Short Trips across Bavaria

Bavaria, Germany
April to July 2020

When the Corona virus pandemic put a sudden stop to my world travels in March, I managed to make my way back to Munich in Germany, where I had grown up and where I would spend the next few months, while the world was in lock-down. Fortunately Germany handled the first wave of the pandemic better than most countries, and lock-down restrictions started to be eased by late May and hotels were allowed to re-open at the end of June. So, I began to continue my travelling life style with a few day tours and a couple of multi-day road trips from my base in Munich. This is a blog post about my various short tours across my home state of Bavaria. This is not in any way a comprehensive list of what to see in Bavaria, and doesn't include the most famous tourist destinations, but it's rather a list of slightly lesser known places, which I had never explored before.

The Bavarian city of Augsburg, located about an hour's drive north-west of Munich, is the third oldest city in Germany. It was founded as the Roman garrison camp of Augusta Vindelicorum in 15 AD. Due to its strategic location along trade routes to Italy and at the confluence of two Alpine rivers, the city became a major trading center and one of the wealthiest cities in Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. With a population of around 300,000 today it is the third largest city in Bavaria.

I started my tour at the main market square, which is dominated by the Perlachturm, built in 989 as a watchtower, and the Renaissance town hall, constructed in 1620. The most famous sight in Augsburg is found inside the town hall, for which you can get tickets at the nearby tourist information. The "Goldener Saal", with its astounding gold-covered and painted ceiling, is a ceremonial room in the town hall. Completed in 1643 it is considered one of the finest examples of late Renaissance art in Germany.

A short walk from the main square, you find the imposing building of the basilica of St Ulrich and St Afra, which is an unusual combination of two churches, one Catholic and one Lutheran. The richly decorated High Altar in St Ulrich was made in 1604.

In 2019, UNESCO bestowed world heritage status on Augsburg's historical water management system. The system, which includes a complex network of canals, locks and water towers, was built in several phases between the 14th and 17th century. It established the city as a pioneer in hydraulic engineering, and provided its residents and artisans with clean water and abundant energy from water wheels.

The whole city is still criss-crossed by many small canals. And Augsburg claims to have more bridges than Venice.

One of the most unusual and fascinating sights to visit in Augsburg is the so-called "Fuggerei". Founded in 1516 by Jacob Fugger to house needy citizens, it is known as the world's oldest social housing project. Jacob Fugger, the head of a prominent merchant family, had built a trading, mining and banking empire with business connections across all of Europe. He is considered among the wealthiest individuals who've ever lived. The buildings of the Fuggerei function as a social housing projects to this day. Rent for the apartments have not been increased since the 16th century, which means residents today pay 0.88 Euros per year in rent and must say 3 daily prayers for the founder. The criteria for residency also have not changed in 500 years. In order to be eligible to live here, tenants have to be catholic, poor but without debts, and they have to commit themselves to a "pious and honorable life style". To help with the last part, the gates to the estate, as they always have been, are locked every night at 10 pm.

The city started out as a Roman garrison in 15 AD and later became the capital of the Roman province of Raetia. There are no Roman buildings left, but a few Roman sculptures and stones with inscriptions are displayed in the cathedral square. The cathedral founded in the 11th century includes Romanesque and Gothic architectural elements.

Other sites in the city worth visiting are the Jakobertor, one of the original 14th century city gates, and the church of St Anne, a medieval building from the early 14th century with a rich baroque interior. In 1518 Martin Luther stayed at St Anne's to meet the papal legate, who failed to persuade him to submit to the pope.

Wasserburg am Inn
Another lovely day-trip from Munich took me to Wasserburg am Inn, which is one of the oldest cities in Bavaria. It is a small city with a population of less then 13,000, located about an hour's drive to the east of Munich.

Wasserburg has one of the most complete and best preserved medieval town centers of any city in Germany.

The city's wealth during medieval times stemmed mostly from the salt trade along the river. The Frauenkirche, seen here on the left, is an important example of early Gothic architecture in the region.

