Finding local gems in your own backyard
March 31, 2010
- Travel to Kallmuenz for art, fishing, hiking and bicycling and a castle ruin.
- Pottenstein has a cave, castle, hiking and climbing for the extreme outdoorsman and fun for the kids.
- Neustadt is a glass and crystal shoppers delight in addition to it's camping, hiking and biking opportunities
So you've been stationed in Germany and you want to travel' But where do you go' Everyone tells you, "Go to Berlin and Rome," or "You can't visit Europe without seeing Paris." The list goes on and on.
These trips are wonderful and educational, and when you have the money and the time, visit as many as you can afford.
But what do you do on those rare weekends when you wake up with no previous obligations' The sun is out, the kids are bored and the house is clean (or not). How can you experience Germany without spending a fortune'
No matter what time of year, you'll find many gems in your own backyard while living in Bavaria. It depends, of course, on what you and your family enjoy, but Germans have families very much like our own and you will find they love the outdoors, history, music of all kinds and art.
As a photographer, I love getting out and about to photograph everything from buildings to flowers and sports to theatre. I enjoy capturing it all. I have taken my sons (or dragged, as they might say) on many a photo expedition, but now they are grown and I've had to find other people who would accompany me on my treasure hunts. Good friends have become better friends after a few of these jaunts. Here are a few of the diamonds I've discovered while here in Germany.
You definitely won't want to miss the "superstars" that everyone will tell you about, like Berlin, Nuremburg, Munich, Regensburg and Rothenburg ob der Tauber. But don't forget the small towns that are an easy drive away but won't be found in most tourist brochures, like Kallmuenz, Neustadt on der Waldnaab and Pottenstein.
Kallmuenz is a great location for artists and art aficionados, photographers, history buffs, hikers, bikers and anglers.
This small community is located at the confluence of the Naab River and Vils River and sits at the base of a mountain with Burg Kallmuenz presiding from atop the cliff.
No matter which direction you drive from, the castle walls will be one of the first things you see as they sit atop the mountain or "Bergruecken" (mountain back) as Germans call it.
As you get nearer, however, the green valley is teeming with wildlife and farm animals. The roads are narrow and one should proceed cautiously, for you never know what wildlife may be in the road around the next bend.
The town is quaint and only has about 3,000 people. As you enter from the east through narrow streets, brightly colored buildings and artwork are everywhere. Some of the best parts of the community are between the buildings. Looking down the alley between buildings you'll discover sweet gardens and collections of gnomes.
Artist Wassily Kandinsky met fellow artist and former fiancAfA Gabriele Munter in Kallmuenz in 1903. The town continues to be an artists' colony as is obvious by the many art galleries, sculptures and paintings you'll encounter.
The stone bridge that connects the two halves of the community was constructed from 1549 to 1558. It is still in use, however, due to heavy ice conditions in the 18th century, it lost three of its original seven arches.
Getting up to Burg Kallmuenz can be a challenge or a light hike, but either way, it's worth the trip. The vantage point from above is stunning. One route goes almost vertically up the mountain, beginning on the front side of the Burg and winding its way upward to the backside through the trees, with glimpses of the community below as you ascend.
Near the top, the view opens gradually allowing you more and more of the panorama below. As you reach the pinnacle, you are treated to a spectacular image of the green valley below with homes and businesses dotting the landscape. When you arrive it will take your breath away!
It is about 90 kilometers south of Grafenwoehr, about an hour drive.
Neustadt on der Waldnaab
Neustadt is known for high quality crystal. It is the starting point for the Glass Route, but is also great for hiking and camping and bicycling.
Nature buffs will love the 138,000 hectare (532.82 square miles) nature park, which has a wide variety of flora and fauna. The park is also ideal for hiking and bicycling along a 24-mile stretch of trail on the former "Bockltrasse," the former steam locomotives railway.
Neustadt was not always famous for glass making, but thanks to the construction of railways in the mid 19th century, selling of raw materials became easier and more profitable. By the end of the 19th century those railways would also bring people and raw materials such as coal, which could be used to fire glass.
According to Neustadt's Web site (www.neustadt-waldnaab.de/engl/frameset.htm), the glass companies Schrenk & Company (later called Osram), Nachtmann and Tritschler, Winterhalter & Company began there and hundreds of employees from the Bavarian Forest came to Neustadt and to the Upper Palatinate with their families to work at their factories.
The Nachtmann glass factory is all that remains after years of tyranny and economic depressions, but Neustadt begins the Glass Route that continues to Passau and the Bohemian crystal legacy continues.
Neustadt boasts an old and new castle and many fine shops. There are also wonderful annual events including a volksfest and outdoor music soirees. For more, see their Web site at www.neustadt-waldnaab.de.
Another Bavarian gem is the village of Pottenstein, in the heart Little Switzerland. This beautiful spot boasts a number of wonderful sights including Pottenstein Castle, the Summer Toboggan run and the Devil's Cave. There are also paddleboats, a swimming pool, hiking, miniature golf and camping nearby.
Pottenstein is part of Franconian Switzerland and was named such because of its resemblance to the Swiss Alps region.
The Devil's Cave (Teufelshoehle bei Pottenstein) is a dripstone cave like the famous Carlsbad Caverns in southeastern New Mexico. The cave is 4,900A,A feet long, the longest in Germany, and according to their Web site, www.teufelshoehle.de, the largest in Franconian Switzerland. It is a wonderful hiking tour which can be done in large or small groups with headsets in English. The cave is damp and visitors should wear a light waterproof jacket and bring a flashlight. The tour takes about one hour to see the numerous geological formations.
Another site is the Burg Pottenstein, or Pottenstein Castle, owned by Ludwig IV, Landgrave of Thuringia. From 1228 to 1229 Saint Elisabeth, widow of Ludwig IV, was held hostage within its walls. She was a kind woman and according to legend, would often sneak food to locals in need. Legend has it that while showing her kindness, she was threatened by Ludwig IV and the eggs and lard in her carrying basket were transformed into beautiful roses. This is considered a local adaptation of the famous Miracle of the Roses.
If you choose to visit the castle, remember photography is not allowed within the castle. The castle has been in renovation for several years and the owners have worked hard to preserve this historical site.
From the castle parking lot, opposite the castle, hikers will find a wonderful, yet steep trail that climbs up to a cement platform. The platform has a plaque with arrows indicating the direction and distance to other towns and villages in the area. Hikers also have the rare treat of overlooking the winding roads below. Be sure to take a camera because the view is spectacular!
Germany is a veritable goldmine of tourist destinations, and Bavaria boasts a number of great locations for quick day or overnight trips that will keep the kids happy or allow you that much needed romantic time away. When you look closely, you'll find towns, both and small large, that will make you wonder why the brochures didn't mention them AcE+' and then you'll be glad they didn't.