DM and MM's Germany 2007 Diary

Day 12 - Mittenwald

Wednesday, 2 May, 2007

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We are resting for a while after a morning of activity. Breakfast here was similar to elsewhere, except they had three choices of muesli. One was with chocolate in it, but the other two I could see no difference between, so chose one at random. It was only midway through a second bowl that I discovered that the one I'd chosen had flakes of white chocolate in it! I'll have to be more careful tomorrow. There were also sliced strawberries, which I added, and some tinned peaches again, but at least the yoghurt was in a bowl instead of tubs. I also had a ham and cheese sandwich on some rye bread and helped Michelle finish off some fresh scrambled eggs made for her on request by the cook.

After breakfast, we walked across to the tourist information centre to get info on buses to Füssen/Schwangau. The woman said we needed to get a train or bus to Garmisch-Partenkirchen first, and then the bus from there, and gave us a timetable. Then we walked over the train tracks (stopping at the crossing to let a train go past) and across the Isar River (which flows down to Munich) to the Karwendelbahn lower station. From here, the cablecar ascends vertiginously up the steep, rocky side of Karwendel ridge, a massive basalt block looming over Mittenwald. We bought return tickets for €22 each - a steep price to match a steep trip. They were only running a car on the half hour as it's not prime tourist or skiing season, so we had a twenty minute wait. I noticed you could take your dog up for just €2 - maybe a dog costume is in order. And in fact there was a dog on our trip - a huge hairy hound which obediently lay on the floor as the cable hauled us up the mountain.

Karwendelbahn, up
View over Mittenwald, while ascending the Karwendelbahn

The ascent was both ear- and eye-popping, as the altitude afforded us spectacular views over Mittenwald to the Zugspitze to the west, while simultaneously depressurising our Eustachian tubes. After ten minutes of ascent and just two intermediate pylons supporting the cable (the tension in that thin piece of braided steel must be staggering), we pulled into the top station, nestled on the edge of a shallow bowl near the top of the Karwendel at 2,244 metres. Notably, we were now higher than the top of Mt Kosciusko, the highest point of our home country, and significantly not yet as high as we could go.

Climbing further up
Climbing up the path to the Karwendel ridge

We walked out along a path of uneven, broken rock, climbing in a couple of switchbacks up the hill behind the station. We first approached a ridge affording a view to the north, then continued up and around the bowl to a ridge running north-south and providing us with a stunning Alpine panorama to the east - mountains and snow as far as the eye could see, spread across almost 180 degrees of the horizon, framed by taller outcrops on Karwendel itself. We stepped across the ridgetop to the west side and a couple of benches placed there for the benefit of people resting and admiring the view. It was a bit windy, and the wind blowing up the face below us and over the ridge made a whistling sound as it whipped by the hard-bitten grasses that clung tenaciously to the thin Alpine soil.

Marking the border
Karwendel ridge, standing in Germany, looking down into Austria

It was only after we returned to Mittenwald later and looked at a detailed topographic map posted up in a window of a shop, that we discovered that the border between Germany and Austria runs along the Karwendel ridgeline, and so by stepping across it we had crossed the border into Austria! And we didn't even get a stamp in our passports. :-(

We sheltered out of the wind for a bit on the German side and then I took a further walk up the ridge to the south to a high point we could see. Michelle decided not to follow because the way was a bit steep and covered with snow in places, requiring a steady balance and careful step to avoid falling over into a snow bank or sliding right down into the bowl, or possibly even the next country. Walking up the ridge, I probably crossed the border into and out of Austria several times. At one point, my shoe sunk calf-deep into the snow and I had to pull it out carefully. My trouser cuffs and sock got wet, but soon dried in the wind and sun without causing any problems. With a bit of struggling, I reached the summit of the ridge, where a bench was placed for walkers to take in the view. There was a guy there brandishing a camera with a Canon EF70-300mm DO lens - expensive piece of hardware!

Border patrol
Karwendel ridge, Germany on the left, Austria on the right

While sitting at the top, another walker approached, climbed up over the rock behind me, and vanished - presumably the path descended the other side and continued along the ridge - a presumption confirmed by a later look at a map.


We have just retired to our room for the night, hoping to get an early start tomorrow. Back to Karwendel:

Once satisfied with my own photography at this peak, straddling two countries, I changed to a longer lens for the walk back down to where Michelle was awaiting on the lower ridge. Again I took care with my footing, not wanting to tumble down a 60°+ slope into either country. At one point while traversing the snow section, I planted my forefoot, then as I lifted my rear foot, the front one slipped a bit and I quickly put weight back on the rear, but my position was precarious and I froze, because I realised any further shift in weight could make me lose my footing completely and fall headlong into the snow with my camera exposed around my neck - I wasn't really concerned about sliding far, more with simply falling over. It was a good 20 or 30 seconds before I had appraised my situation and regained my balance enough to extricate myself gracefully and continue my way down.

