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King’s Round

The most beautiful routes in Bavaria between Munich and the Alps have one more thing in common: you walk in the footsteps of the fairy tale king Ludwig II, so to speak.

Gerhard Eisenschink


“He was something special, our King Ludwig,” comments an old lady with a weighty expression in the palace gardens of Nymphenburg, a green island in the middle of the raging traffic in Munich. With its magnificent ornamental gardens, the geometrically laid out network of paths and the expansive water systems, the park looks like Versailles in miniature. And of course the castle, “… where our Ludwig was born in 1845,” adds the lady. Our Ludwig. Like no other monarch, Ludwig II is rooted in the heart of Bavaria. Then as now, 114 years after his death. He is called the fairy tale king. But also weirdos, nerds, unworldly people. His dazzling figure is fascinating because he lived for his dreams. It ended tragically, surrounded by riddles that will probably never be cleared up. The winding Muhltal, which leads from Garching to Starnberg, is a good route to find the fun of motorcycling again after Munich’s tough traffic. Quietly babbling down, the 1200 engine pulls the BMW cruiser comfortably towards the Alps. In Starnberg, right behind the train station, the view of the lake of the same name opens up. On the left must be Berg Castle, where Ludwig spent the happy days of his youth, on the right, on the other bank, Possenhofen Castle, where he married Duchess Sophie, a sister of the legendary Empress Sissi, in 1867. But the shy monarch broke the connection again after a few months, and car after car lined up on the lakeside promenade to the south. The detour over to the Ammersee on one of the typical, small, winding roads through the moraine hills of the foothills of the Alps seems much more inviting. Here the onion domes of the village churches peek boldly from behind every knoll, and the green meadows are speckled with bright yellow dandelion flowers. When driving through a town, a Bavarian man in lederhosen catches the eye? contrary to all prejudices a rather rare sight. Omnipresent, however, are white-blue maypoles, white-blue flags and white-blue information boxes from the CSU local groups. Cliches are immortal. The BMW fits perfectly into the picture. The cruiser often gets an appreciative look from the roadside. The C 1200 rolls through the Pfaffenwinkel, an area that stretches from Lake Ammer and Starnberg across the Lech, Ammer and Loisach rivers to the southwest towards the Alps. The name is justified, as churches and monasteries of the Baroque and Rococo are located here so closely together as nowhere else in Bavaria, which is certainly not poor in places of worship. The Wieskirche near Steingaden is probably the most famous showpiece of the region ?? the Sistine Chapel of Upper Bavaria, so to speak. Sitting in a pew, head tucked back, one can only marvel at the ornate exuberance of the ceiling paintings, columns and altars. The sounds of the organ reverberate and even the chatter of curious visitors turns into a respectful whisper. You have reached the German Alpine Road, which is a brisk ride in the direction of Fussen and Neuschwanstein. King Ludwig also traveled on this route, although the forerunners of it were rather bumpy at the time. Offroad today would be called what was then considered the main thoroughfare. Sometimes the king’s travels only took place in his dream world. For nights the restless monarch rode in circles in his Munich riding hall. A servant had to count the laps and tell the distances. “Peibenberg, Steingaden, Fussen – Majesty can be reached in half an hour in Neuschwanstein.” Neuschwanstein can be reached majestically in comfort in the saddle of the cruiser. The backdrop can be seen from afar across Lake Forggensee. The white-blue idyll has got a good touch of turquoise here. The artificial lake with its bright color looks almost Caribbean and arouses visions of coral reefs and palm beaches. The brown dairy cows on the lush meadows correct the illusion: This is Allgau and not Aruba. And then there is Neuschwanstein, the fairytale castle, probably the most famous building in Germany for the Japanese and Americans. The cameras click at the mighty castle gate. At the ticket office for the castle tour, the impatient murmur of expectant queues can be heard in an international mix of languages. In the “Royal Bavarian Beer Garden” at the foot of the palace there is a folk festival atmosphere with white sausages, pretzels and the tasty Konig-Ludwig-Dunkel. Souvenir booths offer Ludwig to take away, as postcards or posters, as knickknacks or beer glasses, as coins or key rings. The subtle fairy tale king degenerates into a mascot. I am drawn on via Fussen to Reutte in Austria. The landscape changes, the cozy rhythm of the gentle hills has given way to a jagged mountain panorama. The BMW chugs along the Plansee into the alpine idyll. A small toll road leads over to the Ammertal ?? back to Bavaria. This is the ideal cruiser terrain, swing slowly through the curves and have time for a side view of the mountains. Then the next stop when it comes to the fairytale castle: Linderhof. In the formerly modest royal house of his father, Ludwig let off steam as a palace planner. Four times in a row it was added, demolished, rebuilt and expanded. In the castle park, the incorrigible dreamer even had a magical grotto carved in the rock, hung with stalactites and an artificial lake built. In Bengali light he let himself be rowed around in a delicate mussel barge. Your own machine house with huge dynamos? last state of the art at that time? had to be laid out in the castle park to produce light effects and to keep the waterfall and wave machine going. Ludwig’s fantasies were a hundred years ahead of Disneyland. A loyal following of the »Kini«, the Bavarian word for king, can be found in nearby Oberammergau. Sure, the admiration for Ludwig fits perfectly into the tourist concept of Passion Play and Lord God carvers. And the Konig-Ludwig-Strabe looks good on the tour through the place, which presents itself as