“Schlossing” Around Germany & Austria
After our miserable, no sleep, all-nighter in the Madrid airport, we boarded our plane and landed in Munich, Germany, just a quick couple of hours later.
We would be spending about four days mainly in Germany, and decided that we would focus the majority of our visit in the beautiful southern state Bavaria, in which we would not only enjoy the sites of Munich, but also take several day trips.
Arriving at the Munich airport in the early afternoon, we had a half day to explore Munich’s city center. Munich’s airport is several miles north of the city center, but their metro is fantastically easy to use. Katie and I purchased one of their round trip airport tickets, which lets you return to the airport at any time during a period of a few days. This was the most inexpensive, and as it turns out, comfortable and efficient way to get to the city center, and we were very pleased with the purchase, as well as with the friendliness of the kind, smiling, German lady who sold the tickets to us.
Immediately outside the airport, there was actually a lot of flat farmland, which wasn’t what I expected. The metro was very clean and quiet as we went along, and the little German mutterings that we heard while sitting there made us excited.
As it happens, the metro line from the airport, as with many of the metro lines in Munich, run right below Munich’s large train and bus station, which is very near the city center. Katie and I intentionally picked a hotel that was close to this hub precisely because of the travel that we planned to do outside of Munich during the upcoming days. It would also allow us to enjoy Munich for as long as possible on our last day, before having to hop back on the metro for the airport.
We couldn’t have been more pleased.
After reaching our stop, we ascended to street level and after only walking 10 minutes we were at our inconspicuous hotel on an unbusy street.
From here it was just a short walk to Marienplatz, probably the most popular plaza in Munich.
Marienplatz is home to the New Town Hall, and New Town Hall is home to the Glockenspiel. Never heard of the Glockenspiel?! Neither had we, but what a spectacle it was.
There we were, huddled and freezing cold under our umbrella, staring at frozen figures up on the façade of this beautiful building, waiting for the clock to strike 5:00pm, when we and the hundreds of others huddled around us, knew that something magical would happen.
Suddenly, music box tones starting coming from the building, and everyone hushed to listen. We listened, listened and listened, but there was no movement! The music played its slow song for several minutes, and none of the characters budged an inch!
By the time the song played through in its entirety, and nothing physical had happened at all, we were feeling pretty duped. About to walk away, the music came on again, and several characters leapt to life, and began to twirl around in there places while passing along the front of the façade together in a slow, circular path, basically like the fanciest cuckoo clock you’ve ever seen. The disappointment which had fallen over the crowd we were standing in was quickly erased by a simultaneous chorus of “ooooooooo”’s!
After the show ended, Katie and I spent the rest of the evening exploring the Marienplatz area and it’s interesting buildings, even taking a moment to duck into Frauenkirche church, where a service was actually taking place. Staying just long enough to hear some music and warm up a bit (it was super windy), we continued on our way until it was dinner time.
We wandered the cold streets until we came across a tall building that held the promise of a decent dinner, and so we stepped inside to be greeted by a warm atmosphere in a large, tall hall, with big tables full of people, and waitresses flying all around in traditional Bavarian dress.
Seating was so tight that we actually wandered around the whole first floor, up the wide winding staircase to the large second floor, which was also packed to the gills, and then headed downstairs again in a last-ditch effort to find a spot, and by happy coincidence there were two bench seats nestled up against the wall, at a large table where four other characters were sitting and talking.
It appeared by that time that the norm in this establishment was to share tables with strangers, so I asked the tall, thin, bald, spectacled, wiry old man seated closest to me if we could join them at the table, to which he asked, “Are you bringing her too?”, gesturing toward Katie. “Yes, I was planning to”, I said. He answered seriously, “Good, because if you weren’t bringing her, I’d have to say no.” We laughed a little and sat down.
Katie sat to my left and we occupied one end of the table. To her left was another old man, shorter and more round, who was German and dressed in what we would discover to be a traditional Bavarian coat, greenish and soft, with toggles. His name was Kurt.
