Last I wrote we were finishing up our wonderful 9 day tour of the Balkans in the beautiful capital city of Ljubljana. On Tuesday the 6th we boarded a train from Ljubljana to Munich. and ended up having a little more train trouble. We only had 10 minutes to catch our connecting train in Villach Austria and were delighted to have arrived on time, but when we went to look for our next train on the list of departures nothing was showing. It turns out the trains bound for Munich currently leave 15 minutes early due to some kind of track maintenance. We had to wait 2 hours for the next one. Then of course we found out that the maintenance included entire sections of track being shut down so we rode for an hour, had to get off and board a bus, ride that for an hour and then get back on a train. We got off the train at the first station across the German boarder, Freilassing. In Freilassing we picked up our rental car for the week, so happy to be done with trains and buses for the time being. We initially planned to try and see Berchtesgaden that afternoon, but with the delays we were cut short on time and opted instead to drive straight to our hotel in Reit im Winkl and spend the afternoon relaxing.
Reit im Winkl is a darling little village with a lot of character. We stayed at Landhaus Reit im Winkl and our hosts, Dirk and Margaret, were some of the friendliest, most hospitable people we met on our travels. They welcomed us with cold beers and invited us to a BBQ they were putting on for all their guests that evening. We gladly accepted! We spent some time walking around the village, had a beer at one of the outdoor cafes and then headed back to the Guesthouse for a delicious dinner. We spent the evening talking to a Swedish couple who now live and operate a charity in Greece. We talked and ate and drank until the rain drove us inside. The rain ended up including ping-pong size balls of hail, which were pretty cool and luckily didn’t damage the car.
The next morning we had breakfast at the house and then headed straight for Berchtesgaden. Berchtesgaden is a small city in the Bavarian Alps most famous for it’s proximity to Kehlstein mountain, which was home to Hitler’s famous Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus in German). We drove up to the ticket center, found parking and the waited in massive lines to purchase tickets to the Eagle’s Nest. The ticket includes the bus and elevator up to the building. It’s possible to walk up to it, but the hike is more than 6 kilometers straight up. We had to wait awhile in line, but eventually made it to the ticket counter and onto the bus. The Eagle’s Nest provides amazing views of the surrounding mountains, towns and the Konigsee, but the actual building is now used as a restaurant/cafe. All the historical information is located in a documentation center close to the parking lots. We were glad we visited, but thought the price to access the Eagle’s Nest was a little steep for what you get.
After grabbing a quick lunch at the car we drove over to the famed Konigsee. Again, it was packed with tourists, but with a little walking we were able to escape most of the people. We walked around the lake taking in the views along the way. Before going we’d be told that swimming was forbidden however there were plenty of people splashing around and beating the heat in the water. I was a little bummed that we’d left our suits out in the car, but we still dipped our toes in and enjoyed the scenery from a shady little spot we found. As we hiked out we stopped at a small biergarten for a drink.
Our next stop was Salzburg. In college we both happened to visit the same Augustiner Brewery in Salzburg (on separate occasions) and wanted to go back to check it out. The cool thing about the brewery is that they use ceramic mugs and pour the beer directly out of wooden barrels. We parked near the center of town and amazingly Dave was able to remember the way to the brewery from back in the day. We had some beers, ate some schnitzel and some schweinshaxe and even tried this salted radish dish all the locals were into (it was gross). We then walked along the river hoping to stroll around the center of town, but we got stuck in a sudden thunderstorm. We took cover and tried to wait it out, but after about 10 minutes we decided it had been a long day already and made a run for the car. On the drive back the rain stopped and when we drove by one of the many lakes we were passing we decided to stop for an evening swim. It was a great, relaxing way to end a jam-packed day.
