Ever wanted to take a European beer trip? Hoperative #105 Penny Gates and her husband Hoperative #36 John Graff have done that several times now. Penny shared her travel journal with us from their most recent trip.
We landed in Amsterdam at Schipohl Airport–a large airport, in terms of the amount of traffic. We had to go through passport control—there were about four agents for ALL of the persons who had to have their passports checked. Talk about a bottleneck!
We arrived in Munich at 11am, took the subway to the main train station (45 minutes), and then a train to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, on the German/Austrian border, in the Alps. The trip was two hours and was beautiful. We stayed in an efficiency apartment, which was perfect for us.
We had one of the best meals of our trip that night—a game goulash, with boar, venison, juniper berries, and schnitzel.
Took a train, then a cogwheel train to the top of the Zugspitze (10,000 feet in altitude). This is the highest peak in Germany. Garmisch is a big ski resort, and there was still enough snow on the ground for people to ski at the top. The train trip is about 75 minutes to the plaza at the 7000 foot level. It winds through a mountain tunnel for part of the trip. When we arrived, we were two of the few people without skis or snowboards. It was windy and COLD and blowing snow. We then took the cable car the rest of the way to the top. Took pictures of John standing beside the sign for the highest beer garden in Germany—in the snow. We then had a wonderful lunch at the restaurant on the lower plaza—crispy duck and curry chicken.
Instead of taking the cogwheel train down, we took the gondola—a 10 minute ride, which was breathtaking. We could see all the scenery we missed while we were winding through the mountain tunnel on the way up.
That evening, we took an initial foray with the rental car to Ettal, about 11 km from Garmisch, where there is a monastery and a gorgeous church. The monks have been brewing beer since at least 1100 or 1400, and they also run a hotel and a school. Wonderful evening sipping beer and looking at the Alps.
We drove through Austria to Neuschwanstein—one of “crazy” King Ludwig’s castles. The town is a real tourist trap. Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwanstein are the only reasons people come here. The setting for the castle is beautiful. The procedure for touring the castle is a good exercise in how to herd large groups of people who may not speak either German or English. The interior of the castle itself is a tribute to Wagner and excess.
We drove to the town of Fussen for lunch—and ice cream for John–then drove on to Rothenberg. This was a three hour drive, mostly on the German interstate system (which, collectively, is the autobahn). It was raining for most of the drive. We were going about 70 mph (the speed limit) and people were FLYING past us.
We found the hotel in Rothenberg with very little trouble (no small accomplishment). After dinner, we took The Nightwatchman’s Tour, which was very interesting and a lot of fun. The guy who does the tour is a German actor who was out of work (surprise) and started doing these tours. He does them every night—one in English and one in German. He provides a lot of history about the town, the people who lived and worked there, etc. from the time of its financial heyday (1100) to World War II.
At breakfast, we sat with a couple from Australia who were spending three months traveling in Europe. They spent 30 hours flying to get from Australia to London! We drove to the airport in Nurnberg to drop off the car, took the subway to the train station, and then took the train to Bamberg—about three hours total travel time.
Bamberg was our base for five nights. We had an apartment in the old part of town. We went grocery shopping—accomplished with the help of other customers who spoke English! I tried to order a pound of sliced turkey from a deli clerk who spoke no English, and I completely forgot that they measure things in kilos, not pounds—oy!
We went to one of the two most beautiful beer gardens in Bamberg the first night—Spezial. It was a beautiful evening, although cool. This place is on a hill, near an observatory, and has a beautiful view of Bamberg. We ended up sitting with a couple who spoke English very well, from a town an hour south, who just wanted to be outside for the evening. It was a wonderful way to start a visit to Bamberg!
Did some touristy things in Bamberg today, including a walking tour. We caught up with the guide who does the Bamberg tours for Beertrips for dinner. We noticed signs at all the restaurants for “Spargel”–asparagus, specifically, white asparagus. Apparently, white asparagus is a really big springtime treat in this part of Germany. Who knew? Dinner was white asparagus and potatoes—no pork.