To the left of Kurt was a pretty, pale young lady with dark hair, perhaps in her mid-twenties, and to her left, on the opposite end of the table from Katie and I, was her equally young husband with short dark hair and a long dark beard. Seated to his left was the friendly tall man who accepted our proposition to join them.
As Katie and I looked over the menu, we listened to the conversation between the rest of our companions. Mr Tall and Wiry was an American hippy who had relocated to Germany a long time ago, and he was playing tour guide to the young married couple during their honeymoon. He was exceedingly pretentious – a complete know-it-all – and was all too generous with his recommendations as to the food and beer. He had been coming to this restaurant since forever, and the waitresses just “loved” him (his words). He even had some sort of “frequent customer” card, that he was happy to show us, and this was actually his SECOND card, because the first one had worn out. He had plenty of stories, each one as uninteresting as the next, and kept his clients actively engaged in banal conversation throughout the evening.
The bearded groom matched Mr Tall and Wiry blow for blow in terms of pretentiousness. This lad was Jamaican, but only in as much as he was from Jamaica. He looked almost Caucasian, and sounded like he was from Florida, and was the son of an airplane manufacturer, a fact of which he was very, very proud, although he apparently couldn’t decide if it was actually his business, or his father’s business, as was evidenced by his flip-flopping between the describers “my” and “my dad’s” every other sentence. I overheard him say something to his tour guide about how he attributes his great personality to his parents, or to Jamaica, or something like that, and he shared with us that he visits his mom every morning before work, just to see her. Oh yes, he was definitely a momma’s boy.
While this was going on, Kurt and the Beardy’s fiancé chatted away about European economics, specifically Germany’s economic strength, on which she spoke with much authority because, you see, she had studied European economics in college, and also how to put on the diplomatic airs of a White House correspondent when speaking about such topics.
And Kurt… wonderful ol’ Kurt just sat there and politely indulged her. Kurt, as it happens, was the hero of the evening, and the only remotely interesting person out of the lot of us. While I escaped the swollen headed atmosphere for a few minutes to find the restroom, abandoning Katie to the mercy of the rest of our yawn-inducing dinner partners, Kurt actually struck up a conversation with her, which proved to be of great substance.
Kurt was born at the end of WWII, and as it happens, was the son of an American liberation soldier who married a German woman after the war and stayed over here in Germany. We explained where we were from, and he couldn’t have been more fun, nor more authentic, to chat with. He told us about family that he had in St. Louis, and we toasted to Germany. He was very proud of his Bavarian heritage, as was apparent in his dress, and we all enjoyed laughing together about this and that. For this reason, it was exceptionally tragic when he said it was time for him to go, and there was no one left there to help us avoid speaking directly with our other tiresome companions.
By this time Beardy and Mr Tall and Wiry had already had quite a bit to drink, and Beardy got
the bright idea to order a dessert that Mr Tall and Wiry, in his infinite expertise, had recommended to the group, and insisted on sharing this dessert with everyone.
“There’s no way in hell we’re staying for that”, I thought to myself, and whispered something to the same effect to Katie. Fortunately, our waitress spotted our distress signal, brought us the check, and we were apologetically rising from the table to head back to the hotel before they had the chance to stop us.
Nice to meet you. See you later.
Oh, almost forgot to mention: the food was excellent. I ate sauerkraut with German sausage (and other stuff), and Katie at some cheese noodle concoction that she fell in love with and still talks about. Delicious and, just as important, filling.
The next day, Katie and I made our way to the train station, and then walked west alongside it until we came to the bus station, where we located our FlixBus that we booked to take us to the town of Füssen, at the foot of the Alps and our landing pad for the main attraction for the day: Neuschwanstein Castle.
Our journey took us about two hours out of Munich, and through the Bavarian countryside, which was quite picturesque.
Soon, Neuschwanstein Castle was coming into view, and even from a distance, was, and still is, the most fairy-tale castle that we have ever seen, with its towers jutting tall from the fur trees and rocks halfway up the mountainside.
