Berchtesgadener Land

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Berchtesgadener Land

Berchtesgadener Land
The switchers

Hard fate for enduro riders: not only between the Chiemgau Alps and the Berchtesgadener Land are almost all gravel roads closed to motorcycles. So two off-road fans switched to mountain bikes.

Kai Schmid


Nothing works anymore. The journey ends at a barrier. Under the round, white and red sign, it says succinctly: »Only for forest vehicles«. I turn off the engine. A couple of jackdaws flutter excitedly from the treetops. Then there is silence. Only the engine crackles quietly. Sabine and I look a little wistfully after the gravel path that disappears only a few meters further into the dense forest. The Chiemgau Alps and the Berchtesgadener Land do not turn out to be endurado. At least not in a legal way, because every dirt road ends after a few meters at a barrier or a prohibition sign. So our actually planned off-road excursions are limited to a short trip over the gravel parking lot of a cable car station. But, thank God, the driving pleasure is not measured solely by the mud crust on the motorcycle. The southeastern corner of Germany has enough asphalted curves, hairpin bends and serpentines, on which even mountain bikers spoiled by many passes will get their money’s worth. “Tiroler Grostl consists of fried potatoes, diced bacon and pieces of dumpling”. A handwritten sign next to the cash register in the Ahornkaser mountain restaurant soberly describes the “typical” meal of the Alpine countries, which probably want to avoid the annoying questions of the northerners who have traveled with this notice. The ambience is also sober. Instead of rustic comfort, the hut has more of the flair of a large canteen. Orange-colored plastic trays with which one collects the food that has been slapped carelessly on the plate. Hut romance on Robfeldringstrasse. The toll for a trip on Robfeldringstrasse is five marks. Five marks, but they are worth every penny: The stretch from Unterau to the 1553-meter-high Hennenkopfl winds in long bends. The well-developed road means that I take full advantage of the lean angles of the big enduro. Endless driving fun. Then the apex of the road, which need not fear comparison with higher alpine roads. The route runs impressively on a narrow ridge. The Salzburger Land lies in front of us in the valley. The route prances over the abyss and, as a cross-border commuter, hops sometimes on German and sometimes on Austrian soil. We balance between strollers and coaches. Lots of hype instead of secluded mountain idyll. We put the prospect of a little enduro delicacy up here for good. A helmet flies to the ground, the head plunges into the ice-cold fountain. The mountain biker wipes the water off his face with a splutter. The brightly colored dressed man waves to his friends. A whole group of mountain bikers is making use of the potion I wanted to use to clean my visor. In no time I am surrounded by Dutch cyclists. One of them explains to me that the clique goes mountain biking in the Alps every year in order to take new route highlights under their narrow wheels. “Today we’re going to climb more than 1000 meters over a distance of 30 kilometers,” he sums up the tour briefly, but not without pride. “Does anyone want to swap places with me?” I ask the group with the full conviction of a motorcyclist. As if from one mouth I received a laughing “Never” as an answer. As sweaty and exhausted as the boys and girls from the flat country look, they definitely don’t want to swap the hard saddle of their bikes for the comfortable seat of my BMW. The fascination of mountain biking. There must be something to it, and it dawns on me whether there is something to it. Because where for me and my Enduro all roads end at prohibition signs or barriers, I only have shoemaker’s pony to get on, right? and this alternative is becoming more and more sympathetic to me? a mountain bike. Completely new horizons would open up for us, I rave about Sabine about the excursion beyond the driving bans. A mountain bike excursion into the region that caught our eye in particular while studying the maps would be possible: the Berchtesgadener Land National Park, which is one of the most beautiful corners of the world, not only according to the well-traveled naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. It is all the more surprising that this area was only found worthy of protection in 1978. Following the great example of Yellowstone National Park in the USA, the forces of nature have been allowed to run free since then. People stay out of it. There are no roads – a country like it was before our time. That arouses curiosity and also clears up Sabine’s last concerns. At the Jenner valley station we put the idea into practice and saddle up two rented bikes. We do the first laps wobbly. Compared to a motorcycle, the wheels seem more like a hobbyhorse to us. Then it starts. Our goal: the Gotzenalm ?? in the middle of the national park. The rough profile bites into the coarse gravel. Pebbles crunch heavily under the weight of the studded tires. A thick bead of sweat rolls over my forehead. With every turn of the pedal, I laboriously wrestle a handful of height centimeters from the mountain. The next drop falls. Seconds later, counting is pointless: the sweat runs in rivers. And there are still 300 meters in altitude to the Gotzenalm. A suicide mission. Damn mountain biking. Sabine is no different. She gasps up the mountain a few meters behind me. According to a bike guide, the tour is very difficult. If it were up to us, the classification would be brutal. But who asks motorcyclists on the wrong track? A martyrdom that begins at an altitude of 600 meters and rises to the ridge of the Gotzenstein massif at 1710 