‘Pomme fritz mit mayo’. It’s German for ‘french fries with mayonnaise’ and it was a key culinary requirement for our visit to Germany. It’s a German delicacy. Or so I told Emma, Amy and Oliver. German fast food is probably a more accurate description and who eats fries with mayo anyway? I tried it when I was in Bonn for work years ago and had been waffling on about it for some time before we actually reached Germany. You know, as you do.
We eventually tracked some down at a curb side kebab caravan in a little town near Bad Feilnbach where we had set up camp for a few nights. I studied German for three years in high school, and was revelling in the fact that I could actually understand the occasional spoken word. I got really into it at the kebab shop by placing our order, one French fries with mayo and two vegetarian falafels, in German.
‘Ein pomme fritz mit mayo und zwei falafel vegetarianish bitte’, I asked stiltedly but confidently. I was clearly understood because the friendly fellow smiled before responding with an onslaught that made it plain my German language ambition exceeded my ability. He was probably just clarifying my order, but I stared back at him blankly as it dawned on me that there is a downside to pretending you can communicate in another tongue. We got our pomme fritz, but we also got three falafels rather than two and one of them wasn’t vegetarian.
Germany, and Bavaria in particular, had other culinary ambitions to be realised as well. Bavaria is after all the home of strudel! Am I right? I was so sure. I had been telling Amy and Oliver about Bavarian apple strudel for even longer than the pomme fritz mit mayo. I’d been going on about it so long I think it may even have played a hand in our choice of Bavaria as the second of our German destinations. That and the reputed mountain scenery of course.
You can imagine then my relief when my eyes latched upon two fine looking apple strudels at a bakery in the idyllic little town on Ramsau near Berechtsgaden. It was too good to be true and proof positive of my assertions re the culinary delights of the region. I would have gloated, but I’m better than that. Nah I’m not. I gloated.
There was nothing to be gained here by botching up the order with poor German so I pointed and stuck up two fingers in time honoured, universally accepted sign language. The lovely lady new exactly what I wanted and strudel was exactly what we got. It was good too, served with healthy lashings of unhealthy cream and wolfed down in the warmth of our little Bavarian apartment on the mountain foothills.
We ended up in said apartment because the weather in Bavaria seemed determined to do all it could to make us miserable. Here we were with four days in one of the prettiest parts of the country and it was forecast to rain without relief. It was sunny when we picked up our rental car in Munich, so Emma and I weren’t really worried. Since when has the forecast ever been right four days out?
Turns out the German bureau of meteorology really know their stuff and it did rain for more or less four days straight. Which was no good for us. There is only so long before clambering out of a wet tent in the middle of the night and walking through the rain to go to the loo starts to wear a little thin. So after two days of that, hiding in the cooking shelter and reading in the car we gave up and Emma found us a roof on Airbnb.
Rain still wears thin after a while, even with a roof over your head, but far more slowly. You can pee in comfort for a start! After that it’s the dampener it puts on your outdoor ambitions that are a struggle to come to terms with. The Bavarian Alps are stunning. Not so high as those across the border in Austria and Switzerland, but just incredibly beautiful, idyllic even and we longed to see it all lit up in glorious sunshine rather than clouded and grey.
The whole place is so neat and green and all the locals got the memo about how to make their homes fit the relevant Bavarian style. Meanwhile the mountains launch themselves up into the air to dramatic effect. There are walks everywhere an endless supply of valleys, ridges, alpine meadows, peaks and canyons to explore. I wanted to walk them all. Really. I wished I could. I wanted a month in our cozy cabin with a new trail to explore every day. It was exhausting just containing my unrealised enthusiasm.
Eventually my desire capitulated to the rain. I reconciled the full Bavarian Alps experience to a future to do list and got down to the business of making the most of the few days we had. Because my family is so wonderful, the 8.5 kilometre walk we took up one of the mountain valleys turned into a solid 18 kilometre roundtrip. They marched on, at least partly just for me I’m sure, sensing my desire to know what was around that next corner.
Emma and I had purchased a bit of good will with Amy and Oliver a few days before hand. It was raining so much, we gave up on sightseeing and took them to another high ropes course. They loved the one in Scotland so much they were bursting with excitement at the mere whiff of doing another. This one fortunately ‘was very, very, great’ in Oliver’s words. Emma and I watched on from below, rain jacket and pants on, and wishing we had worn shoes and socks instead of sandals. ‘It’s supposed to be summer!’ is what I wanted to shout to the heavens, but didn’t.
It was still grey the day we had to leave Berechtsgaden and the Bavarian Alps behind. We pulled into a petrol station and purchased an Austrian driving ‘vignette’. Basically an upfront toll. We planned to drive a couple of hundred kilometres through Austria (because we could) to make our way to Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze, all the while hoping the weather would improve. Little did I know that would not be last time I saw that petrol station, but that’s the next story.
I love to stand in places where history is made – in case you hadn’t noticed by now. Tucked away down in the Bavarian Alps of Germany is a mountain hideaway of the Nazi regime that was only discovered after the war was over. It’s called the Kehlstein or Eagles Nest, a mountain retreat perched precariously upon a ridge 1800 metres above the valley floor and given to Hitler for his 50th birthday.
The same road that he and his cronies drove was the same we climbed up, in a bus with a bunch of other tourists. The 7 kilometre road is only one lane wide with a single passing point at the centre. Precision driving ensures the busses going up and down meet at the middle at exactly the same time. You gotta love the Germans.
After alighting the bus at the top of the road a tunnel entrance is spotted leading deep into the mountain. After roughly 150 metres the tunnel ends at a small domed chamber which serves as a foyer of sorts for an elevator. The brass lined elevator takes you another 150 metres straight up through the mountain to the heavy set stone building above. It’s the same tunnel and the same lift used by same said persons all those years ago. Isn’t that creepy? It was creepy, but enthralling.
The clouds swirled thick and then thin as we visited, so the views weren’t quite what they would be on a gorgeous sunny day, but we saw enough through gaps in the weather to appreciate what a stunning vista it would present.
It’s not a large place, but here is the dining hall and rooms where all the heavies of Nazi Germany met and held council. Today it’s a privately run restaurant with hordes of tourists swarming about like it was any other mountain lodge, sipping latte’s and wolfing down their pomme fritz mit mayo and strudel. I like the idea that a place with such a dark past is now the happy domain of any and all comers.