If you've been to Germany before, you know that it's one densely populated country. With some 82 million people living in a space about the size of Montana (which has less than one million people), Germany will never be called Big Sky country. What open space does remain tends to attract a good chunk of the citizenry who come out to hike and, of course, hit the beer-swilling, wurst-grilling mountain-top establishments that so many clichés depend upon. That said, Germany packs in some fantastic hiking opportunities that blend fairytale alpine scenery with the chance to wander along medieval streets later in the day. Unless you plan to do a big overnighter in the wild, you won't need a tent as there are indeed huts in the high places, and towns with cozy beds below. You don't really even need a big pack. Something to carry supplies for a few days at a time at most will do just fine, and free you up to enjoy the landscape.
Fit for a KingEven if Germany Doesn't Clear the First Round: Bavaria's Neuschwanstein Castle
As a base, you should probably pick a place like Füssen, southwest of Munich, or better yet, tiny Oberstdorf, which sits in the Allgäuer Alps (pronounced "AL-goy-er") about 100 crow-flying miles west of Füssen. At both locations you'll find trails that will test your quads as you work your way up as much as 6,000 vertical feet for views into nearby Austria. You can spend as long or as little as you like poking around alpine meadows under snowy peaks that set the background for Neuschwanstein, King Ludwig's haunt and model for Disney's Cinderella Castle. In Oberstdorf, you can hike about 2,800 vertical feet in about three and a half hours to the Kemptner Hütte, a stone chalet built in 1891 that today has about 290 beds and bunks, a kitchen manned by a keeper, and commanding views of the surrounding Alps. Beds go for about $14 a night. If you do want to do a longer trip out in the Alps, you can do a three-day loop along the Heilbronner Weg. That loop starts in Oberstdorf, hits the Rappensee Hütte and Kemptner Hütte, and takes in some scrambling along the way. Once back at the Kemptner Hütte, you could wander into Austria and stay at more huts and villages, take day trips out to the higher peaks, or just kick back with a beer and wurst and ponder how all those German clichés are wrong.
For pictures of the Kemptner Hütte and more information (if you speak German), check out www.kemptner-huette.de/dokumente/index.htm. It's nearly impossible to contact the hut directly (and get an answer), but Oberstdorf (www.oberstdorf.de; firstname.lastname@example.org) has an information site for tourists available in Englishwhere to stay, what to do, etc.that can help get you on your way.
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