Zauberwald & Hintersee

I can’t tell you how much time I’ve frittered away scrolling through images of Germany’s mountain lakes on Instagram. As far as armchair traveling goes, it’s a pretty enjoyable rabbit hole to go down and it’s easy to lose track of time. When I realized I would have the privilege to see the region with my own two eyes, the indecision on where to go and what to see was staggering. I freeze when facing an aisle of toothpaste options, so making travel plans for the mountain leg of my trip was nearly paralyzing. A lodging tip buried in the comments of a discussion forum led me to Ramsau bei Berchtesgaden. Thanks, interwebz!

Leapfrogging a few trains from Munich and a short bus ride later, I find myself in Ramsau, but a bus stop too far. I stop an old man in full lederhosen regalia for directions, but between my stunted German and his regional dialect (yes, I’m making excuses) we resort to some wild pantomiming. Fortunately, Ramsau is no metropolis, so it’s easy enough to find my way. I drag my suitcase up the hill from town, cursing myself with each step for each of those lead ingots I apparently brought along. *Note to self: for Pete’s sake, pack less and just do more laundry.

My host Sabine is gracious and thoughtful. She gives me a tour and tells me she’s seated me with a British family in the breakfast nook so we can have easy conversations. Bless her! She hands me maps and a card for free bus access throughout the region. She grabs the leaden suitcase and hoists it up the stairs for me before I can say a word. I mentally give thanks for the sturdiness of German women, and verbally thank her for her help.

Weighing my options on how to spend the balance of the day, I opt to set off on foot to Hintersee when I realize one of the places on the top of my to-do list is apparently just a scenic hour hike through the woods from where I’ve landed. If you replace money with jaw-dropping views and heartachingly beautiful wilderness, friends, believe me when I say I’ve hit the jackpot.

The stream that rolls through town is that same Coke bottle glass hue. My trail meanders alongside it as I pass the town’s joyous May celebration. The music and dancing look like so much fun from across the stream, but my first priority is getting to this lake while the daylight holds. I’m soon surrounded by deep forest, lush green as high and wide as I can see, save for the steel blue of the massive peaks. The stream is my walking companion, occasionally making me pause to show me what tricks it can do like an affable child, somersaulting over rocks and running as fast as it can through narrow passes. I spy another kind of river, this one made of soft, moss-covered rocks cascading down the mountainside; a dry bed perhaps formerly occupied by water.

I just learned Zauberwald translates to magic or enchanted forest and it’s so fitting it pleases me greatly. This must be where fairy tales came from.

My feet crunch along the gravel path as my eyeballs strain to take in all the wonder, from the tiniest wildflowers along the forest floor to skyscrapers of trees. My ears absorb the scattering of birdsong and the gurgling laughter of the stream as it comes and goes. My heart is full to bursting as I approach the clearing to Lake Hintersee and, upon seeing it, spills over. I cannot believe how lucky I am to be here, seeing this unspoiled nature firsthand. I greedily harvest photo after photo with my camera, desperate to take home with me as much as I can to try to hold onto this place.

Dark rain clouds gradually encroach, briefly giving me pause on whether to continue my plan to hike all the way around the lake before heading back, but I refuse to be bullied. I stubbornly push aside the headlines my overactive imagination publishes like “Foolish American Struck By Lightning” and “Ohio Woman With No Business Hiking Alone In Mountain Storm Swept Away In Flash Flood.” The tableaus unfolding around the lake are so worth it. The rain is spitting at me but I barely notice. Periodically wiping raindrops from my lens is a small price to pay to collect these views.

When at last I decide I’ve had my fill, I head back, not even a little sorry that I have to hike the same trail back but in reverse. The rain escalates its attempts to harass me until even my rain jacket is struggling to keep water out. The brim of my hat becomes a downspout, but I am resisting with Leslie Knope positivity. I am cold and damp, ok – drenched, but dang it, I am not going to let it get the best of me. If I’m being honest, I’ll tell you that I think of nothing but the possibility of spaetzle for the last half hour of my return hike. When I re-emerge in town in Ramsau I see I’ve missed my chance to catch the May festival, as all but a few stalwart revelers have conceded to the rain. I pass a number of people staggering their way home, slightly drunk and happy from a day well spent in camaraderie. It occurs to me that even though I haven’t had a drop to drink, my facial expression is exactly the same.


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