At the foot of the Zugspitze mountain and at the confluence of the Loisach and Partnach rivers, unforgettable nature experiences, cultural enjoyment and plenty of Bavarian lifestyle are waiting. Our reporter had a look around. Text: Markus Stein
A half stocking has its uses. It warms bare men’s legs and reveals something about the inner workings of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The people of Garmisch call this stocking a “Pfousn”, in Partenkirchen it is called “Heaslan”.
There are also linguistic differences in the “lederhosen”: the embroidery on the Garmisch version is a darker green than that from Partenkirchen – and it sports a chamois buck. No right-minded Partenkirchen man would have this embroidered on his buckskin! And what about the “dirndl”? In Garmisch, the wearer is seen as unmarried if the apron bow is tied on the left. The women of Partenkirchen, of course, do it the other way round...
A Touch of City, a Touch of Village
Such idiosyncrasies and small differences are no wonder, Garmisch and Partenkirchen were independent places for a long time. Today, they walk a common path and benefit from each other. “Our place has the huge advantage of having two faces, an urban one in Garmisch with lots of shops and the lifestyle to go with it, and a rural-village one in Partenkirchen, where life is quieter,” says Irene Kässer, owner of Chocolaterie Amelie.
The chocolate manufactory attaches great importance to sustainability and operates a branch in both districts. The showpiece in the Partenkirchen shop: the replica of the original “Zugspitze” mountain cross on a scale of one to two, solidly cast from over 900 bars of chocolate!
Romans, Bavarians – and Freisingers
People have always settled in the valley of the Loisach and Partnach rivers. The Romans ruled from around the time of Christ’s birth and expanded a trade route around 200 AD. This “Via Raetia” leads from Augsburg over the Brenner Pass to Venice. Partenkirchen developed from the “Partanum” rest stop, east of the Partnach. The so-called “Rotthandel”, the trade in goods with carts, flourished on the streets up until modern times.
To the west of the Partnach, on the banks of the Loisach, Bavarians settled there in the early Middle Ages. Their village – known then as “Germareskaue” – would become Garmisch. It prospered thanks to rafting business on the Loisach.
Enter Freising in the 13th century Bishop Emicho acquired both places for the Freising diocese and founded the county of Werdenfels, named after a castle above the Loisach valley. The county extended from “Mittenwald” in the south, to “Farchant” in the north and was only absorbed into the Kingdom of Bavaria in the 19th century. It is what gave the region its present name: Werdenfelser Land.
Artists, Skiers, and Olympians
Werdenfels was considered to be a “golden land” – until its decline after the Thirty Years’ War. From 1889 onwards, the railway connection to Munich brought a revival and, with it, tourism. Hotels and spa facilities were built. Painters, musicians such as the important conductor Hermann Levi and other artists arrived on the scene. Star composer Richard Strauss spent summers in his Garmisch villa from 1908 to 1949.
Richard Strauss spent his summers in his Garmisch villa
In the 1920s, the mountains were opened up: the Kreuzeck cable car, the Mount Wank cable car, the Zugspitz cable car. And skiing was beginning to pick up speed: 1902 saw the first winter sports festival of the Munich Academic Ski Club on Gudiberg mountain, and in 1922 the “German Winter Games”. Finally, there came the big break: the 1936 Winter Olympics, for which Garmisch and Partenkirchen were “forcibly married” on 1 January 1935.
Places began changing, and there was a lot of building going on. One famous relic of this time is the ski stadium. It dates back to buildings erected for the Olympic Games, which were planned again in 1940 but were never to take place.
Lüftlmalerei: Bavarian Street Art
Ludwigstraße in Partenkirchen: once a commercial street, today a promenade, regional jewel and picture book. Almost completely burnt down in 1865, it now presents itself neatly with boutiques, small shops, cafés and traditional inns. On some houses in the lower course, you can still see large “Mittertennen” gates on the front of the house, through which the farmers used to steer their hay carts.
The key attraction is the façade paintings, the so called “Lüftlmalereien”, an early Bavarian version of street art. The Garmisch district is also lavishly adorned with them. The name derives from the airy way that the artists would work on their scaffolds. Façade painting originated in Italy, but the colourful stories on the walls of the houses are considered a typical expression of the old Bavarian character. Popular theatre in painted form, so to speak.