meters. The 1,100 kilometers of altitude that have to be mastered on the route are a huge drain on our stamina, sucking us out. More and more often we stop during this torture Just to have a few sips or nibble on a muesli bar so that we don’t go completely exhausted. We only get to see the Konigssee sporadically on this route. Usually it is hidden between tall trees, and we can only guess how the lake lies like a Norwegian fjord between the rugged, steeply sloping cliffs. We hardly have time to be amazed. We have to go on. The mountain calls. Then again only the monotonous gravel of the never-ending road. Grueling monotony. Anyone who makes the mistake of even remotely comparing cycling distances with motorcycle stages has bet on the wrong horse from the start: For those who switch, mountain biking is like discovering slowness. Sabine reaches for the bottle again, takes a long swig, wipes the beads of sweat from her forehead. Without a word, she sits down next to me on a stone. We sweat and remain silent; look with an empty view into the valley. Otherwise she will capture every imaginable situation with the camera. Now she even lets the impressive panorama be good. Because she is simply busy with something more important: with herself: like stubborn mules, we whip our bikes up the narrow path up to the Gotzenstein massif. It winds in steep serpentines along the side of the mountain. This is the only way to keep the incline at a reasonably tolerable level. The summit ridge can already be seen. Finally. We made it in a moment. Puff cake. Shortly before the ridge, the damned mountain demands full pedal use again: 24 percent gradient. Pretty weird. Without the right driving technique, we would immediately fall by the wayside: If you shift your weight too much backwards, the front wheel lifts; if you pedal too hard, the rear wheel will spin. At this point, I wish I could casually apply the smooth throttle grip on my Enduro instead of struggling with this bike. Fixed and ready, we climb the ridge. When we arrive at the top, a sharp wind almost blows us off our bikes to greet us. We have reached our destination, but there is no question of resting. We have made every effort to ensure that our clothes, which are laid out in the sun to dry, do not flutter on and off. Extreme foehn wind rages over the Gotzenstein high plateau. Shortly afterwards we stumble across the driveway like drunk. The sudden gusts make it impossible to cycle in a straight line. In contrast, the exceptionally clear air makes the Steinerne Meer, the Teufelshorn, the Schneibstein and even more distant mountains seem close enough to touch. A vantage point only a few bike minutes away from the Alm. This time the foehn wind pushes us back to the ridge, then we follow a narrow beaten path to the left – a so-called single trail in biker terminology – stumble down a few stairs and suddenly it takes our breath away: 1000 meters the rock falls vertically in front of us into the deep. Directly below us lies the Konigssee, deep blue, as if painted. Unconsciously, the hands claw tighter around the wooden railing. The panorama is pure madness. Simply terrific. The compensation for all the grind is perfect. On the lake, boats chug comfortably to the famous pilgrimage church of St. Bartholoma, the architectural landmark of the national park. From above, they look like remote-controlled toys. They are the most convenient way to get to the chapel and are accordingly fully occupied. The Watzmann rises impressively at the end of the lake. The east wall on the opposite side rises almost 2000 meters from the bank to the summit. The largest rockfall in the Eastern Alps. “You’re so tall, and I’m just the dwarf,” sings songwriter Wolfgang Ambros in his mountain epic “The Watzmann calls”. There really is no better way to put this formidable sight into words. With a total of 2713 meters, the Watzmann is only the second highest mountain in Germany after the Zugspitze, but no other giant stone has more legends and stories to tell. He is flanked by the Watzmann woman and the five Watzmann children. According to legend, the whole family was turned to stone because of their hard-heartedness. But the Watzmann became notorious for its dangerous east wall. By 1990, 91 climbers had died while climbing the rock face, which was prone to avalanches and rock falls. “Big and powerful, full of fate …” Ambros describes the “eternal struggle of man with the mountain”. In the west high cloud towers build up. It’s time to make the return trip. The mountain biker calculates in different dimensions than the motorized hiker. The descent is less sweaty than the trip up, but it has its pitfalls. The unsprung front wheel of the bike jumps on bumps like a buck on free feet, and when braking in front of the tight bends, the rear wheel wags on the gravel like a neighbor’s Lumpi. The laborious climb, the tight serpentines, everything that was previously fought for at a snail’s pace, now rushes past me in fast motion. I have my hands full not to land on my nose on the stormy descent. As pleasant as the downhill sections referred to in the downhill biker are, they require full concentration and the utmost caution. And instead of the leg muscles, the wrists burn from supporting the body weight on the handlebars and from constant braking. Seldom have I been so happy to see our Enduro again. It feels like coming home after a long journey. The muscles are sore now. Even so, as we stretch out our battered bones, we feel a deep satisfaction with what we have accomplished in the past few hours. A spark of fascination with mountain biking has jumped over. We not only hated the “enduro bike” on this tour, we also learned to love it. And one thing is certain: in the future, I will appreciate every single meter of altitude.


