Ottobeuren and Prien am Chiemsee are linked by more than the foothills of the Alps. Travellers can experience the healing power of water and herbs Kneipp style. Plus: fantastic scenery, great art and a relaxing finale by the "Bavarian Sea". Text and photos: Thomas Linkel
Fit thanks to Kneipp
“Don’t forget my soul” - these words are inscribed on the base of a bench in the Kneipp Activity Park in Ottobeuren. Ducks quack, families picnic, two women lie in the long grass, swifts circle overhead - it’s summertime in Bavarian Swabia. A monk approaches the water treading basin, takes off his shoes and socks, lifts his habit and starts to stalk through the pool like a stork.
A Kneipp basin, a wading monk, a mild evening and nearby the ancient Benedictine Abbey, dating back over 1,200 years. This idyllic scene is disturbed by the rumbling of my stomach and I head off. There’s going to be plenty of Kneipp therapy over the next few days.
Ottobeuren: Modern art, Baroque basilica
Each year the “Ottobeuren Concerts” in the basilica and in the lavishly decorated Kaisersaal attract world-famous musicians; orchestras such as the Vienna Philharmonic or the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amserdam, conductors such as Kent Naganon and world-class ensembles.
But for me it is about Sebastian Kneipp and his work. The alarm clock goes off at 4.30 a.m. We’re off to Bad Wörishofen. There I meet Steffi Scholz, who combines a holiday on the farm with Kneipp principles. “Use the herbs to prevent illness, rather than letting the problem grow too big first,” taught Sebastian Kneipp. Steffi seems to recognise every single plant and herb and knows how to use them in a prophylactic or healing way.
Blackberries, for example, strengthen the immune system because they contain a lot of calcium, magnesium and iron.
Breakfast? Cucumber soup with pimpernel and yarrow
It’s not clear whether it’s Steffi’s calm, friendly manner or the fresh air and exercise in dew-sparkled meadows with the sound of cow bells, but my mood lightens with every step and my soul is wide awake by the time the first rays of sunshine rise to greet us.
We smell, taste and harvest. The aim is to make our breakfast with ingredients from the garden. If you’re going to use herbs as a remedy, you should use them very deliberately, explains Steffi: “More is not necessarily better!”
For that reason she carefully selects a plant for each of her farmhouse guests and designs a spa week around it. Back at the farm, we get started on our preparations.
Soon we are enjoying our breakfast by the well behind the kitchen. Home-made bread with tomatoes and onions steams in a basket, accompanying a refreshing cucumber soup with pimpernel and yarrow and a beetroot salad on a bed of wild herbs.
Kneipp unplugged: Water treading in the stream
Of the five elements of Kneipp's teachings - water, exercise, nutrition, medicinal plants and balance - I have already become acquainted with three this morning. It is only 11 a.m. when I stroll along a stream through the pedestrian zone of Bad Wörishofen
Ottobeuren, the birthplace of Sebastian Kneipp, is 30 kilometers away. The priest and naturopath spent and practiced most of his life in Bad Wörishofen. Even during his lifetime, the village benefited from him, and later became a center for Kneipp therapies
The sun is burning, I’m hot, I could cool down in one of the arm bathing pools at the Kurhaus, but I want to undergo my first Kneipp experience in peace and quiet. A short distance away, on the Kneipp forest path, I roll up my trousers and step into the Wörthbach. Refreshingly cool, the small pebbles on the floor of the stream provide a pleasant foot massage.
Kaltenbrunn, Schelmenheide and Motzabach
A little later I stand by the cold pool at the Kneipp centre. According to Kneipp, you should either tread water or have a cold arm bath, so this time it’s the turn of my arms. I dip them into the very cold water. After half a minute I can feel a dull pressure in my arms. I pull them out and get a strong tingling sensation, a great sense of refreshment, a wow effect!
Cold arm bath: Pull out, strong tingling, great refreshment, wow effect!
Later I try the Kneipp facilities at Schelmenheide and Motzabach. At sunrise the next morning, I tread water, watched with curiosity by a herd of cattle, in the Satzger spring near Markt Rettenbach.
Now wide awake, I travel over the hills and through the villages of Bavarian Swabia. Villages where the streets have utterly apt names such as “By the pool” or “In the orchard”. A fox bounds off and disappears in a crop of maize. Geraniums bloom below windows and along balconies. Farmers with straw hats sit on tractors and turn the hay.
