Munich to Innsbruck (via Garmisch)

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Munich to Innsbruck (via Garmisch)

(COURIER: This write-up assumes you take the scenic route through Garmisch rather than the Autobahn via Kufstein.)

Leaving Munich  We're on one of the oldest of Germany's Autobahns, called the Olympiastrasse, built by Hitler to demonstrate his "olympian" ambitions for modernizing German roads.

Starnbergersee (COURIER: This lake may or may not by visible from the Autobahn; if it isn't, simply refer to it in a general way.)  Off to our right (i.e. west) is a long, shoestring-shaped lake, the Starnberger. It's popular for sports activities among the people of Munich, who camp, sail, hike, picnic, and enjoy the breezes in the summer.

Ludwig's end: "Mad" King Ludwig II, who built the famous Neuschwanstein Castle, came to his end in this lake. Being a romantic dreamer, he was unable to rule Bavaria effectively, and in 1886 he was deposed. He was held for a day in a small castle in the town of Berg (along the shore of this lake); then he went out rowboating in the lake and threw himself overboard, dragging the doctor who had accompanied him along. Accounts of this episode vary, so much mystery has surrounded Ludwig's end, but the drowning did definitely occur in this lake.

Bavarian Alps  These mountains become, over the Austrian border, the Austrian Alps. But they're a single chain, which came into being ten thousand years ago. Massive glaciers in what is now Switzerland began to expand eastward. Acting as giant shovels, they scooped up earth, rocks, and whole mountains as they gouged their way across the land. The glaciers halted just before the spot where Munich stands today. All this debris was left in huge piles, and these piles are now the Austro-Bavarian chain. It has been estimated that the glacier that carved the Inn River Valley must have been 5,000 feet thick.

(Just after Murnau:) Off to our left and ahead slightly is the huge Herzogstand peak, reaching almost 2,000 feet. This whole area is popular for winter skiing, and resorts can be found all over the foothills.

Oberau (Pop. 1,800)  This is both a winter and summer resort — and that's something typical of these Bavarian towns: the scenery is spectacular, whether in white or green. But the best example of this year-round resorting will be found just ahead, in Garmisch.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Pop. 28,000)  Garmisch is ever-popular among travelers looking for remnants of "yesterday's Germany." In winter, the town becomes an international skiing mecca, called the "Snow Stadium of Germany." The Winter Olympics were held here in 1936, and this stimulated the town's growth as a permanent resort. For much of the winter, the skier can count on a good 12 to 20 inches of snow in the mountains; the heavy snowfall is produced by the interaction of Alpine and lowland air masses.

Garmisch attracts almost as many visitors in the summer, among them U.S. military personnel stationed in Germany. Herds of sheep and cattle are let out to graze in Alpine pastures around the town. Every day at dusk, they're brought back to town, and as they cross the main street a policeman has to hold up traffic a good half hour.

A stroll down the sidestreets will reveal a panorama of Alpine houses (each with its long roof, sloping sharply to let the snow slide off). Many of the outside walls of the houses are painted with scenes from the life of the town, or with pictures of the family's patron saint. In summer, window boxes are filled with flowers in bloom, most often petunias and bignonias.

A typical "old timer" in Garmisch is a sight to behold (be on the lookout). His Bavarian costume includes Lederhosen (leather shorts), long stockings, bright red suspenders, white shirt, and a green felt hat with a red feather in it. More than likely, he'll be puffing on a long-stemmed pipe.

Mittenwald (Pop. 8,000)  The name of the town, appropriately, means "middle of the woods." With only 8,000 inhabitants, and in spite of traffic, Mittenwald has kept its Alpine-village look. Goethe, who once stayed here on his way to Italy, pronounced the town a "living picturebook," and that's what it remains today.

Paintings on the walls of the houses continue the by-now familiar tradition. Some of these murals date back to the 18th century, and are carefully kept up.

In the center of town is a statue of Matthias Klotz, who brought the skill of violin making from Italy to Germany in 1684. That skill is still practiced locally The statue stands at the foot of the local parish church, built just after Klotz died in 1743. The tower of the church is covered with paintings from top to bottom — the most spectacular example of this art in the whole area.

Scharnitz Ravine  At the Austrian border, notice the Porta Claudia (Claudia's Gate), built in the 17th century to defend this important pass over the mountains. (Trade routes were valuable land: being the lifeline of countries dependent on them, they were always fought over and invariably defended with castles.) At the town of Scharnitz, we're in the Scharnitz Ravine, one of the few passes over the Austro-Bavarian Alps to Innsbruck on the other side. The little river you see from time to time is the Upper Isar: you saw it 100 miles earlier, in Munich. Mountain resorts dot the mountains of this area: ski lifts and tunnels are being built all the time to keep the tourists coming.

Zirlerberg  Descending the mountain into Innsbruck, we'll see several skull-and-bones signs, posted as a warning to motorists. Notice the braking roads that shoot off from the highway, curving to the right, then stopping abruptly; they were built in the 1930's in the days of less-than-reliable brakes.

(COURIER: Now start your general introduction to Austria.)

Approaching Innsbruck  About 2 or 3 miles beyond Zirl, the road circles around a huge, protruding bulge in the mountainside to the left. This portion of the mountain is known as the Martinswand (St. Martin's Wall). According to legend, the popular Emperor Maximilian, who ruled Austria about the time Columbus discovered America, had a mishap here which turned out well in the end. "Emperor Max." as he was affectionately known to his subjects, loved to hunt in this area, claiming that it was an important way of getting to know his humbler subjects out in the woods and country towns. One day, he was hunting up on the Martinswand and his horse lost its footing and hurled him to the ground. He began to roll down the mountain, but as he approached a cliff, and angel in the form of a peasant caught hold of him. His kindness to his humbler subjects hadn't been forgotten.

(COURIER: Now start your introduction to Innsbruck.)

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