Berchtesgaden, Germany

watzmann_berchtesgaden

Berchtesgaden is a beautiful land located in the extreme Southeastern tip of Germany in the Bavarian Alps. This small town is surrounded on all sides by a wealth of pristine streams, meadows, and forests, all nestled within snow capped mountains. There are only a few roads and one rail road track that all dead end in this valley. Berchtesgaden truly is surrounded by mountains on all sides. With the most prominent peak being the Watzmann to the South as shown in the image to the left. Being a small town, it does have a permanent population. At the same time it is a national park in Germany, attracting 1.3 million visitors per year. Berchtesgaden is so much more than just a tourist attraction. It has a rich history that includes kings, writers, musicians, and many stories from World War II.

Salt mines were opened here in the 12th century, making the region more prosperous and beginning many centuries of rivalry with the present day Austrian towns of Hallein and Salzburg, also know for their numerous salt mines.

Starting in 1300 AD the town was ruled by monks from its Augustinian abbey. These monks later became princes of the Holy Roman Empire in 1491. In 1704 Berchtesgaden was occupied by the Austrian army and annexed to Austria in 1805. After a period of French rule starting in 1809, the town came to the kingdom of Bavaria in 1810.

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The Watzmann mountain has come to be known as the Symbol of Berchtesgaden. It is named after the legendary King Watzmann, a ruthless king who routinely tormented his subjects. He along with his wife and their seven children are said to have loved going on many a hunting expedition, hounds and horns blaring as they charged through the forests atop horses. The king would sick his hounds on farmers of the region for their lack of production. Legend has it that the king and his family were stoned to death by a group of angry farmers. So many stones were thrown that when all had settled two large peaks remained along with seven smaller ones. This is all that remains of the king and his terrible family.

Alter_Freidhof_cemetery_berchtesgaden

Alter Freidhof, Berchtesgaden's oldest cemetery, sits next to the Franziskanerkloster church near the center of town. It is filled with many well kept tall tombstones, many of which are capped with stone crosses. Among those buried here is Anton Adner, born 1705 and died 1822. At 117 years, Adner is recognized as Bavaria's oldest person. He is said to have credited walking as his key to longevity. During his life he would knit warm garments and carve figures to sell in local markets. At this time these types of goods would ordinarily be taxed when they were transported across borders, unless they were transported on your person. Thus Adner would transport his items to avoid the usual taxes, knitting and carving figurines as he went. The Bavarian king got word of this and at the age of 113 Adner was honored as one of the most worthy men in the entire kingdom. In keeping with tradition, this warranted a trip for him the the royal palace in Munich for the annual 'washing of the feet' by the king on Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter. This is symbolic of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples. Adner journeyed to Munich every year for this ritual for the next four years until his death in 1822.

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As if this part of the world wasn't beautiful enough, at the end of the valley lies Lake Konigsee. This fjord like lake is long and slender, flanked on both sides by mountains. Runoff from the surrounding mountains fills the lake with pristine water to a maximum depth of 620 feet. Dissolved salt minerals create its beautiful green hue. The water is so pure it is safe to drink, and only electric powered boats are allowed on the lake to keep it this way.

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Christlieger Island lies at the Northern end of Lake Konigsee and is the only island in the lake. It is also called Johannesinsel island after a marble statue that was erected in 1711 of Sy. John of Nepomuk (born c. 1345).

On the West side of the lake sits St. Bartholomew church on the Hirschau peninsula. It is named after St. Bartholomew and was originally founded in 1134. Starting in 1697, it has been rebuilt in a Baroque style and modeled after the Salzburg cathedral. After the Berchtesgaden region came to Bavaria in 1810, the church became a favorite hunting lodge for Bavarian kings. An annual pilgrimage to the church takes place on the first Saturday after August 24, starting from the town of Maria Alm in Austria and crossing the Bavarian Alps along the way.

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The surrounding peninsula is a wonderful forested area. At the South end of Lake Konigsee lies a small patch of forested land with Saletbach creek flowing through, feeding the Konigsee and connecting it to Lake Obersee. Numerous cattle graze on the small meadows stretching up into the towering mountains on either side. For thousands of years these cattle have been transported across the lake by boat.

In the wintertime the lakes freeze thick enough to walk on, and to support horse drawn sleighs to ferry people across them.

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Ludwig Ganghofer (1855 - 1920) was a writer famous for stories of his homeland in Germany. He was also well known for his love of the Berchtesgaden land. His works regularly describe the lives of simple, loving, honest, hard working people, routinely set against the idyllic backdrop of the Bavarian Alps. During the period of WWI he was a voluntary war correspondent and did much work writing articles supporting the German cause in the war. After the war was over he returned to his occupation as a writer and dedicated his last work, Das Land der Bayern in Farbenphotographie (The country of Bavaria in colored photography) to "His Majesty King Ludwig III of Bavaria in deepest reverence". Ganghofer is famously quoted from this book to this day for one particular phrase describing Berchtesgaden:

~ Herr wen, du lieb hast den lässest du fallen in dieses Land ~

~ Whoever God favors He will drop to this land ~

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