As I begin to write this post, I deeply wish, had better wisdom prevailed in me, I’d have carried a diary in my purse to make notes. Bavaria seems to have bogarted everything a whole country has to offer, making it mighty difficult for a human brain to retain.
From soaring Alps slicing through pillowy clouds to an autobahn of luxury cars, Free State of Bavaria perched in the south-east of Germany is infused with everything, for everyone; provided you have the luxury of few days to spend. I didn’t. I had just one, before I could proceed to Venice.
I believe, time’s never a constraint to someone who desires to make the most of it.
We landed in Munich on a grey and windy May evening.
Munich, the capital city of Bavaria is also the birthplace of BMWs. It’s a city where butterscotch coloured Mercs ferry passengers, beer is guzzled down in tankards instead of mugs and where traditional and modern cohabitate like BFFs from different centuries.
Take a stroll down Marienplatz and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Marienplatz or St. Mary’s Square is the main square in the centre of Munich. Enriched with history, it’s been the heart of the city since the Twelfth century . During Middle Ages, markets and tournaments were held here. It is now swarmed by tourists and locals from dawn to dusk.
Marienplatz was named after Mariensäule, a stunning column in the middle of the square. It was erected in 1638 to celebrate Bavaria’s victory over the Swedish troops after three long decades of war.
Atop the column, in a crescent moon, stands gracefully the radiant gilded statue of Virgin Mary.
The city centre is also home to Viktualienmarkt, a very large open-air food market. Housing stalls of fresh fruits and vegetables, artisanal cheeses, cured meats, olives, truffles and jams, this plaza is one of Europe’s finest markets for gourmet food. Let your nose be your guide when looking to pack a bounty back home. Beer garden, cafés and bakeries offer a respite to tired feet.
It used to be a part of Marienplatz, but soon outgrew and outshone the former to carve an identity of its own.
With a whopping 22,000 square metres of floorspace, more than 200 years of tradition, around 140 stalls and countless fountains, Viktualienmarkt is an institution in itself. Stroll on your own or take a guided tour to delve deeper into this soul of Munich.
Beer-guzzlers might want to plan their trip in October. Munich is home to Octoberfest, world’s largest drink-a-thon, when millions of tourists from across the globe, descend on the Bavarian lands for this drinking and hogging superfest that combines fun and tradition in equal measures. Two weeks of ultimate indulgence, remorseless gluttony and drunken debauchery, to an extent that people have lost their bags and babies in the bargain. Imagine losing a whole human being!
It’s an experience you can never forget, provided you remember it at all.
If Bavaria has won a million hearts globally, she has one man in particular to thank for.
King Ludwig II, who was everything but a king. Historians and poets describe him as a shy dreamer, a loner, a sensitive soul fascinated by romantic epics, architecture and music. He sought refuge in a fantasy world in order to escape the dreary reality. Writings of Richard Wagner and medieval legends fascinated him. This perhaps fueled his passion for building those bewitching and spectacular castles that eventually piled him a mountain of debt and earned him a sobriquet, ‘Mad King’.
Linderhoff and Neuschwantein castles are considered to be the topmost attractions of them all. For hassle-free experience, pre-booking a tour is advisable. The luxury coach comes loaded with ultra-comfortable and contemporary features that assure a delightful intercity ride. Wide windows provide panoramic views of the scenic Bavarian countryside all along the way. There’s an onboard plug-and-play commentary in multiple languages. Our guide, Francesca, was like fresh Alpine breeze; pleasant demeanor, incredibly knowledgeable and a passionate storyteller.
It’s a 11 hour round trip that begins at 8.30 am. Pickup could be from the doorstep of your hotel or at a common meeting point.
While the coach navigates through the Alpine foothills, sit back, plug in your earphones and keep your eyes glued to the window. Sundrenched pastures as far as eyes can reach, clouds of grey watching over pretty timber houses, gloomy barns, sea of green meadows fed by rich waters of Danube, handsome horses and their lustrous manes, cowbells tinkering in the distance…doesn’t this paint a perfect picture of a perfect countryside!
Just as you wish for the bus to keep going, announcement is made to secure your belongings for the very first stop of your journey. You’ve arrived in Oberammergau.
A charming town in the lap of the mountains, Oberammergau is a fairy-tale village we all crave to visit.
This dainty hamlet is an abundance of splendid landscapes, jaw-dropping frescoes, stunning houses and skilled artists chipping magic from a block of wood.
Carved originally from trees indigenous to the Black Forests of Germany, Cuckoo Clocks are a gift of these artisans to the world. Miniature versions of the German chalets, these intricately carved creations signify the culture, traditions and other peculiarities of the country
Here’s mine. Couldn’t wait to order one back home. It’s a Chalet style 8-day mechanical clock mirroring a farmstead.
