Munich – You have to experience Munich for yourself. Munich (München in German) is Germany’s third largest city and one of Europe’s most prosperous. Located on the River Isar and only an hour’s drive north of the Bavarian Alps, Munich is a new city “built over the old” (after World War II), and is filled with both ancient and modern treasures. It is an important cultural center and there are museums and galleries on every imaginable subject. This wonderfully charming city is also home to the world-famous Oktoberfest (the Munich beer festival). Despite the name, events start in late September and go on until the end of the first week in October. If you plan to stay overnight in Munich during the Oktoberfest time please book your accommodation well in advance.
Benediktbeuern Monastery – Is located in the Tölzer Land and Isarwinkel walking area. It was built in 739 AD and is well-known for its Carmina Burana – a collection of songs contained in a manuscript and found at the monastery by sheer accident in 1803. The songs were about love, sex, drinking and the overbearing burden of fate. They appear to have been, not the work of the Benedictine monks, but of a roving band of outlawed monks and clerics known as the Goliards who were rebels against the authority of the church in the 13th century. The monastery’s abbey was built in the Baroque era and has an impressive fresco showing the life of Christ. Today the monastery offers an exhibition, a concert centre, a traditional tavern, lovely gardens and even nature trails to attract visitors from all over the world.
Mt. Zugspitze – The highlight of any stay in the walking area ‘Mt. Zugspitze – Bavaria’ and the walkers’ hub Garmisch-Partenkirchen, is a trip up to Mt. Zugspitze (2,962m/9,718ft). There is a sizeable mountain station, which can be reached from the picturesque Lake Eibsee on the cable car. At 4,450m/14,599ft this is one of Europe’s longest cable car rides. A slower but particularly scenic way to the top is on the Zugspitzbahn, a mountain railway that goes up the forest-covered side of the mountain, with Lake Eibsee shining beneath, then through a tunnel, ending at the base of Mt. Zugspitze’s largest glacier. From there it’s a brief ride to the top in a cable car. There is a lot to do on the top of the mountain, which is on the border between Germany and Austria. There are a number of restaurants including the Münchner Haus, Germany’s most famous Alpine hut, a weather station, a post office (the Zugspitze postmark turns letters into collector’s items) and many observation decks. On a clear day it is possible to see more than 400 Alpine peaks, as well as the taller buildings of the Munich skyline.
Partnachklamm – If you are near Garmisch-Partenkirchen then the Partnachklamm (Partnach Gorge) is a ‘must do’ attraction. This spectacular gorge, which can be reached on foot from the town’s Olympic Ski Stadium in around 30 minutes, acts as a natural conduit for the River Partnach. It runs between limestone walls that reach 80m/262ft in height. A series of galleries and tunnels has been carved out of the rock on one side, allowing visitors to walk along the rushing river and duck behind waterfalls.
Berchtesgaden Alpine National Park – In south-eastern Germany is one of the oldest nature reserves in the Alps and Germany’s only Alpine national park. It borders the Austrian state of Salzburg and covers an area of 210 square kilometres/81 square miles. It is characterised by large tracts of forest, lush Alpine pastures and steep towering crags. UNESCO has designated this stunningly beautiful landscape a biosphere reserve. Located within it is the Mt. Watzmann massif as well as the 1,874m/6,148ft high Mt. Jenner, the top of which can be reached by cable car as well as on foot. The amazingly emerald-green Lake Königssee in its magnificent mountain setting is the heart of the Berchtesgadener Land walking area. Blue hare, Alpine salamander, marmots, chamois and ibex have found sanctuary in the national park. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a golden eagle. The flora in the national park is equally varied and includes the Pyrenean dead-nettle, Hausmann’s rock jasmine and the dwarf Alpine rose.
Lake Chiemsee – Anyone who falls in love with the Lake Chiemsee walking area is in very good company: King Ludwig II of Bavaria, the writers Ludwig Ganghofer and Ludwig Thoma, a whole host of painters, and the fathers of the German constitution all lived here at some time. Lake Chiemsee is Bavaria’s largest lake and is nicknamed the ’Bavarian Sea‘. Its deep blue water and lovely mountain vistas draw tourists every year and it is incredibly popular with those who like to include outdoor activities on the agenda. The lake boasts a number of islands of which Herrenchiemsee is the most renowned. Herrenchiemsee is the location of Königsschloss Herrenchiemsee, another of King Ludwig II’s fairytale creations. Built in 1878, the castle was designed to replicate the palace of Versailles, and even though it is unfinished it doesn’t disappoint. In true King Ludwig style, the castle is liberally scattered with dragons, lizards and other merry decorations. Highlights include the great hall of mirrors, and the dining room showing off the largest Meissen porcelain chandelier in the world. Boats to the magnificent castle and its extensive grounds depart from the ports at Prien, Stock and Gstadt all year round.
