Berchtesgaden & Salzburg – The Hills are Alive…

With some sort of sound, right?… it’s a sound of something… Right on the tip of my tongue…

I felt my first proper “tug” of wanderlust this week, that mythical thing that every backpacker ever goes on about. The desperation to keep moving, to not turn back, was incredibly strong on my last excursion, almost to the point of me spending another hundred or so Euros to get to the next major city and back.

Eventually though, I was dissuaded by the chaos of the Austrian/Hungarian train system at the moment, and ultimately satisfied (enough) by what I’d seen already. Spending two days in one of the most naturally beautiful cities and towns of Germany and Austria has absolutely made my exchange.

Salzach River
Salzach River

The Border Zone

Crowded buses are never the most comfortable form of transport, but this time I was pleasantly surprised. The Flixbus service is definitely more lavish than PM2AM’s. It’s definitely not a luxury liner, but the WIFE and the phone charging ports make all the difference. We’re creatures of electric-current-comfort now, no sense denying it.

I think this is one of my favourite photos from my exchange so far. Taken somewhere near the border of Germany and Austria.
I think this is one of my favourite photos from my exchange so far. Taken somewhere near the border of Germany and Austria.

Waking up in the early morning, my iPod looping Boards of Canada, was definitely worth the lack of sleep. I got to see the sun rise lazily over knife sharp mountains and rolling green hills. Rippling away into the distance, blanketed with a soft mist and broken by spires of ancient tectonic art, the landscape in this part of the world is truly one that demands worship, or at least some recognition for the unknowable powers of the universe that shaped such things.

I felt a bit guilty, to be honest, but also honoured that I’d been the only one in the small group of lovely people I went with awake to see this. I tried not to rub it in their faces when we finally arrived in Salzburg, but then again, we all definitely got our fair share of natural wonder during the day.

Our stay in Salzburg on that first day, in the morning and at night, was only short and definitely not enough to satiate our hunger for the Austrian experience. I mean, we ate McDonald’s for dinner. Hardly alpine, is it?

It’s important to note in this part of the story, for the sake of others looking to follow in our pioneering footsteps (haha, yeah sure, pioneering), that it’s incredibly easy to get to Berchtesgaden. Chuck a change over in Munich, head to Salzburg and then catch a 45 minute long bus ride (840) along a scenic and pure route, back across the border and to the town. From Berchtesgaden proper it’s only 15 minutes to Königssee, a place that’s definitely worth the visit. Hell, it’s worth crossing the entire world for in my case.


The King’s Lake

On the banks of Königssee
On the banks of Königssee

I’ve said it before, but this whole excursion was made all the more incredible for me for the fact that I’ve never really been anywhere with mountains. There’s nowhere in Australia (apart from maybe things like the Blue Mountains, Dandenongs, Bunya Ranges etc.) that can really match the Alps. Of course, it’s really like apples and oranges on a global scale here but it’s worth noting so that you can realise just how much the visit to Königssee impacted me.

The boat tour out on the King's Lake.
The boat tour out on the King’s Lake.

To float across emerald waters, drenched in sunlight and surrounded by steep golden cliffs has perhaps changed my life. I mean, that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s definitely changed something in my brain chemistry. Heading back to homely old Mannheim, with it’s smoke-stacks and trash, just didn’t seem as comfortable as it did on any other return trip. Knowing that places like this exist, places where you can see the work of God/gods/tectonic plates/Great Magnet, just makes everything else seem to pale in comparison. But hey, I can console myself with the fact that it’s only a short hop, skip and jump to return if the tug proves too strong. I can’t even imagine Salzburg in the winter, holy hell.

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I’m also honoured to travel with the group of gals that I did. Here’s a shoutout for ya! I’m glad we got to experience the wonders of nature. Solo travel is important and wonderful, but there is something special about sharing these moments with other human beings. To hear the various opinions of what it means to people, to hear their view on the world and see that you’re not alone in being amazed by what you’re seeing is an almost spiritual experience. Cheers, mates!


Salt Mountain

The famous Mirabell Palace and Gardens
The famous Mirabell Palace and Gardens

While the rest of my gang departed on Thursday night, I’d booked a hostel in Salzburg with the aim of exploring the city for another day. I have a confession to make though… Unlike seemingly everyone else in the city, I’ve never seen Sound of Music! Does that mean I didn’t get the full Salzburg experience? Nah, nuts to it. I’ll watch it sometime later and try to pick out the places I recognise.

