You doesn’t have to walk the whole “Camino de Santiago” in one go. Bavaria also offers historic pilgrimage routes that follow the Way of St. James. Some particularly lovely sections lead through the Allgäu. Text: Anja Keul. Photos: Angelika Jakob
Leaving everyday life behind, step by step. Listening to the wind blowing the leaves in the trees. Conquering the final hill when your legs feel heavy. And arriving at the pilgrim hostel, exhausted but happy. In the evening: enjoying conversations with people who are not entirely strangers because they are walking the same path.
“Most of them have emotional baggage and are looking to give their life a new direction,” says hostel warden Werner Schroth about the guests, who often become friends over the evening: “Anyone embarking on a pilgrimage is thinking deeply about themselves and is willing to speak openly to others.”
The Way of St. James in Bavaria: 290 kilometres in 12 days
Schroth knows what he’s talking about. When he retired at the age of 63, the former manager began to do pilgrimages, walking the more than 800 km “Camino Francés” to Santiago de Compostela in Spain as well as other routes in Switzerland and Portugal.
He also walked the 290 km route that runs from Munich to Lindau in around twelve day stages - past Andechs Monastery, the Wieskirche and the Late Gothic Stephanskapelle in Genhofen with its mysterious, folkloristic frescoes.
A couple of years ago, a helping hand was needed in the pilgrimage hostel at Scheidegg. Schroth leapt at the chance and took over as hostel warden in 2015. “The Way of St. James showed me the path,” says the sprightly amateur chef. Every evening he cooks for his guests, conjuring up Mediterranean-inspired dishes with plenty of vegetables. “70 percent of our pilgrims are female, with a lot of vegetarians.”
Not a matter of faith: Most walk alone
It could be his former professional life that has left him with a love of statistics. Schroth continues to spout numbers: “Two thirds of pilgrims are between 45 and 60 years old, and most walk alone."
Only around ten percent walk the Way of St. James for Christian or spiritual reasons, and the rest are on a journey of self-discovery, or they want to break out of incrusted structures, gain clarity about what they want out of life and experience a sense of freedom. And in the evening they can soak up the community spirit in the pilgrim hostel: they all sit together at the long table and exchange stories about their pilgrimage experiences before heading off to sleep in the simple bunk beds - where up to 18 pilgrims are accommodated in three rooms.
The journey is the destination. Rest instead of sensory overload
Next door, the beautiful yet simple evangelist church with its mosaic floor is the ideal place for some meditation. In small steps, you twist and turn your way to the centre of a maze, thereby symbolising the pilgrim’s motto: the journey is the destination. Come wind or weather.
With every day that takes the pilgrims over mountains and through valleys, they find life itself reflected with all its highs and low. Rest instead of sensory overload. Mobile phones remain switched off. Out of your comfort zone, sleeping in a different bed each night. In the early days, in particular, your feet are sore and your back aches. After all, you are carrying everything you need with you in your backpack, which now sports a scallop shell as a symbol of your pilgrimage.
Pilgrim’s favourite: Broadleaf plantain as a cure for blisters
Over time your horizons start to widen. You observe the natural contours of the landscape. Plants that would normally go unnoticed are revealed as reliable helpers from “God’s pharmacy”. Broadleaf plantain, for example, which grows all the year round at the side of the path: when placed between the sole of your foot and your sock, the leaves prevent blisters from forming or provide relief for incipient blistering.
And when the leaves of ribwort plantain are rubbed together, they help with insect bites. “The secondary plant substance aucubin has an anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory effect”, explains nature and landscape guide Christine Giera. In autumn, she recommends pressing the flesh out of soft, ripe rosehips: “Two of these satisfy all your Vitamin C needs for the whole day.” The herb specialist in the Allgäu also knows about many other natural helpers and is happy to share her knowledge with visitors.
Kapellenweg: 22 km taster pilgrimage
If you don’t wish to start off with a “serious” pilgrimage, you can try the 22 km route in Scheidegg known as the “Kapellenweg”, or chapel route, which leads past 13 small churches and other stations around the town of Scheidegg, and can be cut short at any point.
From May to October, on the first Saturday in the month, there is the chance to try out contemplative walking in company with others. “Silence and relaxation are more important to us than sunshine,” says the committed evangelical priest Uwe Six, who often accompanies pilgrimages in Scheidegg.
Ambros Häring, chair of the Catholic Parish Council, also frequently leads these taster pilgrimages in Scheidegg - and they are proud of their ecumenical cooperation. At the chapels, the pilgrimage leaders offer spiritual reflections: suggestions for the big questions in life, but also many bible quotes that the pilgrims can ponder as they walk.
One example is this saying by the Swiss priest Kurt Marti: “Where would we be if everyone said ‘Where would we be’ - and nobody went to see where we would be if we actually went.” The pilgrims on the Way of St. James would probably reply: “Far away but ultimately with yourself.”
pilgerzentrum-scheidegg.de (only in German)
FactCheck: Pilgrimages in Bavaria.
There are pilgrimage routes across Bavaria, including eight major Ways of St. James, which all ultimately lead to the grave of James the apostle in the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. Some pilgrimage routes start in the north of Bavaria, from Franconia.
Others have their origins in Eastern Bavaria, almost on the Czech border. However, there are also pilgrimage routes that begin in the southwest of Bavaria. Three and a half months on foot or 40 days on a bike is the full duration of this kind of spiritual peregrination to the Spanish Atlantic coast.
Beyond the Way of St. James
However, there are other pilgrimage routes as well as the Ways of St. James. A dense network of pilgrimage routes criss-crosses the Passau region, for example. The main one is the Via Nova, which runs for 300 kilometres through Lower Bavaria. The Ammergau Alps offer the 87 km Meditation Route.
... in the Allgäu
Bad Wörishofen Monastery
The place where Pastor Kneipp developed the bulk of his teachings about the healing power of water is now home to the “Spa Oasis in the Monastery”. Kneipp treatments are naturally on offer in the former Dominican monastery. Some nuns still live next door and are happy to converse with visitors and invite them to join their daily choral prayers.
kuroase-im-kloster.de (only in German)
In the guesthouse of the Benedictine Abbey, with its magnificent Late Baroque Basilica, women and men can both experience “Silent days”, in which they are welcome to participate in the monks’ choral prayers. Accompanying individual spiritual exercises are also possible.
abtei-ottobeuren.de (only in German)
From a family environmental afternoon to an acrylic painting workshop, this place offers a wide range of different educational activities, with accommodation in the hotel section. Following the general renovation of this Premonstratensian monastery, which was completed in 2017, the abbey gardens were also given a full makeover. The Meditation Garden with its ivy maze is open to all visitors.