Altdorf and Eging Am See (Lower Bavaria), Germany September 2023 (Tour 8)

It was time to leave Franconia and head for Austria. We were going to visit some good friends who live just to the south of Vienna and we’d promised to arrive within the next two days but; there was still time to see a little more of Germany and/or Austria on the way.

We started towards Eging am See for no other reason than that it is about a 3 hour drive closer to Austria. The route took us through the small market town of Altdorf and we paused there for brunch. Vanya and I thought Altdorf a quiet little town but pleasant enough for a short wander and we enjoyed a tasty brunch before continuing on our way to Eging Am See.

Eging am See proved to be disconcerting. Indeed, if there were to be a really menacing remake of the Stepford Wives I think it would have be set here.

I set off into the town from our camp site and arrived first at what looked like a brand new church (Saint Agidius). The front of the church was boarded up; awaiting a new door, I thought. Other buildings in the immediate area also looked brand new. The town hall, the tourist office, a couple of apartment blocks were all built of the same materials as the church and all were as yet unfurnished and unoccupied. The thing which struck me as most odd was that all of the headstones in the adjoining graveyard (many of them dating back over a hundred years) were also brand new. The WWI and WWII war memorials also looked newly built.

I subsequently discovered that the church and churchyard were being given a total facelift but, I didn’t know this as I made my way through the town park to the lake to check out the large spa facility and gardens and; that’s where things got really weird.

The local park with it’s ‘Garden of Sinne’ (Garden of the Senses) is located between the spa facility (the Sonnen Therme) and Lake Eginger. It contains a number of interesting and very unusual granite rock exhibits which provide different perspectives of the park and the lake. They are part of the spa complex and ordinarily I would have thought this a pleasant place to wander but there was something else. There were no people about. Indeed, I had not seen more than one or two since setting off to the town. Strange or what, given the time of the day and the fine weather?

And then… just as I entered the park, air raid sirens started wailing (from somewhere in the woods I think) and dogs all over the town began barking. Disconcerting? It was wholly unnerving.

There follows some photos I downloaded from the town website of the park and, in particular, of some of the granite exhibits.

It occured to me the next day that the air raid sirens were part of a civil defence exercise. Putin has been threatening to drag Western Europe deeper into his war with the Ukraine and just before we left the UK the British Government trialled an early warning alert using cell phones. Germany are doing much the same but using air raid sirens.

Time to move on into Austria.

Fussen (Bayern), Germany October 2020 (Tour 3)

Situated at the southern end of the Romantic Road, within walking distance of the Austrian border, Fussen is a small, pretty town on the banks of the River Lech with a history of violin and lute making (you can learn all about that in the town’s museum). Don’t get too excited about the Romantic Road – there is nothing in the least romantic about the road(s). It is simply a 300 mile mix of roads between Wurzburg and Fussen, stylized by a group of travel agents in the 1950’s who were out to promote Bavaria.

None of the above is to suggest you shouldn’t visit the area and especially Fussen. Fussen has it all – a medieval old town complete with it’s own castle (the Hohes Schloss), sitting in the shelter of the Ammer Mountains amongst numerous lakes. It is a very pretty town and well placed for visits to other similarly pretty towns and, of course, to at least two very famous castles, the Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles.

I walked from Brunnen to Fussen along a good path on the banks of the Forggensee, passing through the villages of Schwangau and Horn on the way. The weather was brightening all the time and the walk was delightful, taking no more than an hour and a quarter even allowing for photo stops. A walkers path goes all the way around the Forggensee but I imagine that walk would take about 6 hours. It’s a sizeable lake.

The old town in Fussen is small but enchanting. It could probably be walked in an hour or so but I was keen to make the most of it and took the best part of 4 hours strolling the old town, the castle, the Lechtfall, the Baum Garten and the town’s principal churches.

For me, Die Heilig Geist Spitalkirche (the Church of the Holy Ghost) stands out from the others in the town as being one of the most unusual and impressive churches I have seen. The original 15th century church was destroyed in a fire in 1733 and when it was rebuilt a few years later, it was constructed in the style of the monastery church of the Franciscans of Dillingen and with the exterior being adorned with colourful frescoes.