a veritable arch of pictures of beautifully painted houses. But just as this air painting is an old tradition, King Ludwig was also worshiped long before the tourist buses came. On the night before his birthday on August 25th, the people of Oberammergau have always climbed their surrounding local mountains and light fires, which they arrange in the form of a large L or a royal crown so that they can be seen from afar. The next stage of the journey no longer exclusively follows Ludwig’s castles route, but it promises royal motorcycling. Via Murnau, it’s a little bit out of the mountains and over to the Kochelsee. And from there one of the most beautiful motorcycle routes in the Bavarian Alps leads up to the Walchensee: the Kesselbergstrasse. The small parking lot in the left curve above the lake has become a temple for motorcyclists. “Man, it’s really cool,” says a cruiser colleague from Berlin, adorned with long leather fringes, who travels to “the wild Seppl Land” with her friend, also on a Harley. In front of her, all of Upper Bavaria seems to condense in a panoramic view: lake, moor landscape, pastures, onion church towers, maypoles ?? Composed for postcards. And in the evening you can still see the sun sink behind the Kochelsee, but there is no time until then, because the most elegant of Ludwig’s castles is waiting a hundred kilometers to the east: Herrenchiemsee. The way there can be covered over a winding course through the mountains, from Walchensee into the upper Isar valley. King Ludwig was also often out and about in this region. The old forester’s house from which he went on hunting trips still stands in Vorderrib. Finally the German Alpine Road is reached again, which leads from Fussen to Berchtesgaden across the Bavarian mountains. On her way from west to east she has to meander along the individual mountain ranges in a twisting zigzag course: Ammergebirge, Karwendel, Wetterstein, Schlierseer Berge, Chiemgau Alps ?? the celebrities of the white-blue mountains line up. The pass heights to be overcome are low. The R 1200 C takes you far too quickly over the hairpin bends of Sudelfeldstrabe and Tatzelwurm. With one last view of the mountains you pass the Kampenwand, the ?? 1700 meters high ?? almost looks high alpine. Then it goes out into the flat land around the Chiemsee, the “Bavarian Sea”. And as it should be in a sea, the motorcycle now has a break. A steamer chugs from Prien over to Herreninsel and Herrenchiemsee Castle. As if there had to be an increase to Nymphenburg and Linderhof, the magnificent building stands there like an image of Versailles. “… a temple of fame, in which I want to celebrate the memory of King Ludwig XIV,” Ludwig had decreed. In fact, the French Sun King would have been amazed at what this fanatic Ludwig II of Bavaria had created here 150 years after his death. Thirty artists are said to have worked for seven years on the king’s gala bed alone. But the real showpiece of Herrenchiemsee is the huge hall of mirrors, which with its almost 100 meters length even exceeds the model in Versailles. The king had the 1,800 candles lighted in the splendid chandeliers for himself and dreamed in their glow. Back from the water trip back to the Upper Bavarian motorcycle world, west of the Chiemsee there is a vein of small and tiny streets. The BMW falls from one lean angle to the other. The direction is not determined by a map, but by the position of the sun. Most of the tiny places wouldn’t be listed anyway. “Potatoes for sale,” it says on a sign. Upper Bavaria has its own language: “The potatoes” are placed on “the plate” and next to them is “the butter”. That’s the way it is here? and sheep’s head tournament, finger wrestling and shoeshiping are more important than grammar. To ensure that the cruiser ever finds its way back to Lake Starnberg and Munich, it quickly takes the Autobahn near Rosenheim and up to the Irschenberg, over whose crisp ascent the trucks torment themselves with thick clouds of diesel. Less than a kilometer away, idyll begins again like a picture book. The small pilgrimage church of Wilparting stretches its onion dome tower high above the green meadows and dark forests, as if it were to compete with the striking silhouettes of the Wendelstein and Schlierseer mountains. So, give in to the temptation of the mountains again, get off the autobahn and quickly head south towards the Alps to have a coffee at Tegernsee. Finally, via Bad Tolz and the Osterseen, Lake Starnberg is reached in Seeshaupt? The circle is full: on June 12, 1886, King Ludwig also reached the lake here. The day before, a commission from Munich had picked him up in Neuschwanstein. With an opinion from four doctors who had not even examined him, the Bavarian king was declared insane and deposed. He was brought to Berg Castle on the northern part of the lake to receive psychiatric care there. In the warm light of the evening sun, the BMW chugs along the shore on the route of the king’s last voyage. Is it just the end of my weekend trip or is it the thoughts of Ludwig that make you melancholy? South of the town of Berg in the publicly accessible part of the old castle park is the last stop in Ludwig’s life. A large wooden cross stands not far from the shore, the evening clouds are reflected in the calm water. Far out on the lake, two swans move along. A good time to let the mysteriousness of the place work its magic. Because what happened here in the water just a few meters from the shore will forever remain a secret. In the evening hours of June 13, 1886, Ludwig went to see the psychiatrist Dr. Gudden for a walk. The bodies of the two were found four hours later ?? Since then, there has been a lot of speculation about the incidents of that evening, and speculations and theories have heated every round table. Did Ludwig want to commit suicide and the psychiatrist died trying to stop him? Or was the king the victim of a murder plot in which the only witness was eliminated? Did Ludwig want to flee and was killed in the process? “I want to remain an eternal mystery to myself and others,” the King of Bavaria once said. As for his death, that wish came true.