We woke up Thursday, grabbed breakfast and started on the 3 hour drive to Neuschwanstein. The castle has been on my “must see” list for years and is just as beautiful as I thought it would be. Unfortunately it’s on a lot of people’s to-do lists, because it was packed! We found a parking spot about a kilometer away from the center of the action, walked up only to find ourselves in an hour long line since the only way to see the interior of the castle is by participating in a guided tour. We decided we might as well go for it. We made it to the cashier’s desk at about 2:30 pm and were lucky enough to get one of the last entrance times of 6:50 pm (tours stop at 7:00). With our 4+ hours to kill we checked out one of the other castles in the area, sat by the lake and then enjoyed a traditional Bavarian meal and some Weißbier before starting out on the hike up to the castle a little after 5:00. The hike is about 40 minutes and then a few more minutes to the Marienbrücke–which in my opinion, provided the best views.
After taking some snapshots we made our way to the entrance and eventually started our guided tour. Neuschwanstin was built by the Bavarian king Ludwig II. He was a little crazy (well officially declared crazy by a panel of doctors so more than a little) and built this “retreat” in the 1860s. The castle is insanely ornate and detailed. There are a number of frescoes throughout the castle dedicated to Richard Wagner’s operas. It’s definitely worth taking a look, even if you do have to wait an obscene amount of time to get in!
After we finished with our tour and picture taking extravaganza we got in the car and headed back east to Garmisch-Partenkirche. Our friend Bailey and his girlfriend, Kindle, live and work in the city and graciously invited us to crash with them for the night. We showed up just as Bailey’s was getting off work and had a great time catching up, drinking some local beers and getting a tour of the city from the locals. It was so much fun hanging out with both Bailey and Kindle and we wish we’d been able to spend more time with them before leaving Germany. Hopefully we’ll see them again soon!
We had a late night Thursday in Garmisch, but had to be up early so we could hit the Romantic Road. The Romantic Road is a 350km stretch of road linking picturesque towns and castles. We first stopped off at Eibsee (which is located at the base of the Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany) so Dave could get in a morning swim. It was in the low 60’s and I decided it was too cold for me so I stayed shore-side. The lake was beautiful and extremely clear, but unfortunately the weather was a little gloomy and we weren’t able to get a view of the Zugspitze.
From the Eibsee we began our trek up the Romantic Road. The rain was going pretty good, but we were still able to catch glimpses of picturesque villages and beautiful scenery. We drove for quite awhile before reaching our first stop in Dinkelsbühl. Dinkelsbühl is a colorful, historic city in Bavaria. It’s surrounded by medieval walls and legend has it that during the 30 Years War, a teenage girl took the children of the town to beg mercy to the Swedish general. The general had recently lost his young son and one of the children who appeased him so closely resembled his own son that he decided to spare the town. Every year Dinkelsbühl celebrates the occasion by dressing in traditional garb and giving sweets to the children. The rain had abated while we were stopped in Dinkelsbühl and we had a lovely time walking around the city, grabbing some lunch and then trying a schneeball (snowball auf Englisch). Schneeballs were easy to spot on along the Romantic Road and is a very rich pastry that comes in a variety of flavors. It was delicious!
Our second stop of the day was Crailsheim. In the 1950’s my Grandpa Herlache was stationed in Crailsheim and he and my Grandma spent two years living in the city. We had their old address and were able to find their house and check out their former neighborhood. The bakery that use to be under their house was no longer there, but from the pictures we showed them after the fact the area looked very similar as did the house. It was pretty cool to see where they spent two years of their life and we were happy to take a lot of photos for them:) We spent the rest of the late-afternoon strolling through Crailsheim and trying to find some sort of souvenir with the city’s name on it, but alas we were unsuccessful. We were pretty wiped out from a long day of driving and sightseeing so we drove to our hotel and crashed for the night. Picking up a giant piece of cake and some red wine for a bit of a hobo dinner along the way!
Saturday we set out to finish the last of the Romantic Road by visiting the city of Rothenburg Ob der Tauber. The day was sunny and the town was picture perfect. It was everything you envision a historical town on a stretch of highway called the Romantic Road to be. Cobblestone streets, cozy cafes, beautiful Bavarian style buildings and friendly locals. We were stopped almost immediately by a gentleman who wanted to help us check out his town. He directed us to Jakob’s Kirche, a Lutheran church with a variety of holy relics including the the famous Holy Blood altarpiece. After the church we wandered through the central square, pausing to laugh at a “Christmas-mobile”- oh the Germans and their love of Christmas- and then walked along the old city wall that encircles the city. Since the weather was so nice we stopped for cake and coffee at one of the sweet little cafes, wrote postcards to our families and just took in the beauty of Rothenberg Ob der Tauber.
