Our next stop along our German trails was Füssen, in the southern most point of the country, near to the border of Austria.
|Being as German as possible|
From Rothenburg, we spent most of the day making train connections down to Füssen. As we left the Rothenburg station, heavy snow began to fall, and all the way through the charming country side -one tiny village after the other, each with a unique steeple- heavy rain clouds passed in fits of sleet and rain.
Fun fact: Originally I wanted yo use the word “hamlet” because it is a bit more charming, but come to find out, a hamlet is a village without a church. Therefor, hamlets with steeples do not make sense.
As we got nearer to Füssen, we started to wonder where the Alps were. We knew they are a little bit smaller from the German side, but really, where are they? I see no mountains. And these castles are supposed to be in the mountains. We were concerned that we wouldn’t be able to even see the castles the next day.
|Outside of Suzanne’s the following morning|
Cold and spitting rain, we walked to Suzanne’s B&B, our residence for the night. We were greeted with a “Bitte” from a woman poking her head out of an upstairs window. She let us in, showed us our room, and had us meet her downstairs for the paperwork and a run down of the town.
This inn looked like it could have slept dozens of people, but we were the only ones there at the time- or that we saw the entire time -but supposedly there was another family. Suzanne is an Ohio native married to a Fussen native. As we were leaving, we heard her switch seamlessly into Italian to chat with incoming guests. So you could say she has a thing for languages. The inn was charming and traditional; it includes a large garden, where they grow their produce. She made a big deal about their sustainability efforts, from harvesting rain runoff to the solar panels on the roof. The inn was well known for a large breakfast, which was a main factor of why we stayed there.
By the way, we endless solar panels on our trip. From massive fields to the tops of old, shingled houses. According to our Santa inn keeper, Germany produces 30% of its power via solar energy.
In the end, the breakfast was underwhelming, the room was adequate with a nice porch, but nothing to write home about. Suzanne is nice and accommodating but a little fussy. Her view of the mountains and accessibility from the station has been disrupted by new building projects of retirement homes. We wouldn’t stay in Füssen again, but if we did, we would stay in the old town in a hotel.
Once we were all settled, we walked the short path into the old town, wandered around, in and out of some shops, up to the fortress, and then down around again. It started to snow little flurries- and then it started to dump snow. The restaurant that Suzanne had suggested opened in an hour or so, so we sat in the bar next door for a beer while we waited.
|Beer + Pretzel = Love|
Eventually we sat for dinner in a long room with a table full of old German gentlemen, laughing rancorously and ordering rounds of beers. Our waitress was very friendly and very frank. I suppose I could just say that she was German. She told me to order a light beer because it was “lady’s beer.” When it came time for dessert, she told us what to order, and it ended up being delicious fried apple slices with ice cream. It was a really fun stop with great food, and certainly one of the more authentic place we had seen. However, I did learn not to order meat loaf in Germany, because you will get a frankfurter loaf. Which was not what I had in mind. Jimmy, however, struck literal gold with his meat dish in creamy, cheesy Spätzle.
By the time we left, the snow had stopped and left behind a fresh coat of snow all around the town. It was such a charming walk home -which, of course, we punctuated with a stop into one last place for a drink. Their menu looked delicious as well; I nearly ate a second dinner.
In the morning, we woke up ready to attack the castles. The whole reason that Füssen is a popular tourist destination is because it lies at the foot of the mountains that hold Neuschwanstein Castle, the original Cinderella castle, and Germany’s most visited destination.
After our underwhelming breakfast, we made for the buses in hopes of catching the first one out. Stressed about getting a touring time, we opted for a cab to take us the short trip up to the base of the mountain where we could find the ticket office. Worth the 10 euros to the bus’s 5, for a friendly cabbie with lots to say about the area, and making it before the first bus off-loaded.
We walked straight to the teller and reserved tickets for a 9:20 tour at the Hohenschwangau Castle and an 11:40 at Neuschwanstein. We then made our way through the tiny town, consisting of a few large beer gardens and a few more hotels, and up the short walk to the first castle. After that tour, we wandered around the small lake, and then up the long hike up to the main attraction.
Of course, when we arrived, we needed to replenish ourselves, so we grabbed a pretzel and beer from the vendor outside. Looking around, we were baffled that we were the only two people out of hundreds that were enjoying a cold pilsner on a warm sunny day in the mountains. We briefly questioned our drinking habits, checked the clock, and determined that it was definitely beer o’clock.
