Thursday, 13 July 2017

On Top Of Germany! - The Peak of the Zugspitze

Our journey to the peak of the Zugspitze began at the Bayerische Zugspitzbahn Bahnhof, next to the regular DB Bahnhof, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, near to the Olympia-Skistadion. Here we caught the cogwheel railway train that would carry us all the way up the steep incline to the Zugspitzplatt skiing lodge, where we then took a cable car to the very summit.

There was a rather overcast sky, so we weren't expecting great views from the summit, and boy were we right.


To be honest, the train journey isn't all that spectacular unless you are a die-hard railway buff. I don't think even Michael Portillo would have been impressed. For most of the ascent the views are obscured by trees, and after the station at Riffelriß the train enters a tunnel so that thereafter all you see is rock walls and darkness (and escape routes should the train break down or catch fire. Not trying to frighten you here folks!). When the cable car from Eibsee opens up (currently under construction), that will be a much more spectacular route.

When you reach Zugspitzplatt it is like stepping into another world, and a cold one at that. The phrase 'lunar landscape' comes to mind, except that there isn't, so far as I am aware, an après-ski restaurant and Biergarten on the Moon.


Neither is there a church on the Moon. Nearby to the restaurant is Germany's highest chapel at around 3000 metres, 'Mariä Heimsuchung' (The visitation of Mary), consecrated in 1981 by the emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.



Inside, the church is colourfully decorated, which brings some relief from the monochrome grey world outside.


Over a brow of scree is a view of all that remains of a glacier. The glacier, once upon a time before industrialisation global warming, covered the whole of the peak. See it quickly folks before the last bit melts away forever.



In Winter, the plateau is thick with snow and given over to skiing, but even in July there are children sledging on the lower part of the glacier.


Inevitably, somebody has been practising the art of balancing stones on top of each other.


Wandering, and at many points scrambling, around the area is kind of surreal. It feels like you are on another planet, perhaps like the one Matt Damon was stranded on in the film 'Interstellar'. You are fearful that accidentally stepping over an edge like this, you would suddenly find yourself falling through miles of cloud to the planet surface below.


High above the plateau, it even seems to have its own space station, serviced by a cable car. Either that or the hidden lair of a Dr Evil.


Excuse me if I'm getting fanciful. It must be the rarification of oxygen at this level. This is the Schneefernerhaus, and actually used to be a hotel, opened in 1931. On 15th May, 1965 an avalanche crashed down onto the sun terrace of the hotel and claimed 10 lives. It now operates as an Environmental Research Station for altitude, environment and climate research. I can only imagine what it must be like being a scientist working there over a Winter. Though on the plus side, it would be easy enough to pop down on a cable car and go to the restaurant.


You would think that at this altitude there would be little in the way of flora, but you would be wrong. Even here there are alpine flowers blooming. I must find out what species they are and plant them in a rockery in our garden - they might even be able to survive a Berlin Winter!


From the plateau there is another cable car, the Gletscherbahn, to take you to the peak of the Zugspitze. Then, if you are feeling brave, you can climb a via ferrata to the absolute top. I am never brave when it comes to heights. I am especially not brave when there is a sheer three thousand metre drop down hard pointy rocks involved. I am a total pool of custard when metal ladders slippery with mist and people come up behind you and down from above are concerned.


Dear Reader, I did not climb to the top. I got a photo of it though. I console myself that eh, with an impenetrable cloud covering the peak, I wouldn't have seen much anyway. Was I shamed that I saw Chinese women older than me, and wearing nothing in the way of adequate gear, climbing fearlessly up those flimsy-looking ladders? A little bit.


Hey folks! Health and Safety! Can't you read the sign? 'Alpine experience and equipment required'!


Even at this height, there are animals managing to thrive. You can hear their eery calls somewhere in the mist, and then you will see them, Alpine choughs. They are much like the ones you get on top of Mt Snowdon, except these have yellow instead of red beaks.


Because the Zugspitze mountain straddles the border, you could actually return to ground level on the Austrian side, and take a cable car down to Ehrwald, where our apartment was. However, our car had been left in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany, so we made the long journey back on the Bayerische Zugspitzbahn again.


First though, one last look at the summit.


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