Traveling In Germany Europe Using BlaBlaCar
If you want to travel across Germany in a car you can go the traditional route and rent a car, or you can try something different, Bla Bla Car.
With the rise of the ride-sharing economy, people can hop a ride with locals going where they need to go, and BlaBlaCar is the reigning king of this service. This service is wildly popular and widely available in Europe, and I have used it a number of times. You can rideshare with people who have extra space in their car. It’s easy. You find a ride, they agree to take you, and you’re off. It is possible to find rides for as little as five euros.
Getting around Europe on a budget is easy with this service. You can meet locals, speak with them, and save a ton of money over bus and train travel.
You can also find websites that allow you to request rides, as long as you pay for the gas. Gumtree is a favorite of backpackers.
I personally haven’t tried the Southern Germany itinerary below using this method but for those on a budget, it can be an option to seeing the country and the great sites. Otherwise, just rent a car and travel worry-free at your own pace.
Touring Southern Germany
The journey I am going to talk about begins in Lindau on Lake Constance. You can fly into either Frankfurt or Zurich to get there pretty easily. As we continue west along this route, you’ll pass a number of impressive castles, before arriving in Baden Baden, a spa town. From there, you head east to Ulm and then south to Fussen, then into the Bavarian Alps and a series of fantasy castles. At Oberammergau, you’ll head toward Lake Chiemsee, then further east to the Alps and to Berchtesgaden, where you can see the Eagle’s Nest at the top of a mountain.
The border between Germany, Switzerland, and Austria runs roughly along the middle of Lake Constance. The lake in Germany is known as the Bodensee, and its main island is home to the ancient Bavarian town of Lindau. The island was only connected to the mainland by a causeway built in 1853, which allowed trains and carriages to reach the island. Then a new harbor and Bavaria’s only lighthouse were built. Throughout its history, the town has been owned by both Austria and France, and it was only in 1955 that the French returned it to Germany.
Under the leadership of Otto Von Bismark, the modern-day Germany that we recognize today was only founded in the middle of the 19th century. A series of independent federal states were unified under him. It was also a period in which German Romanticism became a major movement, symbolized by the many castles reconstructed in a romantic medieval style.
Once home to the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen princes, Sigmaringen Castle is pictured here.
The oldest parts of it date from the 11th century, though what we see today is from the 19th. As a testament to the nobility’s wealth and power, it became a meeting place for the nobility of Europe. For castle builders, deep, sided valleys with rocky crags provided an excellent location where to build a fortress, which they later rebuilt in a style reminiscent of earlier times.
Werenwag Castle sits upon a crag in this area. In the early 12th century, there was an old castle here, but the castle we see today dates from the 1830’s when the Princes of Furstenberg inherited Wernwag and began transforming it into what we see today. You can only imagine the difficulty of building it on this high crag above the valley. The castle has been damaged by fire in the 1890s and even an earthquake in 1911 when the staircase tower and some of the battlements cracked and crumbled.
Wildenstein Castle is located on the other side of the valley. We still see some parts of the original work from the 12th century. The stables and related buildings are connected by a narrow bridge to the main castle located on a rocky crag. Many of the castles in this part of Germany are perched on rocky outcrops and offer wonderful views. This small castle, however, can’t compare to another castle 20 miles to the north, which is one of the finest in Europe, and one that can be seen for miles around.
Hohenzollern castle is perched on top of the mountain, which is near 3,000 ft high. Construction began in 1850 under Frederick William IV, king of Prussia, and it took seventeen years to complete. This fantastic castle, built on an enormous scale, is another excellent example of the romance movement. While it is doubtful that medieval knight’s castles really looked like this fairy-tale version, the style contains the idealized vision of what they should look like. It was also intended to impress and enhance the reputation of the Prussian Royal Family, whose ancestors first built a castle on the same site in the 11th century. During the year 1423, Hohenzollern was completely destroyed by a year-long siege. Its existence is known only by written records. During the next three centuries, it was occupied by a number of different countries, including the Austrians and the French. At the end of the 18th century, the castle was a ruin. All that remained was the chapel of St. Michael, which was incorporated into the third incarnation we see today.
Rebuilt after the castle was destroyed, it was no longer regularly occupied but rather used as a showplace. Two lines of the Hohenzollern family still own it. With over 300,000 visitors a year, the castle is one of the most popular in Germany.
A smaller and equally impressive castle is Lichtenstein Castle located above Honau. The romantic neo-gothic castle was constructed in the 1840s for Duke Wilhelm of Urach, Count of Wurttemberg. Lichtenstein was a popular historical novel published in 1826 that inspired the design. As at Hohenzollern, the castle operates on the ruins of two earlier castles that were torn down in comparatively short order during the 14th century. After that, it fell into disrepair until it was taken over by Duke Wilhelm. The lower rooms of the building are carved out of the rock that supports it. In the late 19th century, the tall tower was added. The fairy-tale castle still belongs to the Dukes of Urach and is a popular tourist attraction.
