At 4:30 am, there was light. A coal tit chose exactly the conifer above my head to conduct a concentrated concert. Apparently it noticed that I am not quite dead yet, as are the rest of its listeners.
It wasn’t much sleep, certainly no quality sleep, but I heed the wake-up call. One advantage of cemeteries: There is always water for washing and brushing teeth.
For once, at least I get up in time for the sunrise. A few photographers, who have thundered up the mountain road with their motorcycles, are wondering who is that guy staggering out of the cemetery, still wrapped in a blanket because of the cold.
The tavern, which hasn’t been of much use or help, does not open until 9 am. I don’t want to wait that long for an overpriced breakfast. So I start the steep descent, my legs trembling from cold and tiredness. I take a rest on the first bench which is illuminated by sunrays and enjoy the relative warmth, the view of the mountains and of balloonists, who must have risen early as well. Soon, I nod off and catch up on an hour of sleep.
In the village of Hohenpeissenberg, I find nothing to eat either. That is bad. Because after that, we will reach the Ammer Gorge, which is supposed to be beautiful, but I don’t think there will be a bakery or anything. This is going to be a hard day: nothing to eat for more than 24 hours, hardly any sleep.
I am on the road so early that a fox scurries across the meadow into the forest. Its night shift is over. I hope it was successful.
There is a picnic table in the forest, which I convert into a bed. Again I fall asleep immediately, probably for another hour. I seem to have quite a lot to catch up on.
Waking up from my dreams, I am grumpy with hunger, tiredness and the prospect of the exertion to come. This will not be a pleasant day, I realize.
Just as I’m getting ready to get moving again, the pilgrim I met in Andechs a few days ago (Chapter 28) comes along with a colleague whom she picked up on the way. Both are fresh, happy, rested and energized, a stark contrast to myself.
Nevertheless, we continue together, and Christina and Cordula are distracting me with conversations, making the physical ordeal much more pleasant.
Soon the river rushes by, unfortunately in the wrong direction to build a raft and drift south. But poor Ammer river has to go north to fill up Lake Ammer and then flow further north as the river Amper. As such, it lives up to its name and powers several hydroelectric plants, including the oldest one in Germany, in Schöngeising. Well, not even the river can just flow for fun in this market economy, where everything has to be profitable and come with dividends and rewards.
But I have not yet learned anything about the political views of my new hiking colleagues and therefore I want to refrain from agitating too much.
Probably because it’s the weekend, there are a lot of cyclists and pedestrians along the river. It’s really turbulent compared to the last quiet days, where I sometimes met nobody for hours.
At the Kalkofensteg, where the river Ammer describes a narrow arc and thus creates a bathing spot, the wheat is separated from the chaff. Nearly everybody runs into the river, sunbathes or does other mischief that people like to do near water.
We, the tough folks, climb up the steep and overgrown slopes on a narrow path. Now, the real gorge, the wild part, begins.
But back to Bavaria:
The Ammer is much wider and wilder, the way through the gorge more dangerous than I thought. Because I’m from Ammerthal, through which runs a measly Ammer creek, I always thought the Ammer is an equally shallow water. But no: This is more like the Mackenzie River in Canada. Canoeists and kayakists are rushing through the rapids.
The path through the gorge is the most dangerous part of the whole hike. At times only 50 cm wide, often unsecured, sometimes blocked by fallen trees, it leads along a slope where you could fall up to 100 meters into the deadly abyss and be turned into electricity. One wrong step, just one slip, one short inattention, and the story would end right here.
I don’t have many photos of this route, because the two women are pilgrimaging ahead at a fast pace. And they have to wait for me too often already.
One reason is that I am carrying the heaviest backpack. Especially Cordula seems to be very experienced (well, that I would be too) and has learned from experience (which seems to be my weak point). With water and food, her backpack weighs a maximum of 7.5 kg. She cuts a block of soap so small that it is just enough for the days of the hike. At home, she collects toothpaste tubes and shampoo bottles with remainders for a few days, which she then takes on the hike. The second shirt serves as a towel.
From these ladies, I can still learn something.
