It’s not often that you cross a country border underground. Not legally at least. We were travelling from Stuttgart to Garmisch-Partenkirchen near the Austrian border where we planned to spend a few days. Due to the intransigence of mountain passes in ignoring man-made political boundaries, we crossed from Germany into Austria through a long tunnel under a mountain then, a few miles later, back into Germany. Both countries are in the Schengen zone so the border post building at the end of the tunnel was closed and abandoned.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a German ski resort in Bavaria. It lies near Zugspitze, the country’s highest peak at 2962 metres. Anybody hoping for a spot of skiing during the current August heatwave would be disappointed although there were patches of snow high on the mountain tops and in shaded ravines.
Garmisch (in the west) and Partenkirchen (in the east) were separate towns for many centuries and still maintain quite separate identities. Hitler forced them to unite in 1935 to prepare for the 1936 winter olympics. The International Olympic Committee was concerned that there were not enough hotel rooms in Garmisch so they were made, unwillingly, to combine and create a larger single town with more rooms. That they are still combined may say something about the Bavarian psyche.
We came out of the tunnel into bright sunshine. Rolling verdant green hills surrounded the high rocky snow-tipped mountains. Sparkling fast-moving streams ran alongside the road. It was all astonishingly beautiful. I half expected Julie Andrews to come over the hill singing ‘The Hills are Alive’, followed by a cow with a bell around its neck.
Imagine the joy in opening your curtains every morning and seeing that view. Unless it is raining. Or snowing. Or blocked by inconsiderate tourists taking photographs.
I will post the pictures later.
Madam gazed excitedly out of the car window and said “We must go to Austria on holiday”
I reminded her we were in Austria and on holiday.
We had an ear-popping climb along a long winding mountain road, followed by an even steeper descent into Garmisch.
I had a quick look at the Google just before we headed this way and Wikipedia tells me that ‘It has a relatively wet and snowy climate with high precipitation year round.’ True to form, it started raining soon after we checked into the hotel so I wandered round the lobby and obligatory gift shop seeking a diversion from the weather.
A poster announced that this weekend sees the start of the 63rd annual week-long Partenkirchen Festival. This is a popular event attracting large crowds. There is a certain tendency for those outside of Bavaria to consider the inhabitants somewhat dour and conservative. Perhaps a little insular and inward looking. I don’t want to be the one to blanket judge an entire culture, so I will leave you with the program of events for the festival and have you form your own conclusion:
Sunday: Bavarian Folk Night
Monday: Bavarian Dancers
Tuesday: Live Bavarian Band
Wednesday: Bavarian Folk Night
Thursday: Lumberjack Competition and Bavarian Band
Friday: Bavarian Band
Saturday: Live Bavarian Band
Sunday: Bavarian Folk Night
Monday: Bavarian Night.
I asked at reception about the Thursday attraction but the receptionist had never seen the lumberjacks at any of the previous years festivals. She told me that they are on their way to Switzerland and are just stopping to sharpen their axes.
Somehow, the thought of being surrounded by hundreds of ruddy-faced Lederhosen clad Bavarians waving beer tankards in the air and singing a rousing chorus of Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit didn’t appeal. I am reliably informed that the British army demanded the surrender of all accordions along with heavy weapons at the end of the war, but were overruled by the Russians and Americans.
There is a viewing gallery on a raised floor above the lobby in the hotel. There are a couple of comfy sofas and a few rustic wooden rocking chairs. It is up a tucked-away staircase and was empty. A perfect hiding place. I checked under all the sofa cushions for loose change (without success) then sat on one of the rocking chairs looking out towards the mountains and watching the rain.
Thin tendrils of mist slowly rolled through the evergreen trees perched precariously on the side of the hills. Higher up, solid cloud and mist completely obscured the mountains. Brightly coloured blue and red trains passed slowly in front of the hill. Damp flags were fluttering in the stiff breeze.
I’m never sure quite what to do on a holiday rainy day. Do you brave the elements, don a raincoat, and go out and explore anyway? Hide away in a quiet corner of the hotel with a book? Find a museum or art gallery? Get drunk in the bar?
I opened my iPad and checked the Google for German culture, lest I make some inadvertent social faux pas. One website, on the front page of search results, informed me that Germans wore Lederhosen, drank a lot of beer and spoke German. Useful information had I been of limited intelligence and visiting in 1756.
Am I getting old or did Google once give you useful and interesting results? Nowadays it seems, apart from the excellent Wikipedia, to be the same sites full of useless information interspersed with prominent annoying advertisements or affiliate links. One of our local newspaper websites has flashing vibrantly coloured ads between every short paragraph of an article. I have to scroll past half a dozen ads to read the entire thing. Half of the time there is so little information that I give up half way through. The internet now seems to be entirely focussed on making money rather than conveying much of anything useful.
I looked for things to do on a rainy day in Garmisch. The number one top attraction on Tripadvisor was Wank Mountain. The reviews were gushing:
‘I love Wank. Wank is the best.’
‘If, like me you like walk but are not used to a more vigorous hike then the wank is a great choice.’
‘It was a great way to spend a beautiful sunny day. Unfortunately, none of us wore sunscreen so we all have sunburn.’
Had we been here a couple of weeks later we could have caught the 2018 Annual Wank Festival starting later that month.
Purely for research purposes I did take a look at the Wank Festival website. All 1,000 priority tickets have been sold, so clearly this is a popular activity in Bavaria.
Who said Bavarians don’t know how to have fun?
It stopped raining a little after 2pm and we went into Partenkirchen. The houses and cobbled streets retain a traditional Bavarian feel. The central street, supposedly pedestrianised, had a steady stream of cars and bicycles. Souvenir shops, art galleries and restaurants lined the street. Elaborate murals decorated many of the shops and buildings. We looked into the souvenir shops but decided we had enough t-shirts, miniature Bavarian beer steins and tea-towels.
The chocolate shop, Chocolaterie Amelie, looked more promising. They manufacture their own chocolate and there was a large glass screen where I watched a young woman doing something mysterious with some molten chocolate on a steel table. It all looked lovely and reminded me of the chocolate shops in York. Who can resist a bar of chocolate on a damp afternoon? I looked around at the impressive displays. The cheapest bar of chocolate was €5.90. I decided I could resist a bar of chocolate.
Nobody in the town was wearing lederhosen although I could have bought a fetching set in my size for only €199 in one of the souvenir shops. I did see a couple of chaps wearing lederhosen at breakfast in the hotel. They were drinking beer so I suspect they were tourists that had read the same website as me and wanted to blend in. I think they were Americans.