Since middle school, I always figured if I lived internationally it’d be in France — I spoke the language, I had studied abroad in the country, and I even visited the Caterpillar factory that was the reason behind my learning the language in the first place. It was also in Grenoble, I think, that my love of mountains was subconsciously awakened. It is thus admittedly strange that three of the past five Independence Days I’ve spent not in France but rather in Germany, and that the language I’m beginning to resort to is now German rather than French. This, the neighbor to what I thought would be my foreign language destination, is now my home for the next months. Round two began quietly, not in Stuttgart as before, but in the Allgäu, heart of the German Alps.
On my second trip to the Allgäu, I flew back to the US on a Lufthansa 747-8I. I made sure to book a LH 747-8I again, but frankly flights into Frankfurt from Chicago or any of the eastern cities are just too short to take in the beauty of the plane itself. The world outside, however, is always fascinating. This view from economy makes the wing look fat, but make no mistake of its elegance, sunrise visible or not!
A few hours later, we landed and I begin my journey toward my home for the next several months. Bosch is one of the largest employers in the area, and the plant maintains a fleet of pool cars. Here, the thirty or so cars are all Mercedes C-Class diesel wagons. I was quite spoiled to get to drive one for a week until I bought my own car (which is far, far below a C-Class in elegance!)
Much as Bosch is a household name in the Allgäu, so then is the Grünten the symbol of the region. Its nickname is the “Wächter des Allgäus,” or “Guardian of the Allgäu.” Its broad slopes are even sketched into the emblem for the Bosch plant here.
Also very common here are cows and the associated “grass management,” which includes among other things spreading manure, haymaking, and spreading hay. Two of these are less offensive smelling than the third.
The cows here can be found just about everywhere. Looking back, I’m somewhat surprised I haven’t posted a picture of a cow yet. They’re in the valleys, on the slopes, and in the upper mountains (1000-1200 meters in elevation). Every year, the return of the cows from pasture (Viesheid) is a community-celebrated affair.
Although other alpine areas don’t necessary have a lot of lakes, the Allgäu region is known for its bodies of water. Perhaps the most frequented is the Großer Alpsee, on the border of Immenstadt. On a particularly warm, sunny evening, bugs were basking in the sunlight. Bugs, yes, but one benefit of living here: hardly any mosquitoes! That and the lack of humidity are 180° opposites from living in Charleston.
The last two times I tried hiking here, I either failed to summit or ended up just walking around a mountain instead of up it. I had the bright idea to do correct both mistakes in one day, so started a sunrise hike up the Grünten one Saturday morning. It was blissfully chilly after a string of warm weeks (remember, German housing nearly always has no air conditioning), and the colors worked nicely for sunrise.
Next up was the Rubihorn — a mountain whose trail is steeper than the Camp Muir hike on Mt. Rainier. I managed to get to an alpine lake (Gaisalpsee) last time, but this time I decided to push for the summit. This hike was tough: I get the impression Europeans are more tolerant of exposed faces and narrow ledges than Americans, and a healthy dose of adrenaline seems to be a prerequisite. Nevertheless, the views down to the lake and the resort town of Oberstdorf are impressive, even if the slight haze made the city seem less photogenic. Here, the clear terminus of the rail line is visible, as the train station is the last stop on the Deutsche Bahn tracks: beyond Oberstdorf is Austria.
Before I moved farther away from the mountains, I spent a few evenings after work taking in the sunsets. I’ve missed a few colorful ones since, but although the area is green for a reason, so far the weather has held up remarkably well.
The sheer number of mountain peaks here is astounding and will likely keep this blog rather busy. While the Zermatt area lays claim to the highest concentration of 4,000 meter peaks in the Alps, here there are dozens of peaks between 1500 and 2500 meters. Trying to tackle the hikeable ones will take some time: the title of this post is a play on words (cents vs sense) alluding to the apparent innate trait of all things mountainous that Allgäuers seem to have and that I seem to lack. I thought I was a strong hiker before coming here, but hitting both Grünten and Rubihorn (both “easy” hikes in the area) showed me how much further I have yet to go: some of it physical, much of it mental. 2011 brought the first rash of posts to the blog as I discovered Switzerland and western Europe, and I look forward to see how it grows from this point on with a fresh batch of mountains to visit!