01 November 2011

Lower Bavaria - Traditional yet Modern

Lower Bavaria - Traditional yet Modern

We arrived in Mitterfels somewhat shaken after our drive on the A3! This highway stretches all the way to the Black Sea and is filled with incredibly long lines of trucks all day, every day. Having to overtake them and pull into the left lane with cars screaming up behind at 200 km per hour, was not meant for the faint-hearted! The speed freaks must love the autobahn but it's rather intimidating, to say the least, especially in a little rental car. Apparently, if somebody hits YOU from BEHIND, it's your fault as you must have been going too slowly. So rather stay sandwiched between the massive trucks and suffer from claustrophobia. I suppose one does get used to this sort of driving but a more powerful car like an Audi or BMW would perhaps make one feel safer! My nerves did not enjoy the A3 except once, which happened to be a on a Public Holiday, when the trucks have to stay off the road.  

Our first impression of Bavaria in Mitterfels was somewhat spoilt by a very sour lady at a local restaurant, who rolled her eyes at us when we asked for an English menu! We only wanted a toasted sandwich to pass the time while we waited for our apartment to be ready for check-in. We named her "Attilla the Hun" and never set foot back there in the 2 weeks that we spent in the village. Quite a pity really as the little cafe has a lovely setting, the food was good and the prices reasonable but with that sort of attitude - no thanks!

Our Orientation evening gave us lots of tips about the area and we decided to do the Beer Festival the next day as the following week-end was Whitsunday and we would be watching the candle ceremony. So James programmed the GPS and off we set. Early morning is not my best time so I was happily watching the passing scenery when I suddenly woke up to the fact that we had been driving for ages and were close to Regensburg which was in the opposite direction to Irlbach. I mentioned this to James but he was determined that the GPS was correct so carried on driving! We ended up outside of Regensburg in an industrial area where a cycle race was taking place so it took us forever to get back onto the highway! By now I was fuming so heavy words were flung backwards and forwards - the only good thing that came out of that argument was that we would both look at the map and the GPS directions in future!! Needless to say, the 15km drive that should have taken place in the opposite direction, never happened and we never got to see Irlbach although we passed the sign many times in the next few weeks, so close to where we were staying!

Germany is very much into their solar heating and one will see entire roofs covered in solar panels. Unfortunately, it appears that these owners have put in huge amounts of capex and now find that the government does not need all the electricity for the national grid! Apparently, this has caused alot of upset as the owners now have a surplus of electricity that they are unable to sell. We were truly amazed at the vast numbers of solar panels - domestic houses, farms, entire barns etc - all covered in solar panels! Which are not cheap to install.....!

Kelheim was on our list of places to visit so we headed in that direction as it was not far away by this stage. There is a lovely boat trip up the Danube to Weltenburg Monastery where the boat turns around. Unfortunately, we learnt that not much English is spoken on/at tourist attractions in Bavaria so we did not get off the boat in time so missed this attraction as well. To crown it all, we got shouted at for our tickets when the boat turned around to head back to Kelheim - not having a clue what the guy was asking for, we were rather dumb-struck! All in all, not a very good start to our holiday! Just a tip - take a German dictionary with you - it may save lots of trouble! At least the GPS spoke English!

The sand banks and shore line were full of locals enjoying their Sunday leisure time - sun-tanning, swimming and canoeing on the Danube.

There appear to be no "Non-Smoking" places - everybody smokes and they always seem to blow in the non-smokers direction. This is quite tough for us to handle and my chest closes up so we avoided many really nice looking restaurants because of the smoke and self-catered in our apartment. This was not a real problem as the endless sausages and sauerkraut were not to our liking.

Straubing is the nearest village to Mitterfels and we aimed for the town park to get some exercise. The walk was lovely with lots of people either Nordic Walking or jogging and moms with toddlers having a social time. The area is rather unkempt although Straubing itself is gorgeous. The main area of the Old Town is pedestrianized and is lined with hotels, many shops and restaurants. The architecture is medieval and fascinating. It's a vibrant place with many people strolling along, eating, drinking beer, shopping or just gazing at the crowds. We were looking for hiking sticks and the staff at a sports shop were most helpful in sending us to another shop where they could assist us in finding what we required - and at a good price.  After our purchase, we bought some lovely lemon/apple and apple/peach ice-creams to cool down as the humidity was fairly high. That night there was a huge storm with thunder and lightning - scary stuff but it cooled the air down and dropped the humidity!

