Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

An American in Germany / Part # 20 / Lake Königsee-1

GAPP Exchange Journal 2012
Tour of Lake Königsee / Berchtesgaden

Arriving at Lake Königsee, Berchtesgaden
Sunday was approaching and Wendy's host family Klaus and Rosi Mittermeier planned to lead a group hike in the mountains of the Alps near Berchtesgaden.  We had previously taken our Warwick students to the area to tour an underground salt mine and later visited Hitler's mountain top chateau, Eagle's Nest.  Klaus and Rosi are both avid hikers and were even planning to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa later this summer.  The planned group hike was for any students and accompanying host family members interested in going hiking in the Alps and they wanted to know if I might be interested in coming along.  The trip had been on the calendar for quite some time and originally I was all in, picturing Julie Andrews twirling around in song amid a meadow full of wild flowers in the famous scene from the movie Sound of MusicYeah, I could do that!  However, after seeing the Alps in person, they were in fact... really intimidating, extremely high, full of sharp rocky cliffs, and way out of my league.  Klaus said the plan was to hike a short distance up the mountainside by following a steep pathway and it would take most of the day.  All I heard were the words "steep" and "all day" and realized this might be a very painful adventure.  I didn't want to appear like a wimp but my hiking experience was mostly limited to the Middle Creek wildlife conservation area near my home and this was so far beyond the lowly peaks (hilltops) of Lancaster and Lebanon Counties in Pennsylvania.  Hiking in the Alps sounded great but fighting exhaustion for 10 hours and risking a heart attack to look out over a nice view was not my idea of fun!  That's why they invented postcards!    

Hotel Königsee Biergarten 
So, due to concerns for my health, safety, and comfort level, I decided to pass on the hike high up in the Alps and looked for an alternative activity that required a lot less energy and danger.  Thinking I might be able to tag along with the group and find something else to visit, I checked out a map of the area hoping to find a nearby town or some other attraction that peaked my interest.  I was happy to discover the group was planning to climb at a location in the area close to Lake Königsee.  About a week ago, we stopped by the lake for a bite to eat just before we departed for home from our class trip to the Berchtesgaden area.  I was hoping to get an opportunity to return and explore Lake Königsee by taking a boat tour out over the open water.  This could be my chance!  I asked Klaus and Rosi how difficult it would be to drop me off in the valley below where they were hiking for the day.  No problem at all!  So, I was going with the group to go hiking in the Alps after all.  Well, kind of... at least for the ride in the car to Berchtesgaden and back.  Wendy had arrived to pick me up and drove me to the Mittermeier residence in the town of Garching along the Alz River.  Several families and students who signed on for the hike arrived and were organized into car pool groups.  We were soon driving off in a convoy of cars toward the Alps to the southeast.  I joined Klaus and Rosi for the ride along with a family friend named Linda and her son.  I was assigned the front passenger seat once again, this time in a BMW wagon, one of the most popular models in Germany.  Although rarely seen in the United States, the BMW, Mercedes, and Audi wagons are very popular in Europe for those who can afford them because you can easily fit a pair of bicycles in the large rear compartment. 

 Berchtesgaden Alps / Waltzmann Range
Klaus was one of the people I met during my stay in Bavaria who I always enjoyed talking and spending time with.  I never met a more friendly man so full of happiness, laughs, and humor... you just couldn't help but have fun in his company.  An hour and a half later we arrived at the hiking drop-off point.  I was hoping Lake Königsee was close enough that I could just walk there myself but Klaus said it was too far and he insisted on driving me all the way to the lake.  The rest of the group would start the hike and Klaus would catch up later.  Since Klaus was a serious hiker and climber he would easily be able to catch up with the hiking group after dropping me off.  In fact, Wendy later told me, the first time he was seen, Klaus was waiting for the group up above their position.  He had started the hike from a more challenging but direct route and easily made up for lost time.  Klaus dropped me off and we agreed that he would pick me up at the same spot around 4:00 in the afternoon.  I had about six hours to explore Lake Königsee on my very own... on my very own!  I suddenly realized as Klaus pulled out of sight that this would be the first time I would be totally on my own without any translation help to fall back on. My sidekick and German language crutch Wendy was nearby but about 2,000 plus feet above me somewhere on the mountainside.  However, since it was a popular tourist attraction, there must be at least a few people who could speak English.  Either way, it would be a good test for a total tourist novice in a foreign land far from home.  I would survive... I hoped