The high point of the town (quite literally) is the Hohes Schloss, a one time retreat of the Bishops of Augsburg, which sits alongside St Mang’s Abbey. Access to the castle courtyard (which is a masterpiece of illusion) is free but there’s a charge of 4 Euros to go inside the castle. It is worth 4 Euros for the views over the town alone but from inside you can also access the state art gallery.

I found a cafe-bar before leaving Fussen and, while reflecting on the numerous photographs I had taken during the day, enjoyed a particularly good Apfel Strudel. That was always going to help me cover the ground back to the Van in no time.

Schwangau (Allgau), Germany October 2020 (Tour 3)

We opted to stay for a couple of days at the 5* Camping Brunnen at Schwangau in the Allgau region of Bavaria. The campsite is almost equidistant between Die Konigschlosser (i.e. the castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau) and the town of Fussen. Two days would allow us to catch up on some chores and visit both castles and the town.

Because of poor weather the dogs had been denied their regular exercise and I took them with me on the 12 mile round trip towards Neuschwanstein Castle, passing the Hohenschwangau Castle and the church of St Coloman on the way.

The first castle we saw up close was the Hohenschwangau (no time to dwell here but in any event it looked closed) and then it was on to St Coloman.

My primary target that day was Neuschwanstein, a most elaborate castle sitting on a rock ledge over the Pollat Gorge in the Bavarian Alps. It was built by order of Bavaria’s so called “Mad King” Ludwig II; construction beginning in 1868/69 but not being quite finished before Ludwig died in 1886. Ludwig II was a great admirer and supporter of the composer Richard Wagner and much of the castle was inspired by Wagnerian characters. Indeed, Neuschwanstein is German for New Swan Stone and the Swan Knight is the principal character from Wagner’s Opera Lohengrin.

Neuschwanstein is a fairy tale castle in a truly beautiful setting. The best place to take photographs of the castle is from above but I didn’t have time to climb above it and, besides, our little dog (Beanie) was getting tired.

While Neuschwanstein’s look is that of a medieval castle, it was equipped inside with 19th century state of the art technology. For example on every floor of the castle there were toilets with an automatic flushing system (water being supplied from a spring some 200 meters above the castle) and an air heating system for the whole castle. Today, it is one of the most visited castles in Germany and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe with over 1.3 million people visiting. It is said to be the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

Another quite remarkable project of Ludwig’s was the Linderhof Palace. This then very private palace was designed as a refuge for an increasingly reclusive king to hide away in. Being designed for just one person, Ludwig himself, the palace was tiny with just 10 rooms (4 of which were for servants) and the dining table was designed to accommodate just one person. If you think Neuschwanstein is a fairy tale palace, Linderhof has to be seen to be believed.

Ludwig II’s situation was tragic. It seems he became obsessive about his personal projects and indifferent to state business. It is said too that he was unable to rein in his excessive spending; so much so, his government advisors started plotting against him and, very suddenly, had him diagnosed as clinically insane, and therefore incompetent. Although he had no prior diagnosis of ‘madness’ he was declared mentally insane by four separate, government-sanctioned psychiatrists and removed as King. Historians don’t know for sure how ‘Mad’ King Ludwig died but not long after, his body was found floating in Lake Starnberg alongside the body of his personal psychiatrist, Dr Gudden.

Now if that is not material for a Netflix Movie, nothing is. Time to head back to the Van. The dogs are wiped out.

Oberammergau (Bayern), Germany October 2020 (Tour 3)

Oberammergau is a small town of 5,000 people in the Ammer Valley at the foot of the Kofel Mountain. The town is known primarily for it’s Passion Play which is held every 10 years and to a lesser extent for it’s woodcarvers (there are lots of them) but it deserves a mention too for once being the home of a certain Franz Zwinck.

Franz Zwinck was a house painter who focused mostly on exteriors and who lived in Oberammergau during the late 18th century. It was he who started painting the frescoes, common throughout Bavaria, which so enhance the appearance of the Region’s pastel coloured buildings. The frescoes are known as Luftlmarelei and are named after the house he lived in and presumably painted: Zum Luftl. Not many people know that.