The most spectacular thing about Wasserburg, however, is its location. The city was built on a peninsula formed by a very tight bend of the river Inn. It is only accessible via a narrow strip of land from the west or via a single bridge across the river. The steep shore on the river's south side affords this amazing view over the whole of the medieval city center.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Mittenwald
Garmisch-Partenkirchen is one of the most southern cities in Germany, located near the border to Austria. I went on a 3 day trip with a friend to do some hiking in the mountains, which we ended up doing only on the second day, since the weather didn't quite play along. The city is surrounded by some spectacular alpine scenery, which includes Germany's highest mountain, the 2,962m Zugspitze (hiding behind the clouds here on the left) and the Alpspitze (2,628m), one of the most beautiful peaks of the Bavarian Alps with its perfect pyramidal summit.

The city is mostly known as a winter sports destination. Garmisch was the site of the 1936 Winter Olympic Games.

Built in 1730-34, St Martin's church in the center of Garmisch is a fine example of the Southern German Baroque style.

Since the weather had cleared up on our second day, we went on a beautiful hike starting from the nearby city of Mittenwald. The hike up to the Kranzberg took us through a forest and past a couple of these little chapels, that are dotted all over the Bavarian Alps. It took us less than two hours to get to the top, from which we had great views of the Karwendel mountain range and the town of Mittenwald nestled below.

On our way down we passed the Lautersee, a beautiful and clear alpine lake.

Mittenwald is a small and a very picturesque typical Bavarian alpine town.

A month later another hiking trip took me to the south-western corner of Bavaria, to the town of Oberstdorf in the Allgäuer Alps.

The must do thing near Oberstdorf is a visit of the spectacular Breitachklamm, which is an incredibly narrow canyon carved out by the river Breitach. It is known as the deepest rocky gorge in Central Europe. There is a narrow walkway built along the steep rock faces straight through the bottom of the gorge.  

On our second day we went on a beautiful hike on the Fellhorn ridge, which forms the border between Germany and Austria.

On one side of the ridge there is a very steep drop down to the Austrian side, whereas on the German side there is gentle slope towards the Schlappolt lake just below the summit.

The northern Bavarian city of Bayreuth is mostly famous for the "Bayreuther Festspiele", which is an annual (obviously cancelled in 2020) music festival dedicated entirely to the operas by Richard Wagner. On my way to my road trip through Eastern Germany I stopped over in Bayreuth, not only to break up the drive, but mainly to see another UNESCO World Heritage site. Bayreuth's Margravial Opera House was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2012, for being a masterpiece of Baroque theatre architecture. The small theatre was commissioned by Margravine Wilhelmine, the older sister of the Prussian king Frederick the Great, and built between 1745 and 1750 by the Italian architect Giuseppe Galli Bibiena. I visited the theatre on one of the guided tours, which have to be pre-booked and take place every hour. It did not disappoint.

The inside of the small opera house is absolutely overwhelming in its spectacular Baroque splendor and rich detail. The five-tier auditorium is almost entirely made of painted and gilded wood, which is much better for acoustics than other materials. Except for the electric lighting, the whole structure has essentially been unchanged and thus the acoustics can still be experienced in exactly the same way as it was in the 18th century.

The other site in Bayreuth I visited was the Eremitage Palace, which is located a few kilometers outside of the city and was the Margrave's summer residence. Constructions of the whole complex was started in 1715, and it consists of extensive gardens with many water fountains, an artificial grotto, some fake Roman ruins and two palaces, the Altes Schloss and the Neues Schloss (also called the sun temple) seen here:
The Eremitage is considered a masterpiece of Rococo architecture. The orangery of the new palace is almost entirely covered in a mosaic of colored stones and pieces of glass.

From Bayreuth it was another hour's drive north to the city of Coburg, located near the border between the states of Bavaria and Thuringia (which was part of the iron curtain until 1989). The main sight to see in Coburg is the very impressive castle, the Coburg Veste, towering on a mountain high above the city.   
The Coburg Veste is one of the largest and best preserved medieval fortresses in Germany. It was first mentioned in the 11th century, while most of the current buildings stem from the 14th and 15th century. Martin Luther lived in the castle in 1530 for six months, while working on the translation of the bible into German. In the 19th century the castle was owned by the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the most famous member of which was Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the husband of Queen Victoria.   
The old town center of Coburg is also worth a visit. The market square is surrounded by very colorful buildings mostly from the Renaissance.
The Ehrenburg Palace (left) was the town residence of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg. The building has been remodelled many times over the centuries. The Spitaltor (right) is one of the original 13th century city gates.

Driving out from the city I had this great view of the castle from below.
After Coburg I drove to my first stop in East Germany, the historic town of Weimar. You read can about my East Germany road trip here.

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