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Garmisch-Partenkirchen: a peak experience even in the rain

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a sport and resort town in the Bavarian Alps, is just over the Austrian border and fifty-four miles from Munich.  It is surrounded by mountains and is one of Germany’s most popular vacation destinations.

We were there to ride to the summit of Germany’s highest mountain, the 9718’ high Zugspitze. A sign at the summit indicates where Bavaria ends and Austria’s Tirol begins. This site of three glaciers and Germany’s highest ski resort offers a breathtaking 360° panorama of over 400 mountain peaks in four countries. There is a view of the German and Austrian Alps, the Dolomites and Swiss mountains.

The Bavarian Zugspitz Railway makes this adventure accessible to all. A cog wheel train departs from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Lake Eibsee and from there a cable car provides beautiful lake views up to the Zugspitze peak. Glacier lifts access the Zugspitze Glacier and then a rack and pinion railway runs through the Zugspitze Tunnel back to the starting point.  Many describe it as the highlight of their European vacation.

However, the rain was relentless. Fortunately, the Hotel Königshof was just a short walk from the train station in Garmisch. When we mentioned the Zugspitze to the desk clerk, she pointed to the computer screen. 360 degree panoramic cameras beam live images 24 hours a day so people can check the weather conditions before heading out. The screen remained completely gray throughout our stay.

Traveling as much as we do we know that flexibility is key to a successful trip. With just two days in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, there was still more than we could ever hope to do. The tourism office helped us with our options. Our tour guide for our the second day, Günter Reiff, showed us the highlights of Garmisch-Partenkirchen and told us about an attraction that is even more dramatic on a rainy day.

Garmisch, Partenkirchen, and the Olympics

1936 Olympics fresco, Partenkirchen
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1936 Olympics fresco, Partenkirchen

Roman legions were known to be in Partenkirchen, which they called Parthanum, as far back as 15 B. C. They built a military road in 2 A. D.

Partenkirchen’s main street, Ludvigstrasse, is part of the Via Claudia Augusta that ran between Vienna and Augsburg. This area became the Bishopric of Freising in the 13th century until secularization in 1803 and was regulated by the Pope. Goods along this trade route had to be transported by Partenkirchen wagoners and stored here for a fee. The prosperity of this  “Golden Land”continued  to about 1600, when alternate transport prevailed. Poverty ensued until the mid-19th century, when tourism began to grow.

 coat of arms of Garmisch-Partenkirchen
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coat of arms of Garmisch-Partenkirchen

Günter told us that Garmisch-Partenkirchen’s hyphenated name goes back to Hitler, who forced the two independent villages, under threat of the Dachau concentration camp, to unite for the 1936 Winter Olympics. Residents we met, however, still make the distinction on where they live. Do not simply call it Garmisch to a resident of Partenkirchen!

Olympic Stadium, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
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panoramic photograph of the Olympic Stadium and grounds, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

Since the 1936 Summer Olympics were already slated to be held in Berlin, the German National Olympic Committee invoked rules that entitled them to hold the Winter Olympic games, as well. There were problems with Hitler’s policies, but it established this area’s international reputation as a top winter sports destination.

Olympic jump, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
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Olympic jump, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

Hitler used the spirit of the Olympics to glorify his image and mask his tyranny by hosting a beautifully organized event with elaborate new sports facilities and lavish celebrations in an idyllic setting.  Alpine skiing was added, the largest Olympic ice stadium in Europe was built, and there was speed skating and ice hockey on Lake Riessersee. The Olympic Flame was lit for the first time.

Olympic stadium, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
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Olympic stadium, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

Females were allowed beyond figure skating and Hitler was forced under threat of boycott to admit all races.  The press, of course, was suppressed.

Adventure or relaxation

Garmisch-Partenkirchen continues to host Nordic and alpine ski races and a New Year’s Day Ski Jump competition. There are large swimming complexes and wellness centers. It is one of the best known vacation and ski resorts in Germany.