To our surprise, the bus we were on actually had a stop right at the base of the path that you take to get up to the castle. We had unfortunately booked our trip all the way to Füssen, which meant that if we went all the way, we would have to backtrack pretty far to get back to the castle path. After the driver pulled over, we first asked if it would be okay to jump off here, and second, if we could then board here later that evening instead of having to board in Füssen. After some reluctant pondering, the driver said he’d be the driver later that evening as well, and since he would remember us, he would allow it, but made sure we knew this was outside of protocol. We thanked him profusely, as this would give us a lot more time at this georgeous site.
At the foot of the mountain, there was a collection of unique, attractive buildings that housed a few souvenir shops and restaurants (not to mention a walk-up pretzel window!).
This is also where the ticket office was, whose line serpentined all the way back to a sign that told you what time you could enter the castle if you were waiting “here”. Due to Katie and I not getting to the castle until early afternoon, our entry time was likely to be one of the last ones of the day, which made us a bit nervous as we were waiting in line.
But we were lucky, and so with tickets finally in hand, we grabbed a quick cheese covered pretzel from the tiny shop next door, and munched it down for strength as we began our long, steep trudge up the mountainside through the thick trees.
What many might not know is that there are actually two castles on this site. The smaller yellow castle of Hohenschwangau (bless you!) sits at the foot of the mountain, built up on a small hill, very close to the shops and restaurants. You can buy a ticket to see this castle as well, but Katie and I decided to skip it.
The walk up the side of the mountain is loooong, but if it suits your fancy, there are horse-drawn carts that you can pile into that will take you up to the top, and back down again. However, walking gave Katie and I the opportunity to stop at our leisure, both to rest, and also to snap a picture or two of the castle, wilderness, occasional waterfall, the large cottage restaurant near the top of the climb, and the evermore beautiful view out into the valley below.
Finally, we arrived at the castle gate, where we passed our tickets through an automated machine, and picked up our audio guides. All of the interiors of the castle were interesting, but not as grandiose as one might expect. The inside felt more like a mansion really, especially the living quarters, which were no doubt ornate, just not as massive as you’d expect seeing the castle from the outside. Some of the highlights were the chapel on the back side of the castle, the large ballroom at the top, as well as the private quarters of the imaginative proprietor, Ludwig II, a fascinating and mysterious person in his own right.
Ludwig II was obsessed with returning to the medieval age of chivalry, and while he did well to convince all of us through the design of his home that it could have only been constructed back in that long forgotten age, this castle is actually one of the youngest in the world, having concluded it’s construction in 1886, only 132 years ago. Apparently, Ludwig’s infatuation with returning to a byegone era got the best of him, and it wasn’t long before other leaders around Bavaria began to doubt his aptitude as a leader, not to mention his sanity, so they went to his castle one night and plucked him out of bed (the very bed is still there in the bed chamber that you walk through in the tour), and took him captive from his mountain retreat. He would never return again. No one to this day knows exactly what happened, but Ludwig was found the very next day, face down in a nearby lake, with no explanation. His fantasy was over.
On a lighter note though, he built one heck of a castle! In fact, this is the castle that Walt Disney himself used as inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disney Land.
After the pleasant, albeit somewhat brief tour, we hit the giftshop and headed to the rear of the castle where there was access to the upper, rear balcony of the castle. This was one of the most spectacular views we saw during out time there, as you could look out and see the entire plain as it went out from the mountainside, and straight ahead, an amazing view of a nearby lake, close to Hohenschwangau Castle, right at the foot of the green furs of the mountain, reflecting the sky in its ripples. Then, to the left, the rest of the sheer mountainside and a white bridge crossing a steep gorge down which cascaded a steady waterfall.
As it happens, this bridge would be our next stop, and would offer all the more spectacular views of the castle from a higher vantage point, with an amazing backdrop of the land below and the sky above, and the castle nestled it its natural surrounding of rock and upward reaching trees.
The view from the bridge over the gorge also offered breathtaking views of the multiple
stages of the mountain waterfall as it made its way from splashing pool to splashing pool down the rocks.
