I'm on the road for nine and a half hours. From the area only an hour away from the Netherlands to Garmisch-Partenkirchen on the edge of the German Alps some 450 miles away. You may ask, am I riding a scooter? No - I just have to stop every few miles to update my boyfriend. In addition, my butt is hurting after only 200 miles.
My boyfriend and I should be in the United States now. Together. But Corona seems to think it is more fun to keep us apart. But if I don't do one thing it is hiding at home crying. So I decided to do a solo trip through the south and east of Germany. "Americans love Bavaria!" My boyfriend is immediately happy - because I will take him with me virtually to all locations.
As soon as I arrive, it turns out that my aching butt is the least of the problems. "Greetings!" says my host in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. "Higgelty Piggelty Miggelty!"
I look like a wet donkey. "Good evening," I reply, due to a lack of profound Bavarian language skills. To a German in the north, understanding people in Bavaria is like a Chicagoan trying to understand someone from West Texas. I follow as he leads me through the apartment, points to cupboards and counters and says: "Miggelty Wiggelty?" Luckily, the rental agreement is in standard German and when I signed, I can finally throw a frozen dinner in the oven and put my feet up. And that was just the beginning.
It pours. I look over the brochure of the Partnach Gorge. Wear waterproof clothing, even on summer days, because it can get very wet in the gorge. Well, that sounds right! I am already wet when I just stick my nose out on the balcony here. I put on my rain jacket, the waterproof pants from my snowmobile trip through Yellowstone and my hiking shoes. The air in the gorge feels like I am in a steam bath. However, a steam bath in which the heating has failed. Behind the ticket booth you go straight into a tunnel. I'm there so early that I'm almost alone. And because that’s the case, I shout “Booo!” In the tunnel. Just for fun.
Immediately afterwards, I almost stop breathing. In front of me, a narrow waterfall drops from the 250-foot-high steep walls. Steel cables line the path, which is carved into the overhanging rocks, and leads directly under the falls. When I look up to see the towering mass of water, my hood falls back onto my neck and my hair is wet in three seconds. The gorge is only a half-mile long, but the views are so overpowering that I have to stop constantly just to allow my mind to process the moss-covered walls, the small trees clawing against the rocks, and the foaming brown water that shoots through the narrow gorge. The waterfalls look almost like silver hair plunging into the abyss. I feel like I’m in the Amazon. In the middle of Germany.
Because the weather gets a little bit better after that, I make a trip to Neuschwanstein Castle the next day. I almost get a seizure every time my boyfriend raves about the stunning German fairytale castle, but there is no way to ignore it – it is truly beautiful. Kitsch-beautiful. And after Corona I will never again be able to see it without hordes of Asians! So, I drive about 50 minutes from Garmisch to Hohenschwangau. Oh yes – there is not only Neuschwanstein Castle, but also Hohenschwangau Castle almost directly opposite. Nobody knows this castle, because King Ludwig II simply built too many castles while pulling unicorn dust through his nose.
Hohenschwangau Castle looks a bit like Swiss cheese. Yellow and rectangular. Because of Corona, there are currently only online tickets available which are sold out for the next 200 years. But if I'm honest with myself, I'm not really interested in the fish of king. You do not always have to do high culture. The incredibly magnificent architecture is enough. It is a 40-minute walk from Hohenschwangau Castle to Neuschwanstein Castle. I think I will certainly have a great view of both castles along the way. Then for 40 minutes I see only forest and horse poop from the tourist carriages that is left on the tarmac. Until I suddenly stand right in front of Neuschwanstein Castle.
Honestly, the castle has more charm from afar. The enchantment comes simply from the overall impression. I continue to Marienbrücke, which spans 300 feet over the Pöllat Gorge, where a waterfall roars and the side view of Neuschwanstein looks like a postcard. The bridge is not a place for weak nerves. King Maximilian II made his first attempts at construction in 1845. However, he constructed the bridge out of wood. King Ludwig II can only laugh. Because he did not want his butt to fall into the Pöllat Gorge, he replaced the structure with a filigree iron bridge in 1866. Whoever can, can.
From the Marienbrücke, a path leads through the Pöllat Gorge back into the valley. That is if you want to walk on transparent gridwork over the raging water beneath. Naturally, I think it is great! Then I hang around Alpsee until 8:30 p.m. because I am waiting for the sunset before I drive back to Garmisch.
Unfortunately, I want to see the sunrise at the castle the next day. Sunrise is at 5 o'clock. So I have to leave at 4 a.m. The alarm clock goes off at 3:20 a.m. I have slept for two hours and I have exactly one open eye. Ingenious planning. In the pitch-black darkness, I drive up a winding road between black forests, starry skies, and fog banks until I get back to Neuschwanstein Castle. But from a different side this time. I park and run towards a meadow at dawn.