After Rothenberg Ob der Tauber we drove to our final hotel of the trip in the city of Nürnberg. It was a quick drive, just about an hour, and after checking in we dropped our bags and headed immediately out into the city. Before visiting I had always associated Nürnberg with the Nazi’s. First as the site of the Nazi Rally grounds and second as the location of the trials after the War. It turns out Nürnberg’s connection with National Socialism is only a small (though important) part of it’s long history. The city has an old town and we a vibrant central market square and beautiful canals. We stayed just down the road from Albrecht Durer’s house and the Nürnberger Castle. At the Castle we got a taste of Nürnberg’s medieval and renaissance history. Near the Castle we also discovered the Hausbraueri Altstadthof where we sampled their red ale and helles and then purchased a liter to drink in the street. Drinking in the street- one of the things I’ll miss most about Germany! Sausages are another thing we’ll miss a lot and no place is more proud of their wursts than Nürnberg. We came across the Bratwursthäusle on our walk and were delighted to discover that they’ve sold more sausages than any other establishment worldwide. It helps that they’ve been open since 1313, but still! Nürnberg sausages are smaller than usual bratwursts and the traditional way to eat them is three in a brotchen with senf and sauerkraut. Of course we both had to try them. Dave ended up placing three different orders for Nürnberger sausages over the course of our approximately 24 hour stay–they are THAT good!
In the afternoon we set out to find the “Marriage Carousel” which is actually a fountain depicting the artist’s opinion on different stages of marriage. His views are pretty cynical and a bit depressing, but his art is entertaining:
We did a little more exploring, finding an awesome open-air venue that was previously a church. The church’s roof was destroyed in the war, but it’s foundation and walls still stand. Now the roofless church is re purposed as a concert venue. We were pretty tired out from all the walking and headed back to the hotel for a swim in the indoor pool, a sweat in the sauna and then a nap. We had a late dinner at a nearby pizza restaurant and finished the night by watching the Sixth Sense (in German of course) on TV.
Sunday brought our final day of the trip. Our first stop was the Documentation Center and Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nürnberg. The Center houses a plethora of information related to the rise of National Socialism, it’s outcomes and eventual downfall. Audio guides were included in the admission fee and very informative. Dave and I agreed that the most interesting part of the exhibit was the film and focus on the rallies in the 1930’s. Nürnberg was considered by Hitler to be the “most German of all the German cities” and therefore developed into a gathering place for party members. The propaganda used to make the actual rallies seem flawlessly coordinated and all the attendees appear wholesome is fascinating. At the end of the museum you come out onto a platform that lets you view of the interior courtyard of the building. The Center is one of the only buildings that was close to completion in the grand plans the Nazi’s had for the Nürnberg Rally Grounds.
After the museum we walked to the Zepplin Field and up the bleachers where Hitler delivered his speeches. We then spotted a beer garden and decided that a pick me up was in order after such a heavy morning. We had our final Nürnberg sausages and some good Bavarian Weißbier. Then began the long trek back towards Berlin.
Our last stop was the city of Lutherstadt Wittenberg, home to Martin Luther and the start of the Protestant Reformation. I’ve been wanting to visit the city ever since my ill-fated attempt to do so when I studied abroad in 2005. The town was pretty quiet as it was a Sunday evening, but we enjoyed walking along the picturesque streets and reading the different plaques highlighting not only Luther but a number of other famous academics, artists and artisans. We found the doors where Luther nailed his 95 theses back in 1517 and his former house (first as a monk and then with his wife, children and a number of other boarders). I wish more had been open so we could have learned a little more about the city, but I’m glad I was finally able to make it! We decided to forgo dinner in Wittenberg as it looked like rain might be coming in and made the hour or so drive north to Berlin.