Museumsdorf Bayerischer Wald in Titling turned out to be fascinating if you enjoy history and seeing the olden day way of life. This is an open air museum, privately owned and the houses date from 1580 - 1850. The owner has relocated many of these buildings to preserve and show today's generation the old way of Bavarian forest life in all it's simplicity. Chapels, farm houses, cobbler's workshop, mills, clothing of the time, religious artefact's, furniture, farm implements and the oldest public school in Germany. Its been a long project stretching over many years but it has preserved the ways of "old" Bavaria for future generations. It truly is a fascinating look at history in an open air setting. I later enjoyed some potato soup while James ate the obligatory sausages!

Nearby is Dreiburgensee Lake so took a leisurely walk around. It's only about 1.5km in circumference, so not far. As the day was very hot, the locals were out boating, swimming and tanning with a wash line strung up for their clothes and wet costumes!  As the weather is often so unpredictable, it seems that the locals take to the sun any chance they get. We did not mind the cooler days but we enjoy sunshine year round in South Africa so we are not sun-deprived.

Regensburg is a 2000 yr city with one university of over 40 years old with  approx. 12,000 students. There are also newer universities. The population is around 117,000. There are many beautiful churches in this city where there is a 60/40 Catholic/Protestant mix. Bavaria as a whole is 80% Catholic. This Medieval City was largely unscathed in the wars so the buildings in the old city have been preserved and add an amazing charm to this Unesco World Heritage site (2006). As this part of the city is mainly pedestrianised, its easy to explore its narrow lanes, numerous shops, loads of pubs, the river Danube, the Stone Bridge (completed in 1146) and the famous Wurstkuchl where the sausages are GREAT. If I loved them......what can I say! You just have to go there! This is thought to be the oldest "fast food" restaurant in the world and it is a must-stop. The interior is small with low ceilings - makes you think you are back in medieval times. Most of the patrons sit outside watching the Danube whilst eating their small sausages. The girls at the grill churn them out by the dozen. This city is fascinating and we wished for more time to explore its hidden treasures.

  We took the ferry down to Walhalla, the Hall of Fame for Germans. Built between 1830 and 1842 by King Ludwig 1 and designed like the Parthenon in Athens. It's a long climb to the top - at least 365 steps so beware of those knees! But the climb is worth it for the views from up high. It's a popular place and some students had brought a blanket and picnic to share between the huge columns. There was renovation of the interior so we did not go into the museum itself. Many people just walk up for the views.

Down below theWalhalla there are a number of market gardens - little patches of individual gardens, some with benches or little tables - proud owners and well kept gardens. The area between the Danube and Munich is known as the "Wheat Belt" although other crops are grown such as sugar beet, barley, corn, etc. The farm lands often stretch as far as the eye can see.

As we enjoy walking we headed for Hollensteinsee Lake and took a 6km walk through the forest - very pretty indeed. We chanced upon the Silberberg Chair Lift so decided to take it to the top of the mountain although it was cold enough for a jacket. 955m up high to view the surrounding countryside before descending back to the warmth of the car. A very popular chair lift with all ages and shapes and sizes going up and down, swaying in the cold. Great fun for us South Africans who don't have ski slopes to enjoy.

The day looked like turning into rain but we still managed to get around the "Fairytale Lake" in Arbersee. It's a tiny lake but very beautiful - unfortunately no photos were taken as I thought it was going to rain. There is a lovely restaurant right by the lake and this was very busy even though the day was cold and miserable.

We enjoyed a treat of a Bavarian Farm Breakfast one day on a working farm. The farm has been in the family for many generations and the 89 yr old grand-pa is still active in it's running. We enjoyed bread baked in an outdoor oven, boiled eggs, salami, cheeses, homemade jams, tea/coffee. Served in the farmhouse, it was a treat! They sell their bread all over - it is supposedly very popular. All done in an outside oven - incredible.

Egg has a lovely old schloss that seems to cater for many wedding photos - there were 2 wedding parties there at the same time. There is a lovely hotel right next door and this seemed set up for a number of functions in different areas - perhaps they do more than one wedding at a time? The tour was again all in German but we met a truly wonderful, elderly German chap from Munich who translated everything as we went along. He travelled much in his younger working life hence the excellent English and had even stayed at the famous Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town many years ago. The "Nellie" as it is affectionately known still exists and caters for the upper end of the market.

We made a short stop in Regen before heading home for the day - a pretty town set on the bank of the river, Regen. The town rises on a hill and the houses near the river look gorgeous with their boats tied up at their jetties. We wandered through a park with some lovely flowers - everything clean and tidy.

We were privileged to witness the Pentecost Festival on Whitsunday in Bodenberg. This hill, above the village of Bogen has the most amazing views over the valley and the river, Danube. It was fascinating watching all the river traffic - many barges going up and down, some empty, some heavily laden.

