Posted by: Nazausgraben | August 16, 2009

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE EMPEROR CLAUDIUS (Part the Third)


Headed northeast from the inn, we skirt around some cows lolling in the increasingly oppressive summer midday heat. They ignore us as we pass, returning to their eating and defecating with nary a care in the world. They really are contented beasts, and remarkably intelligent at that. They follow a ‘leader’ cow to and fro along the via Claudia, trodding its Pinswang length two or three times each day. Yet, they all seem to stay in line together. The occasional wanderer is reminded of her state when the leader cow lets out an long resonant trumpet of sound, admonishing the miscreant to get back in step wih the rest of the pack. Then at the end of the day, they walk the long road off of the via and into the heart of Pinswang, guided only slightly by one or two farmers, they split off on their own into their respective owners stalls. It’s almost automatic…they know perfectly well where to go and how to get there. ‘Tis more than one can say for the many carloads of tourists who daily, guided by their windshield-mounted global positioning systems, end up across the field at our gate rather than at the Gutshof Schluxen, their intended target. Perhaps taking a moment to eschew their expensive high-tech toys and, in its stead, reading a simple roadside sign might be in order. But I digress.

We start a slow winding switchback climb up into the mountain range at the foot of which our house sits. The path is dusty, dry and rocky. The rains and hailstorms that have pelted this area for the past few months have stopped for now, and the brief respite has brought everything to a fast dry. Each step creates a puff of dirt that hangs suspended as if gossamer. Yet, despite the crusty heat-worn path, the surrounds are astonishingly green and lush; grasses and wildflowers continue to grow prolifically in all directions as though in a planned noble garden. Each turn in the rising slope reveals blazes of yellow and blues set amongst the deep soft green carpet.

We continue to ascend, passing a low ancient stone wall to our left where we can gaze down upon the ever-shrinking inn and the expanse of Unterpinswang. We take in the panorama,  from the government building and school all the way to the Ulrichskirche sitting grandly at the base of the last western mountain bastion between Austria and Germany. The wet Summer has yielded a sea of long green grass…a lush carpet of many fields separated by ancient rights of land ownership and a few rotting wooden stakes marking the perimeters.

We finally espy a flock of bright yellow direction signs ahead. A decision is now in order. We can either turn left and continue to go up into the mountain or stay on the via. The former choice takes one to the Dreiländerecke, a rounded mountaintop that is the point where the borders of three countries meet…or at least met (as noted on an engraved border stone and wooden plaque) in 1800 where Bavaria, Tirol and Augsburg were said to have met. The latter levels out into a wide, undulating path.

We stay on the Roman Road, which has now turned into a thickly forested ancient mountain trail, headed in the direction of the border with Germany. Indeed, quite suddenly the border is upon us. Ahead and to the right, we see a somewhat forlorn abandoned building….or rather, a small hut..the type that adorns many gardens here and can be used to store wood, garden implements or house unanticipated and unwanted visitors for a rustic night or two.  Now unoccupied as borders fall and nationalism and self-governed autonomous nation-states are considered anathema under European Union dictates, the old wooden log hut that once housed the German and Austrian border Police now silently keeps quaint watch on tourists who stop to pose at the former checkpoint signs and barrier. No handsome flags fly in the transitory breeze that brings the occasional breath of cool respite; there is no sign that one has reached a border, a change of culture, dialect, history or autonomous peoples. One just poses for a digital rememberance or two and than continues on unimpeded and almost unaware into what happens to be another country.

Thus we step onto geographic German soil and continue on into the rich deeply shaded forest. Maerchenwald is the word in German…a fairytale forest indeed as very ancient tall trees shade one from the penetrating sun. We are no longer climbing; the path roles in soft long sinusoidals, pleasant for the wanderer, but abit of a strain for our logo-bedecked Tour d’ France sport riders streaking past at mach speeds, ignoring the natural beauties through which they are racing.

Signs of forest control are about us as neatly aligned piles of wood; each short log cut into three-sided inverted ‘V’ forms designed to facilitate orderly and, stable stacking. The logs are each marked with the sign of the individual given legal authority to cut and use the wood. The life of the forest continues as new growth trees replace those that have been felled. The strong pervasive odors of both ageing and freshly cut wood mix with the sweet nectar smells of wildflowers, made alight by the strands of sunlight that permeate the thick high tree growth and dance waltz-like across the rich forest floor.

 After about 45-minutes, a divertissment. Taking a thin steep dirt path down from the road, one comes to the bank of one of the many beautiful lakes that characterize the German Allgäu region of Bavaria. A slow lazy walk around the Alpsee reveals several grassy areas sloping down to the dark, clear cool waters. Long sea grasses dance in the ripples and time-hardened tree trunks washed into the waters by age and bank erosion slowly decay atop one another, the branches of one or another briefly becoming visible between the pacifying undulating movements of the green lake surface.

A wooden boathouse appears where small paddleboats for two can be rented and a dollop of straciatella icecream must be practically inhaled before it overheats and ends up running down the cone, turning ones hand into a less than attractive 3-Euro sticky mess. Most people there, however, discard their clothes for swimsuits, set out their blankets on the soft grasses and become targets for the glorious ultraviolet…desperately attempting to burn abit of red-brown into their bodies not already darkened during the hours of hard work in the fields, and once in a while, dipping themselves into the cool of the Alpsee to relieve the pain of the burn and the scratch of the insects living in the grasses along the bank.

 Another curve further along the path reveals a more generous grassy expanse at the waters edge. Here one finds more heliophiliacs bronzing away their pale European selves with all immodest abandon and chattering away in every language except German. The air is thick with Russian, Italian, Spanish and abit of English wafts over to this side of the lake from somewhere ahead. For as one approaches the north end of the bank, it is here that one stands at the grand entrance to the village separating and serving the castles Neuschwanstein and Hohenschangau (collectively known as Die Königsschlösser, the King’s family homes) planted on a pair of hills high above…the main reason that most visitors flock to this part of Bavaria. They come by the car, van, SUV and busloads…eager to immerse themselves in abit of fascinating German history and a wealth of souvenir kitsch heaven below. 

It is here atop the hill to our right that we find Neuschwanstein, one of the many residences of the late 19th century Bavarian King, Ludwig II. This imposing edifice is an immediately recognizable  world landmark. In keeping with the surrounds, Neuschwanstein is a fairytale, whose neo-Gothic outer hull and Byzantine-like interiors delight the senses and make one want to investigate the colorful individual who built it and, for a short time, lived within. The lines to tour the cavernous castle rooms and indoor grotto are long, such is the vast driving popularity of this icon.

Alpsee and Schloss Neuschwanstein as seen from the Dreilaenderecke

Alpsee and Schloss Neuschwanstein as seen from the Dreiländerecke

Across from Neuschwanstein, sitting atop another hill is the less imposing but none-the-less splendid Hohenschwangau. Its origins date much further back than the relatively recent pedigree of Neuschanstein. Destroyed and rebuilt, it has seen a number of noble owners in its time. Hohenschangau can likewise be toured.

We round the bend on the road past Hohenschwangau and head back up onto the Roman Road headed south, retracing our path back through the forest and across the mountain into Austria.  Barring stops in the village or the castles themselves, the entire round trip from Pinswang takes a couple of hours. It is one of the reasons that so many are spending time in Pinswang; the opportunity to reside for even a short time on this placid side of the border, yet to be but a beautiful short walk to the Königsschlösser is an enticement that more astute travelers are quickly discovering.

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Responses

  1. I have put this walk on our to-do list when we visit!


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