A summer rain in Mittenwald, a small town on the edge of Bavaria, the Alps somewhere behind the impenetrable fog.
No hiking today.
So what to do to kill the time? A stop at the Geigenbaumuseum detailing Mittenwald’s centuries-long tradition of violin building. Lifelong Mittenwalder Petra Summer explains.
“There was a man named Matthias Klotz who at the age of 12, as far as I know, went to Italy to study violin building,” says Petra. “He then came back and made violin building popular, spreading it across Mittenwald.”
Indeed, to own a Mittenwald violin is akin to rocking out on a Fender Stratocaster, built especially for your calloused fingers. (Even the art features characters playing the violin.)
Speaking of art, Mittenwald carries on the Bavarian tradition of painted homes featuring a mix of scenes from everyday life and Biblical characters. In fact, you really can’t escape crucified Jesus in these parts.
But enough intellectual culture. What about the culture I can eat?
“In my opinion, Bavarian culture is definitely about good Bavarian food. Schweinsbraten (roast pork), Knödel (dumplings), Sauerkraut,” she says. Typical for Bavaria. Just good, hearty Bavarian cuisine which, of course, doesn’t quite keep you slim. But it tastes very good, and in moderation, everything is okay.”
I take that as permission to demolish a Blaumantel Lieblingsschnitzel at the Römerschanz. Schnitzel with baked cheese and blueberries. It’s the kind of gleefully gluttonous meal that forces you to take deep breaths through the meat sweats. Stopping isn’t an option. It’s too damn good.
But dear God, I need to walk this caloric monstrosity off.
Up to the Kranzberg in Mittenwald
The rain drifts away by the next morning. The trails are clear and the sun is fighting its way through the clouds. Finally, my itchy fee can get moving up to the Kranzberg.
One can take the chairlift up, but me, I like to earn my views. So I happily take on the three-and-a-half-kilometer climb, the path sometimes as steep as nearly 30 percent grade. But it’s worth the screaming muscles for that moment I get to the top, the cold wind smacking me in the face, and I sit back to enjoy my reward.
“Ah, fuck, the clouds are back,” I think to myself as I look out over the viewpoint.
Oh, well. Instead, I show off my version of Instagram beach feet and assume nobody will be the wiser.
Though the clouds continue to hug the peaks, down by the lakes, it’s another story. This right here is why people come to Bavaria.
“As kids, we’d take bikes and cycle out to Lauter Lake and Ferchen Lake to go swimming,” Petra recalls. “Anyone who swims in such a mountain lake will never want to swim in another lake.”
I appreciate the sentiment, but it ain’t that warm outside, so I opt to stay lakeside and watch as a man does a bit of aquatic weeding in the nearby lilypads.
Admiring Border-Free Europe
Still fueled by the previous day’s restlessness, I hike further, right to the Austrian border. And there it is, a glorified block in the dirt marking the border. Nothing makes a faux European such as myself appreciate border-free 21st century Europe like the ease of hiking into another country.
But the sentimental feelings wash away when I come to the Gleisterklamm — a series of steel walkways and bridges covering 970 meters over the Leutasch Gorge. And in case you weren’t feeling uncertain enough about the whole endeavor, the trail mascot is an eerie, cartoon ghost complete with a long round nose, three circles that I can only imagine are ghost warts, a creepy grin, mustache, and a seemingly disconnected hand coming out of its beard, pointing to the entrance. The gutter in the mind imagines someone drawing a cartoon caricature using the aftermath of a porn shoot as inspiration.
(Hey, if I have to suffer through the nightmares, so do you.)
As it turns out, the short trek is perfectly safe. I guess a 1.4 million euro investment will make sure of that. Plus, as is the case throughout Mittenwald, the views are not ugly.
“[Mittenwald] is a place that has something to offer for everyone. You can simply go for a stroll around town. You can just sit and enjoy the quiet,” says Petra. “Whether you’re young or old, it’s whatever you want it to be. Mittenwald really offers a little bit of everything for travelers.”
Disclaimer: This trip was supported by Alpenwelt Karwendel. As always, all opinions are my own.
Looking for more Germany? Check out the Germany off the beaten path travel guide, my top things to do in Germany, German language tips, and how to ride the German train system. Want something more literary? Read chapters from my upcoming memoir on moving to and living in Germany and finding my roots — There Must Be Order.