Leonhardifahrt – Each year, around November, and already for the 155th time, the famous Leonhardifahrt (also called Leonhardiritt) takes place in the pretty town of Bad Tölz, located in the walking area Tölzer Land & Isarwinkel. This cheerful pilgrimage is in honour of the horse and cattle patron St. Leonhard and shows the region’s love for their old customs from its most magnificent side. Over 70 festively-decorated horse-drawn carriages as well as several hundred horses with many participants in old traditional clothing take part in this spectacle. After an open-air mass the event ends with the noisy “Goaßlschnalzer” (whip-swinging contest).
Wieskirche – The ‘Church in the Meadows’ was built in the 18th century, for one purpose only: to house a striking wooden statue of Christ manacled to a post and bleeding from relentless whipping. Now perched on the high altar, this statue has an interesting story behind it.
After being paraded about in various Good Friday processions in the nearby town of Steingaden, a local farm girl called Maria Lory asked to take the statue home with her, rather than see it relegated to an old attic. On 14 July, 1738, she claimed that the image of Christ had cried real tears, which swiftly elevated the statue’s status and it was installed in a small chapel, so that pilgrims could pray to it. Eight years on, and the chapel could no longer sustain the crowds that flocked there, so a new church was constructed by the Zimmerman brothers; Dominikus the architect and Johann, the artist.
The church may appear plain from the outside, but the interior is quite something else: an elaborate visual feast of gilded stucco, woodcarvings and luminous frescoes which culminate with the ceiling and a vertiginous image of the Second Coming. Dominikus Zimmerman lived the rest of his life in nearby Landsberg so that he could feel close to his masterpiece, while his son Franz married the girl who started it all: Maria Lory.
Nestled in the foothills of the Alps, The Wieskirche is located the municipality of Steingaden in Bavaria’s Pfaffenwinkel walking area. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983. http://www.wieskirche.de/
History & Culture
The history of Upper Bavaria and the Bavarian Alps is complex and colourful and the Bavarians are fiercely proud of their traditions and heritage. Upper Bavaria’s history originates from an ancient tribe, the Bajuwaren (translates to ‘men of Baia’, the name can be traced to a tribe from Bohemia, Czech Republic), however, the first people to settle in the region were the Celts. All over Bavaria, and often hidden in the dim light of a deep forest, walkers may come across Celtic remains such as earth walls, ditches and burial mounds. Later on, Bavaria was conquered by the Romans in the 1st century BC and resettled by Germanic tribes in the 5th and 6th centuries. The fertile soil and strategic position of Bavaria in general made it a highly prized possession, and it was frequently invaded by foreign armies in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Ludwig II of Bavaria
He is known by many names: the “Swan King”, “Mad King Ludwig” and the “Fairytale King”, but Ludwig II of Bavaria has become one of the most legendary figures in Bavarian and German history. Ludwig (25 August 1845 – 13 June 1886) was king of Bavaria from 1864 until shortly before his death. But was “Mad King Ludwig” really mad? Other mysteries include the enigma of Ludwig’s death by drowning in Lake Starnberg, south of Munich. Did he commit suicide or was he ’helped‘? Ludwig died under strange circumstances just three days after being declared legally insane. Ludwig is best known as an eccentric whose legacy is intertwined with the history of art and architecture, as he commissioned the construction of several extravagant fantasy castles (the most famous being Neuschwanstein, the castle that inspired Walt Disney’s home for Cinderella) and was a devoted patron of the composer Richard Wagner.
Geography, Flora & Fauna
The ancient landscape of the Bavarian Alps has maintained its predominantly rural character. Upland pastures are particularly colourful in spring and summer and great care is taken these days not to cut the meadows until the flowers have seeded. With its magnificent array of Alpine plants, flowers and trees, the vegetation in the Bavarian Alps is characteristic of a high mountain zone, with the typical vegetation of the European Alps in the lower elevations. Generally you will find mixed forests consisting of a number of conifer types – beech, elm and ash – with the dwarf pine being the most characteristic plant above the tree line. Hundreds of different species of Alpine flowers carpet the meadows. This natural spectacle begins soon after the snow has melted – a real explosion of blossom awaits the walker.
The historic trails of the Bavarian Alpine mountains are rich with wildlife. Some of the larger animals you might encounter during a walk are red deer, chamois and ibex. Other wildlife includes feral goats, snow hares and marmots – which usually leave you in no doubt as to their existence by emitting a piercing warning cry as soon as you approach. And larger birds, such as the black grouse, the capercaillie, the Alpine chough (also called the yellow-billed chough) and even, with some luck, the European golden eagle (known in German as Steinadler) may also be spotted.