Destination: Munich, Ludwig's Castles, Austrian Alps, Ettal and Andechs Monasteries
Number of Days Spent: 3 days
Where we stayed: Our friend Leann's house (free!) and Haus Barbist in Rutte, Austria - no email address, phone +43(0)567263837 - This place was a pretty fantastic deal. It was 40 Euro per night in recently renovated spic and span room with a private balcony overlooking the mountains. It included a nice breakfast but no Internet.
Best restaurant: I enjoyed the Pork Knuckle at Andechs Monastery; Tracy liked it more than she would like to admit :-) In Munich, the little Middle Eastern cafe on the way to the Haufbrau House had a nice falafel wrap they call the "Mike's Bikes special" (after the infamous bike tour company)
Best of: More beer drinking opportunities in atmospheric places, Stunning Castles, Breathtaking mountain peaks
Worst of: Ludwig's Masterpiece - the Neuschwanstein Castle was covered in scaffolding from top to bottom
Most Memorable: Flying down the hill pretending to be a champion luge rider at the Somerroddelbahn!
Using Leann's house as a base, we went to the capital of Bavaria (Bayern), Munich (Munchen). The Bavaria region is Germany's most visited area and for good reason. Munich plays a large roll in that by hosting the Oktoberfest every September. Massive tents are set up and beer is served out by the truck loads everyday for two weeks to massive hoards of people. While we were here a little early to partake in the festivities, the city still has plenty to offer to the casual traveler. We decided to skip the museums and art galleries and head for the main square and wander around the old town area.
The most famous beerhall in all of Germany resides in downtown Munich in the form of the Haufbrau House. The fact that the Hard Rock Cafe is across the street should tell you all you need to know about the popularity of the place. Beerhalls have been popular meeting places for years here; Hitler gave his first major speech in this very hall. Today it is a much happier place and all the chatter is about the quality of the beer and the entertainment. Yes, it's a bit of a tourist trap, but not as much as we expected and the atmosphere still has a subdued local feel. I enjoyed my Ein Mass and Tracy had her usual Wheat Beer in the half liter variety.
Just south of Munich, before arriving at Ludwig's Castles on the Romantic Highway, we came across a massive church in the middle of a field called Wieskirche. The church represents one of the finest Baroque style churches in all of Germany. Surprising considering it is in the middle of nowhere.
Aside from Munich, Mad King Ludwig's castles are the most visited tourist destinations in Bavaria. There are several dotting this part of the world, but his two most famous are right next to each other. As King of Bavaria, Ludwig II decided to build his fantastical castles as in his mind "public works". While FDR's "New Deal" public works projects left the US with roads, Ludwig's left Bavaria financially drained. Called Mad Ludwig for a reason, his castles were built and inspired by his whimsical dreams and fantasies.
Hauswanstein is where Ludwig grew up. Although considered one of his castles, he did not build it. He did however grow up here and the house is filled with mid 19th century pieces. The castle in its own right is massive and well positioned high on a hill overlooking the valley and a lake. From here, Ludwig could watch the progress on his personal castle, Neuschwanstein, being built.
Neuschwanstein was never completed as the Ludwig was declared unfit to rule and died a mysterious death a couple of days later. What did get finished, however, is magical. Disney modeled the castles at Disneyland/World after this one. To give a glimpse into just how crazy the King was, the castle has a secret path that leads through a faux cave, complete with stalactites...on the fifth floor. His bed canopy alone took 3 artists nearly a year to carve. Just think of all those jobs created...
His favorite composer and friend was Richard Wagner, who spent a lot of time with Ludwig here on the castle grounds. Most of the rooms in the house represent Ludwig's visions of his music played out. Since Ludwig never married some speculate that Mr. Wagner was more than just a friend, but far be it for me to speculate on the Mad King's sexual preferences.
Just south of the castles, across the Austrian border, lies the Medieval Ehrenberg castle. Few tourists make it here, but its a nice example of middle ages castles sitting high atop a hill. Set above a mountain pass, the castle protected a lucrative trade route and saw several battles and sieges over the years. Today, the grounds and the museum below are set up to appease the kid crowd with kitschy signs warning of Trolls and Giant Stone Worms.
Continuing further into the Alps and off the highway lie several Somerroddelbahn's. In winter, these places are ski resorts, but in the summer, the ski lifts take you to the top for a fun ride down a luge type track. Mounting a one person sled, we rolled down the hill in style curving down a concrete track nearly a mile long. All we needed were some cow bells to cheer us along as we slid to the finish line!
Back in Germany, we visited one more Ludwig Castle, Linderhof. This castle was considered his personal and private castle. Aside from the servants, no one visited Ludwig here. Even his meals were served in solitude. The table was set on a lift which was lowered to place the food on and then raised into place for the King to enjoy his meal. In the rooms on either side were paintings of popular people to keep the king company. Linderhof was modeled after Versaille just outside of Paris, the residence of his favorite ruler, the Sun King Louis the 14th. Ludwig wished for the absolute power that the Sun King enjoyed during his reign in France. It was here that Ludwig lived most of his adult life.
Ludwig kept odd hours as well. He would sleep during the day and stay up all night. His fascination with the night is again lived out here in the world's largest artificial cave. Built in the hill behind the castle, the cave boasts a large pool complete with a waterfall and a floating boat. He might have been mad and spent his little country into debt, but think of all the tourism dollars they bring in today. One could argue that his vision(s) created hundreds of jobs later on, thus completing the ultimate goal of his public works!
After all the castle touring it was time to get back to beer drinking business...err...getting closer to God at a Monastery. We stopped at the lovely Ettal Monastery and had just a half liter here after checking out the church itself. There was a wedding going on, so we stayed just long enough to share a dessert and pose for a picture by the beer wagon. How's that saying go...on the wagon...off the wagon...which one is good again? Moving on...
A short hop, skip and jump up the road lies the wonderful Andechs Monastery. Another Ein Mass, this time accompanied with a Pork Knuckle and the ever present pretzel. I ordered it thinking I could get just a small amount, but it turns out you have to buy the whole thing! Not to be deterred, I had some help eating it and the huge bone in the middle made for a good snack for our fourth wheel under the table, Hara (Leann's super cute dog). The complex comes complete with a smokehouse, brewery, bakery and small cafeteria for salads. I left thinking someone in America needs to have a place like this...career opportunity anyone?
Oh, and of course they have a church to make this Monastery bit official. We strolled in and checked out the choir loft, although we don't think we were supposed to be up there as all the instruments were still lying around, but they just smiled at us and figured it wasn't worth telling us no.
Intermixed with all the time spent in Germany, we also took a couple of side trips behind the former Iron Curtain. Look for the Czech Republic, Prague, Krakow and Poland in separate blogs coming soon!
To see more photos click on the links below!