While staying with family in the southeast part of Germany, I had the opportunity to visit local attractions and gain a bit of insight into Bavarian history. Aunt Wally, my grandfather’s sister who lives now in upstate New York, was responsible for contacting my family members in Germany and telling them to take me to these places around Bavaria, making these day trips extra special for me. Here are some of my favorites:
King Ludwig II and the Herrenchiemsee
On a grey morning, my cousin Ulli and I drove south toward the border of Austria. As we sped down the autobahn, the Alps grew from a faded outline to massive growths stretching blue against the horizon. We made it to Chiemsee, a huge lake with two islands. King Ludwig II’s infamous palace, the Herrenchiemsee, is located on one of these islands. The ferry boat, ironically named Josef (my grandfather’s name), took us on a short ride from the docks to the island called Herreninsel.
We walked a path about 10 minutes from the drop-off point on the island to the palace grounds. Horse and carriages pull tourists there for a small fee but walking the distance was pleasant in the crisp morning air.
We entered the grounds through what I later learned is the Herrenchiemsee’s backyard gardens. Enormous statues in fountains emerged out of stone pathways winding between beautifully kept gardens. Each fountain was a copy of the fountains at the Palace of Versailles. For example, Latona-Brunnen is a replica of the fountain of the same name at Versailles which tells the legend of goddess Latona: Lycian peasants did not offer Latona and her children, Apollo and Diana, water to drink so she punished them by turning them into frogs.
Inside the palace, I was not allowed to take photos. We received a tour in which the guide told us about King Ludwig II’s obsession with King Louis XIV, and how the palace was built as an ode to Versailles. The rooms were dripping with lavish decoration from the hand-painted floor boards to the smallest carved details on the moldings. King Ludwig II started spending so much money on each room of the 70-room palace, he ran out of money by the 20th room. If you saw it, you would understand why! Fifty of the rooms in the palace were left completely unfinished with just brick and wooden walls remaining.
My cousin Ulli turned to me at one point and said, “He was a bit crazy.” Indeed, King Ludiwg II was accused of being insane during his day because of all the royal money he spent on projects like Herrenchiemsee. He devoted most of his time to organizing the building of many castles and palaces to his lavish tastes all around Bavaria, including the very famous Nordschwanstein (the inspiration for Disney’s sleeping beauty castle).
King Ludwig II lived much of his life in seclusion going so far as to equip the Herrenchiemsee palace with a dining room table which could be lowered to the room beneath so he could eat in solitude. He is generally loved today by Bavarians for his art and architectural vision. But, as personal historical documents suggest, King Ludwig II was a 19th century man with romantic feelings for other men. Living during a time when such interests were completely forbidden, he was known not to ever have any mistresses, to never marry, and to devote all his time to his projects. Such behavior was perceived as a bit out of the norm, but this was his way of remaining true to his Catholic faith.
Visiting Austria for lunch
On another occasion, Uli drove us across the border into Austria for the day. Bavaria has the benefit of being within a short distance to Austria and just three hours from Italy. Getting into Austria was no problem—there were no customs or border patrol. We simply drove right through (something unheard of in the USA). We went to Achensee, a lake which sits in a valley between the Alps in the town of Achenkirch. We were going to take a pedal boat out onto the lake but the weather report led the boathouse to close early.
Instead, we took a stroll around the small town, walked the shoreline for a while, and then sat down outside for lunch at Fischerwirt looking out at the gorgeous Alps. I ordered fish caught in the Achensee off the menu and admired the beautiful flowers decorating the side of the restaurant building.
Our visit was short, but I had been hoping to get to see Austria even if just for an afternoon because my grandmother is from Austria. I want to go back someday, though, to hike the Alps, visit Vienna, and find my grandmother’s home town.
We drove back into Germany through small towns and farmland, stopping for dessert in the town of Bad Tölz. The town is set into a hill with shopping and cafes along one main strip. There were many people out at the cafés even on the weekday we were there. It’s common for Germans to eat a dessert in the afternoon, usually of cake and tea or coffee. We opted for some ice cream at a place with a ridiculously large selection of creative sundaes. I had a hard time deciding but finally went with my favorite—a kind of mint chocolate chip but with fudge and chocolate chunks instead. Nom!
Befreiungshalle (Liberation Hall)
In Northern Bavaria, there is a huge hall built on top of a hill overlooking the town of Kelheim and the Danube River. The hall was built by the order of King Ludwig I to memorialize and celebrate winning the wars against Napoleon from 1813 to 1815.
I loved visiting this hall with my cousin Ludwig, his wife, and two daughters. When we reached the top floor of the hall, I was impressed by the pattern designed into the marble floor. The center has an inscription in German which reads:
“May the Germans never forget what made necessary the Struggle for Freedom and by what means they won."
The stairs lead further up to the outside where a balcony lines the circumference of the hall and overlooks a beautiful view of the town and river below—even on a foggy day.
After visiting the hall, we took a ferry ride up the Danube to see the gorge. On the way, rock climbers dangled from the cliffs above as narration told us about the surrounding landscape and major floods occurring at different points throughout history. We got off on the opposite side of the River where we met up with Ludwig who had driven the car around to meet us for lunch at Klosterschenke Weltenburg, a famous monastery turned brewery and beer garden. If you ever have the chance to visit Liberation Hall, I highly recommend taking this leisurely boat ride to the monastery for lunch afterward.