The mountains are calling and I must go
I’m sitting in the sun at the Alpen Experience Hintersee in Berchtesgaden where I spend my last 3 days hiking and photographing the wonderful Bavaria landscape.
With three days of annual leave left I decided to do a short trip to Berchtesgaden. As I do every year when I travel to Denmark I wanted to maximise the time at location and so I stepped into my car right after I left work and enjoyed a night-drive to Bavaria.
My plan was to go hiking and see specific photo spots in and around Berchtesgaden. And to anticipate something: Berchtesgaden delivered in any aspect.
With two hours of sleep in my car I arrived before sunrise at the Hintersee. This was supposed to be my first photo location. I was very fortunate that the season, the cold and the not so good weather conditions seem to have discouraged others to be here this early in the morning. I was all on my own and had enough time and space to scout the location and search for my compositions. In the end there was no sunrise at all but I was compensated with a very cloudy and grey sky which was perfect for the moody kind of pictures.
After a satisfying morning shoot I referred to my accommodation for the next three days. I booked the CVJM Alpen Experience. It was the best that could happen to me, as it lies directly at the Hintersee even had lake view from my balcony) and is the perfect starting point to visit Berchtesgaden.
After a good breakfast I headed out for my first small hike through the Zauberwald. It turned out to be a nice forest walk with a huge and loud river flowing beside me. As it started to snow again (and perhaps for the last time this year) the scenery became very calm and cold. I enjoyed my walk through the woods very much but I was also tired due to the lack of sleep. So I got back to my hotel, had a nap and went on to my final location this day. The Berchtesgaden national park leads you through the local wilderness and up the mountains to some beautiful mountain lodges.
The way was much harder than expected as the snow was still covering the ground. There was no path visible and there were hardly any footprints that were leading the way. What was announced to be a one hour hike ended up in 2 hours (wait, maybe they did not consider me taking photos of the mountain lodges, cosy cabins and landscapes?!)
I hadn‘t planned any shots at sunrise for the next day so I had a good 8-hour-sleep and went on to my next location: The waterfall in Golling, Austria.
I wouldn’t have known this spot if I hadn’t stumbled over the blog BinMalKürzWeg by Stefan Kürzinger. Go, check out his travel blog too, as it is very helpful while planning trips, especially to Berchtesgaden.
It is only a 50 minute drive and a 10 minute walk to the waterfall. So today it was all about photographing and not hiking. Once again I had the whole location to myself and all the time to find some gorgeous compositions and to do some long exposure photography.
After that I thought it would be good idea to check out my next 2 locations that I wanted to visit the next day. First I drove to the Königssee and then to the chapel Maria Gern.
When I arrived at the Königssee it was like entering my personal worst nightmare. I was in tourist hell. They build up a whole village around the sea with all kinds of tourist stores, cafes and restaurants. The place was in my opinion very crowded, but actually, as I was told, in certain vacation month the number of tourists is about as 20 times a high.
I left the place with low expectations for the next day and prepared myself for a letdown.
I went on to my next location just 15 minutes from Königssee. 50 meters behind and above the Maria Gern chapel is a spot that offers a perfect view on the chapel and the Watzmann mountain at the horizon. The view and the composition were perfect but the weather was still underwhelming. Which was not a problem at all, as the weather prediction for the next day was promising. I went back to my hotel, tried to go to sleep early (which did not work) and got up at 4:30 the next morning.
My plan was to capture the sunrise that hits the side of the Watzmann. It was freezing cold and still dark when I arrived at the location behind Maria Gern. I waited for about half an hour when the magic started to happen. The gorgeous Alpen glow hit the mountain and turned its peak into pink, red and yellow colours. I stayed for another half an hour and enjoyed every single minute of it.
With a good start and some nice pictures already taken I bravely went on to tourist hell Königssee.
I arrived at about 7:30. The first ferry would arrive at 9:45 so I had much time to hike to the Malerwinkel to get the iconic shot of the Königssee. Despite all my fear I was all alone again and enjoyed the calmness of landscape photography.
I had what I wanted and headed back to the Königssee village. I still had an hour to spare and would have died for a cup of coffee but any of these bloody tourist bunker were still closed.
So I sit down near the lake, shut my eyes, enjoyed the sun and waited for the ferry to arrive.
Would it be possible that all my fears of tourist overload were unfounded?
Exactly one hour later it was me and about 100 other people (80% Asian, no joke) waiting at the same spot for the first ferry to arrive. Oh dear.
The moment when I entered the boat together with 100 other people was the worst part of the day but actually the point where everything changed to being perfect.
The boat needed about 35 minutes to drive to St. Bartholomä our destination for the day. It was a nice ride with a surprisingly entertaining boatman.
Heading towards the Watzmann and St. Bartholomä was absolutely stunning already and it would get even better. After arriving at the landing, we all left the boat. I decided to do as the locals did. I had a coffee, a salmon with potato and a beer at 10:30 in the morning. To my excuse: I was awake since 4:30 and had no breakfast and no coffee since.
After that refreshing brunch I took a relaxed walk around the lake. I hadn’t planned it but while walking around I slowly talked myself into hiking up the trail to the foot of the Watzmann to visit the ice chapel.
It is a 1 ½ hour upwards walk but again, the snow was still covering the ground and it took me 2 ½ hours to even arrive at the top. At the very top I encountered the first hikers that started the hike before me on their way back. After some nice chats it became clear that the church is not visible at all. Some avalanches have covered the ice chapel completely and as the roll of thunder around us made clear: the avalanches were still falling.
If I would have known that before my 2-hour-plus hike I probably would have cancelled the trip. But as I was already at the top and near the foot of the mountain I decided to go on.
Best decision ever! I wandered all the way to the mountain. Hardly any foot prints, untouched ground, the rumbling of the avalanches every now and then and the feeling of adventure and freedom. The scenery was just stunning, breathtaking and beautiful.
I was about one hour on the top of hill with the chapel probably right before my eyes but covered in snow. During that time I was only accompanied by 4 other hikers. I took some shots and enjoyed the sun. I didn’t mind not seeing the chapel at all. It was easily one of the best hikes in my life.
The way back took me, as promised only a little more than an hour. I had another beer at St. Bartholomä and took the ferry back. Not bad for a day in tourist hell, I guess.
I’m still sitting here at the Alpen Experience Hotel at Hintersee, writing the blog and feeling the warm sun on my happy face.
In one hour I will depart but I know that I will definitely come back. I will definitely revisit the Watzmann and perhaps I will see the ice chapel next time. The Obersee will be another destination to visit on my next vacation in Berchtesgaden. Unfortunately the ferry does not drive to the pier during winter season. To visit the Obersee you’ll have to be there from middle of April onwards until the winter season.
Berchtesgaden is a wonderful peace of nature and it offers more than enough possibilities to go hiking and to shoot pictures. I learned to use my Fujifilm camera a lot better and it was a pure pleasure to shoot the spots with wideangle and telephoto lenses, as well as shooting some long exposure pictures and bracketing when it came to sunrise and sunset photography.
I hope I inspired some of you readers to go and visit Berchtesgaden. Recently I got into contact with Stephen Shaw. He build by far the most comprehensive site about Berchtesgaden tourism that I found so far. His site is worth a visit when researching for your first or next Berchtesgaden trip. It offers a detailed english language online guide of Berchtesgaden and Lake Königssee at Undiscovered Berchtesgaden.