Europe’s German-Speaking Countries

Can you name them? There are three countries where German is the only official language and two where it is the majority language. Of those five we were just in four.
We flew into Munich, Germany (I know you knew Germany was one of the five), drove to Salzburg, Austria a few days later, then back through Germany, into Liechtenstein, and on to Switzerland.
IMG_0714A few things I learned or re-learned:
I may love the Rockies, but the Alps are more gorgeous than I ever expected.
It is worth it to spend some time to learn a few phrases, if only to sound less American and touristy.
Teething gel is a necessity.
My German accent is pathetic.
Deer goulash is pretty great.
I will never be able to fathom the devastation of WWII.
Sleep is another necessity.
Daughter is a travel trooper.
Zurich is crazy expensive.
I love family time.

München (Munich)
It was drizzly and much colder than I expected when we arrived. I was really grateful Daughter’s gloves had been left in my bag from winter! We were still successful at walking around and seeing some of the city center on our first day, including the Frakenkirche and Rathaus-Glockenspiel. The Glockenspiel chimes a few times a day while figures dance and re-enact the wedding of one of the Dukes of Bavaria. It’s like a life-size cuckoo clock minus the birds.IMG_0325It was fun seeing the sea of umbrellas as we tried to stay dry while watching the glockenspiel. I also appreciate how intent daughter is on seeing the figures dance!IMG_0296The next day we went to the Dachau Concentration Camp. I will never have the words to sufficiently and adequately describe a concentration camp, so I’ll just share a tiny bit of our experience. Most of our tour was learning about different buildings, their use, and the history of the camp and area overall. However, after walking through the crematorium and gas house Derek and I talked to each other about how up until that point we had mentally been learning about the camp, but once in the gas chamber (for me) or the crematorium (Derek) we each emotionally felt some of the severity and weight of the horrors that happened 70-80 years ago. Interestingly, while “there is no credible evidence that the gas chamber in Barrack X was used to murder human beings” (source) I could not spend time in the gas chamber. I walked in and walked out. There was a sickeningly claustrophobic and heavy hearted ambiance in that room for me. Before going to Dachau Derek and I did discuss whether or not we really wanted to bring a 1 year old to a concentration camp. We thought it was important that we go, but when watching the video presentation we tried to not let her see the screen when there were bodies found upon liberation by the allies and she didn’t spend any more time in the gas chamber than was necessary to walk through it.
It felt unusual and not fully appropriate to take many photos during the tour, so we only have a few.
IMG_0322I think it’s important to visit places like these. Remembering some of these awful (clearly that’s not a sufficient word, but I’m not sure the English language has one that is truly apt) portions of history help us ensure they never happen again.
On Monday we went to the Treasury and the Residenz – the former seat of the Bavarian government. The Treasury was my favorite – it was a little like the Imperial Treasury in Vienna, but quite a bit smaller (and therefore more manageable).
The Antiquarium (part of the Residenz)
IMG_0345We walked through some of the gardens of the Residenz and over to what’s called The English Gardens. This garden/park is famous for Germany’s naked sunbathers, but we didn’t see anyone tanning. : )IMG_0356

Salzburg, Austria
That afternoon we rented a car and drove into Austria. Salzburg is just across the border. After getting caught in some traffic and turning around several times trying to get to the hotel (so typical Derek and Shantal) we didn’t waste any time and headed up the hill to the Fortress. While up there we paid a little extra to walk to the top of one of the towers with audio guides. The view of the alps was A-mazing!

