Paragliding is pure freedom. How fitting, then, that Bavaria’s mountains offer some of the best launch sites in the Alps. What’s more, the modern kit is so lightweight that it is easy to carry uphill. Our photographer Dietmar Denger has developed a passion for Hike & Fly
Feel like an eagle
The sun sinks lower over Lake Tegernsee, drenching the sky above the foothills of the Alps in a warm glow that moves slowly from yellow to brilliant orange. A beautiful summer’s day is nearing its end. The rough thermals of a few hours ago have now been replaced by a warm, steady wind blowing towards the Wallberg.
While most walkers are already starting on the second course of their hotel dinner or curling up on their sofas at home, the launch site is buzzing with a group of people united by a single passion: paragliding. Preferably in the sporty version known as Hike & Fly. This involves walking up the mountain, which eliminates any need for cable cars.
It’s a great way of clearing your head. And it also makes it possible to launch at the right time from the right place. Taking off high over Lake Tegernsee at sunset, with the lights of Munich twinkling on the horizon, is a truly breathtaking experience. If the flying alone didn’t already engender a sense of euphoria, this backdrop would do the trick!
Lake Tegernsee: Wallberg to go
The pensioner, the entrepreneur, the balloon pilot - they all do it on the Wallberg. The priest often does it twice a day: Martin Weber has already made the six-kilometre ascent and enjoyed his first thrilling flight. For him, this is the perfect counterpart to his work in the Evangelical Lutheran community of Tegernsee.
Hike & Fly has become a regular appointment in his diary, assuming his plans are not scuppered by a passing weather front. For me, it tends to be spontaneous, and I prefer going up in the evenings when the air is calm. Once the Wallberg mountain railway has transported the last day trippers back down into the valley, you sometimes even get to enjoy the stillness in delicious solitude.
Metamorphosis: from human to bird
In just five minutes, the human figure becomes a bird! That’s how long it takes to unpack your wing, spread it out and fasten your harness. A quick look at the windsock: the wind should be blowing nicely towards you. And you’re off!
"When I fly, my stomach tingles like I've just fallen in love"
Although I’ve been flying for 20 years, I still get a real kick out of the moment when the wing rises up above me and I feel the power of the air. Priest and fellow paraglider Weber says that while he may not have encountered God up there yet, he still sees the experience as utterly spiritual. I compare the butterflies in my stomach to the feeling you get when you first fall in love.
The Wallberg is rightly one of the most popular viewpoints in the Alps. The panorama is impressive: to the south, the glaciers of the central Alps gleam in the light. To the west, the Karwendel and Wetterstein mountains rise up into the sky. To the north, the vista extends far across the foothills of the Alps. Meanwhile, the Klotz at the end of the Tegernsee valley is one of the most well-known flying sites in Germany.
On clear summer days, a whole swarm of colourful wings circle in the thermals. In the evening, in contrast, the Wallberg can be an almost exclusive experience. The soundtrack is provided by the jangling of cow bells and the cawing of Alpine jackdaws.
The full lightweight kit of wing, safety wing and harness often adds just six kilos to your load, but my equipment weighs around nine kilos. This is why Hike & Fly - walking up the mountain and gliding down again - is not just a trend among regular flyers: more and more mountaineers and alpinists are discovering that having a wing in your backpack is a practical way to descend.
The 850 metre ascent to the launch site on the Wallberg is thus not a problem, but rather a nice bit of training. And there’s no other flying device that allows you to go shopping in the supermarket after you land!
Neuschwanstein and Chiemsee from above
Bavaria offers many beautiful flying areas, with the most spectacular of them usually on the edge of the Alps. Many peaks of the Bavarian Alps rise up from the plains like a wall. This makes it possible to do more than ride the thermals.
North winds thrust upwards from their cliff faces. Soaring up on these updraughts is like endless, relaxed surfing on the perfect wave. And the views of the extensive foothills of the Alps are phenomenal!
When you fly from the Kampenwand in Aschau, you get a great view of the “Bavarian Sea”. The panorama of Lake Chiemsee from the air is unparalleled. The Tegelberg near Füssen is also legendary. Here the launch site is above King Ludwig’s fairy tale castle: while tourists from all over the world form a long queue below, the towers and battlements of the cloud-cuckoo land that is Neuschwanstein Castle, which the Regent himself never lived in, can be marvelled at in all calmness from above.
