It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post about tourism in Germany during the Covid19 pandemic. Me and my colleagues spent most of those weekends exploring the southwestern part of Germany, checking out a lot of different sightseeing spots. To my surprise there was a fair amount of other tourists at several of the places we visited; except for the fact that museums were closed and we were limited to eating fastfood in the car, it didn’t really feel like there was a lockdown. Granted, Germany was only doing lockdown light but in some places it felt so normal it almost made me question if there was any lockdown at all. Don’t worry, I have not become a Covid denier, it’s just that the overall experience has mostly been like normal, pandemic free tourism.
So, just like in my last post, I want to share some of the more worthwhile places with my readers, enjoy:
One of the more famous towns in southern Germany is Heidelberg. The city is fairly big but the old town center is similar to other picturesque little towns. Except for the town center there is also the university, one of the oldest in Europe, the old bridge over the river Neckar, and the castle on a hill overlooking the city. Strolling around in the streets is a quite similar experience no matter which picturesque little German town you go to. What makes Heidelberg special is the castle, which is a pretty impressive castle in itself, but perhaps more importantly, you get some rally good views of the city and the old bridge from the lookout points just outside the castle walls. It’s well worth the rather steep hike up from the town center just for the view. We were of course unable to go inside the castle but my guess is that it’s pretty nice too.
This was the first place we visited after the lockdown had gone into effect and we quickly noticed that most people were wearing masks, even out in the streets. Soon enough we also saw signs informing people that according to you had to wear a mask according to the law. We even saw a few police patrols, likely there to enforce the mask law. In the morning the streets were quite empty which made it feel like we were indeed in a lockdown. In the afternoon however, more and more tourists showed up and keeping social distance became increasingly difficult, but since people wall wore masks it still felt reasonably safe. I’ve realized later that they had those signs and police patrols there because they knew there would still be plenty of people in the city during the weekend, despite the lockdown. Clearly the effect on tourism wasn’t as big as I had thought.
When you think of Disney you likely think of two things, Mickey Mouse, and the Cinderella castle on their logo. It just so happens that the design of the Cinderella castle was inspired by the Castle Neuschwanstein close to the border between Germany and Austria. Naturally, a castle with such a fairytale look to it has become super famous, which means my colleagues just had to go. Considering that it was over 200 kilometers from where we were down to the castle, I was considering not to go, but in the end I decided to join, which turned out to be a good choice. The castle is located on top of a hill, looking out over a village and two small lakes, with a high mountain at its back. The castle was of course closed for visitors due to the lockdown, but thanks to its location, you could get some great views by crossing the nearby bridge over a gorge then hiking a short way up the mountain behind it. I can add that castles tend to be more interesting from the outside than the inside anyway, so in my opinion we didn’t miss much. Because I enjoy hiking I kept going upward, and while I lost sight of the castle after a while, the nature up there is really beautiful; I think it’s worth coming there just for the hike.
Bunch of shots from higher up on the mountain. The places is so gorgeous my photos don’t fully do it justice.
Just like in Heidelberg, there were far more people in Neuschwanstein than I had expected given the pandemic situation. They did have Covid controls and in place at some bottlenecks where many people were passing but other than that it felt like any normal sightseeing spot. With that many people now, it really says something about how crowded it must be during a normal tourist season. As I hiked up the mountain I met plenty of other hikers, none of them wearing masks, and it really felt like there wasn’t a pandemic. As if we all left Covid behind the moment the trail became steep. Of course, it’s pretty easy to keep a safe distance when you’re out in nature but it still felt weird.