A twelve-mile drive away is Tubingen, one of the five classical university towns in Germany, along with Marburg, Gottingen, Freiburg, and Heidelberg. The old castle is now a part of the University, which consists of almost 25,000 students, a third of the town’s population.
Johannes Kepler, the famed astronomer at the end of the 16th century, and Joseph Ratzinger, AKA Pope Benedict XVI, were among the eminent students who walked these ancient streets.
The spa town of Baden-Baden is located in the Black Forest to the west. If you fly into Frankfurt you could actually hit it first. It is one of my favorite German towns. Honestly, I’m not much of a spa person but I love going here to relax and unwind. To bath or bathe in, is the meaning of the German word Baden. Early on, the town was simply known as Baden, and the double name was officially adopted in 1931 and shortened from Baden in Baden, as it is in the state of Baden Wurttemberg. Romans were the first to recognize the healing properties of the town’s water. There is a theory that Hadrian founded the town, and Emperor Caracalla certainly came here to alleviate his arthritis symptoms. One of the town’s spas is named after him.
After the Roman Empire fell, the town became partially ruined and declined for several centuries. Baden was only rediscovered as a spa town at the end of the 18th century. There were also several famous composers and writers who frequented the resort in the 19th century, including Berlioz and Brahms, as well as Dostoyevsky, who wrote ‘The Gambler’ while gambling in the casino. A number of European and Russian royalty stayed in the hotels, including Queen Victoria, Napoleon III, and Wilhelm I of Germany. In fact, there is a collection of Faberge eggs that you can see.
Pro-Tip Spend 2 nights there and make a day trip to nearby Strasbourg.
Atop a hill overlooking Bad Urach is Hohenurach, which served as a prison during the middle ages. In the 18th century, when the prison shut down, locals climbed the hill and demolished it because it was feared and hated by the local people over the centuries. Bad Urach has many half-timbered houses in its old center.
The same cannot be said about Ulm, thirty miles east. After a devastating air raid in 1944, much of the city was destroyed, but the magnificent church was barely damaged. Even the houses around the square in front of the church, where there is a market, were destroyed.
Ulm has a cathedral-sized church, but since its bishop is not based there it is referred to as a minster. At just under 170 meters, it is the tallest church in the world. It is possible to see the Alps more than 70 miles to the south when it’s clear. The building of the cathedral began in the middle of the 14th century, but work was repeatedly delayed, and in the 16th century it was entirely halted. In 1813, construction resumed again, and the church was finally finished in 1890.
About ten miles to the east is Roggenberg Abbey, which was founded in the 10th century, but its current appearance dates from the mid-18th century. A period of secularisation resulted in the closure of the monastery in 1802 and the abbot’s removal from office. As a move that brings the abbey full circle, in 1986 the building’s and church’s ownership was transferred to a group of monks who are working to restore the abbey to its former thriving status.
Continuing south on your journey, you now reach the foothills of the Alps, the great mountain range that separates Germany from Austria and Switzerland. Near the border lies the old town of Fussen, which is situated on the north bank of the River Lech. The Romans built this town as it was on the main road through the mountains to Italy, and to protect the route, they needed a base for soldiers. Among the best-preserved, late Gothic buildings in the region are the castle, which overlooks the town. Medieval houses can be found throughout the town and its center is still relatively untouched. A beautiful mountain landscape, along with two impressive castles, has made Fussen a popular place to stay. Hohenschwangau, which was built in 1833 by Maximilian II of Bavaria and his wife Marie of Prussia, is the oldest of the two.
It was her favorite activity to walk in the mountains, and she often did so with her two sons, Otto and Ludwig. Within a mile of his childhood home, Ludwig built one of the greatest fantasy castles in history just a short distance from his throne. This is of course Neuschwanstein Castle which was designed as a personal refuge for King Ludwig, who gradually became more and more reclusive. As a result of his obsession with Richard Wagner, the castle was to stand as a representation of his most famous operas – Tannhauser and Lohengrin.
Wagner’s music left a lasting impression on the young king, and this is part of a letter he sent him in 1868 about his stunning new castle.
‘It is my intention to rebuild the old castle ruin of Hohenschwangau near the Pollat Gorge in the authentic style of the old German knight’s castle, and I must confess to you that I am looking forward very much to living there one day. You know the revered guest I would like to accommodate there; the location is one of the most beautiful to be found, holy and unapproachable, a worthy temple for the divine friend who has brought salvation and true blessings to the world.’
Today, the castle would cost over 100 million dollars. Over 300 workers were employed at various times and often worked by candlelight at night. This was all funded by the king and the money he borrowed. Inevitably, the cost of the castle doubled by the end. Read about Neuschwanstein here.
A possible reason for locating the castle here was the view he got from the bridge his mother had built to span the gorge. Ludwig must have been profoundly impacted by this landscape while walking with his mother. His fantasy castle was only occupied for 172 days. Ludwig was finally declared mentally unstable and died aged 41 in 1886. Ludwig became known, perhaps unkindly, as Mad King Ludwig. Yet he left a remarkable fairy-tale castle that would inspire Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disneyland.
