I wonder how many times in my life I’ve said it myself or overheard other people speaking about it. You just don’t travel inside of your own country. You might visit certain sights when people from abroad come to visit. I’m guilty as charged when it comes to not having the energy, but certainly all the excuses to not drive a couple of hours to look at something beautiful close by, instead of thinking about the next super exotic destination to check off another country on your to do list.
Luckily, I have friends visiting on a regular basis, but to be quite honest, I have a list of 6-8 things to do in the surrounding area and mix and match a bit depending on interests and weather. The list includes Frankfurt, the Hessenpark, Heidelberg, Darmstadt, my hometown of Aschaffenburg and a few castles for mostly the American crowd.
What I had never done so far was going on a real vacation in Germany. Several days, on the road, one or two nights at a place and move on. When my friend Hasan announced his visit, I jumped on the opportunity to finally do it. We had one week to spend and tried to get as much in there as possible. Some things worked out very well, others had to be cancelled or re-planned, but all in all I think we had a great trip!
Even though we were on the road in a car, you have to put a limit to the gear you’re carrying around. For me it had to fit into one backpack, but I also carried a smaller bag for day-trips, so I was able to switch bags according to my need. For the backpack, I took my recently acquired Peak Design Everyday Backpack and a small Wotancraft Scout bag, which gave me enough options in every situation. I brought three cameras on the trip, my workhorse Fujifilm X-T1 (of course), the X100F with its fixed 23 mm F2 lens and a Fuji Instax Square SQ10, as I am quite addicted to instant photography these days. For the X-T1, I like to travel with just two, max three lenses. This time it was the 18-135 F4.5-5.6 and the 10-24 F4. For traveling light, I usually take the smaller of my two tripods, which is a Sirui T-005 Series and ultra light, but most importantly quite compact.
The Rhein-Main Area
To get acclimatized and to beat the jet lag just a little bit, we decided to stay in the area around Darmstadt on the first day. After a short trip to Aschaffenburg, we visited a few more spots and ended the day in Frankfurt, where I can recommend the burger restaurant ‘Der Fette Bulle‘ and the sunset on top of the Main Tower. This is, as I’ve mentioned just earlier, pretty standard stuff and if I haven’t, I’ll cover it at some point.
On the road to Bamberg and Nuremberg
We tried to leave early the next morning, but failed and went on the road a bit late. The first destination was Bamberg, a nice town in Franconia and listed as a Unesco world heritage site since 1993. On the way there, I remembered a nice little castle at the side of the highway called Schloss Mespelbrunn which was build in 1427, even though only the main tower remains from the original castle. It became a bit famous in 1958, when a movie called ‘The Spessart Inn‘ was filmed and produced there. I still remember watching the movie when I was a kid and always liked it.
We hit a bit of traffic continuing our way to Bamberg, which gave us only little time to see the city, but it was enough to stroll around the old town area and take a little walk along the river.
Probably the most famous building is the old town hall, which I’ll definitely have to photograph again with better light! I’ve talked about this before in other blog entries, but if you have a tight schedule or travel with a group, you can’t really be Mr. Super Pro Photographer, as you have places to see, people to meet and usually not that much time to come back to a spot and shoot it again.
After a short lunch, we continued to the city of Nuremberg (Nürnberg) and checked into our first hotel, situated right in the old town area. I’d been to Nuremberg only once before and that was during the Christmas month, where everything is focused on the big Christmas Market. After walking around for a few hours, I must say that we should have rather spent more time in Bamberg, as the old town area is not as nice as I had hoped it would be. There are a few spots here and there, but generally speaking, there are nicer spots.
While my friend finally got hit by the jet lag and rested, I gave Nuremberg a second chance at night. I’m quite happy with the results and somehow the sights were much nicer when the lights came on!
One thing I’ve learned about Munich is booking a hotel downtown. It might be a bit more pricey, but you save a lot of time and most things can be reached by foot. If you overdo the walking, you end up with blisters like I did and that is also not smart! Munich also has a pretty good public transportation system, which easily gets you to the places further outside. We took a tram from the main train station to Nymphenburg Palace, which is a little bit outside the city center but absolutely worth the visit. The palace itself was completed in 1675 and is a beautiful building. If you get there from the road, you’ll have to pass the water in front of it and will see the insane width of the whole structure.
While we didn’t wanted to ‘waste’ the time of exploring the inner part of the palace (please do if you haven’t had your share of beautiful old palaces and residences), we spent quite some time in the gardens of Nymphenburg. You could spend days there. Make sure you get one of the maps at the entrance, so you know where all the little hidden buildings are. It’s quite a big number.