Some come specifically for the “Heilklimatischer Kurort”, health resorts and spa facilities known for their healing climate, pure mountain air, and pristine alpine landscape. Others simply enjoy the therapeutic benefit of Nordic walking and hiking on the high-altitude hiking trails. It’s a place for active living or quiet relaxation.

Stroll historic lanes past beautifully frescoed buildings, attend cultural and traditional events, or just enjoy a good meal. It is all surrounded by  pine forests, mountains, meadows, and sparkling mountain lakes and streams.

Lüftlmalereien

Garmisch shop, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
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Garmisch shop, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

After checking in we grabbed our umbrellas and headed out to see the Lüftlmalereien, the traditional Bavarian frescoes on houses and shops, that gives Garmisch-Partenkirchen its colorful charm. It is named for a famous painter from Oberammergau who lived in the houses with little air.

While many of the paintings depict Biblical stories or patron saints, the art expanded to include historical themes, or represent a business, trade, or customs. Though we certainly would have preferred sunshine, we were rapt in our multicolored picture book of regional life.

We strolled along Frühlinfstrasse and the Am Kurpark pedestrian zone in search of an  authentic Bavarian meal, noting sweet temptations along the way.

There was the chocolate shop Chocolaterie Amelie, which has a second location on Ludvigstrasse..

Chocolaterie Amelie and fountain, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
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Chocolaterie Amelie and fountain, Garmisch-Partenkirchen

Garmisch-PartenkirchenGarmisch
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Chocolaterie Amelie, Garmisch-Partenkirchen

Kronner, which has been in the same family for 250 years, is the oldest coffee shop in Germany.

One of our favorite shops was Trachtenhaus Grasegger, renowned for the highest quality made-to-measure tracht, the traditional costume that varies by region. Elizabeth Taylor had twelve dirndls made there while Richard Burton filmed “The Spy Who Came our of the Cold.”

Tracht is still part of the culture and worn for special occasions. This shop incorporates regional traditional design with international trends for high quality clothing suitable for everyday life.

Trachtenhaus Grasegger, Garmisch
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Trachtenhaus Grasegger, Garmisch

We continued on to the unassuming  Zum Wildschütz, which was highly recommended by locals. Normally a reservation is needed for this popular and cozy restaurant, but we arrived ahead of the dinner crowd and were offered seats if we could finish before the reservation in an hour and a half.

We were no sooner seated than two others came in than, as is the custom, we were asked if we were willing to share our table.The couple was from Munich and had driven here after reading a highly favorable newspaper review.

pork knuckle, Zum Wildschütz, Garmisch
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pork knuckle, Zum Wildschütz, Garmisch

The pork knuckle and Werdenfels, a schnitzel stuffed with mustard and bacon, were mentioned in the article, they told us. We had a delightful experience enjoying some of the best Bavarian food around and good company from the city we would visit next.

“Calendars and clocks exist to measure time, but that signifies little because we all know that an hour can seem as eternity or pass in a flash, according to how we spend it.” Michael Ende

Big band and classical music concerts known as Music in the Park are held in the center of Garmisch twice a week May through September.

concert, Michael Ende Kurpark, Garmisch
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concert, Michael Ende Kurpark, Garmisch

As luck would have it, there was a traditional Bavarian brass band concert that night. We arrived just in time for the alphorns.

concert, Michael Ende Kurpark, Garmisch
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concert, Michael Ende Kurpark, Garmisch

The rain had let up so the concert was held in Michael Ende Kurpark, (spa-gardens). This oasis of flowers, benches, and even a stimulating “barefoot garden” was renamed last summer in honor of the 30th anniversary of Ende’s “Never Ending Story”, which reflects the local scenery.

Kurhaus, Michael-Ende Kurpark, Garmisch
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Kurhaus, Michael-Ende Kurpark, Garmisch

A permanent exhibit in the Kurhaus, “Michael Ende — The Beginning of the End(e)” examines his life and works.

Michael Ende Kurpark, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
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Michael Ende Kurpark, Garmisch-Partenkirchen

As we headed back to the hotel after the concert others were just arriving for Garmisch’s vibrant night life.

