102 nights : 3,897 miles travelled : Countries visited: 7
“The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks” Tennessee Williams
One of the things we most looked forward to on our trip was lazily wandering local markets for fresh produce. Unfortunately we have come across surprisingly few, so most shopping has been at a supermarket. We weaned Kipper onto Lidl dog food before we left home as they have 10,000 branches across Europe and so far, we have used 15 branches in 7 countries for basic supplies. There is quite a bit of variation between all the Lidls so I am still walking the aisles open mouthed, head going side to side Wimbledon style, trying to work out what is what. There is no end to the unidentifiable things you can find in a jar.
After our wonderful week in Oberammergau, we moved a lidl bit further into the Alps via Chiemsee, a huge inland lake that has several resorts around it.
It was our first experience of arriving at a stellplatz that didn’t exist and we only just managed to bag the last tiny pitch on a very overpriced campsite right by the lake. The owners were making the most of the August demand and gorgeous weather so it was like camping at a music festival. Still, it was surprisingly easy to get away from the crowds and find a corner of the lake to ourselves. It was wonderful to swim in the endless still water with the mountains gathered around, making you feel very small indeed.
King Ludwig II also loved Chiemsee but he was able to buy an island in the middle to escape the crowds. It was here that he built his tribute to the French King Louis XIV with a palace modelled on Versailles.
We took a boat trip out to see Herrenchiemsee on the island Herreninsel
The palace was fascinating (it helped that the tour guide looked and sounded like Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp…I would have found a tour of King’s Lynn bus station interesting with him!) and the finished state rooms were somehow more breathtaking than those in Versailles. (Annoyingly no photographs allowed.) However the extraordinary sections of the palace are the unfinished parts. Ludwig ran out of money but had the foresight to put a steel and glass roof over them and it was fascinating to see a stately building naked of the decorative finery. The whole project epitomised Ludwig’s autocratic ideas of monarchy which unfortunately for him were outdated. He was a king lost in his own time.
We then moved a lidl bit further to where the Alpine scenery was more intense and the focus was more on winter activities.
Inzell is a place that seemed to be waiting for the winter season and we were fascinated by the strings of young people on inline skates, training for the speed skating season when the town’s futuristic ice arena would open.
We stayed in the garden of a farmhouse on the edge of town with a view of lower but closer mountains. There was plenty to do in the gorgeous weather and we did walk around Falkenstein, our closest mountain, but it was lovely just to sit and look, and listen and breathe in the scented Alpine air.
After more days of stifling heat, a dramatic electric storm encircled the village, spotlighting the peaks around us. It really cleared the atmosphere so the next morning, feeling revived, we drove a lidl further still, on to Allweglehen near Berchtesgaden. As it was August, we called ahead to ensure there would be space on the campsite and when we arrived the owner proudly told us he had reserved a ‘panoramic’ pitch for us. The campsite looks towards the Watzmann, the third highest peak in Germany. However the law of sod decreed that after two weeks of direct sunlight, we arrived on the day that cloud descended and the Watzmann along with the whole mountainscape was cut short. Occasional glimpses of rocky peaks only made the irony more torturous.
The area around Berchtesgaden was where Adolf Hitler spent holidays from the 1920’s and during the Third Reich, other leading members of the National Socialist Party requisitioned properties in Obersalzberg, near Hitlers Berghof. The village became the southern headquarters of the regime during the war and a series of underground bunkers, connected by three to four kilometres of tunnels was developed to reflect the homes and offices above ground, to create a base for a ‘last stand’ if the war went against the Nazis.
This grim underground world only highlights how remote from reality the National Socialists were. Even though it was lit and furnished to the same lavish standards of the world directly above, the idea they could continue to rule from within a mountain was fanciful. Dokumentation Obersalzberg chronicles the story of this place. The museum displays the propaganda that portrayed Hitler as a nature and animal lover in the Alpine environment and describes how the village attracted followers from all over Germany, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Fuhrer. It was also the centre of high politics, drawing world leaders during the 1930s. The horrendous plans of destruction and mass murder that were formulated here are documented in uncomfortable detail. There is no shying away from the truth in this museum.
Kelsteinhaus, or the ‘Eagles Nest’, is a tea house built to celebrate Hitler’s 50th birthday and it sits on the peak above Obersalzberg. Hitler rarely went there, but it has become synonymous with his absolute power. We waited a couple of days for the skies to clear enough to make the trip up a mountain worthwhile and eventually the cloud finally lifted. Graham was very excited to spot the distinctive outline of the Eagles Nest looking down on to our campsite. It had been beside us all the time.
On our second drive back up to Obersalzberg, Graham took us on a different route to avoid the 24% climb around hairpins over seven kilometres. The alternative took us eight kilometres out of our way to a three kilometre climb of 15%…Brian felt it was a worthwhile diversion! From there, the only way to the top of Kehlstein is via a specially adapted bus which rises more than 700 metres over six kilometres, through five tunnels, with only one switchback bend. Graham’s palms were sweating and poor Kipper struggled to cope as he kept sliding towards the back of the bus. I got the window seat and enjoyed the fantastic views. The journey to the top only ends when a brass mirrored lift takes you the final 124 metres in 14 seconds.
Then you step outside into……thick cloud!
Yes in the time it had taken to reach the very top the views had vanished.
However it made us look closer to our feet and I was amazed at the number of wild flowers growing in very inhospitable surroundings.
I didn’t know how I felt about visiting The Eagles Nest, especially as it was my birthday. Were we so very different from those admiring pilgrims who flocked to see Hitler in the 1930s? But as I looked around I saw that among the fellow ‘sightseers’ gazing into cloud, were people of many races, religions and abilities. The Nazis would have hated that. So I swallowed down my doubts with a celebratory apple cake and coffee.
The Alps put on a peep show with tantalising glimpses of the glacial lake Konigsee being the biggest flash.
I was on the promise of some Mozart Kugeln (known as Mozart’s balls in our family) for my birthday and fortunately for Graham there were some discreetly available in the street running down to the lake at Konigsee.
So we were able to watch the tourist boats return and supervise Kipper having his most spectacular swim of the trip, whilst I chomped through the perfect blend of marzipan and chocolate. We weren’t going any further for some time.
M & G xx
Treat of the week: On our Sunday walk to the monastery in Ettal the week before, I bought a cushion filled with dried herbs and flowers from the area. We cynically speculated that it was stuffed with the contents of herbal teabags. But then we arrived in Inzell, with wild mint, rosemary and fir trees scenting the air…it was my cushion! We can now imagine the monks have really picked the contents from the mountainsides and I can relive our walks when I can’t sleep at night.