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July 1999

Seeside: Life's a beach at Munich'S Lakes

Munich'S many lakes are always a favorite travel destination

One of the best things about Munich is the city’s proximity to countless appealing vacation spots. You could drive down to Lago di Garda in a mere four hours though you, like many other Münchner, probably keep postponing that weekend trip to Italy, ever cognizant of the fact that you could go. But there is just no need to venture so far afield. Beyond the city gates lies one of Bavaria’s most attractive recreation areas. The so-called Fünfseenland — the five lakes Starnberger-, Ammer-, Pilsen-, Wörth- and Weßlinger See — is just a 40-minute drive from Munich and offers an abundance of first-rate leisure activities. Also known as the Fürstensee (Princes’ Lake), Starnberger See was deemed the perfect summer retreat by Bavaria’s ruling family, the Wittelsbachers, who had mansions built in Starnberg, Possenhofen and Berg. This area was the center of court life when the family decamped its Munich residence. In the 17th century, the Wittelsbachers threw lavish waterside parties, during which as many as 2,000 guests boarded floats and gondolas to view spectacular firework displays. One of the family’s most ostentatious possessions was the Buccentaur, a 30-meter ship rowed by 150 below-deck oarsmen and an on-deck capacity for some 500 guests. In later years, royalty continued to be drawn to this noble swimming hole. Princess Sisi, the future Empress of Austria, spent her childhood at Schloss Possenhofen. Her cousin, the legendary king Ludwig II, met his mysterious death here in 1886, a few days after being declared insane and impounded at Schloss Berg. A simple wooden cross rising up from the lake’s surface marks the place where the king drowned. Today, Starnberger See still attracts an eminent crowd. The large villas, owned by entertainers, politicians and CEOs, are hidden behind high fences and hedges, making “promi watching” difficult. But this is not to say that Starnberger See is only for the rich. Roughly half of Starnberg’s shore areas are open to the public, including a 46-kilometer bike trail which encircles the lake. (Bicycles are available for rent at the Starnberg train station.) The town of Starnberg offers a full complement of leisure activities. Whether for Kaffee und Kuchen overlooking the lake or a long summer-night festival, the Seerestaurant Undosa has been catering to the varying tastes of its guests for years. The former Wittelsbach castle now houses the revenue office and is therefore closed to the public, but the steep walk up the hill still rewards visitors with an impressive view. One of the most popular — and crowded — beaches is the “Paradies” between Starnberg and Possenhofen. Part of Schloss Possenhofen’s resplendant palace gardens (the castle is now privately owned), the “Paradies” offers swimming and inviting spots to lie in the shade of large beech trees or barbecue. Just south of Possenhofen lies the town of Feldafing. With its magnificent panoramic view across the lake to the Alps, Feldafing has earned itself the name Perle am See (pearl of the lake). Many turn-of-the-century villas, including the artists’ retreat Villa Waldberta can be admired here. The Hotel Kaiserin Elisabeth, once Empress Sisi’s summer resort, is now a favorite of golfers. Its adjacent twenties-style golf course is one of the most attractive in Germany. From Feldafing the visitor can embark on a boat ride to the Roseninsel. Sisi and King Ludwig rendezvoused in secret on the small island, which features a Pompeii-style villa and lush flower gardens. Tutzing, accessible by S-Bahn, is another popular lakeside resort. The Evangelische Akademie and the Akademie für Politische Bildung have turned the once-quiet fishing village into a congregation point for scientists, philosophers and politicians from around the world. Still, the town offers a stunning view of the Allgäu and Chiemgau Alps from its 728-meter-high Ilka-Höhe. the ammersee is more tranquil than its Starnberg neighbor. This lake is characterized by its rustic surroundings — thus the nickname “Bauernsee” (Farmers’ Lake). Due to the strong currents of the Ammer river, the water quality is outstanding. Despite tourism, large stretches of shore are still virgin, and in the South an extensive nature and wild-life preserve is home to hundreds of aquatic birds. Herrsching is the largest town on the Ammersee. Often host to exhibitions and other cultural events, the town’s Kurparkschlößchen is an enchanting castle in miniature. Herrsching also boasts the longest lake promenade in Bavaria (7 km), most of which is open to the public. Rising to the southeast is the Heiliger Berg (Holy Mount). A one-hour hike through picturesque Kiental leads up the mountain to the famed Benedictine monastery, Andechs. The counts of Andechs erected the town’s first church in the early 12th century. Three centuries later the monastery was founded under Duke Albrecht III. After a fire destroyed the 12th-c. edifice, a new, Baroque church was built in 1755. Its interior is ornamented with frescoes and stucco work by Johann Baptist Zimmermann, the architect of the Wieskirche. Andechs is one of Germany’s most notable places of pilgrimage, but religion is only one reason 1.5 million people visit each year. Andechs is also noted as a place of beer worship. The monastery’s own brewery produces a peerless strong, dark brew. On summer Sundays up to 17,000 Maß (liters) of the potent beverage are sold. A little side-trip from the southern tip of the lake leads to Raisting, where an unexpected sight awaits: Just outside of town, the tiny St. Johannes church is surrounded by three enormous bowl-antennas, which loom over it like spaceships. In 1965, Early Bird, the first commercial satellite, was launched. It was the aerial at Raisting which was equipped to receive and relay Early Bird’s signals, enabling America and Europe to make direct contact by television and telephone for the first time. Later, two further aerials were added, making this hollow the world’s largest telecommunications station. It is possible to visit the ground signal station, which Bavarians refer to as their “Ohr zum Weltraum” (ear to space), Mon.-Fri., 9-12 and 13-17. Diessen, on the lake’s southwestern shore, has been home to artisans for centuries. Folk arts, from tin-founding and pottery to glass painting and wood carving, are still practiced here. For those interested solely in recreation, nearby Utting has a beautiful old Seebad (seaside health resort), complete with a long dock and a three-storied, wooden high-diving tower. Utting is also home to the Ammersee’s most popular beer garden, the Alte Villa (tel. 08806/617). First-rate cuisine is served in the restaurant of the Jugendstil villa, while a Bavarian beer garden, which seats 600, provides earthier fare. Sunday brunch is especially popular, as it is accompanied by the jazz and swing music performed by a Dixie band. For some of the tastiest Renken, a fish indigenous to the Ammersee, drive to Schondorf and buy them directly from fisherman and smokehouse-owner Anton Schwarz. The neighboring Gasthaus zur Post is perfect for a cool beer and a Brotzeit. Of course, the ideal way to explore a lake is from the water. Both Starnberger and Ammersee feature a fleet of steamships which regularly ply the lakes. Historic tours, round trips and night tours with live music are offered throughout the summer. A trip on the paddle steamer Diessen is a particular pleasure. The steamer, in operation since 1908, offers reduced-price tickets including the Weiß-blaue Kombikarte (DM 48), which allows two adults, three kids and one dog (!) unlimited travel with the MVV Munich public transport and the Bayerische Seen Schiffahrt. For more details on the lake region contact the Tourismusverband Starnberger Fünf-Seen-Land, Postfach 16 07, 82306 Starnberg, tel. (08515) 90 60-0,, <<<

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