Tag Archives: Germany

Oberammergau by B.A.

As I mentioned in my story about Oberammergau, my mother’s 1984 visit to this village was much longer than she had intended. She wrote a comment to flesh out the details, but I thought it merited its own post. Look, Mom, you’re a blogger!

Betty Ann reminisces…

Leaving Garmisch on a warm April day with pillows, blankets and toys in the cargo area of the station wagon, Megan (4) and Katy (5) leaped over the back seat and settled in for another fun family trip. Destination: Neuschwanstein Castle. Grammy, Grampy, and family friend, Kurt, were three abreast in the seat behind us. The scenery was spectacular, but only a few miles of the winding mountain road resulted in Megan’s predictable car-sickness. “Just drop us off in Oberammergau,” I suggested to Paul. “You should be back in two hours, right?” So it seemed. I glanced at the clock on the dashboard – a little after 10. Shorts and light jackets were a poor choice for a village in the Alps; we needed to get inside. Shops were stocked with delicate wood carvings, so a café seemed to be a better choice. Warmed by mugs of hot chocolate, which also soothed Megan’s unsettled tummy, we walked to the Passion Play Theater to check July’s availability of tickets for traveling friends. With little discussion, protest or explanation, we were ushered to three empty seats in the open-air theater. Although a roof covered the seating area, birds were flying through on a cool breeze. A German lady, sitting two rows behind us, brought up her mink coat to lay over the girls bare legs. The lines of the play were, of course, spoken in German. As we were seated, I remember several men on the stage in costume; one of them was Judas. At noon, the building emptied as cast members and the audience alike left for lunch. Unbelievable… We didn’t return for the second half of the play as I expected Paul to be waiting for us at the designated corner. He wasn’t there. Back in the café , we managed to be seated at the table nearest the window, in full view of the street. There, we drank countless cups of hot chocolate and ate big plates of fries and apple strudel while, at the same time, worrying that Paul had been in an accident. How would I be contacted? German restaurants will let you sit for as long as you like; our fraulein didn’t seem at all annoyed that we had camped out at her table for three hours. At last, after hours of shared look-out duty, several trips to the potty, and unexpressed worry, our Ford station wagon pulled up to the curb. It was 4:20. If only someone had already invented the cell phone … would I have wished I had bought one?

Enamored with Oberammergau

Must … write … last … vacation … post.
Geez, I’ve been lazy since returning to India. We have one room with a working heater, so we lounge on the bed with our iPads for hours on end. With only ONE last story to write about our wonderful trip to Bavaria, I have rolled off the bed and moved to the computer.

We visited Oberammergau twice, but dreary weather kept the camera in my coat pocket the first time. We escaped the sleet for a lovely lunch in a toasty guesthouse, and then drove back to Garmisch. On our last full day in Germany, we strolled through the town again, this time with blue skies and sunshine. Oberammergau boasts three attractions that draw thousands of tourists to this small town: a long history of woodcarving, traditional painting on building exteriors, and the once-a-decade Passion Play.

Oberammergau’s woodcarving tradition dates to the Middle Ages, and the streets are lined with shops selling work by about 120 local carvers. Store windows feature creations such as this one in addition to more whimsical pieces.

The Oberammergau Museum, housed in a former church, took us on a walk through the town’s woodcarving history – from the days of nomadic peddlers to present-day international marketing and contemporary sculpture, including a computer database of 1,400 Oberammergau artists. The exhibits reflected social history in Bavaria with displays of household items, furniture, figurines, toys and dolls, …

crucifixes, and

scenes from actual battles.

Click on this link for an interesting little article about woodcarving in Oberammergau.

The captivating “Lüftlmalerei,” or frescoes, painted on nearly every building in town depict religious stories, fairytales, traditional Bavarian scenes or architectural trompe-l’oeil (which I just learned means an artform that creates a 3-D illusion).

Here’s a bit more information about the Lüftlmalerei.