 Alpine Lodge near Lake Königsee
My first task at hand was to backtrack away from the lake and walk back the same way in which Klaus had just driven.  Earlier, on the way into the area we passed some beautiful Alpine homes located in a buttercup and wildflower-filled meadow that looked like they operated as overnight lodges for tourists.  I decided it was worth the hike in the opposite direction to get some pictures while I had the opportunity and began the half mile walk down the road.  There was a walking and bike pathway that paralleled the road in the shade making it a nice stroll to the meadow where I captured the desired shots.  The traditional Alpine houses adorned with colorful flower boxes were my favorite photo op and it was well worth the walk to get them.  On the way back toward the lake, I noticed a small parking lot full of vehicles and what appeared to be a large group of men playing some sort of game concealed by the trees along the edge of the road.  Upon closer inspection it seemed to be an organized league of teams playing bocce ball on several parallel courts.  I watched for a few minutes and they all seemed to be having a great time but also obviously took the game very seriously.  It was another scene of life in Bavaria I stumbled upon that would be foreign in the United States.  Soon I was back at my starting point and began the walk down toward the lake on the single lane to the dock. The wide paved walkway was flanked on both sides with all kinds of shops selling food, traditional clothing, and everything in between.  The choice of "food" won the contest of possibilities, as my first order of business was to get something to eat before I cast off on my lake cruise adventure.

Traditional Brat in a Round Roll
I was looking for something easy and stopped to see the same street vender from whom I had purchased a bratwurst previously during our class trip pit-stop at the lake.  There were only two choices.  All I had to do was point to the desired item and pay with a five Euro bill, knowing the cost was less and would get change.  I was learning little tricks to help compensate for the liability of my language barrier.  The traditional bratwurst was served in a round hard roll topped with yellow sweet mustard.  It was delicious and hit the spot but I wondered why they never modified the shape of the bread to parallel with the long slender shape of the brat?  I guess that's why they call it a traditional bratwurst!  I was sure Wendy was probably watching me from high above with binoculars so my next purchase was to get some ice cream to satisfy that mandatory law.  I ordered my favorite Magnum ice cream bar from another sidewalk vender where I could serve myself from a refrigerated case so no words were necessary.   Now that my essential needs were satisfied, I had to confront the hard part... purchasing a tour ticket for the cruise across the lake.  Luckily, there were several signs by the ticket office in multiple languages and I eventually found the one with the British Flag that gave some basic information about the two different port destinations on the lake where you could go ashore and explore.  The confusing part was trying to decide which of the three passenger classes to choose and from what I could tell, the only real difference was the price.  The info signs seemed to indicate they all stopped at both locations and all the boats coming and going nearby, looked completely identical.  I wanted to be sure a third class ticket would get me all the way to the far side of the lake and attempted to ask an attendant the difference.  Unfortunately, she only restated from the script in broken English what was already written on the sign.  Any question beyond the advertisement, went unanswered.  So, I decided to play it cheap, rather than safe, and went for the third class ticket hoping it would indeed, take me all the way to the far side of Lake Königsee.