On a par with the Zugspitze and buzzards
The Wank in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, on the other hand, offers what is probably the best view of the Zugspitze. And real paragliding fans can stay up in the air all day long. This wide ridge is known as a real thermal gem.
Not so much an adrenaline kick but more an overdose of endorphins
When I go flying, however, I put flight records and stressful thoughts to one side. They get left behind on the ground. Flying is not so much an adrenaline kick but more an overdose of endorphins: a rush that lasts long after you have landed. And when the wind blows nice and steady on “my” Wallberg mountain, it’s only daylight that sets the limit.
Time and again you can soar up this treeless triangular peak to the very top and far beyond. In the twilight, Munich sparkles and glitters like a giant spaceship from Spielberg’s famous movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.
Sometimes at this time of day, the buzzards are still on the wing. When it comes to flying like a bird, some of the best paragliding experiences come when you encounter birds of prey and ride the thermals with them. Most of the time, however, I only see them from below. I don’t stand a chance compared to these feathered masters of the air!
The best spots and key facts
There are flying sites across Bavaria, some of them a long way from the Alps. Even though the hills in Franconia and Eastern Bavarian may appear unspectacular, when the wind and thermal conditions are right, you can fly for hours at a time. Here are some of the launch sites - along with the websites of flying schools or paragliding clubs who can give tips and also offer tandem flights.
The local mountain of Lake Tegernsee is known as one of the best flying mountains in the Alps, and not just for its fantastic views. Experts launch here for long flights right through the Eastern Alps.
paraglidingtegernsee.de (only in German)
Endless thermal flights are possible on the Wank, high above Garmisch-Partenkirchen, even in winter. You always get fantastic views of the Zugspitze and the whole Wetterstein mountain range. Hike & Fly starts and finishes at the landing site near the “Geschwandter-Bauer”. After landing, you can tuck into some of the world’s best dumplings and Kaiserschmarrn!
ski-gapa.de (only in German)
Flying with views of Lake Chiemsee! The striking rocky peak near Aschau makes a wonderful flying location. And with Eva Wisnierska as your instructor, at this local flying school you are in the safe hands of a world champion paraglider.
A visit to Neuschwanstein Castle is great, but a flight over the castle is something else! And since paragliders no longer have to pluck up the courage to start from the hang-gliding ramp but instead have a wonderful artificial grass launch site, taking off from the Tegelberg is now a real pleasure that even beginners can relish. With his love of beauty, King Ludwig II would surely have been a paragliding fan!
flugschule-aktiv.de (only in German)
At 2,224 metres, the Nebelhorn offers paragliders the chance to launch from a considerable altitude, though this is only for experienced pilots. Flying against the backdrop of these high mountains is breathtaking, and not just because of the altitude.
oase-paragliding.com (only in German)
The Veitsberg near Ebensfeld makes a wonderful viewing platform with distant views across the Main valley. When the wind is steady, you can soar here for hours at a stretch.
bamberger-gleitschirmclub.de (only in German)
This striking table mountain near Forchheim has only been hosting paragliders for a few years, but has been occupied for millennia, as evidenced by archaeological finds from the Bronze Age. Celtic fortifications from 500 BC can still be seen here today.
nbdf.de (only in German)
Even though the altitudes may pale into insignificance compared to the Alps, the Bavarian Forest is still one of the most beautiful paragliding regions in Germany. Take the Windberg, for example: this wide ridge is easily accessed from the Sankt Englmar exit of the A3. Near the village of Hunderdorf there is a huge flying area, with space for up to 50 wings at any one time. When the wind blows from the west, you can soar here for hours. The 70-metre terrain is also great for thermals.
gleitschirmfliegen-bayern.de (only in German)
You won’t find any pigs here, but there are often plenty of pilots to be seen. This hill near Wörth, not far from Regensburg, is a great practice site. With its south-southwest orientation, it has an elevation gain of 80 metres and is perfect for soaring flights as well as for launch and handling training.
gleitschirmfliegen-bayern.de (only in German)