The meadow has a turnstile at the entrance. But not to stop people from going in, but so that the cows can't come out. Free pastureland. I feel queasy at dawn. The spotted animals have large, golden bells around their necks and lie in the wet and colorless meadow. They ring very quietly, but from everywhere. "If the cows get too close to you, you just have to push them around," my boyfriend joked cheerfully yesterday. A cow looks at me with wide eyes and wags its ears. I run away. After a strenuous ascent, during which I have definitely stepped in cow poop, I reach the mountain slope from which an expansive view of Neuschwanstein Castle opens. I sit on my jacket and wait. A hundred bird chirps and tweets mix into the mood of the morning. It is incredibly atmospheric and there is no one out here except me. Then the sun rises very slowly. The mountain peaks start to glow. First purple, then bright pink, then red and orange. I freak out and even forget about the cows for a moment. A dream – and definitely worth getting up at 3:20 a.m., even if my eyes burn as if I had been dosed with pepper spray.
Because I am awake so early (and a little crazy), I then drive an hour to the station of the Zugspitze and take the train from the bottom to Germany's highest mountain from there. Yes, there is a train out of the valley that leads up to an altitude of 2,962 meters. However, not a normal friction-based train, but a cogwheel train. It has a third toothed rail between the normal running rails and is moved by a toothed wheel (the cogwheel) in the locomotive that act as a rack and pinion gear. Instead of the usual 5 percent gradient for a normal train, it can easily overcome 25 percent.
At the top, I stumble half blind from the station – it was dark in the tunnel and there is at least 11 inches of snow out there. A shimmering blue panorama of the Alps stretches in front of me. Mountains like a sea to the horizon. Wow! The golden cross that marks the summit shimmers, but it is so snowy that I don't feel comfortable climbing up there without crampons and a rope. Instead, I buy an enormous and expensive cocoa because the biting wind almost freezes my face off. After inspecting all the mountains from above, I take the cable car back down. Only when the gondola starts to move do I realize that it's almost like flying. And I am afraid of flying. When I am feeling as if I am about to pass out, I discover there is a glass square on the floor. My boyfriend sends me a message: "Then you can see the other seven gondolas that have already crashed!" Very funny.
For the past two days, the weather has swept across the country in the form of an apocalypse. I start today with a hike around the beautiful and Caribbean-turquoise Eibsee Lake. The sun is shining and the many small islands shimmer in the sparkling water. The bright stones stand out on the shore almost like white beaches. The lake is so clear that I can still see the feet of a duck under water from 50 yards away.
The Eibsee Lake is so big that it takes around three hours to walk around it. If you go astray and think a stream is a trail, it can take five hours. And you have wet feet. Whoever "you" is. The lake is located directly below the massive Zugspitze and its beauty almost outpaces Lake Tahoe in the western United States. I have to admit that I almost feel like I did in Canada and perhaps Germany is not as boring as I thought it was.
In the evening I'm back on my butt and I'm just starting the daily video chat with my boyfriend when the sky flashes and rumbles violently. I hold my cell phone up to the skylight in the roof so that my boyfriend can witness the spectacle. A solo trip does not mean that you are completely alone. At least if the technology and the relationship are both working.
The next day, I set off for Hell’s Valley Gorge with sandwiches that were toasted a little too crispy. Then I find myself in the spot between a bunch of red trucks labeled "Civil Protection". Due to the storm the previous night, the gorge is buried by a massive rock fall. 60 hikers are stuck in a hut and are evacuated by helicopter. In the valley, the fire department evacuated 350 people from their homes due to flooding.
So, I come up with a plan B. The Kuhflucht Falls in Farchant! From the city I hike up a roaring stream between fog that gets caught in pine traps and spray that rises to the sky. At a wooden bridge, a fabulous view of the lower falls, which go down rapidly due to the rainfall, awaits. Somewhat higher is the viewpoint for the upper falls. Then it's actually over. But what about this dashed line on my offline map of maps.me? I find a star labeled “Viewpoint Upper Kuhflucht Falls”. It looks like you can hike to the top of the almost 270-meter-high falls in a quarter of an hour. I start up.
The path is as steep as a pyramid and the roots as slippery as a slime snail. Several hikers with far better equipment come towards me and report that they have stopped the ascent and the trail would become even more precarious. In three places I stop with burning lungs and throbbing legs, sweaty in the cold rain and wonder what I am doing here and if maybe turning around would be better. Then I reach a first viewing plateau with a view of Garmisch-Partenkirchen below. Houses as small as Lego blocks. It gives me a boost. My app says nine more minutes. Nine minutes for 300 meters. Because it is so steep and extremely exhausting. I push myself up the mountain, groaning and dying. But I want to go up. I just want to. And then the map shows me a small turnoff. Which is not marked by any sign and is only a barely visible footpath about 7 inches wide. It becomes even narrower and runs along the edge of the abyss. Suddenly I hear the roar of water. And then, in the middle of a scree field, I see the gigantic, vertically falling Kuhflucht Falls from above.
And not only that: lots of tiny stone pagodas and a series of colorful prayer flags. After more than two hours of dragging myself up, I'm suddenly in the middle of the fog in a deeply spiritual place. Completely unexpected. I haven't met anyone for a long time. But now I find the spirit of the mountain. I sit under the flags and I know: damned great first week out here!