Traunstein Website

The main square of Traunstein, a pleasant small town in southern Bavaria, looks as if it has been there for centuries. Dominated by the parish church of St Oswald, the Maxplatz is an elegant rectangular space edged with pastel-coloured houses.

© Benodette

A traditional blue and white Maypole soars into the sky at the eastern end. There is an old Beer Keller and pavement cafes where people can sit outside in good weather to sip a drink and enjoy the scene.

© Benodette

Since April 2005 there have been many more visitors to this small town, because Traunstein can claim to be the home town of Joseph Ratzinger, elected Pope Benedict XVI on 19th April 2005. In Salt of the Earth he said

“..the largest and most important and best part of my youth I spent in Traunstein, which very much reflects the influence of Salzburg.”

Traunstein as it stands now is not as ancient as it appears. Although it was a medieval town which grew rich on the salt trade, on 26 April 1851 there was a great fire which all but destroyed the town. The houses around the square were burned and the parish church was badly damaged. In the rebuilding a new parish church was constructed in the Maxplatz, and it was dedicated to St Oswald.

© Benodette

When, in 1937, the Ratzinger family moved to Hufschlag, a village on the edge of Traunstein which is actually in the parish of Suberg, they still considered St Oswald their parish church and the boys were educated in the town.

The Ratzinger family left Auschau am Inn for Hufschlag when Joseph Ratzinger senior retired from the police. He had bought an old eighteenth century farmhouse in 1933 and for the Ratzinger children it was the dream house of their childhood. It was a magical place for children to grow up and Joseph Ratzinger has fondly recalled his early life there.

“After all our wanderings this is where we finally found our true home and it is where my memory always returns with gratitude. I will never forget our first sight of the house. The truck with the furniture had gone on ahead of us, and we arrived in the car of our landlady in Auschau. What we first saw was the meadow, strewn with primroses. It was the beginning of April….”

The lovely old house which the young Joseph saw for the first time on that April day has overhanging eaves, uneven walls and a big stable attached to the rear. It reminds me of a gingerbread house, a little lopsided and not quite square, but the kind of house that embraces the people who live in it.

© Benodette

A large garden, where hens peck and ponies graze, backs onto beech and oak woodland. A gnarled old plum tree flowers and fruits near the front door. Snowdrops, daffodils and primroses carpet the grass in spring. Roses clamber up the walls in summer. In autumn the fallen leaves and beech nuts crunch underfoot. I have not yet seen it wrapped in the silence of winter snow.

After much wandering, we finally found our true home here, a place to which I often return happily in memory, Joseph Ratzinger wrote.

It is not difficult to imagine him playing in the garden and the woods with his siblings, or curling up inside with a book when the snow was piled high on the eaves. It is sad that this house is no longer a home, and that more than thirty years have passed since it was last inhabited.

© Benodette

When the Ratzinger family moved here this farmhouse, standing almost alone in the meadows, must have been captivating, especially for young children. From the bedroom on the south side, the one shared by the two brothers, there was a view of the distant mountains. For the children it was an idyllic place, although Joseph Ratzinger says in his short autobiography that running it meant a lot of work for his mother.

He describes the house vividly both in his memoirs and in Salt of the Earth.

Instead of tap water, there was a well, which was very picturesque. On one side of the house there was an oak forest interspersed with beeches, on the other side were the mountains, and when we opened our eyes in the morning, the first thing we could see was the mountains. In front we had apple trees, plum trees and a lot of flowers that my mother had cultivated in the garden. It was a beautiful, large plot of ground – in terms of location it was heavenly. And in the old barns you could have the most marvellous dreams and play wonderful games.

It was an unexplored world… it was impossible to discover everything about it, because it was so varied. There was an old weaving room in the house, because the previous owners had to all appearances been weavers. The rooms themselves were of the greatest simplicity, and the house – I believe it had been built in 1726 – was on the whole in need of repairs. The rain came in and so forth. But it was simply wonderful; it was a childhood dream. We felt altogether happy there even without comforts. For my father, who had to pay for the necessary repairs, for my mother, who carried water from the well, it was perhaps less fun. But we experienced it as a real paradise. It took us just under half an hour to get to the city. But even that – the fact that you were on the move like that – was wonderful. So we didn’t feel at all the lack of modern amenities but experienced the adventure, freedom, and beauty of an old house with its inner warmth.

It was here that the small boy with the heart-shaped face and wide, questioning eyes grew into to the handsome, slim young man with thick dark hair, intense eyes and a brilliant intellect. In that rambling old house which was “full of mysteries” he created his own solitary and poetic childhood world.

When all the children were at home, he sometimes played Mass with his brother, each taking it in turns to preach. The boys wore beautiful vestments which had been made by their mother. Once young Joseph almost set his sister’s long braids alight with the candles. When he was alone he read voraciously, filled pages with poetry and musings and wandered freely in the woods and meadows.