Far before we were ready, it was time to head down the hillside, hit a few of the souvenir shops as well as check out the massively expensive but overly tempting cuckoo clocks, and then wait for our bus to come back by and pick us up.
Back on the bus, we continued to look back through the window as we drove off from the castle, every last look beckoning another, until the spires were gone, and we were left with our fantastic memories.
The following day, we repeated our short walk down the length of the train station to the bus station, boarded, and were off through the German countryside yet again; this time to Nuremberg.
We selected Nuremberg to visit because of it’s charm, it’s old walls and fortress, its half timber houses, and, to be fair, its historical value as the site where modern simultaneous, “United Nations”- style interpreting was born, which was, needless to say, a big draw for me.
We were dropped off near the Nuremberg train station where we stopped into a Subway for a quick lunch before heading to the city center, clearly demarked by a wide, imposing, cylindrical tower connected to a long portion of old city wall, lined just on the outside by old cottage-like shops. One of these little places sold virtually anything you can make out of pewter, and the old master craftsman inside was very proud of his art, as well as his long, successful career, for which he was well-renowned, showing us an article about him in a newspaper.
We also found a fun antique toy store that sold a lot of… well… toys… but in particular housed a huge amount of miniature model cars and military vehicles, which was fun for a quick browse.
Heading toward the river, the shopping venues only became more abundant, albeit more modern as well. Katie made sure to stop in a Thomas Sabo, and checked out some of their charms. We also dipped into a year-round Christmas store to yet again check out the ever-popular (among tourists, that is) cuckoo clock. We were pretty determined to find that perfect one…
After continuing a little further, we came to a bridge over the Pegnitz river where we watched the water for a few minutes and enjoyed the appealing archways of the other bridges further up and down.
Across the river was a large square where it looked like there had been a larger farmers market that was now packing up. Here, there was the centuries-old church of Frauenkirche Nürnberg, which had its own “Glockenspiel” of sorts, but that which we had arrived to town just a tad to late to see perform. Rats.
Fortunately, this wasn’t the only attraction, as just opposite the church was an elaborate fountain, now silent and dry, but gleaming in the sunlight, surrounded by a tall gate. This was the Schöner Brunnen (“beautiful fountain”), and you may not believe it, but this centuries-old fountain grants wishes. Anyone who comes to Nuremberg need only approach the fountain gate, reach all the way to the top where there is a free spinning metal ring – about as wide across as your fist – and spin it three times, and make a wish.
What did Katie and I wish for? Well, if we told you, it might not come true, so… sorry.
Then came a long, steep climb up an attractive street to Nuremberg Castle. Nuremberg Castle is actually more of a fort, high on a hill overlooking the city center on one side, with large walls cutting close on the opposite side and continuing along the old city’s edge to the east and southwest.
Admission to the castle grounds was free, but we did not avail ourselves of the tickets to see the inside, as there was much more exploring to do around town. The views from the castle and its grounds did not disappoint, and we spent quite a bit of time walking along the exterior castle walls as well.
After leaving the castles, we came to some very large half timber homes, one of which was lived in by Albrecht-Dürer-Haus, who is apparently some much celebrated artist that we had never heard of, but his neighborhood, tucked into the tall protection of the thick city wall, was a very pleasant place to look around and enjoy the very unique architecture.
We made our way down a few unexplored streets back toward the river until we came to it, and crossed into a cute little island that split the river into two sides. We looked around for a while, just enjoying the day, and continued on until we were back in the center of town.
Katie and I grabbed a coffee and rested for a while before heading into a Staedtler store to
by some pencils. Nuremberg is know for their pencils primarily because of this long-running company, so we couldn’t leave without snagging a few of their old and new styles for the road.
Katie and I then decided to split up for a bit so that she could do some shopping, while I decided to trek much further from the city center to visit Justizpalast, the palace of justice.
