The Zugspitze was one reason why so many people headed to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the wintertime. Garmisch was where people went to eat, sleep, and be merry, but the Zugspitze was where they went to ski or snowboard on a blanket of perfect Alpine snow! It also happened to be one of the best places to go if one wished to experience top-rate acrophobia!
Yes indeed, the Zugspitze was a high place. Sitting at 2,964 meters (roughly 10,000 feet) above sea level, it was the highest point in all of Germany. The Zugspitze was actually only one peak out of a range of Alpine mountains with a glacial arÍte (gentle sloping shelf caused by the flow of glaciers) in the middle. It was on this arÍte where the ski slopes were.
Getting to the top of the Zugspitze was easy, but took some time. Co-located at the Garmisch-Partenkirchen train station was a network of streetcars, gondola rides, and cog-wheel train to bring visitors to the tops of several nearby peaks. It was very convenient as many travelers came to Garmisch by train with all their ski equipment and therefore needed a simple transfer to get where they were going. The transportation network was designed to handle it all, skiiers and equipment. The train cars, for example, had ski equipment racks on the outside of the train cars where it was easy for people to mount and dismount their stuff. A single day ticket allowed unlimited use of all the means on this network.
I used the streetcar to go from the Garmisch train station to a chapel near the Eibsee. From there, two options were available to reach the Zugspitze -- the gondola going over the mountaintops or the cog-wheel rail that burrowed one mile through them. I used both means, the former going up and the latter going down. I really wanted to do the gondola, since how much fun could the inside of a tunnel be? I thought it a shame that I was directly facing the sun, as you really can't make out the mountain in the first photo -- but at least there was the Christmas tree.
The gondola ride rose 1,960 meters from the bottom and terminated in a huge visitor center with a cliff's-edge view of the Eibsee below. The view is shown in the second photo, with the sheer cliff dropping way under me. Garmisch was off the photo to the right. The observation deck was on top of the upper gondola station, with just a metal fence keeping me between beautiful photographs and certain death. :-) I had quite an adjustment to make, as the sidewalk was very icy and I had the shudders each time I tried to get near the fence. Normally I was not too bad with heights, but I pushed my limits there!
The true top of the Zugspitze, the so-called "Top of Germany," was close to the observation deck. The stylized cross at the left of the third photo was the 2964m marker. Believe it or not, they actually let people climb up to the cross during the summertime, but of course the authorities assumed no risk. There was a tiny wire fence to catch the unfortunate if they slipped, but that was it. I knew people that had done it, but it was not encouraged except for trained climbers. The signs all around the access path called them "Alpine Dangers," which I thought was cute.
The gondola station was much more than an observation deck. It had a museum, a restaurant, souvenir shops, and other facilities. Plus, there was a second gondola that took people down to the ski slopes.
The fourth photo shows one of the ski runs with two rows of lifts. The arÍte was probably a good three kilometers wide and several kilometers long, with the seemingly gentler slopes up above and the tougher ones down below. For the snowboarders, a massive halfpipe was constructed just off the photo to the left. Even though there seemed to be hundreds upon hundreds of skiiers there, there was plenty of room for everyone.
The fifth photo shows the lift facility at the left and the Sonn-Alpin resort in the center. The Sonn-Alpin resort was primarily a restaurant, bar, and sports equipment facility. I took the final photo from a chapel that was constructed in the middle of the slope. I presumed that it was for Sunday skiiers who wanted to either pray for more snow, or pray that they didn't break a leg that day! A second gondola connected the Sonn-Alpin resort from the observation deck and visitor center located at the top of the mountain in the background. Surrounding me in all directions was some fantastic scenery. The jagged edges of the Alpine mountains covered with perfectly white snow.
I returned to the Eibsee via the cog-rail train, whose terminus was beneath the Sonn-Alpin resort. It was dark and uninteresting, leaving me forty-five minutes of good snoozing, which I needed.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the best winter scenes ever. Just imagine miles upon miles of nothing but snow-covered mountaintops like the ones shown in the third photo. And you have an idea of why I loved making the long trek up to the Zugspitze!
Trip taken 28 November 2002 -- Page Last Updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2001 Tom Galvin