© Benodette

At first the young Joseph walked to school in Traunstein, passing Ettendorf church which stands on a ridge above the town. The Ratzinger family would always go there on Christmas Eve and now a tree planted to commemorate the election of Joseph Ratzinger flourishes on the grassy slope.

© Benodette

The views into the blue valley, with the buildings clustered around the onion-topped campanile of St Oswald’s church, are still beautiful today.

© Benodette

At the bottom of the hill he crossed the river Traun and would often stop in the parish church to say a prayer before going on his way. For two years the young Joseph made this journey every day to the Gymnasium. In 1939, at the age of 12, he joined his elder brother Georg at St Michael’s seminary.

© Benodette

Founded by Cardinal Faulhaber in 1929, the seminary was a boarding school, so attending St Michael’s meant becoming a boarder like his brother, who had been at the seminary since 1935. At first the young Joseph found the transition very difficult.

But, he says
“In the seminary at Traunstein I found, above all else, friends and friendships, both of which have been decisive in my life. I have learnt to accept others in their otherness, and in so doing, have learnt to know and accept myself.

For this I am grateful to the seminary for the many happy memories, for the experience of celebrations and ceremony, for an introduction to the arts, particularly to music and its beauty and finally for guidance on the way to God.”

As war began to encroach on Traunstein St Michael’s became a military hospital, and the school moved first to the old Spa in Klosterstrasse and then to the convent at Sparz, just above the town. In 1941 the convent was also requisitioned and the boys again returned to live at home in Hufschalg.

© Benodette

It was from this house that the boys had to go to the war, Joseph to non-combative roles and Georg, who was older, to postings in Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy. It was also to this house that they eventually returned.

The joy of the family reunion has been recounted by both brothers. Joseph Ratzinger has described the simple meal his mother gave him on his return in June 1945.

Of course the joy was great. It was a time of great food shortage, but our mother gave me a fresh salad from our garden, an egg from our hens and a big piece of bread. A meal has never again tasted as good to me.

A month later, Georg Ratzinger approached Traunstein, fearful that the old farmhouse might no longer be there, and that his family might not be alive. As the house appeared his heart leapt with joy. The door was open and his mother was drawing water from the well. He embraced her and together they entered the house where his father, brother and sister were astonished to see him. Unable to speak he went to the piano and the family sang “Holy God, we praise thy Name.”

With the war over the Ratzinger brothers, now young men with many new experiences outside of their sheltered family life, resumed their studies at St Michael’s seminary. Georg had seen the horrors of battle in Montecassino and Nettuno. He had been wounded in the arm near Lake Bolsena in Italy, and for a time had returned to the hospital in St Michael’s seminary before returning to the war. Both brothers had no hesitation in resuming their studies, first at St Michael’s seminary and then in Freising.

In 1951, six years after the end of the war, Traunstein had much to celebrate. First there were the centenary celebrations marking the rebuilding after the great fire. There were three days of celebrations culminating in High Mass in St Oswald’s at which Haydn’s Nelson Mass was performed by the town choir and orchestra under the direction of Dr Hogger, the church choir master. Contemporary accounts say that even the most difficult passages were executed brilliantly.

That summer there was another great cause for celebration. There were six newly ordained priests in the Chiemgau area and three of them were from Traunstein.

Georg and Joseph Ratzinger were ordained in Freising Cathedral by Cardinal Michael Faulhaber on 29 June 1951 – the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

Photographs of the First Masses of the three young men can be found in the Traunstein city archives.

At the moment the Cardinal laid his hands on Joseph Ratzinger’s head a lark flew up towards the altar. In an interview with Martin Lohmann in 1998 – translated by Rcesq - he recalled that moment.

Yes, that is a precious memory. On the one hand I had, so to speak, the moral certainty that it was God’s will for me, that it was right. But with such a great matter with such an unknown future, somewhere a question does remain: Have you done the right thing, was that a good decision, will you be able to do it? That was for me truly a sign that helped me a great deal, that at the moment of the laying on of hands, when according to our faith you become a priest, a little bird arose, flew towards the altar and trilled a little song. That isn’t a superstition, but for me in any event it was a sign that it was wholly right.

Days later the young priests celebrated their First Mass in Traunstein.

Traunstein Archive

On 1st July, Rupert Berger, the son of the Mayor of Traunstein, who had been ordained alongside the Ratzinger brothers, celebrated his first Mass in St Oswald’s church. The houses in the town were lavishly decorated and on the previous evening there were impressive illuminations in the Maxplatz. The procession which accompanied the young Father Berger to church included the town band, the standard bearers with their colourful flags and newly confirmed children wearing garlands. Members of the Bavarian parliament were also present, led by the President Dr Hundhammer. The crowd was so great that loudspeakers were set up in the square so that those unable to enter the church could follow the service. Rupert Berger’s deacons at his first Mass were the brothers Joseph and Georg Ratzinger.

These pictures are of Rupert Berger’s Primiz.

Traunstein Archive

Here Georg and Joseph Ratzinger are wearing dalmatics as deacons.