Oberammergau’s Passion Play originated in a prayer as the Black Plaque swept across Europe. Villagers swore an oath to perform the play every 10 years if God would spare their town. They kept their promise, and the play was first staged in 1634. This website, from the 2010 Passion Play, has lots of interesting information. If you want to see the play, start making plans for 2020! Here’s the entrance to the theater:

My mother reluctantly watched much of the 1984 performance (an extra staging of the show to celebrate the 350th anniversary), when my father ditched her in Oberammergau with my car-sick baby sister. He thought he could take my grandparents to see Neuschwanstein Castle and then zip back to pick up Mom and Megan, which he did … six hours later. (Mom, feel free to add details/make corrections.)

Say “Cheese!”

Indian food is delicious, but when I’m in the mood for cheese, paneer just doesn’t do it for me. That explains the goosebumps of joy when we visited Die Schaukäserei, a cheese factory operated by the adjoining Benedictine monastery in Ettal, Germany, last Wednesday. Thirty-seven local farmers participate in the cooperative, supplying milk from cows that graze in Alpine meadows to produce cheese and other dairy products.

I blame the Bavarian dialect – and the distraction caused by bowls of cubed cheese obviously awaiting consumption – for my “udder” lack of comprehension during the 45-minute German explanation of the cheese-making process. Following the talk, we sampled beer cheese, fire cheese and herb cheese, soft and hard cheese, mild and sharp cheese, and looked through the windows to see cheese makers at work downstairs. Then I took a break from cheese with a hot chocolate and vanilla yogurt.

In addition to purchasing a few blocks of cheese, I bought a bottle of the Ettal herbal liquor made by the monks.

Earlier in the week, we visited the 14th-century Ettal Monastery, where about 50 Benedictine monks still work. The abbey operates the dairy, a distillery, brewery, bookstore, hotel, publishing house, and other small companies to support its boarding school.

Looking up at the spectacular Baroque dome.




A Couple of Castles

As a teen living in Germany, I tromped through all the major tourist attractions in Bavaria. In 1994, I excitedly introduced Tony to the region on a road trip with my family. Good thing I have no long-term memory! Last week we visited two castles of King Ludwig II near Garmisch, and I didn’t even experience a single déjà vu.

The unfortunate king led a seemingly lonely life, which ended under mysterious circumstances. I checked out numerous websites, but Wikipedia’s Ludwig II of Bavaria page seems to cover all the bases.

Here is an interesting article with photos from The Atlantic commemorating last year’s 125th anniversary of the king’s death.

Linderhof Palace
On Dec. 26, we drove to Linderhof Palace, the only one of Ludwig II’s buildings completed in his lifetime. Enchanted by the snow-covered landscape and Baroque façade, we were disappointed to see the garden sculptures and fountains covered with protective wooden boxes. The tour excluded the stage sets based on Richard Wagner’s operas. I had hoped to see the Venus Grotto, which features 19th-century high-tech illumination.

Check out this virtual tour, which takes the same path we did to explore the beautifully preserved extravagances of the eccentric king. (For the English version, click on the Union Jack flag in the upper right-hand corner and then click on “Palace Tour” in the left-hand menu.)

On Dec. 27, Mike and Summer spent another grueling day on (and off) their snowboards while the rest of us headed for Füssen to get reacquainted with Neuschwanstein Castle. Once we got there, Mom and Dad opted instead to check out the king’s boyhood home, Hohenschwangau Castle, rebuilt by his father Maximillian II in the Gothic style starting in 1832.


Neuschwanstein Castle
The anticipation of being the first in the car to spot a famous architectural wonder was squashed with the sight of Neuschwanstein wrapped in scaffolding. Here’s how it looked from the parking lot.

Although horse-drawn carriages carried tourists up the hill, Tony and I enjoyed walking in the fresh, brisk air. It took about 20 minutes to reach the castle, not counting a refreshment stop for “quarkbällchen” (hot doughnut balls with powdered sugar) and a mug of glühwein.