Unlike Zürich, I was able to keep myself busy for the whole day in Salzburg. Sure, I was taking things a lot slower and soaking it all in, deep deep down like an experience sponge, but I also feel that there was just a few more attractions and hip happenings in the Salt city.

A small roadway on Mönschberg. A little too idyllic if you ask me!
A small roadway on Mönschberg. A little too idyllic if you ask me!

The walk up and around Mönschberg rivalled the Black Forest for it’s beauty, and definitely for it’s views. The Mirabell Palace and gardens leave the other Baroque sites I’ve visited in the dust and some of the churches… holy holy. The Salzburg Altstadt is the perfect mix of stunning history and modern luxuries. It’s lovely to walk around this place, even for hours, just taking in the sites and shops. Of course, you’ll get sick of seeing Mozart’s face plastered over everything but if you’re a classical music fan you’ll be in some sort of heaven.

View from Salzburg Fortress
View from Salzburg Fortress

The trip up the Fernicular railway to the Fortress is definitely worth it for history buffs. To see golden relics and ornate rooms as they would have been in the 16th century was like travelling back in time. Plus, again, the views! Holy holy holy! Jagged peaks challenge the sun and lord over all below. If the mountains around Salzburg are impressive, I think I’ll blow a fuse if I ever see the Himalayas or Mont Blanc (which is, of course, now on my list).

Kinetic Sculpture at the bottom of the Fortress.
Kinetic Sculpture at the bottom of the Fortress

The cool mountain air and clear waters speak to me of purity. There’s something clean and primal bubbling up in places like this, making you feel closer to whatever truth there is out there. Maybe that’s why Tibet has such a reputation for spirituality. It’s the mountains. The mountains do something to you.


Escape and Survival

The two-day trip was not entirely without negativity though. We were confronted, finally, with the heartbreaking reality of the refugee crisis in Salzburg and Munich. Hundreds and hundreds of desperate, tired and sick people crowded the two stations, seeking peace in Europe’s green and inviting lands.

The presence of police was definitely unmistakable. Order had to be kept of course, especially when confusion between language and culture became evident. But it’s a bit intimidating, isn’t it? To go from seeing only the filtered results of the crisis here in West Germany, to see the reality in the East makes one realise how lucky they are to just have been born in the right place. It doesn’t seem fair does it?

Non-refugees travellers on the bus back were seemingly not too pleased about the crowding and crying babies. I mean, it’s impossible to say that it wasn’t uncomfortable at times to be in the “thick” of it, but then again, we complain about the smallest things. We kick up a stink when our four start hotel rooms are a bit chilly; I can only imagine what it would be like escaping a country where, according to some people I’ve heard from, bombs explode a few metres away from your house. If you can walk past the posters of missing children and hastily erected tents without feeling something… well…

It’s something I found came to the forefront of my visit. If I was able to donate even a Euro to every troubled soul on the streets of Salzburg I’d be out quite a large portion of my grocery/living money for back home. You can’t help the world with money alone but, then again, that’s a lousy fucking excuse. Can anything be done? Or are we stuck in the mess we’ve created?


Return

Last night was the first time I took up the dreaded midnight walk back home from Mannheim’s Hauptbahnhof. Luckily enough, there were a number of other young pilgrims making the same perilous journey as well as a bright moon and light pollution to guide the way. I also saw a wild hedgehog for the first time in my life, just hanging out on the street, that makes the scary hike worth it, I reckon.

After visiting one of the most beautiful locations in the world, and a student city of such historical significance, it’s easy to become a bit disillusioned with little old “Man’s Home”. It’s all too easy to regret your choice of host university and wish you picked Salzburg or Maastricht or Paris. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve ever really been sad to return home. Mannheim is, admittedly, not the most wondrous or happiest place on Earth, but there is… something, as elegantly put by Shannon Broderick. Despite the twinge of regret and the wondering about if “things would have been different if X or Y”, I am incredibly thankful for this ugly ol’ city. If it wasn’t for Mannheim, I wouldn’t be in Europe at all. If it wasn’t for Mannheim popping up, thanks to a complicated digital algorithm, in my search for host unis I very much likely wouldn’t have floated on Königssee.

If I hadn’t conquered my fears and silenced my doubts I would never have grown these few extra spiritual inches. The most important thing now is to deny the regrets. Regretting is pointless. Everything that we choose, if it is of our volition or even influenced by others, is perfect because it could never have been any other way. The past is the past and what is there has been a stepping stone forward.

So, thanks “Monnem”. You’re no Berchtesgaden… Hell, you’re not even a Heidelberg or a Melbourne, but you’re Mannheim. You’re home and the centre of an incredible world, at least for a few more months.

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