There are enough gravel roads between the Ciemgau Alps and the Berchtesgadener Land – but these are usually closed to motorcyclists. A trip on a mountain bike is therefore a wonderful alternative to discover otherwise inaccessible regions.

Arrival: From Munich take the A8 in the direction of Salzburg, then take the Traunstein / Siegsdorf exit. Accommodation: The range of accommodation options in the region is huge. Good: Berggasthof Dora in Oberau, Robfeldstrasse, 83471 Berchtesgaden-Oberau, phone 08 65 2/64 62 8, double room including breakfast for 100 marks; Berggaststatte Alpeltalhutte, Scharitzkehlstrasse 30, 83471 Schonau am Koenigssee, phone 08 65 2/63 07 7, DZ 78 Mark, in the »camp« only 26 Marks per person, each including breakfast. Travel time: During the summer months, the Berchtesgadener Land region and before especially the Konigssee overflowed. Weekends in particular are to be avoided. Literature: For motorcyclists we recommend “Deutschland Sud” from the Unterwegs edition and “Alpen” from the Motorbuch-Verlag by Elke and Dieter Lobkarn for 29.80 marks. Three books are recommended for mountain bikers: The book Ostalpen by Pietsch-Verlag describes 120 easy to moderately difficult cycling tours. On the other hand, the Moser Bike Guides from Delius-Klasing-Verlag are aimed at ambitious MTBers for 58 Marks each. The books each present 50 medium to extreme tours. Volume No. 2: Karwendel, Wetterstein, Werdenfels and Achensee; Volume No. 4: Chiemgau Alps and Berchtesgaden. Each described tour is available as a leaflet and is dealt with in detail in the accompanying book. The general map from Mairs Geographischer Verlag, scale 1: 200,000, sheets 23 and 26 for 9.80 marks each gives a good overview. Compass hiking map No. 14, Berchtesgadener Land, scale 1: 50,000, for 10.80 marks is suitable for mountain biking. Distance traveledBy mountain bike: 23 kilometersBy motorcycle: around 250 kilometersTime required: two days (box text)

The mountain bike tour

The tour described in the text begins at the Jennerbahn valley station in Konigssee-Dorf at an altitude of 600 meters or at the Hinterbrand car park at an altitude of 1,125 meters and reaches its highest point on the summit ridge of the Gotzenstein massif (1,710 meters). Altogether more than 1100 meters of altitude have to be mastered on the partly very steep routes. The Moser Bike Guide (Tour 40) classifies the 23-kilometer route as “very difficult”, but also as a “dream tour”. In terms of time, cyclists with average training should plan around five hours for the tour with breaks. The serviced Konigsbachalm is about halfway there. The Gotzenalm at the finish is open from June 1st to September 30th. Nevertheless, you should bring enough of your own water supplies and muesli bars or similar with you. Mountain bikes for hire are available at the Jennerbahn valley station: Treff Aktiv, Jennerbahnstr. 18, 83471 Schonau am Konigssee, phone 08 65 2/66 71 0, fax 66 73 4. A Scott MTB costs 25 marks per day. Guided MTB tours including bike cost between 29 and 55 marks. Incidentally, it is not allowed to ride a bike everywhere in the national park. The permitted routes are signposted.

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