When talking to some of my German colleagues, one of them recommended we go to Mummelsee. Looking it up on google maps, it seemed to just be a small lake in the forest, but one weekend, when we didn’t have any other ideas, we decided to check it out anyway. This turned out to be a great idea. The lake itself is indeed quite small, you can walk around it in about an hour, with not much else to see than the calm water and the pine trees along the shore. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful little lake but places like this are thirteen to a dozen where I’m from so it wasn’t all that interesting for me. After a round along the lake shore, me and my colleagues where about to get back in the car, slightly disappointed at driving two hours for a one hour walk in the woods, when I noticed some people heading up the hill behind the lake. I decided to follow and “discovered” (I could have know about it if I had paid more attention when checking the maps) that there is a trail starting at the lake going up to the top of Hornisgrinde. With time to kill we decided to go hiking and the view from the top was absolutely amazing; in the foreground you have the steep slope down to the blue mirror of the Mummelsee and in the background, several layers of pine clad mountains. As a bonus we happened to be there on a day with a light cloud cover, translucent mists flowing like rivers in the valleys, the mountain ridges like river banks. The lake itself is really not much of a tourist destination, but for anyone who enjoys hiking I highly recommend the Hornisgrinde. It’s pandemic safe too, so if you’re not in complete lockdown, it’s a good place to go.
The Moselle Valley
One of my Taiwanese colleagues is very interested in European history. He found two rather famous castles not too far from each other, both close to the river Moselle, Cochem Castle and Burg Eltz. Another colleague pointed out that one of Germany’s longest suspension rope bridges is in the same area. It was a bit of a drive to get there but the possibility of visiting three tourist sites in one day was too good an opportunity to pass up. We had a bit of bad luck with the weather that day so when we arrived at the Geierlay Suspension Bridge it was foggy, so we didn’t see as much as we hoped. That said, I still liked it and I believe you can get some really great views on a clear day.
Geierlay suspension bridge in the fog
I have to admit that after nearly two months in Germany I was starting to feel a bit tired of castles so I wasn’t super excited when visiting the ones at Cochem and Eltz. However, I do still think they are nice castles. Cochem castle sits on a hill above the small town with the same name, overlooking the river Moselle. It looks quite a lot like something from a fairytale but it’s quite small and since it was closed due to the pandemic there wasn’t much for us to see.
When we got to Eltz the weather had cleared up, the low afternoon sun lighting up the castle and the forest around it. The castle is surrounded my forest clad mountains the rise up around it on all sides, as if it was built at the bottom of a bowl. This makes it more special than Cochem and other hilltop castles. As we were there in late autumn, many of the trees had already lost their leaves, but I think this place could look really beautiful in the summer. In my opinion, neither Cochem castle or Eltz castle is really worth visiting just on its own, but the fact that they are so close together makes for a pretty good day trip; add to that the Geierlay suspension bridge (on a clear day) and you’ll have a really nice little tour.
Knowing that I would be stuck indoors for two weeks during quarantine I decided I had to do something out in nature during my last weekend in Germany. After a bit of searching I figured out that Feldberg, right in the southwestern corner of the country, should have some pretty good hiking and even the possibility for some snow. It would be another long drive but I figured it would be worth it to preemptively ward off some quarantine cabin fever. I had sort of hoped I would be able to get a few days of skiing during this stay in Germany and Feldberg does have a number of ski slopes. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough snow when we were there so me and my colleague had to had to make do with hiking. There are several interconnected trails so you can adjust the length of your hike to suit your needs. Unfortunately we hadn’t thought of planning out a route, instead we hiked kind of randomly, guessing where to go at every intersection. That might sound a bit risky but there are plenty of signs along the way and we always knew how to get back to the town. There are some restaurants up on the mountain but they were closed, likely due to the pandemic. Mind you, even in a normal year they might only be open during skiing season. Knowing this could be the case, we had prepared some food and had a nice, though slightly cold, picnic on the trail. I think Feldberg is a pretty good place to go hiking, though I personally enjoyed Neuschwanstein more because the surrounding mountains are steeper and more dramatic.
Shots from the first peak
Random shots along the way
In Feldbeg we only saw one single person wearing a mask, and that was the clerk in the one shop that was open. Except for that, it really did not feel like being in the middle of global pandemic. It was just like hiking any reasonably popular trail during a normal year; a few people here and there taking photos or resting, naturally keeping a safe distance. I’m not sure if you would be allowed to go during a full lockdown, but if you are, I think it this is a good choice for getting some fresh air while staying safe.