Thanks August-Schwer Cuckoo Clocks for this brilliant work of art.
Oberammergau is known for its once-a-decade performance of the Passion Play in its namesake theater. This play has been performed every 10 years since 1634 by the villagers. Legend has it that Bavaria was ravaged by an outbreak of Bubonic Plague in the early seventeenth century. It was these devastating 30 years that washed away majority of the population. The harrowed villagers then made a vow that if God spared them from this malady, they would perform a play every 10 years depicting the life and death of Jesus. Call it a miracle or a powerful coincidence, but nobody died of plague in Oberammergau thereafter. And the villagers have been keeping their promise ever since.
13 kilometers to the west of Oberammergao is the Linderhoff Palace.
The avenue that leads up to the palace is bordered with tall trees, their brilliant green foliage against the clear blue sky. Air feels like it’s sprayed with perfumed mist. There’s a pristine lake whose waters are calm and shining, and whose only occupant is a solitary swan. Nonchalant and melancholy, it looks like he’s either been waiting for a beloved or has lost one.
As you inch closer, the picture that takes a form slowly is all-senses-consuming. The Palace or Schloss in German, is hugged from all sides by mountains of pines and firs, perfectly manicured gardens and ornamental fountains – a landscape of regal luxury and opulence wherever the eyes can reach.
What makes it special is that this is the only palace King Ludwig lived to see fully completed. Another word of prominence – it was modelled on the magnificent Palace of Versailles in France. The king was so bewitched by King Louis XIV and his extraordinary creation, that he made a smaller version of it back home. Gaze through its opulent rooms, Rococo furniture and an enormous 500 kg crystal chandelier hanging in the private bedroom, and you’ll have an idea of how the French Absolutism was replicated here.
An hour of marveling at this beauty later, the bus leaves for the last and the most awaited leg of the journey.
Francesca apprised, Neuschwanstein literally means “New Swan Castle”. Did the solitary swan of Linderhoff have something to do with this? I wondered.
Neuschwantein Castle had been the object of my fascination since the moment I’d caught a glimpse of it in a movie years ago.
It’s said, when you wish for something very deeply, the entire universe conspires to help you achieve it. Being there in Neuschwanstein, on my birthday, was a breathing example of this adage.
The village of Hohenschwangau is the last stop for the tourist buses and private vehicles alike.
Have your fill in one of the cafes before proceeding for the journey uphill. You can either walk up 30-40 minutes or hop on to a horse-drawn carriage. They get packed beyond capacity and these poor animals get weary pulling the strenuous load uphill. Quite inhuman, if you ask me.
Walking up is more pleasurable instead, with the picture-perfect views that surround this masterpiece.
The path upwards hugs the mountain on one side and valley to the other. The valley side offers sweeping views of the beautiful town below. Keen winds bring fresh drizzles making you want to stop a while and feel the chill on your face.
And then, the castle starts to appear like a mirage from among the verdant mountaintops and mist-filled air. The Romanesque structure gleaming under cloudless, powder-blue skies – its bright limestone façade, decorative bay windows, adorning balconies, gabled roofs and ornamental turrets – this spellbinding view will stay etched on your memory forever. It looks even more wonderful, even more magical in reality, than it does in numerous magazines that must have written about it.
I was totally consumed by its aura when I’d first spotted it in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Apparently, it was Walt Disney’s love at first sight as well. What a fairytale castle, thought I, and fervently wished for it to be real. So it was. Neuschwantein Castle , perched high up in the mystical Bavarian Alps, is indeed a castle of dreams.
King Ludwig had envisioned it as a giant stage on which he wished to recreate the world of Germanic mythology. Guides within the castle give an extensive tour and wonderful insights into every room that’s so tastefully done. The Gothic-styled bedroom is particularly captivating. Huge bed dominates the room with its eyeball-grabbing canopy, intrinsically carved paneling and frescoes adorning every wall. Each and every window of the castle provides tour-halting views of spectacular plains below.
Neuschwanstein was supposed to be his dream home, which remained a dream because it was never finished. For all the outrageous sums that emptied his treasures, the King resided just over 170 days before tragedy struck. The magnificent masterpiece that was to be his solitary abode, it was thrown open to throngs of visitors just 8 weeks after the Fairytale King passed away. Can there be an irony more painful than this!
What stoked his obsession with fairytales? Was ‘Mad’ King Ludwig really insane or was he merely eccentric, and branded ‘mad’ by those who wished to bring him down? We’ll never know. Questions like these will stay an eternal mystery, just like his death.
To me, it’s his madness that has given the world more than one reasons to marvel at Bavaria. It’s his shyness that declares it’s okay to be solitary, to be different, to be unique. It’s his castles that inspire to dream, to love, to be insanely passionate, to do the unthinkable, unreasonable and yet be loved and remembered by generations to come.