Is Bavaria Really Germany?
Many a German will cry afoul when hearing someone has said they have been to Germany while they have only been to Bavaria. They will argue that this is not real Germany and that one must travel up north to get the true German experience. But with the allure of Southern Germany, with its beer halls, meaty portions, and unimaginable landscapes, its hard to really pay attention to all of that anyway. Welcome to Bavaria, the Germany most familiar to you at home, and the Germany that everyone wants to see.
1. Smoked Beer
Bavaria is home to many of Germany’s most famous breweries but one town that stands out among them all is Bamberg. The real treat for coming to this town is to try the special rauchbier, or smoked beer. Imagine being able to take the aromas of a warm and cozy campfire and then somehow being able to capture that essence into a bottle in drinkable form. That is what rauchbier essentially is. There are several smokey breweries in town to try, the most famous being, Schlenkerla. While the tap house itself is not that special, its pretty rewarding to slug down a half liter of this smokey goodness straight from the barrel. While drinking the beer, keep in mind that you a slogging down a family tradition that goes all the way back to 1405! Schlenkerla is some of the smokiest of smoked beers, but the flavor these artisans mastered will have you wanting more than just one.
A trip to Bamberg is a good way to get off the major tourist route through Bavaria. . While certainly not off the beaten path, the city still maintains its charm due mostly to not being overrun by tourists (YET). Bamberg can easily be done as a day trip from nearby Nuremberg, but if you have the time and want to have the little town to yourself, there is a hostel on the outskirts of the old town, not far from the train station. Backpackers Bamberg, an independently owned hostel, is a no frills joint with sturdy beds and a large kitchen. The Greek guy that runs the place is very hospitable and is more than happy to chat and show you around town when he has time.
2. Dreamy Castles
Bavaria is home to many castles, but none of them compare to Neuschwanstein Castle near Fussen. Nestled onto a cliff with the towering Alps as a backdrop, this castle is the kind of stuff that inspires fairy tales, and unrestricted imagination. In fact, Disney’s castle was inspired and designed off of Ludwig II’s dreamy creation. While the tour of the castle is much to be desired and the ticket price extraordinarily high, there is no denying the awe inspiring beauty of the interior. The rooms and halls of this building is like stepping into a land constructed of child’s uncrushable imagination with a mans desire to live as an absolute monarch from times well past. Rooms range from Byzantine palace like, to dreamy fantasia, and even includes a man made cave (the literal man cave). The highlight of the tour for us was most certainly the throne room with its bejeweled chandelier, lighting up the 19th century influenced Byzantine styled interior, with one noted item missing… the throne itself. This is due to the fact that Ludwig never got to see his creation fully completed as he was mysteriously found dead in a lake after being arrested and taken away from the castle before it was completed.
The highlight of a visit to this castle is to view the castle and its surroundings from one of the various viewpoints surrounding the complex. Mary’s Bridge is the most famous viewpoint for good reason, as it provides one of the most picturesque views of the castle. While not busy during the winter, the bridge is apparently overrun with tourists during the high season. In addition to this there are many hiking trails that also offer wonderful views of not only the castle, but of the surrounding Alps as well.
3. Surfs Up!
No, this is not a mistype, Munich is famous for hanging ten on a swell that never goes away. Yes, a city in the middle of Central Europe has a budding surfing culture, where you can ride waves all year long. At the edge of English Garten, the fast flowing rivers converge under the bridge to create an endless wave for surfers to take advantage of. Hang by the bridge to watch locals line up with their boards and take their turn to show off their skills as people from above cheer them on. Even in the dead of winter, surfers will brave the freezing temperatures to enjoy the sport they love. Watching these surfers in the middle of city is a highlight of any trip to Munich.
4. Picturesque mountains
At the Southern Edges of Bavaria, the European Plain makes way for the Alps. Traversing by train from Munich to Fussen takes you through the Bavarian countryside as you slowly watch the flat plains of Southern Germany slowly turn into hilly villages, and then into towering peaks which create a natural border with Germany and its southern neighbors.
To save money, be sure to buy the Bavaria Ticket which offers discounted travel to those traveling in groups of two or more. Its good for all public transportation (including trains) in Bavaria so you can use it on the subways, buses, and trams to get to and from the train stations as well.
Fussen is the perfect place to experience the German Alps with its adorable little alpine town surrounded by majestic peaks and milky blue waters. Many people make Fussen a day trip from Munich but this is a shame as the area is simply too stunning to justify only a day trip. Plus once all the day trippers leave, you have the area to yourself to appreciate and take in.
