The next couple of days saw us journey south, out of the green plains of central Germany and into the margins of Europe’s great mountain range- the Alps. One place I’ve been anticipating getting the chance to see ever since the last time I was in Europe, when I missed an opportunity to travel there, was the castle that inspired Disney and a million imaginations since, Neuschwanstein.
Upon hopping off the train in this quaint little Bavarian tourist town we snagged a bus schedule and decided to hit up another nearby attraction first, the Wieskirche. Considering its name, I was expecting, well, a White Church, and that’s what we got, albeit surrounded by picturesque rolling grassy hills and not a lot else. The real attraction is the interior, which feels like the culminating example of white and gold-schemed Baroque architecture. It’s stunningly ornate, a Renaissance vision of heaven.
After that was the main attraction. Perched on a hill overlooking a wide green plain and backed by rugged, forested peaks, the location for Neuschwanstein could not be more ideal, and in many ways outshines the Bavarian buttresses and towers of the castle itself. In fact, we forwent visiting the castle, which was actually never completed inside or inhabited- the yellow Hohenschwangau across from it was, but is nowhere near as impressive- and instead climbed to Marienbrucke, a bridge spanning a chasm behind and above (and with great views of) the castle. After that, we left the tourist crowd behind and climbed even higher up a rocky ridge as the surrounding view became ever more incredible around us. When we finally stopped, the plain, fairytale castle, and a stunning array of mountains and alpine lakes lay before us, a view so gorgeous that the castle itself was almost an afterthought in this display of nature’s beauty.
The next day we passed into Austria for a few minutes, leaving our luggage in the Salzburg train station, and bussed back over the German border to Berchtesgaden, the gateway to the national park of the same name and even more natural beauty. First up was Lake Konigsee, a sparkling alpine lake surrounded by sheer echoing cliffs and mountains, which we took in by boat on the way to the secluded St. Bartholomew Church, a little onion-domed, almost Russian-looking confection surrounded itself on all sides by forest, lake, and mountain. The combination of clear green water, bright fall foliage, and gray rock faces was simply spectacular.
The other draw to the area had more sinister implications- Hitler’s Eagles Nest. His rarely used vacation home is perched on a mountaintop far above the valley and plain below like a proper villain’s lair, and while his presence, like most Nazi-related locations in Germany, has been erased, the building still stands and has been turned into a restaurant. To get there you must bus up a narrow, dedicated road full of hairpin turns from which you can see the precipitous, hundreds of feet drop below. Window seats aren’t for the faint of heart.
The top of the road is still not the top you’re looking for, as there’s still a 407 foot elevator ride before you reach the summit. When you do, though, you are rewarded with a view that is utterly magnificent, a vista of peaks, valleys, lakes, and cities that must have only exacerbated Hitler’s megalomania. It’s probably for the best that nobody will ever reside there again.