We went hiking in the Allgäu Alps around Sonthofen with the brewmaster and Bavaria insider Kilian Stückler. On quiet paths to relaxation, deceleration and culinary enjoyment. Text: Florian Kinast, Photos: Thomas Linkel
Hike to the Imberger Horn
In the late afternoon on the terrace of the “Strausberghütte”. The table is richly set, with cheese, ham and salami, pickles and peppers piled up on two lavish snack platters. Next to it, a plate with two spinach dumplings and, of course, a half pint of beer for each of the three of us. As it should be after a mountain tour of several hours to two peaks. A fitting end to a wonderful day of hiking.
The view goes south, on the horizon the striking silhoutte of the Hohen Ifen rises into the sky, as Kilian Stückler tells of that very special day a few years ago. “A day when I realised how much I belong here,” he says, “how much home means to me.”
Kilian had just returnedfrom New Zealand, he had lived there for half a year, when shortly after his return he drove at the crack of dawn with a beer driver towards Oberstdorf. It had been raining for two days, and now the last wisps of clouds still wafted through the valley, behind them the peaks of the Allgäu High Alps rose into the clear morning air: Nebelhorn, Söllereck, Wildgundkopf. “Maybe that was the first time I really realised what a privilege it is to live in this region.” Which is why Kilian, the young brewmaster from the Hirschbräu in Sonthofen, will almost certainly stay here in the future.
Well-bred: From Banker to Brewer
Kilian is our hiking guide on this dream day in the Allgäu, which starts in the morning at the meeting point in Imberg. The small district of Sonthofen, in the south-east of the district town, is the ideal starting point for numerous tours on the northern edge of the Allgäu High Alps.
The road rises gently. Kilian says that it was not originally his plan to take over the 350-year-old brewery, which has been in the family for 160 years. That’s why he studied to be a bank clerk. But the thought of the company did not quite leave him. It began to ferment inside him - until hedecided to train as a brewmaster in Munich and now runs the “Hirschbräu”.
Kilian's brewery has been in his family for 160 years
The trail leads past wide, undulating hummock meadows and the “Strausberghütte”, which we now leave to the right. Would be too early for the retreat. Too undeserved. Kilian used to come here often with his parents. Saturdays were always reserved for hikes, which he never really found exciting as a child, he says. “But today I am very grateful for the time we spent together and the beautiful memories.”
The path narrows into a trail, over roots, sticks and stones we gain more and more height, with Pablo mostly wobbling at the head of the group. Kilian’s two-year-old dachshund knows his way around here very well, he obviously enjoys the tour very much.
Shortly before the turnoff towards the Hornalpe, where the forest thins out at the edge of the path, you again have a magnificent panorama: of the Nagelfluhkette with the Ofterschwanger Horn, the Bärenköpfle, the Mittag. Of Immenstadt.
And you can just glimpse the eastern end of the Großer Alpsee,the largest natural lake in the Allgäu with several bathing areas and many leisure facilities for sailors, surfers and stand-up paddlers. In front of it, far down in the valley, lies Kilian’s Sonthofen.
From another vantage point a little later, the view sweeps over Bad Hindelang to the 1737-metre-high Grünten. The “guardian of the Allgäu” was already a popular destination for excursionists centuries ago, a magical attraction long before mountain hiking became socially acceptable.
The Habsburg Emperor Maximilian I is said to have climbed the peak on a day off at the beginning of the 16th century. The Prince-Bishop of Augsburg, on the other hand, Clemens Wenzeslaus, according to tradition, shied away from the hardship almost 200 years later, which is why he had 56 local peasants carry him up in a gently upholstered chair.
Kilian prefers the sportier version of the ascent. As a passionate cyclist, he recommends to all enthusiastic mountain bikers the uphill tour via the famous Königssträßle with a previous detour into the impressive Starzlachklamm gorge at the foot of the Grünten.
Imberger Horn: This Is the Summit!
It also gets steeper on our tour, which is joined from the east by some hikers from the mountain station of the Hornbahn: Holidaymakers who have been coming to hike in the Allgäu every autumn for 30 years, and a couple from Franconia on a day trip. Again and again we stop and start talking. With the exception of a young trail runner hurrying up to the summit, the atmosphere on this day is so wonderfully free of any hustle and bustle. No one is in a hurry. Everything is quiet. Grounded and deeply relaxed.
Over the last stone steps we reach our first summit, the Imberger Horn at 1,654 metres above sea level – with a phenomenal wide view of the entire breadth of the Allgäu High Alps. The double peaks of Rotspitze and Heubatspitze, behind them the Small and the Big Thumb, at the end the Wengenköpfe and the Nebelhorn. Behind it, says Kilian, lies another magnificent route, whether on foot or by bike: through the Oytal valley past the Stuibenfall and up to the Käseralpe.
Kilian tells us that the people of Oberstdorf have created a nice slogan for respectful cooperation between cyclists and hikers: “Zämed duss”, translated: Together outside.
In Oberstdorf dialect, "Zämed duss" means "together outside"
We sit at the foot of the cross for a good half hour, toast the tour with a summit beer and talk very little. It is in these moments that one is so happy to be with oneself, where one’s gaze wanders and one’s thoughts do too. Where you are physically at the top, and emotionally too, and where that moment is so difficult when you have to let go again as you set off.
A little later, on the descent, we reach a small secondary peak of the Imberger Horn, the Strausberg. Once again we look across the wide plain of the Unterallgäu to the north and at the dramatic rocky peaks beyond the Retterschwang valley. Left and right, up and down again, the route meanders further down and reaches the ascent route from the morning in a loop. Now it is the right time for a stop on the panorama terrace of the “Strausberghütte”.
Kilian tells us a lot there about his philosophy of brewing, how he continues the tradition of Hirschbräu classics, from export to wheat beer, from Märzen to Doppelbock. But also that he expanded the range to a total of 16 varieties with new ideas, including craft beer varieties called “Black Bock” or “Sommerlager”.
Innovations that may have had a bit of a hard time at first with the rather tradition-conscious Allgäuer, as he says, but which have now found their niche after all. For the 90th birthday of his grandfather Ferdinand, he designed “Grandpa Ferdel’s Jamaica Rum Black Bock”. A highly exciting as well as high percentage creation... Grandpa, at least, liked it very much.
Sonthofen: Craft Food and Craft Beer
As the sun gradually bends towards the end of the day in the west over the Nagelfluh mountains, the last stage takes us back to Imberg and to the town hall square for a final espresso. To Kilian’s sister Antonie, who runs the restaurant “‘s handwerk” with her husband Uli Brandl, which offers a large selection of “green dishes”, vegetarian and vegan, but also meat, all from farms in the region, all fresh and homemade. Of course, this is accompanied by beer from Kilian, the “Rote Perle” (red pearl) , for example, with fruity-sweet aromas.
On the way home, a glance in the rear-view mirror. The tips of the rocky peaks bathe in the last light of the evening sun. If they could, it seems, they would stretch further upwards to get something out of it for longer. The end of a wonderful day out. We’ll be back soon for the next tour through the Allgäu mountains. Then we’re back together outside again.