Traunstein Archive

Traunstein Archive

One week later the Ratzinger brothers celebrated their First Mass. The evening before there was an extraordinary gathering in front of their house in Hufschlag. Contemporary accounts say about a thousand people stood outside while the choir master directed the young people as they sang canons. Dean Els, the parish priest, gave an address. People were overwhelmed, that in this old house, two priests had been raised. There was to be a bicycle race on the day of the Primiz and the Ratzinger parents were worried that nobody would come. They need not have worried.

The streets were decorated for the Ratzinger brothers too and a procession accompanied them to church. Joseph Ratzinger celebrated his First Mass at 7 a.m. on 8th July and the church was absolutely full. It was not a sung Mass but a Gemeinschaftsmesse. This has been explained to me as a Mass for young people in which the Latin rubric was repeated in German. This form fell out of use after the Second Vatican Council.

Traunstein Archive

At 9.30 Georg Ratzinger celebrated his First Mass. A procession accompanied him through the square to be greeted by the clergy at St Oswald’s. He celebrated a solemn High Mass in a crowded church and the setting was Haydn’s Nelson Mass. His deacon was his brother Joseph and Rupert Berger was sub-deacon. The homily was given by his old teacher Professor Pohklein. Afterwards people gathered in the Sailerkeller for lunch before returning to the church for Benediction.


A great deal has happened since that glorious summer. Rupert Berger spent many years as a parish priest in Bad Toltz and wrote a number of books, especially on the liturgy.


He retired to Traunstein. The Ratzinger children were dispersed, Joseph going to Munich, Freising, Munster, Bonn and Tubingen before returning to Regensburg. Georg became the choirmaster at Traunstein and lived in a charming house in the Hofgasse with their aging parents before being appointed master of the famous Domspatzen in Regensburg.

© Benodette

The beautiful old house in Hufschlag was sold in 1955.


Now it is sadly dilapidated, having been empty for more than 30 years, but it is still standing, still captivating, and holding its inspiring past within its rather crooked walls like a house in a fairy story.

© Benodette

Although circumstances took them away from their home town, the Ratzinger brothers continued to visit Traunstein.

In 1976 the brothers celebrated the 25th anniversary of their ordination in St Oswald’s church. Rupert Berger celebrated with them and Dean Els was also present.


As Cardinal Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Joseph Ratzinger took a special interest in the seminary. He made his first official visit as Cardinal in 1977. Cardinal Ratzinger confirmed many of the boys in St Michael’s, even after he left Munich for Rome. He was, in a special way, “their” Cardinal. The last confirmation at which he presided was in 2003. Cardinal Ratzinger marked 1200 years of the parish of Surberg in 1990 and the 125th anniversary of the Chiemgau Gymnasium in 1997. In 2002 he celebrated his 75th birthday and 25 years as Bishop and Cardinal. There was a service in St Oswald’s church and a procession with the town band.

St Michael's seminary

After the death of their sister, Joseph and Georg Ratzinger spent the days between New Year and Epiphany at the seminary. Father Markus Moderegger recalls that the Cardinal always brought work with him, usually a big stack of papers. The Sisters who look after the housekeeping at St. Michaels still miss the Ratzingers. Father Moderegger remembers how the brothers would often walk into Traunstein. “You would see their two white heads going off down the road. When they returned, they carried sacks of presents. They had gone shopping. For the Sisters!”

St Michael's Seminary

The Ratzinger brothers were last at St Michaels’s together at the beginning of 2005. A few months later everything changed for the Cardinal and his brother. The town was overjoyed at Cardinal Ratzinger’s election, but very sad too because it could mark the end of his long association with Traunstein. A bronze bust of Pope Benedict XVI stands outside the west door of St Oswald’s church. All around are the quaint buildings which give this town its charming Bavarian character.

© Benodette

Inside the church there is small exhibition dedicated to the Pope in a side chapel but he will no longer be able to stroll through the streets of his home town or to slip quietly in St Oswald’s church to pray.

© Benodette

Life goes on here but it is very nostalgic to wander through the streets of Traunstein, or to walk, like the young Joseph Ratzinger, from Hufschlag to the church, or to the Gymnasium. Perhaps the air of nostalgia is greater here than in many other place associated with him because this was home to the peripatetic Ratzinger family for so long. It was here that Joseph Ratzinger reached maturity and decided to take the first steps towards the priesthood - steps which ultimately led him to Rome and onto the world stage. Will Joseph Ratzinger ever visit Traunstein again? Will he ever visit Bavaria again? Papa Wojtyla returned to his native Poland more than once, so perhaps it is possible.

This year the Pope will be returning to Bressanone, a favourite family holiday haunt for forty years. Perhaps, if all goes well, he can spend his vacation next year in St Michael’s seminary. The Pope would be home again in his beloved Bavaria and close to the place where “my memory always returns with gratitude.”

Edited 1 time by Benodette Apr 18 12 6:10 AM.