At the entrance to the castle, we had about 15 minutes to kill before the scheduled English-language tour. I took just one photo before realizing we were standing with about a hundred other tourists on a platform – which appeared to be constructed out of aluminum foil – jutting out over the valley.

I’m not scared of heights, but I am scared of plunging to my death, so I posed near – not on – the observation platform.

Tony has memories of the last time we visited Neuschwanstein. I don’t. I’m a little worried about that.

The tour was short but fascinating; only 14 rooms were finished before the king’s sudden death. How bizarre to walk through the king’s ornate salon into an artificial cave straight out of a Wagnerian opera and then back into a study with inlaid wood floors and heavy brocade curtains.

Here’s another virtual tour from the Free State of Bavaria’s Palace Department, which shows interior rooms we weren’t allowed to photograph.

Neuschwanstein was the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. (This shot was taken at Disneyland by Loren Javier and posted on flickr.)
Sleeping Beauty Castle

christmas dinner – The continuing saga of how I ate my way through Germany

Returning from a walk around the Eibsee lake at the base of the Zugspitz, I checked the Christmas market schedule posted on our hotel bulletin board. The market was open till 8 p.m., but the only event listed was “Schmankerln.”

I asked Nicole, the assistant manager, “Was ist ‘schmankerln’?” She fumbled for a moment, looked at the others working behind the counter. “Schmankerln is …”
“Food?” I asked.
“Yes, but it’s more of a, well, you know … Bavarian Schmankerln!” she said with a laugh.
Finally, Julian, the hotel owner, said, “It’s like tapas. Small portions.”
Later I found the translation online: delicacies.

As anyone would do, I immediately decided to eat all the Schmankerln at the market. This would be the best Christmas dinner EVER!

We started with bratwurst and gluhwein, of course.

Moved on to Schupfnudeln, fried gnocchi-like noodles with meat sauce, cheese and sour cream.

Gulasch soup with rye bread.

Mmm … creamy raclette – melted cheese on potatoes.

More soup. Pumpkin, usually my favorite. Disappointing.

Tony finally got embarrassed and went back to the hotel. I wish I had a dollar for every time that’s happened.

Moving right along … possibly the highlight of the night: a crepe with camembert cheese and “Preiselbeere” jam. I had never heard of preiselberries before, but they taste similar to cranberries.

Clearly I was too caught up in this Schmankerlfest to tuck that piece of hair back under my hat.
Next stop, hot roasted chestnuts. Yum!

By this time, the Schokohütte didn’t appeal to me, but I had to soldier on. Dark-chocolate covered strawberries. Surprisingly refreshing!

A bite of Summer’s marshmallowy Kussmix wrapped up the tour of Bavarian tapas.

Frauendorfer Restaurant

A visit to Garmisch is never complete for my family without an evening at the Frauendorfer Restaurant. Wedged in at long tables, we chatted with other guests, watched awkward tween boys perform traditional Alpine dancing, listened to live accordion music and yodeling, and gobbled up delicious Bavarian specialties.




We have no idea what was in these shots, but they knocked my socks off.

Innsbruck – same sleet, different city

The weather turned nasty on Friday, so we hopped on a train to Austria and spent the day in Innsbruck.

On the train.

Even though the freezing rain smeared my mascara every time I looked up, there was no avoiding it. Stunning medieval architecture with painted facades and whimsical wrought-iron shop signs lined the pedestrian zone, which led us to the Goldenese Dachl (Golden Roof).

This isn’t a great photo; my fingers were frozen.

Mike and Summer taking shelter under the Golden Roof (Again, numb fingers lead to poor composition.)