Had the rain continued, the concert would have been in Richard Strauss Concert Hall. Composer Richard Strauss bought a villa with the royalties from his opera “Salome” and lived here until he died. His “Alpine Symphony” was inspired by the area mountains. 2014 marked his 150th birthday and the 25th anniversary of the summer’s highlight, the Richard Strauss Festival.

Summer festivals are part of the Bavarian spirit and KULTurSOMMER describes the theater, music, theater and cabaret. Garmisch and Partenkirchen each have a folk festival week with traditional music, dance, and food. The traditional folk carnival entertainment includes shooting ranges, swing boats, and ring-the-bell.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen

Had we been there in better weather we might have seen the cows herded down the street early or late in the day.  But on our second day, it was raining harder than on the first.

Our guide, Günter, told us stories about the frescoes and took us beyond the main streets. “Postcard Street” Frühlingsstrasse had a row of beautiful farm houses, some centuries old. Window boxes, balconies, and railings overflowed with geraniums.

Garmisch-Partinkirchen, Germany
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villa in Garmisch side of Garmisch-Partinkirchen, Germany

Well-tended gardens were filled flowers and often vegetables, too.

We passed Garmisch’s oldest inn, Gasthof Husar. It dates to the 16th century and is much-admired for its elaborate frescoes. Bavarian King Maximilian II, and Wilhelm II, King of Württemberg were among the royal guests. The elegant restaurant is where people go for an exceptional dining experience.

Gasthof Husaren, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
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Restaurant Husar, also a guest house, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

Then we headed for more Old World charm in Partenkirchen’s Ludwigstrasse. On the way, Günter pointed out the the Church of St. Sebastian and its cemetery for plague victims.

Gasthof zum Bassen, Garmisch-Partinkirchen, Germany
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Gasthof zum Bassen, Garmisch-Partinkirchen, Germany

One of our favorite frescoes on Ludwigstrasse combined religious and local themes.

Günter knew we had dinner reservations that night at the Gasthaus Fraundorfer and pointed out the colorful frescoes depicting a table of honor at a country wedding. The man with a stick is the wedding planner, who collected meal money from guests and acted as the master of ceremonies. Wedding planners often also served as a match makers.

Gasthof Fraundorfer, Partenkirchen Garmisch-Partinkirchen
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Gasthof Fraundorfer, Garmisch-Partinkirchen

The Werdenfels Museum is on five floors in a former merchant’s building. It is one of two houses that  survived the great fire that blazed in 1865, destroying 76 houses on this street.  Werdenfels County, now part of Bavaria, included Garmisch, Partenkirchen, and Mittenwald.

Werdenfels Museum Garmisch-Partenkirchen
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Werdenfels Museum Garmisch-Partenkirchen

The Old House, Das Alte Haus, is the other house that didn’t burn.  It goes back to the times of Emperor Barbarossa.

Das Alte Haus, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
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Das Alte Haus, Garmisch-Partenkirchen

Barbarossa fresco, Garmisch- Partenkirchen
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the famous knee drop of Barbarossa, Garmisch- Partenkirchen

Another building, with frames as valuable as its frescoes, displayed the double-headed eagle used by the Habsburgs.

Ludvigstrasse, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
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Ludvigstrasse, Garmisch-Partenkirchen

We peeked in shop windows that displayed antiques, woodcarvings, and other traditional handicrafts made by area tradesmen for hundreds of years.

shop window, Partenkirchen, Garmisch-Partinkirchen , Germany
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shop window, Partenkirchen, Garmisch-Partinkirchen , Germany

We continued our tour at the Olympic ski stadium.

Olympic Stadium, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
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Olympic Stadium, Garmisch-Partenkirchen

A museum there explores the dark side of the 1936 Olympics.

The Dark Side of the Medal, olympic Stadium, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
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The Dark Side of the Medal, olympic Stadium, Garmisch-Partenkirchen

The torrential rain persisted. Günter said a day like this was the best time to experience the surging water of the rocky Partnach Gorge. To get there from the Olympic Stadium we had the option of walking for about half an hour or taking a horse-drawn carriage ride.

horse and carriage, Partnach Gorge, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
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horse and carriage, Partnach Gorge, Garmisch-Partenkirchen

En route to the gorge we passed sheep, goats, and many small waterfalls.