Books, however, are the weak spot of all three of us. Christina has a whole library on her e-book reader, but also the hiking guide for the Munich St. James’ Way in paper form. Even weight-saving Cordula has three books with her. “Too many, of course,” she admits, but that’s an experience that every reading hiker makes. You always imagine that you will sit by the lake and read for hours, but in reality you are too exhausted in the evening. Or you are chatting with others. And in my case, I still have to write, because you, esteemed readers, want to participate in my suffering for some sadistic reason.
This time I didn’t stick to it myself, but I recommend to take books that you don’t want to keep after reading. I leave them in hostels or on park benches, hoping that someone else will enjoy them. Cordula does the same, and because she is more organized, she has a box for these books in her apartment, labelled “transient literature”.
As we are resting high above the Ammer Gorge and the roaring river, Christina, who as a theologian probably remembers Saint Martin, shares her only cheese sandwich with me.
That really saved my day.
The women are happy to finally be able to talk to a Bavarian whom they understand. “I really did not understand the woman who ran the accommodation in Hohenpeissenberg, even when she repeated it twice. She must have thought I was stupid, because I just smiled and could not answer.”
Christina and Cordula are from Hamburg and Bremen. They are now in Southern Germany because the North and Baltic Sea are full of Southern Germans. Because of the restrictions in international travel, the Germans are finally getting to know their own country. (It’s the same with me. Without the corona virus I would have been in Kiev again this summer.) Hopefully there will be just as much exchange between West and East Germany, because 30 years after reunification, it’s about time that we get to know each other.
There is no language barrier between us, but I do lack knowledge of some Bavarian customs. They ask me about the meaning of the maypoles, which are standing abandoned in the villages, and my vague explanations are so obviously deficient that Christina says: “I have to look it up again on Wikipedia.”
On the other hand, I can damage the cliché that all Bavarians are beer-drinking and conservative-voting Oktoberfest visitors. When I tell them that I am not walking the St. James’ Way, but the King Ludwig Trail, I can already see what they suspect, although they phrase the question diplomatically:
“In Bavaria, many people would like to have a king again, wouldn’t they?”
“Well, I certainly don’t,” I clarify right away. As the princesses and princes among the readers have already noticed, I could hardly be more anti-monarchist. “But I think it is not a specific wish, but rather some diffuse sense of nostalgia.”
“I don’t understand it myself, because I definitely have no desire for undemocratic kings. Although,” I must mention, “Bavaria was already a constitutional monarchy during the reign of Ludwig ll (1864-1886). It had a constitution with citizen’s rights since 1806, and a parliament with elections since 1818. The king was no longer an unrestricted ruler, his decisions required the countersignature of the ministers, who, by the way, he consistently recruited from the liberal camp.”
There is now probably no country in Europe where people speak more freely, write more freely, and act more openly than here in Bavaria,
cheered Paul Johann Anselm von Feuerbach, usually a rather critical voice. And Bavaria really was a pioneer in many things. To pick virology as a topical example: in 1807, Bavaria was the first country in the world to introduce compulsory vaccination, against smallpox. Something like Bismarck’s social legislation already existed in Bavaria 30 years earlier.
The women from the north, which since the cruel Viking Age has considered itself the more advanced part of Germany, are astonished. But after all, it was the German regions south of the Danube that once had a taste of Roman civilization.
“Unfortunately”, I continue, because once I have been asked a question, there is no stopping me, “a nostalgic image of Bavaria is represented by the State of Bavaria itself, especially in tourism, but also in museums and exhibitions. And thus, everyone knows the castles, the mountains, the beer, the traditional costumes and other traditions, some of them invented. But nobody knows that Bavaria was a socialist state for a short time in 1919. Nor is the role of Bavaria in the establishment of National Socialism mentioned sufficiently. Instead, people celebrate a king who drove Bavaria into bankruptcy with his building mania”.
“Where did the money for all those magnificent castles come from anyway?” they ask. For Ludwig II built not only the famous Neuschwanstein Castle, but also Linderhof Castle, the Royal House at Schachen and Herrenchiemsee Palace, a veritable replica of Versailles. Plans for three more castles were already in the drawer.
“You will never guess. The money came from Bismarck, from Prussia.”
