After Spain, the next European country I had my eye on was Germany. I had dreams of biergartens, pretzels as big as my face and friendly locals. Last fall, that all came true, and then some, including moments of learning and self reflection about our world’s past and my first view of the Alps – stoic, icy mountains warmed by September’s fall foliage. I got some stormy and dreamy photographs that I wasn’t expecting – see below!
We traveled in planes, trains and automobiles from Munich to Berlin and back through charming Bavaria. For once, I wasn’t involved much in the planning and went along for the ride. I’ll briefly list our stops and share some photos in hopes of inspiring your adventure to Deutschland.
We purposely planned our trip around Oktoberfest (usually the last two weeks of September). If you’re into German beer and don’t mind a crowd – I highly recommend this experience. We came on a Thursday and started early so we a chance to walk through all the tents and sit down in a few to enjoy steins of beer. By 4-5 p.m. the tents were filled and it was hard to find a seat. While more than 7 million people visit Oktoberfest every year, this was hands down the best and quickest service we had in Germany. We ate the 1/2 roasted chicken and apple strudel which was fantastic, not to mention the liters and liters of German beer (Augustine was our favorite)!
The next day, we locked up our luggage at the train station as we enjoyed our last day in Munich. We stopped by the park where you can watch surfers. That’s right. There’s no beaches in Munich, but stop by the Englischer Garten where you can watch people expertly surf on the Eisbach river below the bridge!
Then, we took a train and bus to Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial. While the sobering experience is difficult to communicate here, it’s important to see and learn. Maintaining memorials and museums like this will help humankind avoid making the same terrible mistakes in the future.
We rode the ICE (high speed train), a long but comfortable ride, from Munich to Berlin. I have family in Berlin that were kind enough to let us stay with them for a couple nights. With one full day in Berlin, it was a whirlwind of walking around the city, taking in the sights, history, people, and of course, stopping by a biergarten. I wish I had more time here to experience the city and really take in the sights.
Learning about the history of Berlin and experiencing what it is today had my head spinning with thoughts of what it must have been like. We visited the Topography of Terror (free museum on the former site of the SS Reich Main Security Office) where we read about the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. Additionally, we saw buildings damaged by bullet and bombs during WWII and walked along parts of the Berlin Wall. Our host lived in West Berlin before, during and after the wall came down. It was fascinating to hear her stories at breakfast and then walk along traces of the wall and the East Side Gallery that same afternoon.
After a night of rest, we picked up a rental car and headed south for a Bavarian road trip on the autobahn. Our first stop was Rothenberg, a charming town that looks right out of a fairy tale. We walked along the ancient wall and towers that protected the town during medieval times. It almost didn’t seem real, like I was in a fabricated village of Disneyland. You’ll see the Disneyland theme return a few times while in Bavaria.
We spent a quiet morning walking around the town, admiring the adorable architecture and enjoying cappuccinos and schneeballen (snowballs in English). Schneeballen are a local treat of shortbread and covered with powered sugar, chocolate, coconut and various other combinations! Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of shortbread, and think they look better than they taste.
Hohenschwangau (specifically, Nuestchwanstein castle)
Here’s where the magic of Disney returns, but in real life. We drove to Hohenschwangau and hiked up to see Neuschwanstein castle twice – this is said to be the inspiration for Cinderella’s fictional home. I’ll let you read about the history from a different source. It’s a short, up-hill hike to see a view of the castle, and we kept going past the trail as far as we could until the clouds and rain rolled in an we could no longer see beyond the trees. The next morning, we hiked up in the dark to watch the sunrise over the castle. There were only a couple others out there, so I highly recommend going at this time to beat the crowd and take in the magical views.
After watching the sunrise, we strolled over to Alpsee lake where I became fascinated with photographing the reflective water and its feathered inhabitants.
We stayed at the Hotel Muller where we had a lovely suite with views of the castle. I also enjoyed a wine tasting here – I believe it was 30 something Euros for the basic tasting of 4-5 wines.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Hoellentalklamm or Hell Valley Gorge)
If the Neuschwanstein was Cinderella’s Castle, then Hoellentalklamm (Hell Valley Gorge) was Splash Mountain. For a small entrance fee, you can hike through this beautiful gorge, ducking through tunnels in the rock, watching your step over slippery surfaces and getting totally wet! The gorge-ous (get it?) hike was all worth it to be so close to nature. The trail ends at a hostel with views of the Alps.
Kehlsteinhause (The Eagle’s Nest)
One of our last adventures in Germany was the hike to The Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s mountain retreat which still stands on a peak in the Bavarian Alps. It is now a restaurant, and a tourist destination to take in beautiful views of the mountains. Weather was not great when we went, so I’m afraid I missed out on the view. However, I did not miss out on some exercise. There is a bus that will take you a majority of the way up the hill, and then an elevator that a bus ticket will get you a ride on. We skipped the bus and made the hike from the parking lot. It was a steep, uphill walk, but the path was paved and well maintained. If you like walking/hiking, I would recommend this to really take in the experience (and get it for free!). Just don’t be like me, as I wasn’t expecting a 4 hour hike like this and did not pack any water or snacks.
I really enjoyed my time in Germany, and was surprised by all the hiking and views we squeezed in. It was also a great lesson in history regarding the Holocaust, WWII and Cold War.
I would come back for a few days at Oktoberfest for sure! I wish I had more time in the Alps, too, so I suppose I’ll have to return another time. We moved through town to town pretty quickly when I wish I could have slowed down a bit to explore deeper. I didn’t even mention the time we drove over the border to get coffee in Austria or stopped to visit Dirk Nowitzki’s hometown! The only downside was that this wasn’t a foodie destination for me, as I got tired of Bavarian food pretty quickly.
Have you ever been to Germany? What sights would you recommenced? Let me know in the comments!