The crowds started gathering on the lawns near the Gothic Church of Pilgrimage from as early as 9.30 hrs. It was a long wait but fascinating watching the locals, a few in traditional dress. The huge tall candle is carried up the hill and into the church which has many candles of all shapes and sizes inside. The graves at this church are also immaculately kept with beautiful flowers - all appears very lovingly cared for. This annual pilgrimage for Mary was first mentioned as far back as as 500 years. Fantastic that this age-old pilgrimage still lives on in modern times and is witnessed by hundreds of people. It was a long wait in the hot sun (one of the few non-cloudy days!) but we restrained ourselves from drinking beer on this occasion despite the fact that there was a BEER tent set up right outside the church! Personally, we though that was a bit off - such an age-old pilgrimage demands more respect?

However, Bavarians love their beer and the regulation is that "only natural" ingredients are allowed in all beers brewed in Germany. There are many breweries and the supermarkets have so many makes that the mind boggles. The Supermarket in Mitterfels is huge for such a tiny village and the first thing you you see is just crates and crates of beer. They also sell other liquor but beer takes up most of the space! We were first exposed to "Hell" by "Attilla the Hun" and this turned out to be a good choice, despite it's name, as it sold in the supermarket at Euro 5.99 (excluding deposit)for a case of 20. This supermarket also had 3 machines at the entrance for recycling - you inserted the entire crate with all of empties and got back E3.20. This comes out as a ticket which you hand to the cashier for your refund. Brilliant stuff!

Bavaria is very famous for the Bavarian Forest which is situated between the Danube, Regen, Chamb and the Czech Republic and stretches over 6000 square kilometers. This "left to nature" woodland has the cleanest air, over 2000 km of cross country ski runs, many hiking trails and is loved and well used by its citizens. Locally made glass and crystal has also made this area famous since medieval times. The county of Freyung- Grafenau is known as the "Green Roof" of Europe and is the gateway to the Bavarian Forest. We did the Tree Top Walk up the most amazing "Pine Cone"  type structure to amazing views up above. Unfortunately, it was again cloudy but still magnificent. There are numerous restaurants here - all were packed and the most popular meal of choice seemed to be Pork Schnitzel - hurray, not sausages!!

The next day we also did the Wald Wipfelweg Walk in Maibrunn. This is very high up and the walkway sways rather alarmingly but the views over Mitterfels/Straubing are gorgeous. Its very educational with inter-active displays and information on birds and animal so its great for school groups.

Passau was out last sightseeing stop - this city is beautiful and it would be well worth spending a few days based here. We only had a few hours so took a boat trip of 45 mins up the Danube and into the Inn River. There are numerous boat trips - the Kristallschiff cruise is 2 hours and gets very packed as it is so popular. The city has a very modern shopping centre where we parked yet just down the road is the old town with the magnificent Dom St Stephan Cathedral, many pavement cafes, loads of restaurants catering for all nationalities, cute shops and a great atmosphere.

We had an amazing holiday filled with good sightseeing and hiking. Germany must have one of the most walking/hiking trails in Europe - it's fantastic to be able to wander at will in peaceful surroundings. We did numerous hikes from our base in Mitterfels - the Donau-Regen Radweg is 39 km long but we only did portions of it! We also hiked to Bogen through the Perlbach Valley which is so tranquil and unspoilt. The walk from the village to Hochfeld was gorgeous through farms. There are so many paths - and they are all marked so you can't get lost. Although we did meet a cyclist who asked where we had walked from and when we mentioned Mitterfels he looked rather stunned - I think he was lost! Our hiking sticks did us proud - great for climbing and downhill so no falls to report, luckily!

Mitterfels is a lovely little village with beautiful, well-kept gardens and houses and we loved our evening strolls around the village. We got chatting to one gent one evening who owns a stunning house with a huge mural painted on the side - his father owned the house before him so it has been in the same family for many years. The village has many clubs for the locals so they are kept busy and it seems a great place to retire - IF you speak German!

As with all good things, they have to end, so we said a sad good-bye, in the rain, to this beautiful part of Germany which seems to grow on you the longer you stay! At first it appeared so flat and faceless (we are too used to always looking at our Table Mountain!) but the farmlands take on a beauty of their own and the crops produced are vital to the economy and well-being of Germany. The forests are beautiful, the villages well-kept, the Danube is such a vital part of life that we could forget about our mountain for awhile! The weather was cloudy for most of the time which made for good hiking weather if not photography. At first I did not enjoy the flat farmlands being so used to always looking at a mountain but I soon realised that beauty is in many things, not just mountains.  And one also sees so many funny/interesting sights!

© Judelle Drake


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