Higher again
View from top of Karwendel, Germany on the left, Austria on the right

I rejoined Michelle safely a few minutes later and we strolled back to the cablecar station, where some people were sunning themselves on the patio on deckchairs. I got Michelle to take a deckchair out to the edge of the deck where nobody else was and took some photos of her lying on it, surrounded by snow and mountain peaks. The other sunbakers looked at her funny as she returned the deckchair again after sitting in it for only 30 seconds. We got the 12:00 cablecar down, a ride not for anyone of a nervous disposition when faced with heights.

Soaking up the sun
Sunning on the deckchair

On the way down, we noticed a hut or small house ensconced on a precarious ledge halfway up the sheer side of the mountain. Looking carefully, we spotted walking tails switchbacking up the bare rock face to the hut, looking extremely steep and tricky. My only guess is that somehow mountain goats have managed to cart up the timber and stuff to build that house, and then constructed it there, since no human could have negotiated those trails.

We walked back to town via the bahnhof to check on train times to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and fares. The ticket machine told us €3.50 each and the timetable said trains left at 08:37, 09:36, 10:26. Heading further into town, I stopped briefly in the tourist info office to ask about bus departures to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The man there said I was better off getting the train, because the train ran more frequently and was faster, as the bus took a roundabout route. Thus informed, I rejoined Michelle, who had browsed a shop in the meantime. We returned to our room briefly to shed the cold weather gear we'd donned for the trip up Karwendel (and we'd needed up there), since it was quite warm back down in the valley.

Church of Sts Peter and Paul (left), Hotel-Gasthof Alpenrose (right)

We popped into a bakery across the street from our hotel to get a quick lunch of a few bread rolls and a coffee for Michelle. One roll she chose was an unusual grey colour and turned out to be flavoured with liquorice or aniseed - interesting and different. Then we simply strolled the picturesque streets of the town, admiring the painted houses and expansive views of the towering Alps above, and window shopping - at least until 14:00 when the shops reopened after a lunchtime closing. Just before then, we stopped at an ice cream store, where I ordered a cup ("tasse" - although I have no idea if that's the right idiom in German for a cup of ice cream [I later learnt the correct word to use when ordering a cup of ice cream is "becher"]) containing scoops of strawberry, limoncello (lemon-sherbety), and banana. It was good.

Church Sts Peter and Paul, ceiling
Ceiling of Church of Sts Peter and Paul

The rest of the afternoon was spent browsing shops and soaking in the Alpine atmosphere, except for a break of about 1.5 hours in mid-afternoon to rest our feet and let Michelle have a nap. We visited the largest landmark in the town, the Church of Sts Peter and Paul, which was decorated lavishly both inside and outside, with the distinctive bell tower painted on the outside in intricate scenes, similar to the scenes painted on many of the other buildings, both commercial and private, in the town.

St George and the Dragon
St George and Dragon painting on a house

We decided it might be good to visit the violin museum here, since Mittenwald is a famous violin-making town, beginning in the 18th century with one Matthias Klotz - one of Mittenwald's famous sons. But the museum closed at 16:00, so we didn't have time. We have however seen a lot of Mittenwald's favourite daughter - one Martina Glagow, whose smiling face greets you from posters proudly displayed in many shops all over town - apparently she is a world champion biathlon skier and has had a park named after here her. We walked over to the violin museum anyway to have a look at the exterior and were immediately glad we did, because it and several adjacent houses in a small square we hadn't seen before held some of the best and most beautiful wall paintings we'd seen anywhere in town.

Mittenwald pizza
Pizza for dinner

We decided on pizza for dinner and found an open Italian place named simply Osteria. We asked if they had a non-smoking area and the waiter showed us to a small room at the back, furnished quite lavishly in white leather. We weren't sure if anyone had ever used that room before. We ordered some bruschetta and a spinach and gorgonzola pizza for Michelle and a diavolo pizza for me. It was all good and I think we impressed the waiter by speaking in half German and half Italian. Between the main meal and ordering dessert we were holding hands over the table briefly and the waiter walked past, glanced in, and the next thing we knew the lights were dimming. One could almost hear him muttering, "Aaah, amore..." I asked for "la carta di dolce, per favore" and ordered a zabaglione - despite never having been entirely sure what zabaglione is. I got a creamy, frothy, warm liquid with a blob of ice cream floating in it - the liquid was rich, sweet, and tasted strongly of brandy. It was quite delicious. We paid our bill and left with a "molto grazie, buona sera".

After a short walk around the interesting shops area to help our meal go down, we turned in for the night.

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