The almost 500 kilometres of the German Alpine Road are especially fun in a convertible. We enjoyed the curve dance between Königssee and Garmisch-Partenkirchen in a vintage Beetle. Text: Markus Stein, Photos: Bernhard Huber
German Alpine Road between
Königssee and Garmisch
Lake Königssee is breathtakingly beautiful. Emerald green, framed by steep rock. You have a good view of it from the Jenner summit, easily reached by cable car and a few steps uphill. Visitors snap holiday photos from the viewing platform, the mighty massif of Mount Watzmann in front of the lens. The white excursion boats below seem tiny, the sky above is immaculately blue today. Silently, an eagle soars majestically through the air with wide wings ...
That would be too much to ask of a small beetle! Especially when it is a Volkswagen convertible. The model 1303, built in 1979 unfolds its charms in sunny, refreshingly friendly Florida yellow! flying low over the tarmac.
The little gem will carry us along the Alpine arc through Bavaria. On a route whose course King Maximilian II already tested in 1858. At the end of the 1920s, a certain Dr. Knorz, a medical councillor from Prien am Chiemsee, propagated the construction of a road that would "open up the beauties of this scenically outstanding area to the travelling public". In 1932, the German Touring Club had plans drawn up, the first section was built near Inzell in 1933, and in 1960 the German Alpine Road was finally passable throughout.
Kick-Off on the Rossfeld Road
Start in Schönau at Lake Königssee. But first we recommend a kick-off tour to Germany's highest panoramic road, the Rossfeldstraße to the east of Berchtesgaden. It winds its way up into the high alpine world of the mountains.
In second gear, the convertible bravely struggles for altitude, the boxer engine roars in the rear. Steering becomes a full-body workout, the gears are hard to shift and could be more precise, the steering has plenty of play and braking is a challenge for the leg muscles ... In short: it's great fun!
The peak is reached at the 1,550-metre high Hahnenkamm. To the south, the rugged rock face of the Hoher Göll, still covered with snow in mid-June, rises, to the right the Kehlstein with the Kehlsteinhaus, to the southeast the Tennen and Hagen mountains, to the west the Watzmann, Hochkalter and Reiteralpe, and to the north the Lattengebirge and Untersberg with the striking Mittagsscharte.
Ramsau and Hintersee
Back on the German Alpine road, the Beetle whirs to the "mountaineering village" of Ramsau. Lake Hintersee is worth a detour, a picturesque idyll in the literal sense of the word that has fascinated famous artists such as Carl Rottmann, Ferdinand Waldmüller and Wilhelm Busch. Tip for overheated convertibles: The lake not only looks good, it also refreshes!
Lake Hintersee not only looks good, it also refreshes!
Driving a convertible is entertainment for the senses: the air swirls through your hair. When you pass through forests, the interplay of sunlight and shadow is fascinating. Every now and then a bird flutters along the roadside as loudly as if it were sitting on your shoulder. And from freshly mown meadows, the sweet smell of hay wafts up to your nose. Just like the graceful landscape of the Chiemgau.
Stop at an alpine pasture on the roadside south of Ruhpolding. Sepp and his partner are making hay. With large pitchforks they heave mown grass onto wooden racks. "The grass dries on the ground for three days and then on the frames for ten days," Sepp explains. And they are called "Hainzen", these are the ones with horizontal grates or "Hiefeln", where the grates converge downwards like a pyramid. The hay is for Sepp's son's sheep.
Little Canada and Lake Chiemsee
Little Canada is the name given to the beautiful landscape of the lakes Lödensee, Mittersee and Weitsee, which follow one another between Ruhpolding and Reit im Winkl. Cows have made themselves comfortable in the wide greenery surrounding the Mittersee, enjoying the peace and quiet. On the shore, a lonely parasol shines in the morning sun.
From here it's not far to the Bavarian Sea, the Chiemsee. Either you leave the Alpine road for a trip there or enjoy the sight of it from one of the small, bright yellow, red or blue historic gondolas of the Kampenwand cable car. It was built in 1957. On the ascent, the view falls on the stately Hohenaschau Castle before the lake with the three islands Herrenchiemsee, Fraueninsel and the small uninhabited Krautinsel comes into view.
The view from the mountain station at an altitude of almost 1,500 metres is fantastic. A dream spot in Upper Bavaria! You can see the central Alps with the Hohe Tauern and the Großglockner, the Wilder Kaiser and the Berchtesgaden mountains. You can stop here for a bite to eat, take a short walk, for example along the striking rock face to the Steinlingalm, or set off on a longer hike. Or sail back down into the valley on a tandem paraglider flight!