Here’s what planetware.com has to say about it:

This magnificent Late Gothic oriel window roofed with gilded copper tiles was built in 1494-96 to commemorate Maximilian I’s marriage to Bianca Maria Sforza and served as a box from which the court watched civic festivities in the square below. The house behind, completely rebuilt in 1822, was previously a ducal palace (the Neuer Hof), formed by the conversion, at some time after 1420, of two earlier burghers’ houses. The lower balustrade is decorated with coats of arms, the open balcony above with 10 figural reliefs. The Golden Roof is made up of 2,657 gilded copper tiles.

A small Christmas market offered up some of my favorites: bratwurst with mustard, waffles with berries and whipped cream, and hot mugs of spiced wine. We browsed in the market, walked down to the river and then warmed up in a coffee shop before heading back to Germany.

Entering the pedestrian zone at the Triumph Gate (built by Empress Maria Theresia in 1665).

Typical building.

Mom and Dad sipping gluhwein.


Cold on the outside, warm on the inside.

At the Inn River.

Mmmm … gluhwein.

Yucky weather, as seen from the train.

Heading back to Germany.

Partnachklamm – a little hike in the Alps

Bundled up and dizzy with excitement over the pristine Bavarian wonderland, we tackled the Partnachklamm hike on our first full day in Garmisch. Just a short distance from our hotel, we parked at the Olympic Ice Stadium, built for the 1936 Olympics and home to an annual ski jumping competition. We followed the river on a cleared trail past vast fields of unspoilt snow, postcard-perfect log homes with lace curtains and antlers over the doorway, fence posts capped with tall snowy towers, and evergreens powdered white. Occasionally, a branch would shake off its load, sprinkling us with snow (sometimes with a little help from Mike).

In the stadium.



Walking to the gorge.

After about half an hour, we reached the Partnach Gorge.

The gorge, carved by a mountain stream, is about 70 meters (230 feet) long and up to 80 meters (260 feet) deep. A path carved into the rock weaves up and down, in and out of tunnels, along the sheer rock faces dripping with icicles. We could imagine the danger faced by 18th-century residents of the valley who sent firewood through the gorge on timber rafts down to the town of Partenkirchen. In fact, a crucifix marks a memorial for men who lost their lives in the river. In 1912, the gorge was designated a natural monument.






Summer escorted Mom back through the gorge to catch a gondola to the top, while the rest of us continued the hike. The gorge trail emerged in a beautiful forest, where a steep track led to several guesthouses.


We ultimately reached an altitude of 888 meters (almost 3,000 feet) for lunch at Forsthaus Graseck, a gorgeous guesthouse decked out like my parents’ basement (lots of pelts and antlers). After warming up with gulasch soup and gluhwein, we caught the gondola back down the mountain.




Wunderbar Garmischer Hof

Since arriving in Germany about 24 hours ago, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m home. I was born here and graduated from high school here. Overall, I spent more than six years of my life in this country. Emerging from the Munich Airport, we had to walk through a Christmas market – light snow, holiday music, twinkly lights and the familiar smell of bratwursts grilling – to reach the car rental agency. Ahhh … home.

Tony was awesome behind the wheel, despite a four-month break since he last drove and despite living in India, where they drive on the wrong side of the road. As a navigator, I was less effective and we took a circuitous route to Garmisch. That wouldn’t have been a big deal except that the snow started falling in earnest about 30 kilometers from our destination. Fortunately, we arrived with no problems and checked in to the Garmischer Hof, a cozy little hotel with traditional Bavarian decor.

After unpacking, we found a comfy spot in the lobby and had just ordered beers when the rest of our clan showed up: my parents, my brother, Mike, and his wife, Summer. We spent the evening in the guesthouse restaurant, catching up and making plans for the week.

As you may know, my happiness often hinges on breakfast, and the Garmischer Hof didn’t disappoint. My eyes filled with tears of utter contentment when I bit off a piece of crunchy brotchen spread with soft nutty cheese. Seriously, I cried over the cheese. “You gotta love a country that eats salami and Nutella for breakfast!” said Tony.

Here are a few shots of the Garmischer Hof, our home away from home for nine days.