Downtown Munich is of course well known. I’d say you should just try to get lost, but that would, of course, just get you lost. While you can’t possibly do much wrong in the area around Marienplatz, you should get some guidance if you widen the circle a bit. If you stay in Munich, just hit a tourist office and get a map, they will be able to point out the better areas. Generally speaking, you could get tired of beautiful old buildings after a while. In contrast to a lot of other major German cities, Munich decided to rebuild the old infrastructure after the war, instead of going for then newer, more functional buildings, which made a lot of the German cities boring and grey. Thanks for that info Till!
One thing you can’t miss are the churches, if you’re into that kind of thing. I personally haven’t for many years, which was part of my problems with religion (to be discussed another time over a beer), but lately I have rediscovered the art and beauty inside these mostly very old houses of worship. Light is often difficult and you can’t / shouldn’t use flash in most of the churches, so dial up your ISO settings and don’t be afraid of a little noise in the picture. The shot below was taken in the St. Michaels church close to Marienplatz, but you also have to visit the Frauenkirche and many others.
In the evening, we were lucky to get into a little art installation called Les Colombes inside of the Heilig-Geist Kirche (Holy Spirit). You weren’t allowed to use a ‘big’ camera, but the iPhone 7 took good enough shots. They had bean bags all over the floor and you could just lie down, kick back and relax to instrumental music, while the lights and colors on the ceiling changed constantly.
While traveling in Germany, eat German. As long as you can do it that is. Even as a German, I’m not eating German kitchen every day. Especially not the pork-heavy dishes with lots of potatoes or dumplings on the side. That kind of food is extremely popular in Bavaria though. After a couple of typical Franconian sausage dishes, you’ll also have a Schnitzel. Even though the original veal Schnitzel is from Vienna, you get a cheaper pork version in every restaurant. I personally like veal better, but pork is usually the bigger portion. You won’t get past a Haxe very long, which is the back knee of a pig and usually very tender meat, as well as Schäufele (shoulder) which differs by region. After an (un-)healthy diet of this for a few days, you’re happy to check out a bit of international cuisine again!
While in Munich, we also ran in an exhibition of the famous Peter Lindbergh. It was one of the best displays of photography that I’ve seen and it was especially great to get a bit of story behind a few of the famous shots he made. I don’t want to bore you with the details too much, as you can go and see his pictures in one of the exhibitions or by just buying one of the books, but it made me realize again how important it is to print your work. Given that none of us will most likely have a gallery to hang up dozens of photos in a big size, just go ahead and create a photobook per year. It doesn’t cost much anymore. Lindberghs prints were extremely big and in a fantastic quality, which of course made the whole exhibition even more special. I don’t think it was allowed to take photos, but I did anyway. Of course we also had to do the tourist shot in the entrance area!
Garmisch Partenkirchen / Ettal
Garmisch Partenkirchen is located just about an hour south of Munich. We had a few reasons for going there and making it a stop along the route. One reason was friends living there, another being the Alps. Hiking up the Zugspitze was not an option, but there is a nice (though expensive) train going up there from the German and Austrian side. Another was hiking through a gorge and enjoying nature. Good plans don’t always work out, but I’ll keep these things on my bucket list for the next visit.
As soon as we left Munich, the weather turned on us, clouds and rain moving in. The gorge hike might have been possible, taking the train up to the mountain for 50 Euros was not. The good news is, you can always check the weather and view through panorama cameras! So you have a chance to not end up paying and not seeing anything. The temperature also dropped quite a bit and we adjusted the plans accordingly, as the area has enough other options to choose from.
While driving around, we stopped at the Eibsee, a little lake not too far off. I think with time and better weather, it would be absolutely worth a hike around the lake. Look at the cover photo at the top of this story and see for yourself. We also found a herd of cattle at the side of the road and couldn’t escape the temptation of taking a few wide angle shots. If you can get close to an animal, 15mm are the focal length to go!
Another destination nearby are the towns of Oberammergau and Ettal. While Oberammergau is a little touristy (get some German souvenirs there!!), Ettal has two major sightseeing destinations, Linderhof Palace and the Ettal Abbey. The palace is one of the famous places of Ludwig II and was built between 1870 and 1886. The place was very busy that day, high season and weather preventing much else, but we still got tickets and walked the gardens while we waited for our tour of the inside to start.
