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Germany’s highest mountain – Zugspitze

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Date11 Aug 2021

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Let me take you on a trip … to Germany’s highest mountain and the beautiful area surrounding it: Zugspitze, the highest peak of the Wetterstein Mountains, is situated south of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria near the Austrian border. With an altitude of 2,962 m above sea level, it attracts many tourists who come to enjoy the stunning view of the Zugspitze massif mountain range, the glaciers and the beautiful valley of Ehrwald in Tyrol. Although the peak can be comfortably accessed by cable cars from both Austria (Ehrwald) and Germany (Garmisch), many tourists choose to take a long and hard one- or two-day hike to reach the summit above the Zugspitzplatt on foot. 

There are five routes to the summit: one from the Höllental valley to the northeast (9 km, 2200 m in height); another out of the Reintal valley to the southeast (21 km, 2300 metres in height, this is the longest, but easiest route); one from the west over the Austrian Cirque (Österreichische Schneekar) and Stopselzieher (8 km, 2015/1735 metres in height), and the alpinist route along the knife-edged Jubilee Ridge (Jubiläumsgrat) (8/5 km, 2015/1735 metres in height). Anyone interested in making the trip should inform themselves about the difficulties of each route, and plan their hike carefully. The best option is to be accompanied by an experienced guide who is familiar with the mountains, the dangers of the rapidly changing weather conditions, and all the other challenges that hiking in the Alps entails.

But let us take you the “comfortable” way; travelling by cable car to enjoy the beautiful area around the Zugspitze massif without taking any risks. 

Garmisch-Partenkirchen can be easily reached by car or by train. There is a direct rail connection from Munich, and as the train approaches its final destination, you will already be overwhelmed by the majestic Wetterstein mountains surrounding Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which offer an unforgettable panorama as they rise up towards the sky. 

Very close to the train station itself, there is a modern and convenient hostel called MOUN10. For those who prefer a little more comfort, Garmisch-Partenkirchen has a wide range of accommodation to meet all needs and budgets, from affordable B&Bs to plush 4-star hotels.

Garmisch itself offers all the amenities a tourist could wish for. It has all kinds of supermarkets, shops, and restaurants, a charming pedestrian area, a church, and a modern tourist office where you can find all the information you need for your stay in the region. The streets of Garmisch are well signposted, so you will have no trouble finding the city centre or other sights in Garmisch and nearby. 

When you come to Garmisch for the first time, you will not only be overwhelmed by the mountain panorama, but also by the beautiful houses, which are painted with “Lüftelmalerei”, a mural art that is native to villages and towns of southern Germany and Austria. The images range from floral designs to scenes from nature to religious themes. Another typical feature of the houses in this region are the wooden balconies overloaded with flowers. Every single house is an artwork of its own. Sometimes, the paintings on the walls tell stories about the building’s history, others have a religious background, or portray the natural beauty of the mountainous landscape.

During the high season, the city of Garmisch is often crowded with tourists from all parts of the world. They do not just come to rest and relax in the beautiful surroundings; many come to hike in the fresh air of the mountains and enjoy the overwhelming views on their way.

If you want to go up to the top of Zugspitze, you can take the Bavarian Zugspitze Railway, a cog railway, from Garmisch. From the central train station you can reach the Zugspitze Railway by taking the pedestrian subway which leads directly to the modern building with the “TOP OF GERMANY” sign. You can choose from a variety of tickets, but the simplest option is to buy the “Garmisch Classic Ticket”, which combines one ascent and one descent. 

First, the Bavarian Zugspitze Railway brings you to the Zugspitzplatt. The one-hour ride takes you across Alpine meadows and approaches the Zugspitze via Kreuzeck-Alpspitzbahn, Hammersbach, Grainau, Hausberg, Eibsee, and Riffleriss, before it goes through a 4,8 km-tunnel, which takes 25 minutes. At the end of this impressive trip you reach the plateau of Zugspitzplatt; directly below the summit. It’s worth taking a break to enjoy the view over the surrounding Wetterstein mountains before you take the Gletscherbahn cable car which brings you directly to the summit. During that 10-minute ride you will have a magnificent view of the scree fields and the rocks that those hiking to the top will have to cross before reaching their final destination.

Bavarian Zugspitze Railway

On “Top of Germany” you will notice that weather conditions are not only quite different from those of your starting point in Garmisch, but also change rapidly. Clouds of fog, cold winds, rain and even snow can transform the scenery within a few minutes. It is highly recommended to take warm clothes to protect you against the changeable weather conditions. 

In all but the foggiest conditions, however, you cannot fail to be impressed by the wonderful panorama opened up to you from the summit. The view of the mountain ranges, with the snow-covered peaks of the Wetterstein mountains and the sweeping valleys below, will take your breath away. There is a golden cross on the summit, which can be reached by a short but challenging hike via ferrata from the Zugspitze plateau. You should only take this route if you have  appropriate equipment and shoes, and you should never take unnecessary risks for the sake of a photograph.

But even if you decide to stay on the Zugspitze plateau without visiting the peak, you will still have a wonderful time enjoying outstanding views. You can take the opportunity to cross the border between Germany and Austria, which runs directly over the mountain. You might also like to have a drink or meal in the restaurant on the summit.

When it is time to go down again, we recommend that you take the Eibsee cable car. It will bring you to the beautifully clear, green-tinted  Eibsee lake that you will already have seen from the cable car and the summit if the weather is clear.

The lake is one of the most beautiful ones in the Alps and has eight small islands as well as a bridge that you can cross on foot. The seven km trail through the forests surrounding Eibsee is worth every single metre. The beauty of its nature is indescribable. Every now and then, you will be stunned by views of the lake, its islands, and the mountains in the background. The colour of the lake changes with the light, appearing in a range of hues from blue to light and dark green to turquoise. Another highlight is Frillensee, a small and beautiful mountain lake with a greenery that provides a wonderful contrast to the blue sky and the mountains reflected in it.

From Eibsee, you can either take the blue-and-white Eibsee bus back to Garmisch or the cog railway of the Bavarian Zugspitze Railway. Both of these will bring you to the train station of Garmisch-Partenkirchen where you can end your unforgettable day with a delicious dinner in one of the numerous restaurants.

Whether you stay for just a weekend in Garmisch or for longer, you can choose from a variety of activities in this beautiful region, and you will not regret any moment. So, follow me on my trip to Garmisch…

For more details on "Lüftlmalerei" read our article 

"Lüftlmalerei“ (Lüftl paintings) – a folk art tradition on the brink of extinction

Written by: Annett Lorenz

Photo: Annett Lorenz

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