Curving Fun On the Tatzelwurm Road
The crossing into the Inn valley can be charmingly shortened via Samerberg. From there, continue on to Oberaudorf and a highlight of the German Alpine Road: the winding Tatzelwurmstraße. It leads past the Tatzelwurm waterfalls, the hidden narrow gorge, gullies and waterfalls can be reached in a few minutes on foot, over the Sudelfeldpass into Bayrischzell and the world of the Schliersee and Tegernsee mountains.
Hans Thaler is from Bayrischzell and loves his homeland with heart and soul. Carpenter and musician. And alphorn maker. Hans taught himself this art. First he built the archaic instrument for shepherds in one piece, "even the ancient Greeks blew into such pipes," he explains.
Then he had an ingenious idea and invented the screwable alphorn. It consists of eight parts and can easily be transported in a backpack. The sprightly senior has held the patent for it since 1997. His alphorns are in great demand. "Only recently, a professor from the Mozarteum in Salzburg got two of them," says the inventor. And just how fine such a Thaler horn sounds is demonstrated during an audition on an alpine meadow above Bayrischzell. After a few minutes, the musician is surrounded by fascinated listeners: cows, attracted by the deep alphorn sounds!
Spitzingsee and Schliersee
The area is blessed with nature, culture and history. Wildly romantic Lake Spitzingsee, Markus Wasmeier's Farm Museum, the lake and town of Schliersee with its farmer's theatre in the traditional Hotel "Terofal" or Tegernsee with the once most important Benedictine Abbey in Upper Bavaria (founded as early as the 8th century) and, last but not least, the popular place of pilgrimage for locals, day trippers and holidaymakers: the Herzogliches Bräustüberl.
Continue over the Achen Pass into Tölzer Land. There is plenty to see: Lake Sylvenstein, Bad Tölz with its painted gabled houses, the Glentleiten open-air museum , Lake Kochelsee or the Franz Marc Museum. Then curve fun again on the Kesselbergstraße to Lake Walchen with the monumental Walchensee power station, which was put into operation as early as 1924. An information centre has been set up for visitors.
Garmisch and Mittenwald
In Krün, the Alpine road reaches Werdenfelser Land. The village is beautifully situated on a wide plateau, framed by the Soiernspitze, Karwendel, Wetterstein and Ester mountains. A particularly beautiful spot can be found at the "Gschwandtnerbauer" not far from the road towards Garmisch. A steep, half-hour walk takes you from the alpine road up to the dreamlike alpine panorama box seat, which becomes even more heavenly with a fresh strudel and a cup of coffee.
Mittenwald's houses are decorated with centuries-old murals
The diversions to Mittenwald is a must. It is best to take the little road that branches off in Klais and leads along the hummock meadows, grass-covered hills and relics of the last ice age to the village. Goethe called Mittenwald a "living picture book", where not only the houses are decorated with centuries-old Lüftl paintings, but also the church tower. And from the bottom to the top!
"The church tower is unique, I don't know of any other that would be painted," says master violin maker Toni Sprenger, "I suspect that once Venice, where the façades were also painted in the past, used Mittenwald as a model." After all, no place in Germany is closer to Venice than Mittenwald!
Toni guides us through his village. He is a tenth-generation descendant of the lute maker Matthias Klotz, who lived in Italy for many years and brought the art of violin making to Mittenwald. Klotz opened his workshop here in 1685. Toni points to the house at Im Gries No. 16. "This is where Ägidius Klotz, a grandson of Matthias, made a violin for Mozart," says Toni. A violin built by Toni himself had in turn sounded Mozart music at a concert in Carnegie Hall, thus wonderfully closing a circle.
AlpspiX and Eibsee
The landscape around Garmisch-Partenkirchen strikes dramatic chords. Be it Lake Eibsee in front of the sky-towering Zugspitze with its fir-green to Caribbean-green water or the white-water gorges of Partnach and Höllentalklamm. The 2,000-metre-high Osterfelderkopf with its two AlpspiX platforms jutting into the void is also spectacular. The view from there into the mountain world is magnificent, the drop down through the gratings is 1,000 metres!
This is really nothing special for the jackdaw that hangs around the AlpspiX. It prefers to look for a tidbit between the beer benches at the cable car mountain station. Grabs a chunk of white bread, soars into the air and sails away. Down in the valley, on the other hand, the Beetle takes a hearty gulp of Super and hums on down the German Alpine Road. On towards the Ammer Mountains.