We planned to drive the ‘scenic route’ to Augsberg which would take us north out of Bavaria and back en route to the eastern side of the Black Forest. Bertha’s steering was a problem immediately on heading down the slope of the Wank so with her bonnet up and a top up of the necessary oil applied; we gingerly climbed up and out of the valley on a soaring and winding road.
Pilatushaus in Oberammergau
High up in the Ammergauer Alps we stopped at Oberammergau for a wander around its famous painted houses. The technique is called ‘luft-malerie’ and the aim is to create the illusion of three dimensional facades that spring out at you as turn the corner towards them.
Hansel and Gretel house
The effect is striking as windows and doors appear to have columns and porticoes or rococo style exterior decoration. Much of the additional painting is religious in theme, and some of it morbidly and graphically so, but we found some traditional folklore on houses depicting the Hansel & Gretel and Red Riding Hood fairy tales.
An abundance of woodcarving shops pedalled life-size figures of the Holy Family as well as various tortured saints along with an occasional goat or lamb. It was surreal.The coffee shops were full, but more people were drinking alcohol before noon.
Many proprietors were setting up their Christmas offerings of tree decorations and we were amazed by a delicate nativity scene carved inside a walnut shell, until we spotted at least 100 more identical ones. It was a bit gaudy, and sometimes ghastly, but fun to walk amongst.
The town puts on a Passion play (in every year ending in a zero) and all the villagers take part, growing beards and hair and making costumes. It’s world famous but probably not for the faint-hearted. Thankfully we were there at the wrong time of year and indeed six years too early for it.
Driving through the Ammergauer Alps
Driving on north through a valley beneath the Ammergauer Alps, the fields were full of rich crops of root vegetables, pumpkins and squashes.Higher up, the plains had endless acres of sweeping pasture land. We arrived at Schongau a mere 67kms or 32 miles north of Garmisch but the nature of the ascending and descending winding road made it feel a much longer journey.
We found a car park aire and parked up amongst three other vans before setting off up the steep and stepped pathway to the hilltop medieval town. It’s 15th century but you wouldn’t know it to look at it.
It’s been carefully rendered and re-decorated through the centuries so if anything it looks rather plain and utilitarian on the outside. A visit to the local museum, shortly before closing time, treated us to a chat with the curator who explained that it had never been a military target and in both world wars acted as a barracks for soldiers passing through.
Knowing this and paying more attention to the buildings we started to spot original leaded windows, still intact, massive wooden doors set in Gothic arches, oriel windows and interior courtyards.
Heading back down the steep hillside we passed what we now knew to be the ‘witches tower’ where local women condemned as heretics were imprisoned before their execution. It was interesting to challenge our first impressions of the unassuming-looking town!
Our overnight stop at Schongau aire
Not sure of the next destination or indeed the route out of Germany we researched maps and books late into the night before a loud and cheering crowd seemed to emanate out of the night air.
Looking out we couldn’t see them and they passed on by, leaving us wondering what it was all about.