IMG_0367IMG_0372IMG_0378IMG_0395The fortress also has a little marionette museum.
IMG_0365The next day we had scheduled a Sound of Music bus tour. We had so much fun on this tour. Derek and I both grew up watching the Sound of Music, we know all the songs – we even sing them to Daughter sometimes. I love and admire Julie Andrews, and we have done a little research about the real Maria Von Trapp (which means we read a few wikipedia pages and I checked her book out of the library but haven’t read it yet…). Plus we watched the movie a week or so before we went, which made the tour more fun. Even if you don’t care about the Sound of Music the tour was still nice because we got out into Austria’s lake district and saw some beautiful scenery.
IMG_0478IMG_0430At THE gazeboIMG_0434IMG_0501This is in Mondsee, across the street from the cathedral used for the wedding scene. My sister and I were in love with Julie Andrews’ wedding dress as kids!
One of the coolest things we learned about the filming of the movie was that the facade of the house is not in the same location as the back garden with a view over a lake and mountain. Which means that every scene in the back yard that also uses the facade of the house was filmed twice and spliced just so. Impressive.IMG_0411 Something I realized as we were doing research for this trip and I was looking at maps – the alps climbed in the movie behind Salzburg don’t lead to Switzerland. They lead to Germany. And if you really climbed across the border there to escape from the Nazis you’d end up pretty close to the Eagle’s Nest – Hitler’s home and southern headquarters. NOT A GOOD IDEA. It’s also [thankfully] not how the real Von Trapps left Austria.
We ended in town near the Mirabell gardens where parts of the Do-Re-Mi song are filmed.
Naturally that lead to plenty of silly pictures.
IMG_0557IMG_0555_fotorIMG_0563IMG_0515The other (more important) thing Salzburg is famous for is Mozart. When looking things up online I had determined that the Mozart Residence looked more interesting/worthwhile than the Birthplace, but our hotel’s proprietor had told us the Residence was a fairly new museum built to satisfy tourists and that the Birthplace is where all the important stuff is. We went to both because I tend to feel confident in my research. I was wrong and he, the Salzburgian (Salzburger?), was right. The Residence didn’t have much to see and the film is only shown at specific times. The birthplace had the most helpful history of Mozart’s life, work and family. I did appreciate that at the Residence the audio guides had plenty of music to listen to (appropriate for a Mozart museum!).
IMG_0578It would be possible to see both Mozart museums and do a Sound of Music tour in one day, but it would be rushed. Just do the birthplace. Salzburg has 6 million tourists a year, 4 million of which only come in for the day. Crazy, right?
After leaving Salzburg we knew we wanted to get to Neuschwenstein castle, but we hoped to see a few things on the way. That only turned out okay for us. We planned a few options based on what looked cool in our guide book, but it was super rainy making a lake less appealing, and Daughter’s car-naps always end as soon as we stop, so we didn’t want to stop too close to Salzburg. We ended up driving through Neubeurn, described as one of Germany’s prettiest towns, and stopping in Schongau to see a medieval wall and eat some lunch. We also stopped at Wieskirche, a UNESCO site because it’s the best example of a Rococo church. I have no great love for Rococo, but the scenery was nice. Plus, with a city kid who is learning animal noises, chickens and cows are really exciting scenery.
IMG_0613IMG_0634That evening we made it to Neuschwanstein and stayed so close we could see the castle from our hotel. That’s a lie – we could see the light for the it through a tree that was blocking our the view.  Ouch. We were close though, amiright?
IMG_0654The amount of attention Neuschwanstein gets is funny, because it’s not incredibly important historically and was only built in the the 1800s. It’s a romanticized version of a medieval castle. Ludwig II of Bavaria built it as his dream home, but died (under mysterious circumstances) before it was finished. So really, people flock to it because it’s pretty. It was worth it. IMG_0758A few years ago we spent ages working with some friends on a 2000 piece puzzle of Neuschwanstein. I honestly think that’s one of the reasons it is so popular!IMG_0690IMG_0754We also went to Hohenschwangau – Ludwig’s boyhood home, a hike away from Neuschwanstein. The scenery around the two castles is a bit mind blowing. I loved the mountains that surrounded me when I was at University, but these alps were striking. There’s something about the variety of greens amongst the trees, the pristine lake and the double layer of mountains. And the view of a castle from a castle.IMG_0705I could have spent more time there, even with all the other tourists. But we had determined to drive a bit closer to Switzerland before we stopped for the night. We stopped for dinner in Lindau – a lakeside town that felt more seaside than lakeside because of the sunshine and fun atmosphere.IMG_0806 The next day we drove into Liechtenstein. I had originally been against this just because I saw it as extra driving just to say we’d been there, but Derek insisted. While I was pretty much right, the views in and out of Liechtenstein were worth it. Plus we know so much about this little country now! We stopped in Vaduz – the capital city with a booming population of 5,300. We went to the Liechtenstein National Museum and had lunch and that was it. A few tidbits about Liechtenstein – the country is basically more than half mountain. The population is 36,000 and the unemployment rate is only 1.5%. It is one of the few countries that has more registered companies than citizens thanks to the tax breaks and the average income is $143,000 a year (Derek has instructed me to include that $143,000 is the GDP per capita. So there you go). They use Swiss Francs not Euros, but take both. Vaduz is charming, but the alps are still more noteworthy.
Our next and last stop was Zurich, Switzerland.
At the end of our trip and after such a lovely time in the southern countryside of Germany Derek and I were a bit underwhelmed with what Zurich had to offer and overwhelmed with the prices of everything. I know I’m becoming a bit of a broken record, but the scenery was still beautiful, especially on the drive between Vaduz and Zurich. My favorite thing in Zurich was the Chagall windows in the Fraumünster church. IMG_0871I love the Chagall windows in the Art Institute of Chicago so seeing more in Switzerland when we were feeling foreign was really quite comforting. I also have really nice memories of bringing my baby-now-toddler to Chagall’s America Windows and starting her young on museum going and art appreciation (although with that I’m not above admitting that this scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was my first exposure to them!). We also went to the Swiss National Museum and saw where the Swiss Reformation started.IMG_0870With all that, however, my favorite part of Zurich was hanging out on the lake shore path (wow, am I missing Chicago right now? I’m referring to this Swiss lake front trail, not this one).IMG_0867

Some travel tips:
I looked up getting to Munich from the airport via train here, but didn’t realize until we got to the city that we could have trained directly to Marienplatz. We always try to minimalize the distance between the train station and the hotel so we’re not walking or traveling far with out suitcases, so our hotel was close to Munich’s central station. If I re-did the trip we would have stayed closer to Marienplatz.
We tried to get a late afternoon snack at the Viktualienmarkt, but we were really too late and then didn’t take the time to walk there any of our other days in Munich. I kind of regret that. So my recommendation is to go there for lunch!
We took the the train to Dachau from Munich with the tour group and guide. We used Radius Tours and really enjoyed our guide, but we picked them based on the timing fitting into our schedule. There are lots of options. The train was simple, and I’m sure the bus from the Dachau train station to the concentration camp wouldn’t be difficult to figure out on your own, but I do think that we got a lot more out of our visit with the guide.
We booked our Sound of Music tour on viator.com through Panorama Tours.
In Salzburg we ate at a delicious place called Alter Fuchs, just across the river from Old Town.
We didn’t buy our Neuschwanstein tickets ahead of time. Thankfully, we didn’t wait long to get them, but if you’re going in the summer I would book in advance.

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2 thoughts on “Europe’s German-Speaking Countries

  1. I did many of the same things when I was in Germany! It really is a beautiful country. And I completely agree with your experience in the concentration camp. It’s eye opening. Loved this post!

  2. Pingback: Sunday Talk: “Norway Travelogue: I’m a Mormon (Arendal)” | Highlighting Mormon WordPress Bloggers

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