“What?” they both exclaim in shock, and I realize that I have to explain this quickly, otherwise nobody will believe anything I say anymore.
“Ludwig II was King of Bavaria during the time of the German-German War, during the German-French War and when the German Reich was established in 1871. All of these were events of which he thought very little, because they kept him from the theater and the opera. Especially the foundation of the German Empire under the leadership of the stuffy Hohenzollern clan was difficult to convey to the Bavarians and their king. Ludwig II suggested that the German imperial crown should alternate between the Wittelsbach and the Hohenzollern families, as it does between conservatives and progressives in political parties. In vain.”
With the founding of modern Germany, Bavaria lost its importance, and Ludwig II was painfully aware of this.
Woe betide that I of all people had to be king at such a time,
the Bavarian monarch wrote in 1871,
Since the conclusion of those unfortunate treaties [on the foundation of the Reich] I have rarely had happy hours, I am sad and upset.
He was as depressed as a British Prime Minister finding his country in the European Union. Defiantly, Ludwig II stayed away from the proclamation of the German Emperor in Versailles.
“It was only when Bismarck offered annual payments of 300,000 marks and a number of special rights for the Kingdom of Bavaria that Bavaria too agreed to the foundation of the German Empire”.
In short, one could say: Without Neuschwanstein Castle, there would have been no united Germany.
However, the buildings and the ties with Bismarck will ultimately cost the Bavarian king his life. But I shall tell this story later, to avoid that one of the listeners will throw herself into the gorge out of desperation.
The special rights for Bavaria included the preservation of its own army (even in World War I, Bavarian troops fought alongside German troops), its own railroad and postal service, tax sovereignty for beer and brandy (quite in keeping with the cliché of drunk Bavarians), and the independence of the CSU, the Bavarian conservative party, from the CDU, the German conservative party.
And when the German Chancellor is visiting the Bavarian Prime Minister, she is naturally invited to one of the castles built by Ludwig II. This is the Bavarian boastfulness that sometimes gets on the nerves of the rest of the republic.
This Herrenchiemsee Palace, the reflection of Versailles, then played a role in the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany. But this belongs in a separate article, not only to prevent the present one from getting out of hand, but also to justify a separate trip to that castle in a lake.
Because we are walking the narrow path along the abyss of the Ammer Gorge, the two pilgrims cannot escape and have to listen to my introductory course in Bavarian history, which probably tires them more than the hike itself.
Keep in mind: Never go on a hike with me if you just want to relax!
The two women have planned the stages of their walk in advance and today they will come to rest in Rottenbuch, which we should reach in the early afternoon. I, on the other hand, have not planned anything at all, but I don’t want to exhaust myself either. They keep talking about an art café in Rottenbuch and of the cakes they are looking forward to. The prospect of cake keeps me going, I don’t even want to think beyond that.
And as we arrive and enter, there are photos on the wall from Bolivia, my favorite country, as you probably know. The mother of the owner spent a month in Bolivia and brought back photos and wonderful memories. That makes the decision easy: I am going to spend the night in this nice establishment.
In the beer garden, I am boring the hiking buddies with anecdotes from the Andean state, but at least we are having apple spritzer and apple cheesecake with it.
When I fill out the registration form, the receptionist asks me why I am not staying at home. I find this a rather intrusive question, because the Gestapo usually comes only later in the evening to leaf through the guestbook. But when she sees the postal code, the misunderstanding clears up: Shockingly, there are two villages in Germany called Ammerthal. In one of them, I am spending my sad existence when I’m not on the road, the other is just one kilometer away from Rottenbuch.
What a coincidence!
If there is a guy living there who is also called Andreas Moser, then I finally know who receives all the packages that never reach me.
Sadly, the receptionist overlooks the second coincidence, although I noted it conscientiously and truthfully in the form: Tomorrow is my birthday. Due to this oversight, I am not offered a free stay, as would be recommended by the (admittedly non-binding) guidelines of the hotel and restaurant association.
Regarding the night, I can only say that it feels much better to sleep in a bed than in a cemetery. But one can’t afford luxury every day.
Tomorrow, I can tell as much, it will become really uncomfortable. Get a warm jumper and a cup of hot chocolate before reading on!
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