It was here, at Justizpalast in Nuremberg, in 1945-1946, that the Nazi trials took place, and was the largest event for which simultaneous interpreting, with the use of microphones and headsets, was used to allow for communication between the trial participants, and enabled the just conviction of some of the greatest villains the world had ever known.
The trials themselves took place in Courtroom 600, on the far eastern side of the building. Fortunately, there are tours of the building, and on days when court is not in session, you can actually go inside Courtroom 600!
Unfortunately, there is one day during the week when the tour is not available… Thursday… the day we happened to be there…
It was certainly worth seeing the site from the outside though, and with that, we managed to squeeze in a little bit of WWII history, and for me and my profession, it was a must see that did not disappoint.
After making it back to the city center, Katie and I found each other in front of a church we had agreed to meet at, grabbed a quick bite as the sun began to set, and headed back to the bus stop, where we sat on the curb and ate until our coach arrived.
On the way home we came across several signs that said “Ausfahrt”, the hilarity of which we couldn’t help but laugh out loud at, wondering how awesome it would be to go to the US as a German and have to tell people you’re from “Ausfahrt”! As it turns out, the joke was on us… “ausfahrt” simply means “exit” in German, haha.
The next morning, we were at the bus stop again, anxious to cross through Germany’s southern border into Austria, for a musical visit to Salzburg.
Our highway route took us on a path that was, scenically, very similar to our trip to Schloss Neuschwanstein, just a couple of days before. We went right along the Alps, and saw even more charming landscapes and chalets.
Our bus dropped us within about a half mile walk of the Salzburg’s romantic city center, and where we would begin a day long exploration of the setting of The Sound of Music.
The first stop along the way was Mirabell Castle (read “Mansion”), where you find the fountain around which Maria and the VonTrapp children from the movie walked and sang, along with the gardens with the long green tunnel down which they ran, and the steps on which Maria belts out that final, long high note at the end of the Do Re Me song.
The river that runs through Salzburg, the Salzach, is a short walk from here, and this entire part of town is laid out beneath the huge, elegant, and imposing rock-top fortress of Hohensalzburg, plus the Alps further back.
The river itself is very picturesque with all of these elements, and there is a fantastic slender bridge, clad in gleaming lover’s locks, that spans it from bank to bank.
On the other side of the river is a neighborhood almost entirely dedicated to shopping. It is also in this strip of buildings – and we will remember this for the rest of our lives – that we had what were, undoubtedly, the best cheeseburgers we’ve ever had. EV-ER.
There we were, just two hungry tourists, strolling along the river, looking for a bite of anything appealing, and there it was… a hip-looking storefront that said “Burgerista”. None of the other fare really caught our eye, and wanting to spend more time site-seeing than eating a long lunch, we decided to duck inside. From that point onward, our lives were forever ruined for burgers.
There’s really no way to describe them, except by saying that the juiciness of the burger, combined with the melted cheese, and the assortment of BBQ sauces they had on the table to choose from… well, let’s just say, if we had died right then and there, we could have said we had never been happier.
To our utmost displeasure, we discovered after retuning from our trip that Burgerista only exists in Germany and Austria, which means, as I said before, Katie and I are now ruined for burgers; which I suppose we pretty much were anyway by leaving California, and no longer having immediate access to In and Out, which now holds the number 2 spot on our best burger list.
Sorry-not-sorry, Los Angeles.
After the euphoria of Burgerista, we walked a short distance further down the river before taking a right into the prime shopping area, which was essentially a long, curved, narrow alleyway, with tall charming buildings lining the way, and each store with its own unique, European village-esque shop sign hanging above the door.
This neighborhood holds real historical value for classical music lovers, as nestled among all of the shops is the previous home of one of the most famous musical composers of all time: Mozart.
No mercantile opportunity is lost on this facet of Salzburg history either, and there are all sorts of violin shaped liquor bottles that you can by with different flavors of snapps (we went with peach), and also Mozart balls (haha): individually wrapped chocolate balls with a green filling.