 Garmisch-Partenkirchen
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pathway to Partnach Gorge, Garmisch-Partenkirchen

along the pathway to the Partnach Gorge, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
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along the pathway to the Partnach Gorge, Garmisch-Partenkirchen

We joined people of all ages out to enjoy the spectacle. There are two pathways for viewing the gorge. One is goes over 200’ up and offers a spectacular view from a steel bridge. One of its trails leads to King’s House on the Schachen, King Ludvig II’s former mountain retreat.

Partnach Gorge, Garmisch-Partinkirchen, Germany
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Partnach Gorge, Garmisch-Partinkirchen, Germany

We opted for the cliff walk  along the gorge and through tunnels for the up-close view of the wild rapids and gushing waterfalls.

Partnach Gorge, Garmisch-Partinkirchen, Germany
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Partnach Gorge, Garmisch-Partinkirchen, Germany

Households were allowed to cut firewood and timber in the forests that belonged to the Bishops of Freising’s through 1802. They branded four foot-long sections with their “hausmarch” and floated this “triften”, or floating timber, down the Partnach River and through this narrow, mile-long gap between soaring limestone cliffs. Sometimes woodcutters had  to be lowered down in a chair into the gorge to use long poles to push wood that had become stuck before reaching the underwater sandbank that stopped the logs for collection.

Partnach Gorge, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
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Partnach Gorge, Garmisch-Partenkirchen

We returned to the hotel soaking wet, with enough time to change and warm up before dinner. Our grand finale in Garmisch-Partenkirchen was at Gasthaus Fraundorfer, owned by a family by the same name since 1857.

Gasthof Fraundorfer, Partenkirchen Garmisch-Partinkirchen
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Gasthof Fraundorfer, Partenkirchen Garmisch-Partinkirchen

Gasthaus Fraundorfer, Patenkirchen, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
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Gasthaus Fraundorfer, Patenkirchen

Gasthaus Fraundorfer, Patenkirchen, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
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Gasthaus Fraundorfer, Patenkirchen, Garmisch-Partenkirchen

Our tasty traditional Bavarian food and beer was served by personable waitresses in dirndls. We could have entertained ourselves with all the wall art, which included Fastnacht masks used for this Shrove Tuesday Bavarian celebration that includes, appropriately, the best of Bavarian foods. But there was more to come.

Fraundorfer Gasthaus, Partenkirchen
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Gasthaus Fraundorfer, Partenkirchen

Fraundorfer Gasthaus,
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Gasthaus Fraundorfer, Partenkirchen

The “Bavarian Evening” live entertainment included an accordionist and a slap dancing performance.

slap dancing at the Gasthaus Fraundorfer, Patenkirchen, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
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slap dancing at the Gasthaus Fraundorfer

Garmisch-Partenkirchen as a hub

Little wonder  Garmisch-Partenkirchen is such a popular vacation and retirement destination. It is also ideally situated as a hub from which to day trip to other attractions.  Nearby sights include Oberammergau, where villagers have performed in a passion play every ten years since 1634.  Mittenwald’s main street reflects its medieval prosperity as the place where goods coming through the Brenner Pass from Italy were floated on rafts to Munich. It is known as “The City of a thousand Violins” for the instruments made there.

King Ludvig II in a fresco, Paertenkirchen, Garmisch-Partinkirchen
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King Ludvig II in a fresco, Paertenkirchen, Garmisch-Partinkirchen

This is King Ludvig II of Bavaria’s fairy-tale region. The opulent Linderhof Palace and his Neuschwanstein Castle, which inspired the Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella’s Castle, are worthwhile day trips.  Just remember to purchase your tickets in the village before climbing the hill to Neuschwanstein.

The centrally-located four-star Hotel Königshof is Garmisch-Partenkirchen’s most modern hotel and is just a short walk from the train station. Balconies overlook the river and ski jump.

 

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