Christian, the tour guide, picked us up at 9am for a driving tour of the countryside outside Bamberg. He said we would be three or four hours driving through what is called Franconia-Switzerland. We had an amazingly wonderful day. He took us EVERYWHERE and we talked a lot about Germany and US culture. Christian spent many years in Morgantown, West Virginia, and has remained in contact with his friends there and in Minneapolis. We saw an old mill, climbed 300 steps nearly straight up to a cave and an overlook above the Riesen River, and had lunch at a typical SMALL German restaurant/brewery in the middle of nowhere.
When Christian picked us up, he explained that there was a small hole in the muffler of his car, about which he was embarrassed. Rather than have his 13 year old car fixed, he was taking advantage of the German program to promote car sales—cash for clunkers. But his car would not arrive for several more weeks. Towards the end of the day, rounding a turn, there was a loud “clunk.” The muffler fell off the car—near the middle of the car. Christian went to a nearby business and procured two pieces of wire and a pair of pliers (“tweezers”). John crawled under the car and wired the muffler back in place.
Dinner tonight was at the other beautiful beer garden in Bamberg—Greifenklau. A family joined us at our table—it is common to sit with people you do not know if there are no empty tables—a woman and her two adult children. The mother and daughter had just arrived that afternoon from St. Louis, connecting through Cincinnati. The mother grew up in Bamberg, and left in the late 50s/early 60s to move to St. Louis, and they were there to visit family.
John did laundry and Penny spent several hours photographing. In the afternoon, we took a 15 minute ride to Forchheim. We had a true “German moment” at the train station. When we walked in, there were no customers in the train station, and there were about three or four ticket agents. We stood in front of the line, waiting to be summoned to one of the desks. Two of the agents advised us, in a combination of German and English, that we first had to take a ticket. What?! We stood back, punched the machine and took a ticket, then stepped up to the white line on the floor. The ticket agent then punched some button on the machine next to him, and called out our number. We looked at our ticket, saw that we had the correct number, and advanced to the counter. Good grief.
Forchheim is well known for its beer kellars. There is a small mountain/large hill outside of town that has between 10 and 20 beer kellars, half of which do not open until May 1. The breweries brewed their beer at the locations in town, then took the beer in barrels to this location, to lager in tunnels dug into the hill, keeping the beer at an even temperature all year. People then took picnics to the beer kellars and bought their beer there. Now, it is one beer kellar after another, all open air establishments. We had the good fortune of being invited inside one of the tunnels by a server who lived in Tennessee for a while—it was really interesting. These beer kellars have been in existence since the 1800s.
At our last stop, we heard the sound of live music approaching. It turned out to be a jazz band, marching down the street. We were approached by a man who recognized us from Schlenkerla a couple days earlier—another establishment in Bamberg. He and his friend (who were retired Army, and had been based at the large American Army base in Bamberg) were married to sisters, and their brother-in-law was getting married. Their father-in-law plays in the band that showed up and the reception was at this beer kellar. We had a good chat with them.
More walking around Bamberg in the morning. In the afternoon, there was a small beer festival—Tag des Deutschen Bier—at the town square. All the brewers have a tap in this tent, and there is food for sale. We spent quite a bit of time talking to a doctor from the DC area and a man from outside London, who were just there for this event. We were there from noon until 6pm. Whew!
We took the ICE train (high speed) to Munich. After going to the apartment where we were staying, we did some touristy things in Munich, and spent the afternoon in Englishcher Garden, which is the Munich version of New York’s Central Park. There are three large beer gardens in this park, and we enjoyed having a beer and watching the people and the swans. Then we took the train about half an hour south of Munich to a beer garden in the country. A jazz band plays there most nights. John wanted the Steckerlfische (fish on a stick), but that booth was closed.
A day trip to Salzburg—two hours by train. This was the only disappointment of the whole trip. I’m told that Salzburg is wonderful, and that our experience was atypical. My impression of Salzburg, in spite of the beautiful architecture, is that it was very touristy/junky. Unfortunate. The only saving grace was the Augustiner beer garden. A WONDERFUL experience. You pay for your beer, pick out your mug, rinse it in the fountain, and then get your beer. There are all kinds of food stands in side—anything you want.
Left the apartment at 6:45am Munich time (12:45am EDST), and arrived home at 11pm local time (after a two hour delay in Detroit)—a long day!