Fussen is a nice quiet town to spend the night in. If you are a World War II buff you should visit the museum and see The Great Escape exhibits. The Great Escape itself didn’t take place anywhere near here but many parts of the famous movie were filmed in Fussen and the surrounding area. Fussen is also home to the German Curling Federation and has hosted many Championship events in the beautiful arena they have.
Ludwig enjoyed hunting trips with his father as a child, and in a valley not far from his home he inherited his father’s hunting lodge. The Linderhof Palace he eventually built reflects his love of grandiose constructs and his admiration for Louis XIV, the Sun King of France. Linderhof, named after the linden trees that surround it, was intended to complement the Royal Palace of Versailles, but it was never completed, as Ludwig later obtained an island on a large lake on which he could accomplish his grand plan.
Ludwig’s Linderhof may be the smallest of his palaces, but it is still an impressive sight. There is no doubt that the gardens surrounding the house reflect the French style of the time. As a result of the sloping ground to the north, it was possible to build a cascade, where water could run over thirty marble steps before dropping into the Neptune fountain.
The music pavilion is at the top, and on the west and east sides are colorful parterres with fountains, statues, and covered walkways. A golden fountain stands near the foot of a three-stepped terraced garden leading to a temple topped with gold on the south side. In the park, inspired by the English landscape movement, he built a Moorish Kiosk, which he purchased in 1876. It is evident that his extravagance had no bounds, ultimately leading to his downfall.
On the other side of the valley is one of the most important monasteries in the Alpine region, built along the main trade route connecting northern Italy to Augsburg in Germany — Ettal Abbey.
Originally founded in the 14th century, the Benedictine abbey that we see today dates from the mid-18th century and is built in a Baroque style. An extensive fire in 1744 had devastated many of the abbey’s buildings and caused the abbey’s church to burn. During this time, Ettal entered its golden age, and the ‘Knights’ Academy’ was established, which became a highly successful school. All this came to an end in 1803 with the secularization of church property. In 1898, a wealthy Catholic supporter bought back the buildings and gave them to a group of Benedictine monks from a nearby monastery. These monks now also run a successful brewery (with an excellent Weiss beer) and distillery. There is a small cafe on the abbey grounds.
To the north of Oberammergau is a town that is home to the world-renowned Passion Play, performed since 1634. It began because local residents made a vow that if God spared them from the plague they would stage the Passion every ten years. Since then, the play is performed in years ending in ‘0’. Approximately 2,000 people took part in the 2010 play, which lasted seven hours. Performances were given between May and October. The 2020 play was postponed until 2022 because of Covid.
Pro-Tip Visit the Eiscafe Paradiso for some great Ice Cream and Coffee treats.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the Zugspitze, Eibsee Lake, and the Partnach Gorge are just a few miles south and you can read my detailed Garmisch blog here.
Chiemsee, a freshwater lake on the edge of the Bavarian Alps, is 60 miles to the east. This body of water is sometimes referred to as the Bavarian Sea. It is a very popular place for sailing and other water sports. If you prefer a more sedate means of transportation, you can take a paddle steamer trip on the lake.
There are many islands in the lake and the second largest is Frauenchiemsee. The paddle steamers drop off both visitors and island residents who do not have their own boats. Around 300 people live on the island, which is car-free. Thousands of people come to visit the Benedictine Convent, which dates back to 782. Nuns at the convent make Cloister Liquor, which they sell, as well as excellent marzipan to raise funds.
König Ludwig’s unfinished tribute to Versailles in France is hidden in the woods of the lake’s largest island, Herrenchiemsee. Unfortunately, Ludwig didn’t get to spend much time here before he died. His cost today would be about 70 million dollars for what he did build. The central section was the only part built, as all construction was halted a year after Ludwig’s death. With fountains and parterres, the section of the garden that was completed copies the style of Versailles, as does a central allee that runs over a mile long, crossing the island. The palace is situated on an island and can only be reached by a small ferry, so it has remained in the shadow of Ludwig’s best-known castle, Neuschwanstein. If you are interested in the architecture of the German Romantic movement, this island palace is well worth the trip.
You can end your journey in the Bavarian Alps and Berchtesgaden, a place forever associated with Adolf Hitler. In Berchtesgaden, his house was destroyed, but one mountain top house that was a present from him has survived — the Eagles Nest. He was given it as a gift in 1939, but he rarely visited it, so it avoided demolition after the war even though it is closely tied to him. Martin Bormann built the Eagle’s Nest on a 6,000ft ridge that is connected to the town by a four-mile mountain road cross that passes five tunnels. Just the road alone is estimated to cost over 100 million dollars today. The road ends at a car park below the house, from where busses deliver present-day visitors. Visitors ascend to the Eagles Nest via a 407ft lift through a tunnel on the mountain.
The Eagle’s Nest is now a small restaurant and bar where visitors can marvel at the view.
After Berchtesgaden, if you aren’t toured out by then you have the options of going to Munich, Salzburg, Prague, Vienna, Innsbruck, or Venice.
I hope you enjoyed this journey. If you need any help in planning your trip please reach out to me.
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