We would return to this part of town later in the evening to enjoy the ambiance again (and, as it happens, eat Burgerista for dinner!!!) before taking our bus back to Munich, but for now, it was time to head back to Mirabell Castle, close to which we would be starting our Sound of Music Tour.
Now, let me explain a few things about this tour. If you look it up on the online, there is a video that shows a traditionally-dressed tourguide leading tourists in a cheesy Sound of Music sing-along throughout Salzburg and the surrounding hillsides. Terrifying to say the least. But as it happens, we decided that it would be a great way to see many parts of Salzburg, as well as learn quite a bit about the making of what is still a spectacular classic film. We weren’t wrong.
Some of the Salzburg highlights of the tour were the two homes used for filming the Von Trapp family home exteriors (including the serene lake), one of the gazebos used for the exterior shots in the “16 going on 17” scene, as well as the hotels where Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews stayed during filming. And the mountains… the awesome mountains.
The tour required a departure from Salzburg that took us up into the Alps, and down the highway a ways, until we came to what is known as the Lake District, which offered truly mesmerizing views of the sloping mountainsides as they came down to meet the clean water below at the edge of these shore-side towns.
It was here where the singing really got out of control. There were TV screens that hung from the ceiling of the bus that showed a scene from the movie while the respective song played, and the tour guide, a funny Canadian woman, coaxed us into singing along. To our horror, she also began to dance around, swinging seductively from the vertical aisle bars in the bus with one arm free to hold her wireless microphone. It was the “16 going on 17 song”…
Then she laid her eyes on me, her prey. I was sitting in the aisle seat and Katie was at the window, leaving me hopelessly vulnerable and abandoned, so here came the tour guide, and with the movement of an experienced temptress, grabbed the pole closest to me, turned her back and leaned against my leg, and slid down, then back up, before making her way further to the back of the bus. I swore to Katie there was nothing I could do; she just didn’t believe me…
Haha, okay, okay, it wasn’t that awful, but she did dance, and she did slide up and down as I said, but it was pretty funny to be honest. She was plenty entertaining, to be sure.
One of the towns we stopped at was home to the church used in the wedding scene in the movie. Also located on the shores of a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains, we were given about an hour here to wander the small quiet streets, where kids rode their bikes to get ice cream, and to make our way to the church, whose interiors were open, and excellent to see from the inside. We tried to memorize every inch of the place for when we would get home later that week, and rent the movie just to revisit all of these places we’d now seen in person.
It was here in the church gift shop that Katie made the excellent, and always well-thought-out decision of purchasing a silver edelweiss charm, a superb addition to her collection of charms from around the world.
With that, it was time to get back to the bus, and head back into Salzburg. The puppet scene came on, and our tour guide, never one to disappoint, produced a goat hand puppet, which she brought to life as she again moved up and down the length of the bus, blessing the innocent tourist with a teasing tap on the arm, or in my case, the forehead, as she made her way.
Back in Salzburg, we were happy to have survived, and in all seriousness, very glad that we’d taken the tour and seen all that we had seen.
After enjoying another relaxed walk along the riverbank, and spending a few moments appreciating the glow of Hotel Bristol (that’s the one Christopher Plummer stayed in, fyi), we were back on the bus and chatting away with a German student who was nice enough to let us sit across from him at one of the booths with a table on the first floor of the double-decker coach… and also nice enough to teach us that the word Strauße is not pronounced “Straub”, rather, “Strausse”, hahaha. He laughed pretty hard at that one.
The following day was just another half day in Munich, during which we returned to Marienplatz to make some last minute purchases, decided we didn’t want to spend $1000 on a Black Forest cuckoo clock afterall (despite the awesome selection and true historical significance), grabbed some pastries from a super nice pastry maker, and strolled through Karlsplatz, which was largely under construction anyway.
We checked out of what ended up being a great hotel, and then scooted to the train station one last time, hopped on the train toward the airport, and after a quick 2-2.5 hour flight, we were back in Leeds, and ready to relax after the great Spain-Germany Expedition of 2018.
Photo Credit: Mostly Katie, couple from Jeff