Cool and sustainable: coats made from coffee sacks
“We call it ‘upcycling’. For our brand, “Wertstoff Couture” (literally “Recycled Couture”), we make coats, dresses and bags out of old coffee sacks, with each piece a sustainable one-off,” explains Susanne Doebel, who founded the label together with Esther Schulte.
Their tailoring workshop on the Alten Bergstraße, where Susanne also runs her bed and breakfast “Zweite Heimat”, is full of coffee sacks from all over the world. Their design has a particular, often very colourful aesthetic.
Susanne and Esther add details such as trims and cut out lining, for example from old Japanese kimono fabric. The final garments are truly eye-catching. “People always come up and speak to me whenever I go out in one of our coats,” reports Susanne.
Relaxing with a view of stuccoto al caffè
Equally striking is the old town of Landsberg, both the “Hexenviertel” district with its wooden arcades and the area around the Stadtpfarrkirche. Most of the houses in the old town have been renovated. Street cafes and restaurants in the cobbled streets and on the banks of the Lech, whose water gushes over a wide weir here, exude a sense of laissez-faire.
There’s a great atmosphere outside the “Chocolaterie Dillinger” on the main square. As I tuck into home-made chocolate ice cream, I enjoy the view of the stucco façade of the Rathaus. The Herkomer Museum and the “Mutterturm” tower have to wait, as I’m heading on to Aschau, near Lake Chiemsee.
The closer I get to the small town of Aschau, the clearer the mountains become. Between Hohenaschau Castle and the Kampenwand mountain with its jagged summit, two men forge exquisite knives out of Damascus steel.
You don’t have to know much about knives to marvel at the craftsmanship in the shimmering heat of the “Messer Werk” smithy run by Luca Distler and Florian Pichler. Every piece is a one-off and designed for a specific purpose, meeting the demands of fishermen, hunters and chefs in particular. Luca and Florian make exactly the right knife for each job, combining great flexibility with extreme hardness.
Really sharp! Damascus steel made in Aschau
Florian explains further: “Damascus steel is made by welding various steels together. They are heated, folded and forged. And we repeat these processes up to 360 times for each knife. But that’s just one part of the whole task. It takes even longer to mill and file the blank and finally to give it the finishing touch, including making the handle out of bog oak or ebony.” That explains the price tag of several thousand euros.
Lake Chiemsee: Back to the Kneipp therapy at last
Next day I start in Prien by Lake Chiemsee with a round of water treading in the Kurpark “Eichental”. This is followed by a bowl of granola in the “Café Nova” behind the pedestrian zone. Fortified, I leave the Kneipp spa town and cycle over the hills around the lake.
In the church at Urschalling I gaze in wonder at its beautiful Romanesque frescoes. Next door, in the “Mesnerstubn” inn, guests sit under a wooden balcony entwined with roses and geraniums. At the edge of the village, apple and pear trees line the field path to Mailing, a section of the Way of St. James. Further south, clouds are building over the Chiemgau Alps, thunder rolls across the cattle meadows and horse paddocks.
I find shelter from the storm under the roof of the “Wildenwart” castle inn in Frasdorf. Where once hungry visitors dined on fried trout and crispy roast meats, I am now the only guest. But the air is mild. The roof and the mighty chestnut trees hold off most of the rain. It’s hard to imagine a more relaxed evening in a Biergarten.
Pretty cool, Mr. Kneipp!
What is the contemporary "translation" of Kneipp's recommendations? Take an ice-cold shower in the morning, then go for a jog or a power walk in the fresh air, have a "clean eating" lunch with vegetables or a herbal smoothie, and take another cold shower in the evening.
Herrenchiemsee – or Frauenchiemsee?
In the dim light of dawn the following morning, Lake Chiemsee lies like a steel-blue disc between the mountains and hills. Then the sun pushes up over the horizon, pouring yellow-orange colour across the eastern end of the lake until it reaches the dewy sailing boats at Gstader Steg. On the Fraueninsel, beams of light catch in the weathercock of the monastery church. Near the kiosk, the rowing boats “Goldi” and “Moni” wait to take people onto the lake. A woman embarks on her yoga exercises on the wooden planks of the jetty. I breathe in the morning air and find peace at last.
I decide to leave my visit to Herrenchiemsee with its replica Versailles for the next trip… but before the return trip I simply have to get across to the island that houses Frauenwörth Abbey, founded in 782, along with its fish smokers, pottery shops, the Karolinger Torhalle and the two lime trees that are over 1,000 years old.