FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Sound the flugelhorn

Posted in Berchtesgaden, Germany by folkestonejack on June 28, 2016

One of the most alluring spots in Germany is to be found at the Königssee in the Berchtesgaden National Park, close to the Austrian border. The lake is surrounded by mountain ranges and you could be forgiven for thinking that a fjord has accidentally got stranded in the Bavarian Alps.

It is not exactly a secret, as over 2 million visitors make their way here each year and the lake was ranked the 12th most popular attraction in Germany for 2015 by the German National Tourist Board. However, the Bayerische Seen-Schiffahrt are well prepared for this with a fleet of 17 electric boats to ply the lake on the run between Schönau, Kessel, St. Bartholomä and Salet.

One of the 18 electric boats that ply the Königssee

One of the 18 electric boats that ply the Königssee

The waters of the Königssee are beautifully clear and this is one of the unintentional legacies of Prince Regent Luitpold whose concerns led to the introduction of environmentally friendly electric boats out of a fear that noisy ships would scare away his prey on hunting trips in the lakeside forests. The first electric boats were introduced in 1909 to connect up with the sadly long vanished branch line from Berchtesgaden.

Today’s boats date back to 1958 and are beautifully maintained in the company’s own shipyard, though the engines are modern replicas of the originals. Each boat travels about 120km a day, working the 7.7km length of the lake at an average speed of 12km per hour. The boats take 93 passengers each and they certainly need that capacity as the crowds were immense in the middle of the day.

The advice we were given before starting our day trip was to get to Schönau am Königssee as early as possible as long queues can build up for tickets and to board the boats. An early start got us to the lakeside, tickets in hand, ready to take up the last few seats on the first ferry of the day at 8am. After this ferries run every 15 to 30 minutes, subject to passenger demand.

The famous pilgrimage church of St. Bartholomä

The famous pilgrimage church of St. Bartholomä

Our passage across the lake was incredibly smooth, starting with a terrific view of the sheer cliffs of the Falkensteiner Wand. A small red cross at the bottom of the cliffs here stands as a memorial to a boat of pilgrims which sank here during a thunderstorm in 1688 with the loss of 70 lives.

A little farther out the captain cut the motor and clambered along the outside of the boat to the mid-ship doorway. To our astonishment the captain lifted up the steps, pulled out a flugelhorn (a trumpet) and proceeded to play a tune (badly) pausing every now and again so that we could hear how the sound echoed across the lake, effectively playing the tune back to us.

As the boat made good progress across the lake we could see the view open out to give us the iconic sight of the 17th century chapel of St. Bartholomä with the Steinernes Meer (stony ocean) mountain range beyond. We made short stops at Kessel, a jumping off point for hikers, and St. Bartholomä before reaching Salet, the stop at the far end of the lake.

We disembarked at Salet and took the short walk to a viewpoint across a second lake, the Obersee. Feeling like a bit of exercise we followed the pathway (and a a slightly slippery set of rock steps) around the edge of the Obersee to a viewpoint at the other end. The reward was a terrific view across Fischunkel pasture and the lake with Mount Watzmann in the background (the third highest mountain in Germany, reaching 2,713m at its peak).

A view across the Obersee

A view across the Obersee

It is possible to walk up to the Röthbachfall, the highest waterfall in Germany, from this point but we opted to make our way back to the dock at Salet. Boats were now queuing to dock at Salet and whilst they were all pretty packed on arrival they were mostly empty on departure (our boat only carried seven passengers).

The Königssee was much busier than when we set off on our outbound journey with a line of boats stretched across the length of the lake. When we reached Schönau we could see that they were now loading boats three at a time and yet there were still large queues. The whole place was absolutely heaving with visitors!

A visit to the Königssee was high on my list for a while and I enjoyed the half-day excursion tremendously, but even with the warnings I really hadn’t appreciated how busy this place would be on a mid-week morning in late June. Don’t let me put you off though, the natural splendours of the lake are well worth the trouble.

Practicalities.

We opted for a mid-week day trip as this gave us the opportunity to take an earlier bus to Berchtesgaden (the first 840 ‘Watzmann-Express’ bus departs from Salzburg Hbf at 6.35am on weekdays compared to 9.15am at the weekend). The bus leaves from Stop G on Karl-Wurmb-Straße, rather than from the cluster of stops directly outside the station. A Tagesticket der RVO for two people cost us 19.60 euros and covered all our bus journeys for the day.

The early morning 840 reached Berchtesgaden at 7.24am, giving us an 11 minute wait for the departure of the number 841 bus to Schönau am Königssee. The second bus ride was relatively short at just 17 minutes. A short stroll along Seestraße (lined with cafes, ice cream parlours and souvenir shops) brings you to a ferry ticket booth by the lakeside (only one counter was open when we arrived but there are three counters in use at busy times). Lengthy queues start to form from 9.30am on summer mornings, but we only faced a short queue arriving just before 8am.

There are a couple of possibilities for buying food/drink at the far end of the lake – a self-service restaurant at Salet (Alpengaststätte Saletalm) and a servery at the Fischunkel pasture which offers a modest selection of savoury options (such as bread with cheese or ham), beer and radler. We had brought lunch with us so can’t offer any opinion on either establishment!

You can make a trip to the Königssee as leisurely as you like within the contraints of the ferry timetable and there are plenty of options for hikes (from Salet to the Röthbach waterfall, from St. Bartholomä to the ice chapel at the foot of the Watzmann and from Kessel into the mountains). We opted to spend just half a day at the Königssee, combining it with a trip to the Almbach Gorge just outside Berchtesgaden (on the route of the 840 bus towards Salzburg). More about that in the next post!

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