A misunderstanding – we swear it wasn’t our fault – had us standing at the train station in the bustling metropolis of Plattling, in the far southeast corner of Bavaria. Our ticket agent had apparently assumed we understood the arcane rules and regulations with respect to travel on the multitude of different types of trains in Germany. For us there is only one kind of train – the kind that rolls on tracks. Well, back in the days of backpacking with a Eurail pass that may have been correct but today it is quite a bit more complicated. There’s five or six different codes, each donating different things with respect to speed, number of stops, comfort level, bicycles and so on. So there we stood, the wrong ticket for the wrong train. We were pretty sure we’d arrive at our destination but not entirely sure how or when.
Ultimately, we did arrive in Passau, where we were due to meet Sunshine’s mother and stepdad. They were on a cruise of the Danube, which is one of Passau’s three rivers. Civilization has existed at this confluence since Roman times, and this part of the world has an ancient history. In this remote corner, even the most secret activities can be conducted in the relative open, as we would soon find out.
After a big lunch and a short wander around the old town (we had by this point missed the organ concert at the cathedral), it was time to bid the cruise ship adieu and move on to our own explorations. We headed across the Danube and up a hill to the hamlet of Ries, home to the Andorfer Brewery, one of several in Bavaria that specialize exclusively in wheat beer. More noteworthy, however, is the spectacular view from the deck. The hamlet overlooks rolling hills and fields, with the town of Passau spread out below. Since I spend most of my time in cities, I’m a sucker for this sort of thing. I would argue that Andorfer has one of the best views of any brewpub I’ve seen.
From Andorfer we walked down the hill on a footpath to the tiny enclave of Hacklberg. The brewery there is a complex of buildings, some of which are absolutely gorgeous. Out front of the classic main building is a may pole, and we instantly noticed the Illuminati symbol among its icons.
At the biergarten we settled into a couple of tasty brews. Non-smoking regulations have reached even Bavaria so it was no surprise to see a few people milling about the front doorway with beers and smokes in their hands. It became evident, however, that these were not the usual jolly Bavarian country folk. For one, they were dressed in uniform – suits all of them and some with unusual headgear or other flourish. More and more of them arrived in cars and by foot, each greeting one another in amiable but somewhat muted tone. Indeed, there was a certain seriousness to this gathering.
By their deportment it was evident that these were gentlemen of class and power. Before long, they headed away from the biergarten towards another building, a rather uneventful structure with the entranceway lit by candles. The younger men went first and eventually some of the more senior members of this cabal filtered out of the pub and made their way over to the building. Sun noted that you can see their building – which from our vantage point was obscured by trees – better from the toilets. So I went to investigate. In the men’s room, but not in the ladies’, there were Illuminati motifs on the tilework. This stands as fitting, since there were no women at this gathering. The society had obviously come from far and wide. There were old and there were young; men with yamulkas (it being Friday evening) and even one very important figure with a cane who needed assistance to get to the building.
The Illuminati are, as any good secret society, more rumour than acknowledged fact. The crackpots who write about them on the Internet are more a smokescreen for the real facts. These ancient towns and cities in the heartland of Europe are home to the oldest of old money, the only counterpoint to the power of the Church. It would be fanciful to think that the seats of true power are in the biggest cities – the obvious places. Power is not concentrated among celebrity heads of state here nor is this a Scandinavian democracy. In Central Europe, power derives from a mixture of noble blood and strategic familial alliances, cultivated over centuries. Away from the glare of Europe’s brightest cities, Europe’s true power brokers can operate in relative openness. The Hacklberg brewery is not subtle about its allegiances. Indeed, neither is the city of Passau itself, with its city hall built facing not the town nor the church but across the river directly at the Hacklberg complex.
We headed back to the city centre, across the chalky Inn River, to the suburb of Innstadt, where we sank into some delicious beers from the eponymous brewery and hummed the Stonecutters song as we strolled the cobblestone streets.