Located on a landing high above Garmisch-Partenkirchen was a massive monastery complex surrounded by a little village. This monastery had a long and storied history as one of the bastions of the Roman Catholic faith among the Bavarian Alps. The monastery and its village were known as Ettal, and was yet another of the tremendous tourist offerings of this most beautiful part of Germany.
Tom had flown over Ettal more than once, and from above it was an incredible sight. It sat seemingly alone near a cliff, its massive square shape and bright white unmistakable. But approaching from the ground, one had little idea of its size because it was so well hidden from the road. In fact, one might think that Ettal was nothing more than a tourist town with all its restaurants and souvenir stands lining the roadside. However, there was a huge plain yellowish wall following one side of it that was a giveaway. Walking through a humble arched opening brought us to the beautiful sight in the first photograph.
This view showed the monastery courtyard and the main church in the center. The courtyard was very simple, with green grass and scattered evergreens around. Much of this structure was not available to the public, after all this was still a very active monastery. Parts were used as a seminary, and each visit we made there had been groups of youths around who were probably studying there. But apart from the occasional tour group, even in summer the courtyard would ordinarily see little activity.
The current peace and serenity abounding the monastery belied the horrid truth of the religious wars that occurred in this region centuries ago. We followed the path toward the church and encountered a stone column, the top part of which is shown in the third photograph. As you can see, the column memoralized a sad event when one of the brothers were persecuted and killed for his beliefs by enemy soldiers.
The interior of the main church was a sight to behold, one of the most elaborately decorated churches in Germany. The scheme was bright white and gold, similar to many Catholic churches in Bavaria. It gave it a cheerful look. It also was covered in lively and joyous murals. The second photograph shows a shot taken of the circular ceiling, which was a prime example of the type of artwork decorating that church. Hosts of historic figures swirled around the outer rim of the dome separated from the inner circle of angles by cloud figures.
The church was perhaps surprisingly small, but then again it wasn't intended to handle the thousands of faithful who now visit it. For example, we attended Mass at Ettal on a very cool and foggy Sunday morning in October once, and basically there were as many people standing as there were sitting. Perhaps half of the crowd were locals or regulars, we weren't sure, but the majority of those standing were tourists who like us participated in the weekly celebration and then went about our business taking photographs all over the place. The monks who presided over the service took it all in stride.
The village of Ettal owed a lot to the tourism industry, being dominated by restaurants and souvenir stands. There were certain things to look for, however. First, there was one particular restaurant and brewery that has retained the rights to brew the monastery's traditional Bavarian beers, now sold as an "Ettaler" brand. Tom considered the Ettaler beers 'definitely above average' for Bavarian brews, which was saying a lot as Bavarian beers were well above-average to begin with. The six varieties were available in take-away packs at all the souvenir stands. The restaurant itself was absolutely fantastic, with some of the best traditional meals around. Ettal was also famed for its harder liquors. Some of them were brandies made with local fruits while others were neutral grain spirits (like a vodka) flavored with fruit (example, Kirschwasser, or "cherry water"). The fourth photograph shows one of the local selling shops that advertises "Klosterliqueur" (yellow sign at left), which was the specialty of the Ettal monastery. Not being liquor drinkers, we did not try it, but if that's your thing, feel free.
The souvenir stands were focused heavy on religious articles (when they weren't peddling the monastery beer, that is). Just like the nearby village of Oberammergau, Ettal offered a wide variety of hand-carved wood crucifixes, nativities, and other Christian scenes. Items concerning St. Bonifatius (Boniface), the patron saint of Germany, were also plentiful.
In all, Ettal was really just a short stop. Taking in the accessible parts of the monastery would not take long, but for those looking for something unique and steeped in the area's religious history, this place would definitely be worth it.
Trip taken 11 October 2004 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2004 Tom Galvin