As already strated, Oberammergau is best known for it’s Passion Play which was first performed in 1634 and has been performed during every year ending in a zero since then with exceptions only of 1920, 1940 and 2020. The play in 1920 was postponed to 1922 because of post World War 1 austerity. The play in 2020 has been postponed to 2022 because of Covid and the play in 1940 was cancelled because of World War 2 but, countering that, extra productions were staged in 1934 (300th anniversary) and 1984 (350th anniversary).

The Play came about after a man returning to the village in 1633 for Christmas brought the bubonic plague with him. He and countless others died until the surviving villagers made a pledge that, if God were to spare them any more deaths, they would stage a passion play every 10 years during which they would re-enact the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is said that the deaths stopped from that moment and that those then sick with the plague all recovered.

So began the Passion Play which now directly involves over 2,000 actors, singers, instrumentalists and technicians – all of whom must be residents of Oberammergau – and which nowadays attracts the best part of half a million spectators to 100 performances during the period May to October.

Like so many places we have visited during this tour, Covid has seen to it that most places are empty of tourists. That proved to be the case in Oberammergau too. After a very pleasant wander around a remarkably empty town, Vanya and I adjourned to a baker coffee shop and enjoyed some quite wonderful cakes with our coffee – If I’m honest, I ate all the cakes.

I’ll finish with a few random photos of the town…

Ettal (Bayern), Germany October 2020 (Tour 3)

Garmisch-Partenkirchen is not the town it once was and proved a big disappointment; so much so we were in Ettal before noon.

Our next stop after GaPa was to be Oberammergau and weren’t going to stop in Ettal but it is such a beautiful little village and it was on the road to Oberammergau, the Alpine road, that we simply had to pause.

The biggest surprise about Ettal is it’s Benedictine Monastery. It dominates the village and I parked up to investigate this magnificent building (well, it’s a collection of buildings really) and…

The front of an abbey which turned out to be a monastery with a difference

Ettal Abbey was founded in 1330 by the then Emperor Ludwig but is now a Benedictine Monastery with a community of 50+ monks. What is unusual about this monastery is that in 1618 the Duke of Bavaria granted a concession allowing the monks to produce and sell beer and since then increasing sections of the monastery have been given over to the production of beer on a commercial basis. Parts of the monastery are now a brewery!

That’s quite a range of beers

And it doesn’t stop there; it also has a distillery! Indeed, Ettal is almost as renowned for its spirits (as in spirits for drinking) as it’s beer; some made with or at least flavoured with local fruits (e.g. various brandies and of course Kirschwasser) and others made with neutral grain spirits (vodka). What a find!

We couldn’t stay long but there is a museum within the complex that I would very much like to visit when next passing through. I would also consider staying over in Ettal given it’s close proximity to both Oberammergau (5 minutes drive) and the Lindhof Palace (10 minutes drive).

And so to Oberammergau… Wow!!

Krun (Bayern), Germany October 2020 (Tour 3)

Our next stop was to be Garmisch-Partenkirchen and we made it to Garmisch, passing through some pretty villages as we did so, and we did pause in the centre but parking was difficult and the weather was closing in (with snow forecast for the late afternoon and evening) and so we headed for a highly recommended camp site some 14 km down the road with a view to returning to GaPa the next day.

The site was five star and while not cheap appeared to have everything we could possibly need. The shower block was unreal; sparkling clean and with underfloor heating, numerous separate shower cubicles, unlimited hot water and even a bathroom with a bathtub! I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised given that the camp site is geared up for winter camping and skiing.

It’s restaurant had plenty of good reviews and we decided to eat there that evening – the food and wine were good and not silly expensive.

And so to bed and, yes, it snowed throughout the night but it was that horrible cold slushy snow that fell and that was when camp site fell right down in my estimation. The Van wasn’t parked on hardstanding but on soft mushy ground that became a cold shallow pond.

