There was a storybook quality to the next leg of our journey. From Cologne we nipped in to Frankfurt, then travelled down to Bavaria which was charming and adorably picturesque.
Frankfurt’s Römerberg (old town square) is typically cute; edged with half-timbered houses, the three-peaked medieval Römer (which has served as the Rathaus for over 600 years) and traditional restaurants offering up Seussian lunches of 4 cold boiled egg halves in green sauce (appaz Goethe’s fave) and pancake soup (which I was sad to learn is not chunks of pancake in a bowl of maple syrup).
Beyond this nugget of old-timey goodness, however, Frankfurt seemed much like any other reasonably large city. The word “liveable” springs to mind; great for residents, not exactly a glowing endorsement for the adventure-seeking traveller. The fifth largest city in Germany and a commercial hub, Frankfurt plays host to something like 60 000 conventions each year (a figure which sounds kind of unreasonable but is too boring to warrant verifying) so is full of staid hotels and business centres. There must have been some kind of Comic Con on while we there because there were a lot of warlocks and unicorns about the traps, and I’m assuming (praying) that Bronies et al remain a contained subculture.
After enjoying the banks of the Main River (which earns Frankfurt the sobriquet ‘Mainhattan’ – a bit of a stretch, IMO), exploring the Palmengarten surrounds and making little pigs of ourselves on apfelkuchen (a much better use of apples than allowing them to be pulverised into disgustingly sour Apfelwine), we moved onto Munich.
Munich marked the start of our palace/castle tour of Germany, and our lodgings were definitely on point. We stayed at the turreted, lemon-yellow Lamier Hof guesthouse, where we were treated like queens by our hosts; the insanely chipper, lederhosen-clad Sebastian and his rosy-cheeked wife Alex. Laimer Hof was nestled between Nymphenburg Palace – the summer residence of the former Wittelsbach rulers of Bavaria – and the Hirschgarten which, as Europe’s largest beer garden, boasts seating for over 8000 Augustiner-lovers.
Laimer Hof, Nymphenburg gardens and Great Hall
Despite being the mere ‘country house’, Nymphenburg pips most palaces I’ve seen. It’s replete with garden pavilions (including a rococo hunting lodge, hall of mirrors and baroque bathing house), monopteros, garden canal (with gondolas), a super creepy Gallery of Beauties (ie. King Ludwig’s lecherous portrait Pinterest) and the adorable Royal Carriage and Sleigh Museum.
Amalienburg hunting lodge, Gallery of Beauties, Carriage Museum, a Pepper fit for a princeling
In the centre of town we visited the incredible Munich Residenz, which was home to the Wittelsbach rulers from 1508 until WWI. We marvelled at the Hall of Antiquities, questioned our own shell-art skills in the Grotto Courtyard, lingered in the beautiful Cuvilliés Theatre and puked in the Relic Rooms (which was filled with bejewelled display cases, which were filled with fingers and femurs. Ugh).
Hall of Antiquities, Cuvilliés Theatre, King’s Hall, shell-covered Grotto Courtyard
Munich sidenote: we were surprised to spy dirndl everywhere, from bar wenches to tourists (it seems to be the Bavarian equivalent of Disneyland’s Mickey Mouse ears) to mature ladies to designer store fronts. Esprit? Hugo Boss? Yup, they do dirndl.
Tourist dirndl, designer dirndl
Our next stop was Füssen, to cross off a couple more castles. We stayed overnight at Hotel Fantasia, which was adorably kitschy. It looked as if it had been designed by a cash-strapped Eloise on a German version of The Block. Think hot pink paint everywhere, splashes of gold, rhinestone-studded pouffes, garish garden gnomes and chandeliers only slightly bigger than Sophia Vergara’s Emmy earrings.
We had a great time exploring Füssen and the neighbouring Hohenschwangau, which are tiny but bustling towns set against a romantic backdrop of mountains and rolling hills. There are adorable gingerbread-esque alpine centres, quaint cafes that serve as ice-cream date spots for groups of ruddy-faced old men, and surrounding lakes that (unlike Edward Cullen’s eyes) truly deserve the adjective ‘limpid’. Either side of Hohenschwangau are the Castles Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, accessible by foot or (naturally) horse and carriage. The latter was King Ludwig II’s (the ‘Fairytale King’s) childhood home; the former his passion project — an homage to the musical mythology of his (‘special’?) friend Richard Wagner, and retreat where he lived out his romantic fantasies of Christian kingship of the Middle Ages (well, at least until he was deposed for insanity). Neuschwanstein is a true fairytale castle; it’s immediately identifiable as the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle and Magic Kingdom.
Füssen, Hohenschwangau Castle
Literally ‘the New Swanstone Castle’, Neuschwanstein is decked out with images of Lohengrin (a knight of the Holy Grail sent to rescue a maiden in a boat tugged by swans). Ludwig’s spirit animal also features heavily in the candelabras, furniture and fittings. Other bizarre and beautiful elements abound: the entire fourth floor is taken up with the Singers’ Hall, which Ludwig commissioned so that he could watch operas by his lonesome; and the castle even has an artificial stalactite cave (referencing Wagner’s Tannhäuser opera), casually wedged between the Living Room and Study.
Neuschwanstein Castle, view across to Hohenschwangau Castle
The castles and alpine scape are truly stunning; the picture perfect way to cap off our Bavarian chapter.