Tour Boat Arrives Toward Port
The scenery was magical with the tranquil lake surrounded by towering sharp cliffs and rugged mountains that crested high above.  I found the way to my designated boat launch and was one of the first to board, with the option to choose any seat.  I settled on a spot near the front by a window without glass so I could get some good shots with my camera without glare.  It was another clear and sunny day but a humid haze had settled above fading the sharpness of the mountains in the distance.  The boats were a classic old school style from a bygone era with the bottom hulls painted bright white and the wooden cabins richly colored with natural stain.  All the boats were exactly the same giving the group of neatly maintained ships the uniformity of a fleet.  The bulk of the lake remained hidden from view as the channel leading to Lake Königsee curved around a very small island known as Christlieger, which displays a statue of Saint John of Nepomuk, patron protecting against the dangers of the water.  The 12 foot high marble statue has been watching over the opening to the lake since the year 1711.  The boats arrived and departed without sound, silently gliding across the surface of the water adding to the lake's enchanting atmosphere.  King Ludwig II of Bavaria wanted Lake Königsee to remain forever unspoiled and forbid gasoline powered watercraft on the water after 1909, mandating all boats to be powered by pollution free electric motors.  Today Lake Königsee, which roughly translates to King's Lake, claims to be the cleanest body of water in all of Germany.  The boat soon filled to capacity and with our passage booked, the boat silently edged away from the dock and began its voyage through the winding channel.

 Looking Back at Königsee Village
We rounded Christlieger Island and soon approached an opening between two sharply rising parallel cliffs that made the lake resemble more of a Norwegian fjord, common in Scandinavia.  The lake itself is about a mile across at its widest point and almost five miles in total length.  The lake is extremely deep with an average depth of 320 feet and a maximum of 620 feet at the lake's deepest point.  The most striking characteristic of the lake is the surreal deep emerald green color of the water that is consistent throughout the entire lake.  The green color comes from salt minerals that have dissolved in the water and project the unique green hue when the sun's light reflects off the lake's surface.  The lake is flanked on both sides by the most majestic and highest mountains I have ever seen.  It was interesting for me to see the mountains of the Waltzmann Range from their lowest point on the water after seeing them from their highest level when visiting Eagle's Nest the previous week.  It was amazing to be looking up at peaks that were close to 9,000 feet above me, which appeared to touch the sky.  I can't believe I am here!  About half way to our first stop we came to a point of the lake where sheer rock cliffs rose from either side.  The boat was brought to a stop and a crew member stood up on the bow with a trumpet and sounded some notes, which echoed across the lake.  The sound bounced back and forth off the facing rock walls becoming softer with each pass.  The sound could be heard for a total of seven passes over our boat positioned in the center of the lake.  It was a really cool demonstration but I later learned that before they used a musical horn they used a cannon.  That would have been way cooler!

Another Tour Boast Passes Aft
There were a lot of other boats of the fleet out and about on the lake, each taking different routes spaced far apart.  Some hugged the shore, while our vessel seemed to head straight down the center of the lake bed.  Soon the distant outline of the famous church came into view ahead of our position, known as Saint Bartholomä.  The small church was named for Saint Bartholomew, the Apostle patron of alpine farmers and dairymen.  The famous isolated church also known as Königsee Chapel, appeared to resemble the Orthodox styled churches usually seen in Russia.  The chapel had several large rounded onion domes nestled within its wall design and also appeared on top of two slightly taller towers.  The church itself was painted bright white, standing out in strong contrast to the deep dark red of the rounded domes and roofline.  The chapel is the destination for Catholic pilgrims each year on August 21st, who hike from the Austrian village of Maia Alm near Salzburg, across the Berchtesgaden Alps, all the way on foot to Saint Bartholomä.  As many as 2,000 people make the challenging trip, a hike of over nine hours in length.  However, I'll bet Klaus could get there in less than half that amount of time, even if he took a more challenging route just for the fun of it!  The boat began its approach toward the western landing point on the small peninsula that contained St. Bartholomä with the intimidating rock face of the Waltzmann Massif looming high overhead.  My 35 minute ride had come to an end and it was time to go ashore to see what else I could discover.

Saint Bartholomä / Königsee Chapel
Please stay tuned for the next installment of our adventure!

Saint John of Nepomuk



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