German Bucket List: Bavarian Alps

The four months after my sister’s first visit flew by, and by the end of September, it was already time for her to come back to Germany. For this vacation, we spent six days in the German Alps in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a town right by the Austrian border famous for hosting the 1936 Winter Olympics. It’s also the home to a large American military resort built for service members and government employees like my mom stationed out here to have a place to vacation. The lodge was huge, unlike most European hotels, and all the workers were American so it felt like having a little piece of home in the middle of Europe.

Our drive down was about five hours, but we stopped along the way at Neuschwanstein Castle, which was sitting high up on a hill as we pulled into the parking lot. Considering how iconic it is, especially because it inspired the design of Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disneyland, it was exciting to see something completely different in architecture from the castles I’ve seen in western Germany. As expected, it was crowded and we would have had to wait three hours to tour the inside, so we just took a shuttle to the top of the mountain and took pictures, which honestly was enough for us. We also stopped along the way at the Wieskirche, another must-see in southern Germany. The church had ornate decoration and lots of color because it was built in the rococo style, whereas most of the churches where I live were built in gothic style.

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When we arrived in Garmisch, the sun was still out (a rarity in Europe), so we stopped at the Eibsee at the base of the Zugspitze, Germany’s tallest mountain. The lake was serene with clear water and lush trees surrounding it. A 10-minute walk around the perimeter to the other side led us to stunning views of the mountains towering over.

Eibsee
Eibsee

Thanks to Trip Advisor, we had a whole list of traditional Bavarian restaurants to try, and the one we ate at the first night was actually our favorite. Though I must say, I basically ate the same thing for every meal: either schnitzel or roast pork with potato dumplings. The dish is warm and hearty and reminds me of Christmas—definitely not something I could ever cook in my own home. The servers would all wear the traditional German dress of lederhosen and dirndl, and one night there was even an oompah band playing as we ate.

Our first morning in Garmisch, we woke up to completely clear skies, so it was the perfect weather to take a cable car to the top of the 9,717-foot tall Zugspitze. There were mountains in all directions as far as the eye could see. Because we took the first ride of the day at about 8:30 a.m., we only had to share the observation deck with a few other people. I would have loved to drink a beer at the country’s highest beer garden, but unfortunately I’m not German enough to drink alcohol that early in the morning. And it was a good thing we brought our winter coats because the temperature at the top was only 32 degrees, about 20 degrees colder than at the base.

We then decided to drive out to the Königsee, another lake, and Berchtesgaden, which is where Adolf Hitler used to vacation. In hindsight it wasn’t the best decision because the drive ended up taking almost four hours due to traffic, but at least we had beautiful mountain views the entire way. When we arrived, it was too late to actually see Hitler’s vacation home so we instead spent our afternoon on the lake. We took a 45-minute boat ride to a church roughly halfway to the other end of the lake where we could get off, grab a bite to eat, and take pictures. Again, the water was super clear and the scenery made it worth the long drive to get there.

Our next day was spent at the Dachau concentration camp north of Munich. Moving to Germany, seeing a concentration camp was high priority for me, and Dachau was especially important because it was one of the first camps established and was a model for the rest. Our audio tour took us through the grounds where we saw memorials, barracks made for 200 people that ended up having 2,000 crammed into them, and some of the original crematoria. It was moving walking the same paths the prisoners walked just 75 years ago and hearing the accounts of survivors. Given there are people who still believe the Holocaust was a hoax and people who do not see the discrimination based on race, religion, sexuality, etc., happening in America right now, my family and I agreed that everyone should tour a concentration camp at least once.

Dachau
“Work makes you free” – gate to enter the camp
Dachau2
“Never Again” monument with ashes representing the unknown prisoner

On a lighter note, we were back in the mountains on our third day. In the morning, my sister and I went paragliding, which I had already done in Switzerland but was an even better experience in Germany. The mountain we flew off was higher and the views were more spectacular—plus I now have a GoPro so I could take my own pictures as we glided through the air.

Paragliding
Paragliding

In the afternoon, we went to Partnach Gorge. We started our walk at the Garmisch Olympic ski jump stadium and 20 minutes later were in between two huge walls of rock with icy blue water rushing through. It was definitely one of the coolest things we saw on this trip. After our hike, we stopped at a restaurant in the stadium for a käsespätzel, my favorite Bavarian dish of small potato noodles in creamy cheese sauce, as we watched ski jumpers practice.

Our last day was spent in Salzburg, Austria, seeing the sites where the Sound of Music was filmed. We didn’t have a ton of time so in the morning, we just walked around town, and in the afternoon, we did the Sound of Music tour which drove us outside of town to even more filming locations while playing scenes from the movie along the way. The town was nice, but in some areas it was dirty and I preferred Innsbruck, Austria, for its mountain views and more colorful buildings.

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Lastly, no trip to Bavaria would be complete without a trip to the main Oktoberfest in Munich. My sister and I wore traditional dirndls and there were tons of rides and beer tents. It was almost like the county fair but 100 times bigger and lots more beer!

After living in Germany for eight months, seeing a region completely different from where I live in the west made me love the country even more. Next on my German bucket list: Hamburg and Berlin.

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