Hans, Knees and Bumps-a-Daisy

Saturday 24th September 2005, Munich
This morning, after being summoned to table by Charlotte playing deafening blasts on a Bavarian post horn, Hans and Ian enjoyed an untypical breakfast of porridge oats and peanut butter. Charlotte then suggested driving us to the mountains south of Munich to experience something of the Bavarian Alps and the Austrian Tyrol. As Hans was taking the grandchildren to a football match this afternoon he didn’t accompany us. After packing up a picnic we left Munich in bright, warm sunshine and headed south along the motorway towards Salzburg and Innsbruck. Before long we could see the foothills of the Alps against the skyline and turned off and up into the twisting forest roads towards the little mountain lake of Spitzingsee. Half way up we were obliged to stop to allow the cattle, which had spent the winter on the high mountain slopes, to come down to the valley farms for the winter. This is known as the Almabtrieb and is carried out over the last few days of September before the risk of bad weather. It appears to be quite an occasion with the whole family dressed in local costume and the cattle with their huge clanking cowbells. Provided no beasts have died on the mountain over the season, the cattle themselves are decked-out with bright head-dresses and garlands as evidence of a successful summer.

Ian and Hans eating Porridge

Thirsty work driving down the cattle

Soon we reached the lake, surrounded by forest with the bare slopes of the mountains towering above and the cable car waiting to take us to the summit of the Taubenstein.
Our three km trip up the mountain in our glass-sided gondola afforded us wonderful views back down onto the lake and the forest treetops. Charlotte, who used to be a great skier before her recent knee operations, pointed out where the ski runs were sited during the winter period. Today though, they were just grassy slopes scattered with blue gentians, crossed by grey rocky footpaths with healthy hikers in leather shorts striding their way to the summit.

In the Traubenstein cable car

Mountain gentian

At the top the air was decidedly cooler. Because poor Charlotte still needs to use her crutches we left her with a coffee and a spectacular view, guarding our picnic lunch, while we strode off along a footpath towards a wooden farmstead, singing our own Tyrolean rendering of “The happy wanderer”. From the distant hillside we were able to wave back to Charlotte on the terrace of the cable-car station above us. Below us, in the next valley we saw three scattered milking sheds where the mountain cattle are herded for milking each day throughout the season.

Milking sheds in the high pastures

Later, after our picnic lunch we returned down to the lake and continued our spectacular ride through the mountains, surrounded by forests or lush meadows with healthy brown and white cattle wearing gently clanging bells. Here and there in the valleys we saw alpine wooden chalets with winter wood piled high beneath their eves and bright window boxes of scarlet geraniums and purple petunias.

Charlotte then decided we ought to visit Austria so we crossed the border – the only evidence being the change in the colour of the road signs - and descended down through little villages where everyone seemed to have turned out to celebrate the safe return to the village of their mountain cattle. They were all gathered at tables in the village centre with foaming glasses and their local folk band in full alpine costume. They certainly know how to enjoy life here! On our way down we paused to look down at the delightful view of the little town of Kufstein with its castle high on a rock and the mountain of Wilder Kaiser behind.


Returning into Bavaria we followed the course of the river Inn (upon which is Innsbruck) and eventually made our way to the enormous lake of Chiemsee, naturally formed during the ice age and the playground of Munich and Southern Bavaria.

Time for a frivolous extravagance! Cakes and coffee were called for and were to be found near the tiny village of Urschalling, in a picturesque wooden house in the heart of the countryside, attached to a tiny, onion-towered, whitewashed church with wonderful 13th century frescoes adorning the walls. As we entered a small group of close-harmony singers were rehearsing for a concert. The acoustics were fantastic and the experience of listening as we gazed at such exquisite, well preserved frescoes was quite magical.

Frescoes in the church at Urschalling

The church at Urschalling

The restaurant nearby had formerly belonged to the church. Here the atmosphere was very different but just as enjoyable. We were served at wooden tables on a sunny, rose covered terrace by a friendly waitress in Tyrolian dress. Meanwhile we were entertained by a costumed accordion player, his litre beer tankard regularly replenished, playing typical Bavarian folk music. Ian and Charlotte enjoyed coffee with Käsesahne (huge slices of lemon cream cheesecake). Jill was eager to discover what Marillen Knödel were and was delighted when presented with an edible work of art - two golden plumbs in a warm crispy battered dough with nutty ice cream, whipped cream and a brandy sauce! Since coming to Germany our waistlines are fast developing into waste lines!