The palace itself is not very big but really pretty on the inside. The tour will guide you through the major rooms and you get a good glimpse of how life as a king or nobility was like back in the day. You can’t take photos inside and you probably won’t be able to, as the groups fill up the rooms quite well and there just isn’t a lot of light either.
The other stop we took was the Ettal Abbey, a Benidictine monastery with a beautiful church as the centerpiece. You should take your time and sit down, just to look at the frescos under the dome.
Another reason to go might be the beer the monks are brewing, as well as the distillery. There might be tours, but we didn’t check them out. The brewery was actually founded in the 15th century and was located in Oberammergau, before being moved on site 100 years later. They sell different kinds of beers in the shop, you can get them in six-packs or little 5 liter kegs. The liquor is also available and they have different bottles from sweet to bitter. Little sample packs are also available.
If you need a recommendation for a restaurant, we went to ‘Zum Wildschütz‘ twice and had absolutely good food and beer!
Another thing you might notice when in Garmisch, people paint their houses not simply white, they put some art on the outside. This could be a wide variety of things, mostly christian or nature motives, but also some things you scratch your head at.
Castle Neuschwanstein / Konstanz with a little stop at the side of the road
The bad weather followed us, as well as the sheer insane amount of tourists. When we got to Neuschwanstein, it was raining waterfalls on everybody and all major parking lots were full! I surely didn’t expect that and we skipped.
We drove on and took the car ferry across Lake Constance to the town of Konstanz, but couldn’t see much of the lake. Fog, rain and nasty wind made this an unpleasant experience and there aren’t many or any good photos of the stop. I could have left this out of the story, but I think this is a good lesson to learn, weather can always play a part on these trips and you need to find other stuff to do. For us it was finding a couple of bars and an Indian restaurant, to at least get something to smile about in front of us.
The day was not completely lost though. While crossing through Austria on the way from Garmisch to Neuschwanstein, we saw a huge suspension bridge going from one hill to another. We stopped and took a closer look at it. The Ehrenberg castle ruins were a fortress complex from the 13th century. The gorge between the two main castle sites was connected by a suspension bridge in 2014, which was named Highline 179. The bridge is 406 meters long and runs 114 m above the ground.
The climb up is steep, but well worth it and you can enjoy a beautiful view from the bridge down into the valley. I tried to take a few shots while being on the bridge, but most of them were not good, as it is shaking quite a bit when people walk across. A few actually turned around after a few meters, I guess it is not for people with a fear of height!
The Mercedes Benz Museum in Stuttgart
If you’re into cars, this is a place to go. If you’re into architecture, I’d recommend a visit as well. Mercedes opened the new built museum in 2006 and is very well visited. In 2015, over 7 million people from more than 160 nations stopped by and looked at the more than 160 vehicles displayed in the modern structure. I’m not a big car fan, cars and engines don’t mean anything to me, but I love taking pictures of them.
You can’t take a big bag inside, so I had to choose one camera, which was the Fujifilm X100F. It did very well with the changing light situation, which went from bright daylight to very low artificial lighting. A constant threat to my car pictures are actually the visitors. I don’t like to have people on them, but sometimes you give up and have a reflection of somebody here or there!
The museum is divided into themed collections, like travel, names or heroes, where you can find anything from a big truck to a silver arrow race car. You’ll also find cars that celebrities once owned if you’re into that kind of thing, e.g. Arnold Schwarzenegger or the German soccer player Lukas Podolski.
Our tour through the south of Germany ended with a visit to Heidelberg. The city has a really beautiful old town that is worth visiting, as well as a castle ruin on the side of a hill and in summer you can enjoy a walk around the Neckar river.
You can walk up to the castle or take the newly built cable car up, which actually goes up a bit further, so you can get your panorama shot of the city, river and area. We were there in the early afternoon, but it is well worth doing this with the lights on down below and get a shot during the blue hour.
Heidelberg is also quite old and was founded in 1386. The castle and its garden were destroyed several times during the Thirty Years’ War and the Palatine War of Succession. As Prince Elector Karl Theodor tried to restore the castle, lightning struck in 1764, and ended all attempts at rebuilding. It is a great place to go to, make sure you do when in the area!
The road trip through Germany was a great idea. I’m so glad that we did it and I’ll definitely do one again, maybe to the north or east next time around. I can’t say how much I underrated the beauty of my own home country, it’s richness in history and buildings, as well as meeting new people everywhere we went. There’s more to disover and you don’t have to fly to the end of the world to find something you enjoy looking at. If you read this, please comment on what you think and if you have had the same experience in your own home country!
Find more of the Road Trip Germany pics and other photos on my website!