And so to GaPa…

Rosenheim (Bayern), Germany October 2020 (Tour 3)

It was a beautiful morning in Schwand and we were sorely tempted to take the boat trip from St Gilgen to St Wolfgang during the afternoon. After checking the latest news, however, we thought better of it. It seems Austria is now considered by Germany to be of the highest Covid risk and there is talk of border restrictions. I don’t know what that means and I’m not convinced it would be legal but these are strange times. Time to move on.

We set off in the direction of Salzburg and then picked up signs for Germany. At the border, which was manned by German police, there was a small queue of cars but absolutely nothing with Austrian plates. Time to worry? No, we were simply waved through. Bit of a relief though.

I don’t know why we stopped at Rosenheim. I googled the place and stumbled upon the “Holiday In Bavaria” site but neither of us knew much about the place before and we perhaps still don’t. For my part, I think it was relief at not being turned back at the border that made me want to pause and take a drink in Rosenheim. It is worth mentioning too that Vanya had found what looked on paper to be a good camp site in the Rosenheim area and the sun was shining.

We parked the Van up in a church car park and walked to the town centre, the Max-Josefs Platz, and sat outside a busy Gasthof and took a beer. It was marvellous sitting in the sun with that beer and if I didn’t have to drive on to the camp site I could have been tempted to take another two or three. It’s a shame Vanya has shown absolutely no interest in driving the Van because she was drinking water and then… well, no matter.

The sun continued to shine; I was precluded from drinking anymore; it was time to check out the town. For my part we had to move as quickly as possible from Max-Josefs Platz – there were two too many distractions – the cafe bars were tempting me and the designer shops were likely to tempt Vanya – I had forgotten it was a Sunday and few if any designer shops are open in this part of the world on a Sunday.

With a population of more than 60,000 Rosenheim is a large town but, I don’t think there is much to the place and I certainly cannot agree with the “Holiday In Bavaria” website when it suggests that the town “delights visitors with its southern flair and Alpine charm”. It has some colourful buildings but, so too does the rest of Bavaria. It has some interesting museums and some enticing looking shops but on such a sunny Sunday afternoon? I don’t think so. As for the Alpine charm bit, I would suggest there are many more places in Bavaria much closer to the Alps that better qualify for that particular soubriquet.

There are a couple of things about Rosenheim I do very much like. On a warm sunny afternoon such as we enjoyed, the Max-Josefs Platz struck me as a wonderful place to sit and watch the world go by and, remember, this was on a Covid Sunday when there were but a fraction of the people out and about as normal.

For much the same reason Ludwigplatz also appealed to me but sitting almost in between the two is the beautiful Kirche St Nikolaus. That place really impressed me.

While quite ornate on the outside, with some very interesting frescoes, it was stylish simplicity on the inside – a total contrast and wonderfully elegant. A truly beautiful church.

Reading this back I hope I don’t come across as too hostile towards Rosenheim. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the place. I think perhaps I expected too much of the town in the first place (but I’ll blame Holiday In Bavaria for that). Would I ever return? Yes, I would. It could be argued that I barely scratched the surface in the time I was there this time and, in any event, Rosenheim is supposed to have a fantastic Autumn Beer Drinking Festival which sounds far more authentic than Munich’s Oktoberfest.

Oh, and the camp site Vanya found in the area was very good.

Munich, Germany – Nov 2017

The plan was to move west from Zurich to Enzesfeld (not far from Vienna) to enjoy a day or two with longstanding friends Clare and Gerhard before then heading south to either Greece or Italy before the winter snows arrive. The journey to Austria went as planned. It was largely uneventful but I took time to check out a couple of very pretty villages on the way (you know the ones I mean – they look like something out of “Little House on the Prairie” except the cows and the sheep all have big bells hanging round their necks) and I stopped in Liechtenstein (for lunch) and Munich (for a couple of beers, dinner and an overnight stay) before eventually reaching Enzesfeld.

The less said about the campsite in Munich, the better. Although not expensive, it was the worst I’ve encountered so far. I’ll likely do an update on this blog tomorrow and name and shame it. No I won’t. If you cannot say something nice it is better to say nothing at all.