Greetings from the Top (or Bottom?) of Germany

For my birthday weekend this year, we decided to hit a corner of the country we’d heard about, but never yet visited: Berchtesgaden. It’s the Florida of Germany, if you can think of Austria as the Atlantic Ocean. It’s about as far South as you can go in Germany, and also offers the highest elevation you can drive in a loop in Germany.

I found us a great deal on lodging for Thursday night through Sunday morning at Gästehaus Achental. I guess demand was low, given the off-season. We drove down after work on Thursday evening, and things were going smoothly, despite rush-hour traffic around Munich, until we passed the destination up twice, apparently, without noticing it. When we finally drove up and checked in, the innkeeper said “you are very lucky — I was just about to write you off and head home for the night.” I thought I’d requested a late arrival, but alas — I had not. Fortunately, she didn’t stay miffed at us and gave us a great packet of materials about the area to get us started.

Gästehaus Achental
Gästehaus Achental

The next day we started out on foot down to the train/bus station and tromped over the tracks up into the Altstadt. We walked all the way through the town to the hills on the far side and climbed up into them to try to admire the fog from within it. We climbed the side of a steep pasture and traced the path of the wooden pipeline that used to carry salty spring water from the Salzberg into the rest of Germany, where it was distilled into a valuable commodity.


The next day we decided to explore the region more with our car. Our stay at Gästehaus Achental came with a Gästekarte with discounts on many attractions, transportation and parking. We wanted to use the bus passes to hit the Eagle’s Nest, visit the Königssee, or take a cable car trip up higher into the mountains, but the busses were running only about once an hour and we always seemed to have just missed them. So we put the car to good use and drove over to Königssee.

We parked (got half off thanks to the Gästekarte!) and wandered into the tiny town of Schönau. There was boat departing soon from Schönau, making a round trip to Sankt Bartholomä, so we hopped on it (no Gästekarte discount there). The drivers entertained us with some facts about the lake and then even demonstrated the echo properties of the cliffs surrounding it with a trumpet solo. They were not shy about asking for donations in compensation for their musical skills, but it was worth a couple of euros extra for us to hear the trumpet blasts bounce back and forth across the lake.

On our way on foot back out of Schönau, past all the touristy crap shops that were well and truly closed for the season — and a few that stubbornly remained open — we spotted this sign for Dr. Sacher’s groundhog grease — in pharmacy quality!

Apparently that's a real thing.
Groundhog grease! Apparently that’s a real thing.

Dokumentation Obersalzberg

Since both of the cable car gondola thingies we tried to use were not running the whole weekend, we opted to drive up to the Obersalzberg Dokumentation site. This is popularly known as the Eagle’s Nest (though not in German: they call it the Kehlsteinhaus). We drove up a 24% slope1 and found that the Roßfeldhöhenring was already closed for the season. So we stopped off at the Dokumentation and visited the area’s museum documenting pre- and post-WW2 stuff there. It’s about like what you’d expect: lots of cult-of-personalty stuff and portraits in evil of the top dudes in the regime. I found the local history and impact of the bunker on the surrounding towns more interesting. But the real treat — if you can call it that — is the visit to the bunker deep in the mountain you get along with your admission. Pretty spooky stuff, even with all the necessities (plumbing, furniture removed (if it had ever even been so equipped — that was not clear to us). There are some nice walks and views around that region and it was the first chance we got the whole weekend to get a glimpse of the mountains. The fog in the valley below was so dense that it betrayed not a hint of the spectacular views awaiting us above.

Little Bitty Christkindlmärkte

There seems to be a bigger Krampus presence in these little places than what we see in Regensburg. Regensburg gets a Krampus visit evey year — typically on December 6th, if memory serves — but we found Krampus imagery all over the region. What’s up with the Krampus? Check Wikipedia for more.

These Märkte were cute and gemütlich, but they didn’t wow me like the ones I like in Regensburg. Still, the atmosphere was nice and certainly quieter and more charming than the likes of Munich or Berlin.

Essen und Trinken

We ate really well the whole time we were in town, but one place in particular stands out: Kurz a Curry. We read that reservations are practically a must, so when Sarah called and got a recording that they were closed for Betriebsurlaub, we were kind of discouraged. But the owner called us back right away and guaranteed us a table for two at the time we wanted.

When we arrived, my hopes were not so high: it looked kind of spartan inside. But the evening’s offerings perked my expectations right up: lots of different kinds of curry (Asian and African), many vegetarian offerings, and a friendly and knowledgeable staff. The owner and chef came out to say hello and warned us that this would not be your typical muted-for-German exotic food experience: he uses ingredients and techniques that most restaurants — even ones claiming to be authentic — just don’t bother with. We assured him we were on board with that, not being Germans ourselves, and fans of the cuisine we found waiting for us in Singapore and India, and were not disappointed by the

  • pakora appetizer,
  • white wine recommendation,
  • okra and red bean curry (for Sarah)
  • Indonesian chicken and rice (for me)
  • cinnamon orange tequila shots (because it was my birthday)

Even the presentation was dramatic: the chef plates everything right in full view of the guests, and is happy to give a little backstory to it all. When I told him my dish reminded me of what I’d eaten in Singapore, he told us we were giving him goosebumps. He also offered to dial up the spice heat on our dishes if necessary.

They did a great job of packaging up Sarah’s leftovers, which she enjoyed a couple days later at home in Regensburg. They kept just fine out on the chilly balcony at our room at the Achental and in the trunk of our car on the day of her performance in Munich.

ESME Winter Concert 2014

The weekend in Berchtesgaden culminated in Sarah’s annual choir and orchestra concert in Munich. Here are some shots I took at the Künstlerhaus — mostly just practicing my manual focus on my big f/1.4 lens and white balance adjustments.

  1. Wow, this was the first time I ever had to take our car down to first gear to keep moving forward; not even in the Alps on the Swiss-Italian border earlier this year! []

One thought on “Greetings from the Top (or Bottom?) of Germany”

  1. shoreacres

    What a delightful time that must have been. Happy belated birthday, and thanks for the lovely photos. Groundhog grease? Hmmmm…. I couldn’t let that go, so I went a-googling. In a transcript from an oral history project in Kentucky, I found this remedy for croup: “Mix groundhog grease, turpentine and a little lamp oil together. Dip a rag
    into the mixture and saturate it. Then lay that on your chest.”

    I presume the same people who would do that might make use of some of the recipes for roast groundhog that I came across.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!

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