We love Oberammergau. It is a beautiful little village near fabulous hiking trails. The weather is nice, especially for us rain-starved Californians. It usually rains here at least a few times a week, complete with lightning and thunder, another treat since we don’t get much of nature’s lightshow in our hometown. We love all of the weather and the sunshine too. When it’s not raining here it gets warm and then there is humidity. On these days, the temperature becomes uncomfortably warm in our cute little apartment. We have no air conditioning or fan so it’s best to go to the pool or have a high altitude adventure when it is going to be in the high eighties.
Today was one of those days and we chose Zugspitze, the highest peak in Germany at 2,962 meters (9,218 feet) above sea level, not that impressive for some of you folks, but higher means cooler and it sounded like a good idea. We’d zip up to the top, have lunch, check out the views and be back to Oberammergau as the heat was receding with enough time to enjoy the pool.
We drove to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a larger town, about twenty minutes away (the shortest route and more on that later) to get on a train or take a cable car to Zugspitze. We are not planners, I may have mentioned that, but because of this we are fairly talented at figuring things out on the fly. Sometimes it works out great and sometimes it doesn’t, but that is the way we roll. Today was one of those days it didn’t turn out so well.
Turns out you can get on the train in Garmisch (the beginning or ending of the track) or many other stops along the way to the base of Zugspitze where you can continue on the train or transfer to the gondola to get to the summit. A very helpful woman in the ticket booth explained all of this to us saying don’t worry, it is all clear. You will be told what to do. We also learned purchasing our tickets that the train ran once an hour. We had to wait forty-five minutes for the next train and then it would take about an hour and twenty minutes to get to the Zugspitze Glacier where we would then transfer to a gondola if we wanted to get to the summit. Forty five minutes plus the train ride meant that we’d need a snack. It also meant that our adventure was not going to be a quick little jaunt and the warning of one of our apartment managers sounded in my head. There was a road closure at 7:00 nightly and if you didn’t make it by 7:00, it was a one hour detour. The woman in the ticket booth assured us that this would not happen. It was a silly idea; people had to get home after all.
As we walked away from the ticket booth in search of a snack, Scott said, “That was the most helpful person we have met.” Ah, salesman (or woman) of misery and deceit. We power walked to the grocery store for snacks to tide us over until we made it to the restaurant at the summit. Did I mention that it was very hot? We made it back to the little train station and boarded the train with about ten minutes to sit in the hot car until departure.
Forgive me here; we are spoiled in our little village. It is quiet and peaceful with tourists filtering in and out during the day, but the village always clears out at night. The only place to stand in line is at the ice cream shop on the corner; that’s also the only place that I have heard English speaking tourists in the last few weeks, with the exception of Neuschwanstein Castle, definitely a pattern here. Sitting in the sticky, warm air of the touristy train car we were surrounded by loud, English speaking tourists. I am positive that we have been guilty of being loud, American tourists, but three weeks of hearing the gentle rumble of all kinds of different languages and not understanding anything has been relaxing. With the loud, American English voices surrounding us, Scott starting speaking in his pretend foreign language and that about sums up the day. It wasn’t that bad, but it was another reminder that our family has more of a “road less traveled” kind of style.
We rode the train all the way to Zugspitze Glacier. It was a little unsettling when the train stopped at a tunnel and everyone piled off only to have the conductor whistle loudly a few minutes later and point to the train. Was there a problem with the train I am wondering as we climb back on? The train entered the tunnel and a safety video started playing on the monitors. I could tell were steeply climbing now and I was looking forward to coming out of the tunnel to see the beautiful view but we never came out of the tunnel. It was at least fifteen minutes of steady climbing in this dark tunnel with the reassuring safety video explaining how to survive if something went wrong. This may be the place for a Tabata, definitely some deep breathing, and if you are claustrophobic, I suggest braving the long lines and taking the gondola both ways where at least you can see out.
We reached the glacier stop, disembarked from the train and followed the mass of people out into the sunshine. We had stopped momentarily to put on sweaters and jackets and I noticed a prayer room with Arabic writing on the sign. We have seen many women in Burkas or other head coverings while here and so I thought the prayer room was especially interesting and did a little research. Germany is a popular tourist destination for Muslims for at least a few reasons as far I can tell. Germany has not banned wearing of the Burka or other head covering like some European countries. In addition, Germany has a sizable Muslim population and actively advertises to Muslims in other countries to attract their tourism. A 2012, a study from Singapore-based halal travel specialist Crescentrating, with help from DinarStandard, a U.S.-based marketing and advisory firm specializing in the Muslim demographic showed that spending by Muslim tourists is expected to grow from $126.1 billion in 2011 to $192 billion by 2020 (www.ibtimes.com). I also read a blog from a young Muslim woman visiting Germany in 2011 (www.muslimgirl.net) which is an interesting viewpoint. In addition, I browsed random blogs and articles that were mostly negative with nasty comments.
The Glacier area was very different from what we were used to seeing. We were above timberline and it looked like we were on a different planet, rocky and barren with snow on the mountain. The kids spotted the Zipfelbobs and were off to figure out how to get a ride down the hill. The sleds were one of my favorite memories from Zugspitze for a few reasons. First of all, in true German fashion there was a sign (in English) with a lot of suggestions on it like, “It is advised that the rider of the Zipfelbob wear a helmet.” Of course, these are only suggestions; I see few helmets around here, mostly on mountain bikers careening past us down steep gravel roads. No helmets to be found, only a sledding area, lots of free sleds, no ski patrol monitoring the activity and lots of happy humans sharing sleds. It was a scene of beautiful people in an otherworldly landscape, having fun. I felt truly blessed to sit on a rock and watch my kids happily interact with the strangers on the snow. I love that my kids are participating in more of a world culture. There were many women is different types of head coverings, even Burkas taking pictures of their kids and each other, sledding and laughing. Of course these woman stand out and we talked about it later with the kids. Grant said they just looked interesting because they looked like ninjas. He also added though, that he thinks his generation is more accepting of differences in general and instead of finding differences frightening, his peers accept the differences and focus on the human. I pray he is right. Differences are important but only because they make us individuals, not enemies.
After sledding, we took a ten minute ride to the summit and the highest Bier Garten in Germany, shared a pretzel and admired the views. There was some construction going on at the summit which was just as impressive as the views. It seemed like the two groups of American tourists were following us and Scott continuously mentioned his desire to be on a trail above timberline instead of within tourist confines above timberline.
We stood in line for the gondola ride down the mountain to Eibsee train station where we could catch our train back to Garmisch (my advice here is to skip the train ride from Garmisch and park at the base of Zugspitze at Eibsee). The Gondola ride was breathtaking, although packed with people, even though it was getting late in the day and most visitors were off of the mountain and out of the large parking lots at the base of the mountain. As we walked out of the Gondola and looked back up the mountain it was clear that maybe for us Zugspitze, like Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, was better admired from afar. I loved watching the kids sled and that is the memory I will file under Zugspitze. If you want to check the highest mountain in Germany off of your list, than it is probably worth all of the standing in line, but really the view from afar is the most beautiful.
We didn’t make it back to Oberammergau in time to swim, in fact we made it to Oberau (the village before O’gau) just a few minutes after 7:00 and in another example of German promptness, the road was closed for construction and there was a line of cars turning around at the barrier. We turned around and enjoyed the new sights that the exactly one hour detour offered. By the time we climbed the steps to our apartment, the heat of the day was gone and we settled in for Liverpool Rummy and chocolate.