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Getting Away From Civilization in Mittenwald

February 26, 1989|NINO LO BELLO | Lo Bello is an American author and newspaperman living in Vienna. and

MITTENWALD, West Germany — My wife and I choose this place first when we want to disappear from civilization and fully unwind. Our storybook mountain land, an undiscovered vacation hideaway where life approaches perfection, is in the mountains of Bavaria.

It's in a 3,000-foot-high valley surrounded by the massive rock wall of the 8,800-foot Wetterstein on the southwest side and on the east by the mighty face of the Karwendel Mountains (7,825 feet). A four-seasons beauty for visitors.

North of Innsbruck the West German village of Mittenwald is just beyond Austria's border on the Isar River, about 11 miles from Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Free of fog even in winter, Mittenwald is strong on sun and looks. Lots of action here. All the slopes for the ski crowd are kept perfectly sculpted and all the hiking paths are carefully plowed and smoothed out.

For cross-country buffs, Mittenwald is a Utopian dream. To keep everybody comfy there are countless cafes and modest restaurants or "huts" sprinkled everywhere. Friendliness is the key.

Twenty-four miles of pathways, some as high as 4,600 feet, are rigorously kept in walking order and 250 seats and benches along the way are brushed clean of snow daily. An additional 24 miles of courses is reserved for cross-country skiers only, and there's a fun-filled sledding run.

Serious Skiing

For those who ski seriously there are so many cable cars, chairlifts and T-bar lifts that all usually move along ever so nicely.

As a market town lying on an old Roman trade route between Venice and Augsburg, medieval Mittenwald flourished for two centuries until 1679, when the halcyon days ended; the market was transferred to Bolzano and economic hardship hit.

To the rescue came Matthias Klotz (1653-1743), a native son of Mittenwald who as a child was apprenticed to master violin makers Nicolo Amati in Cremona and Johann Railich in Padua.

Klotz blew the breath of life into his hometown in 1684 by introducing violin making. With this new source of livelihood the town tuned up to a tremendous economic pizzicato that plucked them from disaster. After 300 years violins, violas, cellos, zithers and guitars are still being made here.

You can see Klotz at work on a violin in the form of a bronze statue, a tribute to the violin master standing in front of Mittenwald's landmark St. Peter and Paul's Church at the mouth of the narrow street leading to the Violin-Making Museum (Geigenbaumuseum).

To the strains of a Brahms violin concerto, one of the many violin pieces played around the clock, you wander through the museum where you not only see finished masterpieces and others in various stages of preparation, but also some typical rooms and objects reflecting the history and the culture of the townspeople.

Walk in the Woods

One may take about 20 marked walks in and around Mittenwald, and a day's outing to Elmau and the Partnachklamm (Partnach Gorge) will truly cast a spell on you.

An early start at 9:30 a.m. in about two hours will get you from Mittenwald to Elmau, a tiny village with a nearby famous and most unusual castle/hotel (Schloss Elmau). After an hour's pause for an abundant home-cooked lunch at the inn, you can hit the trail to yon gorge.

This walk, with the sun and sky pitted against the evergreens, snow and mountains, keeps you company for the next two hours up to the entrance of the gorge.

Once there, you walk singly along a four-foot-ledge cut into the rock wall (there are protective fences and railings) and gaze down at the speeding waters bumping over rocks and boulders or up at the gargantuan icicles, like giant ice stalactites and stalagmites.

After you leave it's easy to get back to Mittenwald. It's a 20-minute walk to a bus stop to catch a ride to the Garmisch train station. In a jiffy you are back in Mittenwald.

Eating in Mittenwald is also a treat. At the elegant Rieger, Alpenrose and Post hotels the cuisine is superb. The same goes for the small restaurants, inns, cafes and takeout places, all of which are furiously competitive.

Keep in mind the bustling bakeries and Konditorei that burst with crispy, plump pretzels and breads in every shape and size, plus pastries and cakes. A specialty in Mittenwald is the so-called Black Forest cherry cream cake, which many gourmets claim is better than what is made in the Black Forest.

For further information, contact the German National Tourist Office, 444 S. flower St., Suite 2230, Los Angeles 90071.

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