The weather from the night before had left a perfectly charming coat of fresh snow over the castles and surrounding mountains. The day turned out to be perfectly warm, bright and sunny. We could not have asked for more perfect conditions: the romantic winter look without the freezing cold.
There is little that can be said to describe how gorgeous it all was, except in pictures:
History lesson: Hohenschwangau was transformed from ruins by King Maximillian II of Bavaria into a Neo-Gothic summer retreat. His eldest son, Luwig II of Bavaria, later commissioned Neuschwanstein in 1869 as a retreat, as well as a tribute to German culture and history. This Romanesque revival castle was paid for entirely by his own fortune (and extensive borrowing) but not through public funds. He had a great love for the operas of Richard Wagner, his friend, and considered the castle to be an embodiment of his work.
If you saw the recent film, Monuments Men, first of all, read the book. The movie is not historically accurate and misses some great details. Also, I am tired of the George Clooney Gang. Secondly, you may recall that the retreating German forces used this castle as a store for the art that they had been plundering from northern Europe. This is true. When the castle came under Allied control, they found thousands of pieces of the most valued works of art in history. In fact, the castle was originally part of the Nero Decree, and order by Hitler to destroy all German infrastructure and many key cultural sites to prevent them from landing in the enemy’s hands. Fortunately, the minister who was supposed to carry out these orders deliberately did not see them through.
Travelers Tip: Buy your tour tickets ahead. I had tried but felt wary of the order process, where you email them your credit card info and they send you times that are available. If we went again, I would order ahead. We were there in low season and some of the first people of the day, and she gave us the earliest available times. We got lucky. When we left the area around 2, the line out of the ticket office was over 2 hours long, and the area was teeming with tour buses. Do yourself a favor. Order ahead and go early. You really cannot see much if you do not take a tour inside. You can only go into the courtyard, which becomes packed with people and shows you very little.
On our tours inside the castles, we were not permitted to take photos. Dang. But honestly -the most amazing rooms I have ever seen. And I have seen Versailles, the Winter Palace, and many Italian villas. These castles were amazing; granted, they are quite a bit more modern. The palaces are filled with beautiful woodwork, ivory and silver sculptures, stained glass, and more woodwork. The best part, however, were the cascading views from inside. We managed to sneak one photo on the way out.
As were were leaving, I could not figure out where most of the famous photos of the castle were taken. There must be another look out somewhere. Peering through some of the windows, we noticed a small bridge on the other side of the castle with people on it. That’s it! We cannot leave until we go there! We came all the way down here for this!
As we exited, we found the trail head, and also noted that it was closed off with a gate and an angry looking sign. We also noted that there were dozens of people climbing form one side to the other of this gate. Then we noted the security guard nearby, watching and smoking a cigarette.
Well, here we are. He doesn’t care. There are people coming back alive. We have hours until our train leaves. Lets do it.
We think the trail was closed off for the sheet of ice that was covering the first 500 feet. Jimmy’s boots were adequate, but I did some very awkward sliding/skiing/hand rail gripping. But once we passed that part, it was a lovely, slightly muddy walk to the bridge. And it was completely worth the risk of having someone yell at us in German -which they never did. But just think how scary that would be!
|You can see the bridge in the bottom right|
The views were absolutely breath taking.
I felt fairly uncomfortable on this waterfall-spanning bridge. So I let Jimmy do the photo taking while I held the hand rail from a safe distance. I hate feeling the wooden floor boards give under my feet. There were a lot of people out there, so thank goodness it was closed off because it could have been packed.
The day ended with a stop for a refreshment and these amazing deep fried balls we had been smelling (we kept the mugs because we had to but 3 euros down on them–that about covers it right?), after which we hiked down the hill and took another cab into town. We had a late lunch outside in the sun before grabbing our bags and catching our train north.
As I mentioned, I do not know that we would stay in Füssen again. It can be done as a day trip from Munich, but it would be a long one. I would imagine that it is much better when the weather is nice and there are tons of people out, but otherwise, we found it a little uninspiring. We had just come from one of the best German towns possible, however, so I think we were spoiled.
Either way, the sights and country were very much worth the long detour from our route. The attractions are “touristy” but a must see if you are in southern Germany.