Day Hikes in Germany
In Munich for the Oktoberfest and already yearning for something else to see than men in short trousers and vomiting Aussies?
Then I suggest the oompah-free zone of Lake Starnberg.
There is no shortage of attractive hiking destinations for day trips near Munich where you are during the Oktoberfest. Both the Goldsteig and the Altmühl-Panoramaweg “top trails” are just a train ride away, and of course, there are always the Alps.
But Lake Starnberg tops the list of day trip destinations because it is by far the easiest to reach and is the scene of a titillating piece of German royalty history. (More of that if you promise to read through.)
You can go there by City Rail (the S-Bahn) in 30 minutes from Munich Central Station, and the round trip is covered by the Munich day pass which gives you unlimited access to all the city’s public transport facilities (a steal at €20 for up to five persons).
Another reason why Lake Starnberg tops that list: it won’t take you long to reach it from Starnberg station. In fact, you step out of the train, walk through the underpass, and the lake lies in front of you in all of its splendour.
On a clear day, you can even see the Alps at the far end.
This far end, it must be said, is quite a long way away. Lake Starnberg is about 20 km long, and although it is quite narrow (never more than 5 km wide), the whole tour around the big pond may easily come to about 50 km.
For a day trip, this is clearly off the scale. But thankfully, there are plenty of alternatives.
On the right side of the lake, for example, there are two more S-Bahn stations further down the track (Possenhofen and Tutzing), so in theory, you could take the train there and walk back to Starnberg (7 km and 14 km respectively).
This was, in fact, our original plan: a walk to Possenhofen, the childhood home and favourite retreat of the star-crossed empress Sissi.
But the road to Possenhofen was so busy (even used by trucks) and so far away from the actual lake – it was practically lined with residential homes, gardens and boat houses – that we broke off our trip after app. 1 mile and returned to Starnberg.
Fortunately for us, we then discovered that the “left” (or western) side of the lake provides a much more pleasant ambiente.
A recognized hiking trail, the “König Ludwig Weg”, runs down the entire length of the lake’s west bank. That should, at the very least, ensure that you are safe from truck traffic.
No S-Bahn trains circulate down this side of the lake, but ferries take you to several of the small towns that are scattered around, including Seehausen at the lake’s southern tip.
If you have a full day, this is what you could do: Hike all the way to Seehausen and return by boat.
We only had the time for one section of this trail, however, and decided to walk the 6 km from Starnberg to the town of Berg.
Out of the station and standing in front of the lake, turn left.
The first half mile takes you past a mix of residential and recreational buildings: homes, gardens, boat houses and a public swimming pool.
After the first of two wooden bridges, however, the scenery becomes far more idyllic: swans in the lake, groups of sturdily built Bavarian women training their Nordic walking skills, young families and students skipping a boring lecture.
When you return to the asphalted road, in the outskirts of Berg, you will see some of the most expensive real estate in Germany.
Lake Starnberg, so pretty and so near to Munich, Germany’s richest city, is very much the Alpine version of the Cote d’Azur (or Beverly Hills). After walking about 15 minutes, you will find the boat pier on your right.
If you can, make time for an excursion to the Votivkapelle (just follow the signs) another 30 minutes away. This chapel was erected to commemorate one of the great unsolved mysteries of German history. It stands very near the place where the mad King Louis II of Bavaria, (builder of Neuschwanstein Castle and generous supporter of Richard Wagner’s operatic works), explored Lake Starnberg in a vertical direction. (A wooden cross in the water marks the spot.)
Was it an accident? Did he commit suicide? Or was some sort of jiggery pokery involved? (For a full round-up of events, go HERE.)
On the way to the chapel, you will come across a plaque on a boat house where it says that Ludwig often set out from there to meet with his “soul mate” Sissi on the other side of the lake.
I found it strange and almost touching to see that after all these years, the Bavarians still can’t quite seem to cope with the fact that their beloved “Kini” did not fancy girls all that much.
For a less shamefaced account of the king’s life, watch Ludwig II, directed by Luchino Visconti and featuring the male model Helmut Berger as the eponymous royal, one of the campiest movies ever made: the thinking man’s Wizard of Oz. (No wonder the locals hated the film so much that they tried to have it banned when it was first released in 1972.)
Now, return to the pier where – if there is still time – you can have a coffee or a beer on the terrace of the Hotel Berg before taking the boat back to Starnberg.
If you have started your day before 12, you can still be back at your favourite Oktoberfest beer tent before the evening rush begins – and won’t miss any of the action.