Marillen Knödel

Entertainment, Tyrolean style

The sunny terrace of the restaurant beside the church

Time to head back to Munich after a very full, happy and wonderfully warm day in some of Europe’s most spectacular scenery. On the way we crossed the river Inn and paused to wonder at the town of Wasserberg with its crenulated gateway decorated with frescos and its old, colour-rendered houses built directly onto the river, very much in the Italian style, the castle standing high above the town in the manner so typical to almost every old German town we have visited.

Entrance into Wasserberg

Back home we discovered Hans fast asleep on the sofa, having decided to take a 15km jog after the football match to pass the time until we returned! Several years our senior, he is in training for the Munich marathon.

Monday 26th September 2005
Yesterday, being Sunday, Bavaria, a predominantly Catholic country, closed down. The day is supposed to be devoted to peace and tranquillity. Whilst this is enforced by the shopping laws here, and people are legally forbidden to cut their lawns or create any form of neighbourhood disturbance between specified hours, it does not seem to apply to public transport, restaurants or the Oktoberfest. Indeed, the underground was packed with the people of Munich in their Bavarian costumes making their way to the Fest. There is still a week to go and there have already been 3.2 million visitors who have consumed 3 million litres of beer, along with huge quantities of sausages, Eisbein, Saurkraut and Pretzels.

Charlotte had a deadline to meet so disappeared to spend the day on her computer in the basement office she has at home. We took the S. Bahn (railway that runs part underground and also above ground) out to its terminus at Herrsching, over an hour from the centre of Munich but still covered by the flat-rate Munich travel card. Amazing value! Beside Herrsching lies Ammersee, one of several lakes surrounding the city and, so far from the sea, it is where people go to stroll by the water, feed the ducks, take paddle steamer rides to other little towns on the lakeside, swim, sunbathe, take Sunday lunch and, of course, consume enormous jugs of the local brew. The little town was crowded with happy families. There were street stalls, bands of drummers and an excellent holiday feel to a hot September Sunday.

Arrival of the paddle steamer

View of the lake

We strolled beside the lake and eventually stopped for a pizza lunch and a beer at an Italian restaurant with open terraces full of bright flowers offering sunny views across the lake to the green hills beyond. We were delightfully entertained as we enjoyed our mushroom pizzas by a couple of young German boys who politely requested our beer mats so they could complete the huge tower they were constructing on the neighbouring table. Such little things make really nice memories.

Jill finds retirement preferable to work!

Schloss Biermat

During the afternoon we decided to take a steep and uneven footpath up through the woods and flowery meadows to the village of Andechs several kilometres away where we had been told there was a Benedictine monastery that we should not miss. The sun was high, the beer had made Jill sleepy (no, not drunk!) and the climb was hot, slippery and difficult. We eventually arrived exhausted and sticky to discover the place teaming with “pilgrims” who had either driven up from the other side or taken a far easier route!

The monastery, or Kloster, certainly merited the effort we had made. White rendered and impressively sited at the top of cobbled streets above the town, the interior makes a truly stunning impression. It is famed as one of the most important rococo churches in Bavaria, a region that excels in the splendour and extravagance of its baroque and rococo churches. The gold of the altar, the numerous paintings and frescos, the high painted ceiling and the elaborately decorated pillars left one with a sense of astonishment and wonder rather than religious fervour! The place was crowded with people flashing their digital cameras – including us. We didn’t see a single genuine pilgrim amongst the hundreds filing through. The adjoining shop however seemed to be doing a roaring trade in Benedictine beer brewed by the monks, candles decorated with the face of Germany’s own Pope Benedict, key rings of the Virgin Mary and similar souvenirs of dubious taste. Never again will we call Devon’s Buckfast Abbey, Fast Buck Abbey! It hasn’t even started to become commercialised compared to this!

