Foot loose and fancy free - Exploring Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Southern Germany
May is a wonderful time to explore the Bavarian Mountains, and what better place to do so than Garmisch-Partenkirchen. We had spent some time there in the past, doing some climbing, hiking and biking there, but this time, we decided to rent a Ferienwohnung (vacation apartment) in the Partenkirchner part of Garmisch-Partenkirchen for the whole month of May. Spring is the perfect season to enjoy the delights of Bavaria, without the crowds that fill this Aspen of Germany for winter sports or summer music- an excellent time for quiet rambles, good food and perfect mountain views.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen lies 55 miles (89 km) south of Munich. Wile it might be handier to refer to the area as "Garmisch", don't! Each town has a long individual history. The Romans built a road throught he valley and established an outpost at "Parthanum". During the Middle Ages, traders stopped at Partenkirchen on their route to Italy, and Garmisch loggers sent the area's timer down the River Loisach. The area was "discovered" by the 19th-century travelers, but the 1936 Winter Olympics brought the world to this valley - leading to the forced union of the town names. To this day, they are still separate two fire stations, two ski clubs, etc.
Partenkirchen is the elder sibling, with a well-tended historic district along the Ludwigstrasse, as well as a modern commercial center. Our home base/vacation apartment in Partenkirchen near the Zugspitzbahn lives up to its name, with balconies that face the Alpspitz, the kleine and the grosse Waxenstein and the icy talon of Germanys highest mountain (9,721 feet or 2,964.9 m). Our landlord has blended modern comfort with Bavarian tradition to craft a manorial experience for his guests classy rather than kitschy, and downright comfortable. Our apartment is within easy walking distance of the train station and just a few blocks away from the Marienplatz that is the center of Garmisch.
Walking is the way to get around town and indeed, all of Bavaria. Well-marked trails network the valley and the mountainsides, with shelters, restrooms and inns. After we had settled into our "new home for the month of May", we began our rambles in Partenkirchen. Did we have the gravitas for the Philosophen Weg (Philosophers Way)? Or should we choose the simple stroll of the Woods Walk?
We chose the PlagueChurch painted with a giant fresco of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for our first stoll along the Philosophen Weg. Following the signs for St. Antons, we headed up the steep path, past a fountain and toward the green hillsides. The cherry trees and daffodils were in bloom. We heard chickens cluck, and saw a sign for fresh milk beside a pocket pasture and small barn. Steep-roofed houses presided over tiny flowerbeds sheltered behind clipped hedges. Backyards are often guarded by wooden fences, but glimpses of daily life are frequent - from woodpiles stacked with Teutonic precision to a man grooming one of the horses that pull Pferdekutschen (horse cabs) and sleighs (in the winter time) through the streets.
At the edge of the village, Stations of the Cross appeared beside the road, each in its white-painted arched niche. The Pilgrim Way was steep, toward a white church with black onion domes. A chapel offered a moment of meditation, to the flicker of candles and the sound of birdsong on the porches of St. Antons, plaques bore images of World War I soldiers and pleas for prayers.
As we continued to the Berggasthof (Mountain Guest House) Panorama and its view of The Golden Land, signs warned that the hillside path through fields occupied by spotted cows was private. So it was back to the crossroads, and the Philosophenweg. While edelweiss may have been blooming at the edge of mountain snows, here , enzians, violets and primroses were thick among last falls leaves.
After our first stroll, we returned happily to our comfortable apartment to relax and enjoy a beer and watch the lovely mountains in front of us from our balcony. Tomorrow we would take our bicycles out and follow the Loisach to do some more exploring, but in the meantime, Life was good...