cruising the Danube: Scenery, sausages and quirky history

From the oldest sausage-making business in the world to flaming Rudesheimer coffee, there are many local delicacies to savour on a river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam.

In Bavaria, a fine tradition dating back many centuries is Fruehschoppen, loosely translated to mean a beer and a sausage before lunch. And while in Bavaria, who am I to break custom?

Wife Pat and I experienced this time-honoured convention aboard an APT river cruise on MS AmaReina from Budapest to Amsterdam. We munched on sausage, meatloaf and pretzel and washed the lot down with the local brew — and then went to lunch, as you do on a cruise.

The ship had just visited Regensburg, home to what is thought to be the oldest sausage-making business in the world. Dating back to 1135, the little kitchen has been churning out nothing but snags topped with sauerkraut and sweet mustard since 1806. 

Sausages throughout the region come in all shapes and sizes, with various ingredients. Bratwurst is said to use everything from the pig except the oink and was a way to make use of the intestines — in fact, a loose translation of “brat” means “without waste” and “wurst” is “sausage”. In the Nuremburg region, bratwurst sausages are short and thin — 7.5cm long and only as thick as a finger. 

They are usually served three to a crusty roll and are sometimes known as keyhole sausages. In the 16th century a judge was sentenced to life imprisonment for crime against the state. In those days, once the door slammed shut it wasn’t opened again. It’s said the judge was granted one wish — to be allowed two bratwurst sausages a day. His family, responsible for feeding him, supposedly made the sausage so small it could fit through the keyhole. 

The meterbratwurst is, as the name suggests, a metre long and usually coiled. Competitions are held to see who can wolf down the most sausage. The record, set in the 1980s, is 5.15m — quite a mouthful. People have choked to death in sausage-eating competitions

It’s not only the Germans who love their sausage. We started our journey in Prague and so began our sausage experience. A street stall was irresistible and we started with a delicious “big red” with lashings of sauerkraut and mustard before heading for Prague Castle.

After exploring the largest ancient castle in the world, which attracts 1.8 million visitors a year, a stroll across Charles Bridge to the old town square revealed a multitude of statues, none more interesting than St John of Nepomuk. 

In the 14th century he was, at the command of King Wenceslas IV, thrown from the bridge and drowned because, as stories suggest, he refused to divulge the queen’s confession of infidelity. Legend has it that as he hit the water, five stars miraculously appeared around his head. It is said that touching the statue will grant a wish. 

In the central atrium of the nearby Art Nouveau-styled Lucerna Palace is another statue, by quirky Czech sculptor David Cerny, depicting St Wenceslas riding a dead horse. It is said to be a twist on the St Wenceslas statute in the Wenceslas Square outside. The artist won’t say what it means but interpretations run from the overthrow of communism and Czech financial woes to “a mocking tribute to the past and modern leadership of Prague”.

After an eight-hour coach trip from Prague to start our river journey in Budapest, the first night on board we were treated to a magnificent show of spectacularly lit buildings on a twilight cruise up and down the River Danube, a prelude to the grand scenery to come.

When Richard the Lionheart was captured on the way home to England from the Crusades, he didn’t have the benefit of two bratwurst sausages a day. In Durnstein, we climbed to the top of the hill to see the castle where he was imprisoned. It was a stunning view from the high vantage point but Richard wouldn’t have been able to appreciate it, poked away in his small, hole-in-the-rock cell. Legend has it that Richard was found by his friend Blondel when he sang the first verse of a song the two had composed and heard the second verse coming from high on the hill. 

After dreary Nuremberg — where Hitler’s grandiose folly, the nazi party rally grounds, was on full display — the next few days revealed the most enchanting scenery imaginable.

The officials of Miltenberg once filled their coffers by charging passing vessels a toll, exporting red rock cut from the surrounding area and burning witches. If you were red-headed, left-handed and rich, it wasn’t a good idea to pass through this town. When the witches became scarce, one bright spark realised people may actually want to visit, and tourism became the number-one earner. While strolling along the streets of fine-looking, half-timbered homes, we were offered various goodies by shopkeepers — the desire to encourage visitors continues.

A cheeky statue on the waterfront depicting boys urinating reflected the “pay-to-pee” policy throughout the regions we visited. It costs, on average, around 50 cents to use public toilets, although toilets in restaurants and coffee shops are free.

The cruise through the Rhine Gorge was incredibly beautiful, with historic castles everywhere we looked. Vines growing on sloping ground to catch the sun dotted the landscape.

In Rudesheim, don’t miss Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum, a large collection of automated instruments with surprises in every room. Unfortunately, we were rushed through without the opportunity to study many of the smaller exhibits. Secondly, a cup of Rudesheimer coffee with flaming Asbach brandy and lashings of whipped cream is a must — delicious.

In Amsterdam, if you want a cup of coffee, be sure to go to a coffee house or cafe. Although if you go to one of the former, you may consume something quite different — and walk away with a goofy grin on your face.

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