From Angel to "Hochzeitslader"
Biblical themes and historical scenes are usually depicted in a baroque style, or the pictures illustrate the trade of the house owner. There are patron saints and angels, peasants and kings, blacksmiths and cobblers on the walls of the houses, as well as many staff in historical costumes, leather trousers, dirndls and the women’s “Otterhaube” – traditional bonnets typical of the region.
One example of many: the “Gasthof Fraundorfer”, a well-known and popular inn. The ornately painted façade shows a happy Bavarian wedding with bride and groom, guests and – most importantly – a “Hochzeitslader”, known as a “Progoder” (a traditional role involving the public announcement of and invitation to a wedding, as well as providing entertainment during the festivities). Even today, his services are still in demand. The guest room is also worth seeing: wood-panelled, with old photos and the typical carnival masks – so-called “larvae” – on the walls.
Plenty of Panoramic Delights on the “Philosophers' Trail”
There is a beautiful view over both places from the Philosophenweg (philosophers' trail). It leads from the Wank cable car valley station to the pilgrimage church of St. Anton, past benches whose backrests are adorned with special sayings. “The true wisdom of life is to see the miraculous in the mundane,” Pearl S. Buck is quoted as saying. For most visitors, this is certainly not an everyday occurrence, but it makes the view over the roofs to the mountains of Wettersteinwand, Alpspitz, Jubiläumsgrat and Waxenstein all the more wonderful, and behind them, more to be imagined than seen, the world-famous Zugspitze.
The clouds tower above the craggy rock monstrosities. A paraglider does several laps in the sky. The ringing of bells, a gentle breeze and the sun peaking through the canopy help set the peaceful mood that rests over the landscape perfect.
Lady’s Mantles and Meadowsweet
In this mountain world, on the Kochelberg at an altitude of about 900 metres, Ursula Höger has her meadow full of alpine flowers and medicinal herbs. “We don’t fertilise it and only mow it once a year,” says the herb specialist as she describes her biotope. “Besides, the meadow is on a northern slope, and so it has its own microclimate. Lots of healthy herbs thrive there, it’s a real pharmacy in its own right.”
Over a hundred different species, including St. John’s wort, mint, lady’s mantle or valerian, thrive there. And – the herbal aficionada is particularly proud of this – the rare Lesser Meadowsweet, which is said to have pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects.
Ursula Höger processes the dried medicinal herbs into hay pillows. They are said to promote healthy sleep and natural stress relief, you can also use them for warm compresses and baths. Those interested can also go on a herb hike with the expert.
Rafting and Frescoes
A piece of historic Garmisch can be found on the northern bank of the River Loisach. Follow Kramerstraße (Kramer street), cross the wooden Schneggensteg and reach Loisachstraße. The “Archer” once lived there, who were responsible for maintaining the embankments and raft land. In the best times, 2,500 rafts a year would travel towards Munich. They transported wood, as well as barrels of gypsum from the gypsum quarries in the region to Munich.
The more affluent lived on the higher-situated Frühlingsstraße. The little houses there, from the 18th century and even older, show themselves in all their splendour in summer with geranium-decorated balconies. A medley of colours in red, white, pink, yellow, purple and violet.
If you walk further north, you will come to the stunningly decorated “Bräustüberl” Inn, and next to it to the former hotel and today fine restaurant known as “Husar”, painted in Empirial style around 1800 – a “Husar”, the patron saint of the name, and an infantryman are leaning relaxed out of a window. Just a few steps away is the Old Parish Church with frescoes from the 13th century.
It’s All or Nothing When It Comes to the Nosh
Feeling hungry from the city tour? Regional food with an exotic touch for a heartwarming snack can be found at Ursula Sedlmayr’s near the “Marienplatz” square in Garmisch. Traditional “Stangerl” – rustic bread sticks – with a twist of chilli, ginger or fennel (even gingerbread) at Christmas are available there, along with many other specialities. We still do all the slaughter work ourselves. We source the animals from small farms in the region or from Lower Bavaria, and the game is supplied by the local hunter. Species-appropriate husbandry is very important to us,” explains the creative master butcher.
The meat matures on the bone for up to eight weeks, and the sausages are preserved in a smoker still built by her great-grandfather. You can easily take it with you on a tour of this beautiful place. Ursula recommends the summit for an excursion. You can walk or take the gondola up and have a beautiful view of Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the impressive mountain scenery from far above.