Upper Bavaria compact: The Konig-Ludwig-Runde leads through the heart of the Alpine foothills and thus over some of the most beautiful routes in the German Alps. It is suitable both as a weekend tour or as a multi-day search for clues with extensive visits to the many sights.

Arrival: Via the A 8 and A 9 to Munich; the A 8 leads in the direction of the city center directly past Nymphenburg Palace; The castle can be reached from the A 9 via the Mittlerer Ring (Petuel, Brauchle and Wintichring). The quickest way to get to Starnberg is via the A 95 in the direction of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Travel time: You shouldn’t start a tour of the Alps on a motorcycle before April ?? snow and ice can be expected all the time until late spring. The most beautiful and quiet time in the Alps and of course on the edge of the mountains is from autumn to the end of October. Numerous events attract visitors to this region, especially in the summer months: the Murnau folk and lake festival, the lake festival on Schliersee or Tegernsee, the Konig- Ludwig fire in Oberammergau (always in August), the Bollerschutzen meeting in Ruhpolding (September) and of course the Oktoberfest from mid-September (opening 2000: September 16). The exact dates for 2001 can be requested from the tourist office in Munich (see address under Accommodation). The route: Large parts of the German Alpine Road are too well developed for great fun on bends. You can find it on many mountain routes such as the Tatzelwurm or the Kesselbergstrabe and on the network of small streets around Lake Chiem, Ammer and Starnberger See. Overnight: The region is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Germany, so room bottlenecks are possible during holiday periods . The tourist offices of the individual towns have room certificates for reservations. You can spend the night in Oberammergau in the historic Dedler-Haus, phone 08822/3593, in good style and even with reference to King Ludwig. A double room costs 90 marks including breakfast buffet. Further information is available from the Munich Tourist Office ?? Oberbayern e.V., Bodenseestrabe 113, 81243 Munich, phone 089 / 829218-0, fax 089/82921828. The association also sells its own brochure: “King Ludwig II and his castles”. Also at the Allgau / Bayerisch-Schwaben e.V., Fuggerstrasse 9, 86150 Augsburg, phone 0821/33335, fax 0821/38331. Internet: or for tour planning and with a wealth of pictures and information about the fairy tale king: “In the footsteps of King Ludwig II. A guide” , by Hans Nohbauer, Prestel Verlag, for 19.80 marks. Also a lot of information and ideal for the motorcycle break: “The Konig-Ludwig-Wanderbuch”, Steiger Verlag, Augsburg 1998, by Michael Neumann-Adrian, for 19.80 Marks. Map: The general map by Marco Polo, sheet 8 (Bayern Sud) on a scale of 1: 200000. For 12.80 marks. Time required: three days Distance covered: around 550 kilometers EVENT STILL AS A BOX: Bavarian Festival Calendar 2000 June 25th. Traditional costume year with pageant, Bad Tolz07. – 16.07. Volks- und Seefest, Murnau 18.07.00 Boarischer music and dance evening, Kreuth28. – 07/30 Seefest, Schliersee 06.08. Farmers’ farm festival, Jachenau 06.08. Trachtler boat trip, Schliersee09.08. Seefest, Tegernsee24.08. King Ludwig Fire, Oberammergau 07. – 10.09. Bollerschutzen meeting, Ruhpolding 10.09. Brass music day, Bad Wiessee16.09. Yodelling course on the Hochfelln, Bergen16.09. Opening Oktoberfest, Munich 05.11. Leonhardi ride and dance, Benediktbeuern

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