Andechs abbey church

Interior of Andechs church decorated by Zimmermann

On the way down from the hilltop we discovered why Charlotte had referred to it as Beer mountain. The pretty facades facing the streets hid huge beer gardens teeming with “pilgrims” refreshing themselves at crowded wooden benches, elbow to elbow, the long tables covered in huge plates of Eisbein with Sauerkraut, Wurst with potato dumplings and mustard, enormous wedges of stodgy puddings in brandy sauce and of course litre size tankards of Benedictine beer! The noise was deafening but for us it was a sight as impressive to behold as the interior of the Kloster had been!

Pilgrims taking refeshment

Returning through the woods in the late afternoon, Jill managed to slip badly at the foot of some steep gravely steps. Fortunately nothing was twisted or broken but her foot and leg were very badly bruised and she was quite shaken. It was slow, painful progress limping down to the lake and we had to wait for the next train back to Munich. By the time we reached Trudering station it was dark. Jill’s foot and leg were bruised and swollen and she couldn’t walk at all. Hans responded to Ian’s phone for help and arrived to drive us the last kilometre home were they had been waiting supper for some time, wondering what had happened to us. After a delicious Bavarian supper of roast pork, red cabbage with apples and bacon, tomato salad and herb potato dumplings we watched some of the ceremonies and parades of the Oktoberfest on local television while icepacks were applies to Jill’s leg and ankle. We are pleased to report that today – Monday, the swelling has reduced and although still unable to walk, things are definitely on the mend.

We had intended to move on from Munich today but Charlotte has kindly suggested we should remain at the house an extra day for Jill’s foot to improve. So we are currently sitting in the warm sunshine in the garden, catching up on rest and updating the computer while poor Charlotte is working and Hans has gone running.

It is now Monday evening and we have spent a very pleasant restful day catching up on emails and working on our Blog. Part of this afternoon was spent in Charlotte’s huge basement office trying in vain to load on 40 images. Google Blogger seems very variable in its ability and speed with images.

Around lunch time we drove Modestine to Riem-Arkaden, the nearby shopping centre, a huge modern complex built on the site of the old Munich airport. Here Ian bought Jill a couple of mountain hiking sticks so she could hobble around and we found an interesting fish restaurant for lunch serving prawn salads! It made a delightful and healthy change.

Until a few years ago “C&A” was one of the great clothing retailers to be seen in British cities. We can report that they are still alive and well and highly active in Europe. The one in Munich is packed with enough Lederhosen, frilly décolleté blouses, petticoats and aprons to dress the entire Oktoberfest! The reason they went bust (excuse the expression) in Britain appears to be that the bosom dropped out of the Dirndl market there!

Tuesday 27th September 2005, Munich
We are still here. Jill’s ankle is much improved and, despite the change in weather overnight bringing heavy rain showers, we had intended to continue our travels today. However, Charlotte has asked us to stay a day longer to meet a friend of hers anxious to hear wot real English is spoke like. Cool innit?!

This afternoon Charlotte drove us into the centre of Munich and after a short drive around to see the major sites from the dry comfort of her car, she abandoned us near the Englischer Garten where we started a soggy walk in the pouring rain, Jill hobbling along on her special light weight collapsible walking stick. (Incidentally, there is a huge craze in Munich for “Nordic walking” which means striding around the town with a pair of these sticks and looking a right poser!)

The Garten is actually a huge park with a very strong, bright green river flowing through beneath overhanging trees just starting to wear their autumn colours. Swans were swept rapidly along in the current, their necks flat on the water in order to avoid decapitation when passing beneath the very low, picturesque bridges. At one point the water was so turbulent it formed a permanent wave about 20ft wide after it passed under one of the bridges. This provided the perfect location for some crazy Munich surfers to train for the next Olympics! They were very skilful, riding the wave back and forth before being dragged downstream to clamber out and try again.

In the Englischer Garten

Surfing Munich style

Because of the rain we made our way out from the park towards the Marienplatz and took coffee and poppy seed cake at a lovely upstairs coffee lounge with tiny tables and waiters wearing Ledderhosen. Then, after buying a bottle of wine for supper, we returned home to meet Charlotte’s friend Annette were we all spent a very happy evening together and enjoyed yet another of Charlotte’s wonderful Bavarian suppers. We hope Annette felt she’d had sufficient English practice.

Typical window display

For our mutual friends, a picture of the four of us