While in town, be sure to check out the surrounding castles and get out to one of the many hiking trails that abound around the town. The trail across Mary’s bridge offers stunning views of the Alps and Neuschwenstein Castle, while a trip up to Säuling, offers 360 degree views of the surrounding area. There are also easier hikes that follow the rivers around Fussen that actually cross into Austria, making them an interesting afternoon stroll. All trails can be found on map.me which allows you to navigate the area without using any data.
5. Frothy Beer Halls
Nothing says Germany more than beer and the halls that house locals and tourists alike in Munich is the most natural way to have one in the country. Munich’s beer halls should be first on anyone’s list upon entering the city. These buildings acted as community centers throughout much of the city’s history, serving as meeting places for men at the time to discuss politics and ideas. The most infamous example of this was Hitler’s and the Nazi’s failed beer hall putsch that occurred in the city, where they tried to round up people to overthrow the government. Today the beer halls are intertwined with locals and tourists, harboring more of a community atmosphere than a typical bar scene. They’re great for grabbing German sized portions of pork knuckle and sausage and washing it down with a couple of cold ones while listening to the Oompah band and getting to know your neighbors.
6. Difficult, Yet Important History Lessons
While Germany has a deep and rich history, Bavaria was the center to Germany’s more recent dark past. Hitler and the Nazis began in the state of Bavaria, and it became somewhat of a headquarters for the Nazis outside of Berlin. Remnants and reminders of this dark time in history can be found in many places in Bavaria. Visitors to the area can visit The Kehlsteinhaus, or Eagles Nest near Berchtesgaden. This area became a retreat for high ranking Nazi officials and was where some of the Nazi’s most consequential decisions were made such as the final solution. There is now a museum where visitors can learn about the atrocities of Hitler and the Nazis. The area is also infamously home to Hitler’s failed Munich Beer Hall Putsch where we has arrested and sent to Landsberg prison and wrote his book Mein Kampf.
The darkest remaining legacy of the the Nazis in Bavaria, lies in the quiet down of Dachau, where the first Nazi concentration camp remains preserved to this day. While a visit here is uncomfortable and deeply saddening, it is important to take the time to go, in order to remember the victims of this tragedy and to never forget the atrocities that have been committed in our world. There are few places in the world that have brought me to tears, but upon entering the gas chambers and crematorium in Dachau, I couldn’t hold it back any longer and broke down. This was the act of pure evil that still exists today and always will in the world, It is something that I will never fully be able to understand, how people are capable of such monstrous acts. It is important that we remember these atrocities so that we can do our best to prevent events like the Holocaust from ever happening again. A visit here really puts into perspective how terrible war and evil can be
7. Meaty Treats
No matter what you order while in Bavaria, don’t worry about leaving hungry. Germany is not skimpy when it comes to portions as the plates they serve you with are like going to Grandma’s where your plate keeps on getting filled every time you look away. While you can’t go wrong ordering almost anything on the menu, you can’t leave Bavaria without having a pork knuckle or two… or three or four. As Claire will a test, these slowly cooked juicy pieces of pork, seasoned to perfection with a crispy skin to compliment it all is an Everest when it comes to meat. Along our journey through Bavaria, Claire ordered five of these…
8. Architectural wonders
Bavaria is home to some of Germany’s most well known architecture. The half timbered homes that look straight out of nursery rhyme picture book, can be found in most towns and cities throughout Bavaria. In addition to the these cute little homes, Bavaria boasts everything from castles, to fortresses, to churches, to renaissance architecture.
Munich, while home to Oktoberfest, is also home to much of the areas greatest architectural achievements. Towering above all of it is Frauenkirche, with its two onion domed towers dominating the center city skyline. Also around the photogenic Marien Platz is St. Peter’s Church with its observation deck that offers visitors a 360 degree view of the city and surrounding area. If your lucky enough to climb up the narrow steps here on a clear day, you can catch a glimpse of the Alps in the distant horizon. While on the topic of churches, Theatine Church, just across from the Munich Residenz, is not to be missed with its all white interior. The sculpting work sprawls from the walls and onto the ceiling, giving you plenty to awe at while inside.
The gem of Munich however, lies just across the street from Theatine church, Munich Residenz. The sprawling palace complex was once the home of Bavarian royalty. Once inside, the self guided audio tour takes you through much of the palace’s lavish rooms adorned with gold, artwork, and sculptures. While not anywhere near as impressive as Versailles in Paris, the Residenz does transport visitors back to a guilded time of unimaginable luxury and power.
Why Bavaria Should Be Your Number One State To Visit In Germany
No other state in Germany boasts the variety that can be found within Bavaria. It is where the rolling European plain to the north, slowly transforms into the Alps. It is home to the city of Munich, a cultural center of Germany. It is where you can find medieval lanes rowed with Germany’s iconic timbered houses. In essence, Bavaria is the Germany that you always dreamed of visiting.