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December 2005

Garmisch Revisited

Been there, done that? Now’s the time to give Garmisch another look

Yes, we’ve all been to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. In my case, it was one of the first stops on my very first European tour after graduating from high school. Like many American families, we spent 15 minutes taking in the cultural, traditional and scenic highlights before hitting McDonald’s on our way out of town. Ah, what a trip.

Although Garmisch-Partenkirchen still exudes a bit of that tourist trap aura, lurking beyond the obvious is a list of wild adventures, scenic wonders, World Cup competitions, and, of course, simple Bavarian pleasures—all of which warrant another look. Aside from the obvious—world-class skiing, snowboarding, sledding, ice-skating, and the list goes on—one of the best-kept secrets in Garmisch is the Partnachklamm (the Partnach Gorge). Tucked behind the Ski Jump Stadium on the eastern end of town, the gorge runs 702 meters long and slices 80 meters deep. It was formed, over hundreds of years, by the running waters of the Partnach Creek—a mountain river of melting snow that funnels down from the Zugspitze.

In the summer, the gorge is a magnet for gawking tourists in search of misty relief from the heat—its series of paths and tunnels allows visitors to duck behind waterfalls. Yet in winter, the falling water stops dead in its tracks, creating the most magical, spectacular ice and snow formations found anywhere in the Alps. In the daylight, the scene is brilliant—dazzling crystal ice sculptures provide a constant source of “oohs”, “aahs” and photo opportunities galore. At night, however, the real adventure begins—bundle up in your warmest winter clothes and grab your torch (not the battery-operated version). The Partnachklamm offers guided torchlight tours through the gorge—the ice formations appear even more mystical when highlighted by dancing shadows and firelight. At the end of the trek, climb up to the Forsthaus Graseck, where a mug of hot Glühwein and a hearty fondue dinner await. The hotel’s private gondola service will escort you down the hill afterwards. For more information on this adventure, visit

Speaking of adventure, when was the last time you stood atop the Zugspitze? Safely perched on its 2962 m peak, visitors are afforded one spectacular panoramic view of the Alps in all their glory. To get there, take the cogwheel train from Garmisch’s central station to the Schneeferner Glacier on the Zugspitzplatte, where you can watch the skiers in action, as well as visit Germany’s highest church. From there, ride the glacier cable car to the top. Both railways offer family discounts—and the scenery is well worth the price. (Visit or call Bayerische Zugspitzbahnen in Garmisch at Tel. [08821] 79 70.) If you’re lucky with the weather, top off your trip with a winter sunset buffet at the top. (The first one this season is on December 27 at Restaurant Sonn Alpin, Tel. [08821] 79 79 92.) There is nothing like sitting peacefully among the mountains, watching “the tourists” go home and sipping a hot something-or-other as the sun lowers over the peaks of snow.

If, however, you’d rather limit your excitement to the daytime, try losing your voice cheering at the 54th Annual New Year’s Day World Cup ski-jumping competition known as the Vierschanzentournee (the Four Hills Tournament). Held annually since 1952, this international competition begins in Garmisch-Partenkirchen on December 31, with qualifying rounds leading to the ultimate showdown on New Year’s Day. (Tickets sell out quickly: visit for more information.)

And if that’s not enough to get you going, Garmisch-Partenkirchen offers a wide variety of other entertaining activities including the traditional Weihnachtsmarkt (beginning December 3, Ludwigstrasse, Partenkirchen), family sleigh rides (including a version that drives from pub to pub), wellness spas and guided winter hikes. And, of course, for old times’ sake, there is still McDonald’s, which (when no one is looking) you can hit on your way back home.

By Car: Autobahn A95 South from Munich, drive time is approx. one hour.
By Train: There are frequent direct trains from Munich—journey time is 1 hr. 22 mins. Visit or call Tel. 01805 99 66 33.
By Bus: RVO Regionalverkehr Oberbayern, Tel. 08821 94 82 74,

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