Castles in the Clouds
Any visit to the Bavarian Alps is not complete without having a look at one of the many castles that look proudly down from prominent positions on the mountainside. On my short September trip to Germany and Austria I made a point of visiting three different castles, despite the weather (as usual) making it's best efforts to discourage me.
The first of my castles was on the Austrian side of the border, Hohenwerfen Castle is an 11th century fortress overlooking the market town of Werfen.
I had the impression that the castle was best seen from above so I made my way up to the overflow car park at Eisriesenwelt (an ice cave on the mountain opposite) to look for a vantage point. I had the idea that I might also visit the ice cave but once I understood that all photography was prohibited there I rather lost my enthusiasm.
The weather on this particular day was relentlessly miserable - windy, raining and cloudy - so i decided that the best approach would be to capture some timelapse footage of the castle and the nearby forest while the low clouds rushed through the scene.
The mountains and hills near to Werfen are not amazingly high but they rise very steeply which makes for some impressive views, but the thick cloud made it quite difficult to make much of the opportunity.
I returned to Berchtesgaden (after visiting the Erlebnis-Therme Amadé to warm up a little) and drove up to the summit of Rossfeld (the subject of my previous blog) to see whether there were any views through the clouds. The high vantage point allowed for some panoramic views as usual and there were just enough gaps in the cloud cover to allow some shooting.
The dreary weather produced scenes which were rather devoid of colour so I decided to embrace that when working with the images and aim for an "aerial footage from World War Two" kind of look.
The following day was slightly less wet but still quite overcast. I decided to visit the Wimbachklamm gorge for the first time in a few years.
The particular geology of the Bavarian Alps seems especially likely to generate spectacular gorges such as this, but perhaps it is just the case that they have just been made more accessable to visitors in this area than many others.
Shooting in a gorge such as this is a challenging activity. Typically such places are accessable only via a narrow ledge or an artificial walkway attached to one of the gorge walls. There will be a sturdy barrier to prevent dangerous falls but usually the path itself is pretty cramped and there is a flow of people along it. Setting up a tripod is likely not a luxury that will be available for you. Another constant difficulty is the spray from the rushing water, this requires attention between shots and also makes changing lenses a dangerous activity (you do not want the camera sensor to get a bath every time you change a lens). Being properly prepared and being able to adapt to what you find becomes much more important than usual.
As is often the case in places like this I found myself looking for more intimate scenes. Selecting a single interesting detail or a tiny fragment of a wider scene is an excellent way to produce images that are not like every other image that has been taken at a particular place. "Different" is quite easy... but when you also want the image to look good it gets harder. A good portion of the images that I come up with in this way seem to fall flat with an audience, but that is fine, in the end I think it is more important to try to satisfy myself rather than others when I produce my images.
Another of the beautiful highlights in the Berchtesgaden region is the lovely Hintersee lake. This is another place that I have returned to many times, as much because I love to be there as for any photography related reasons.
The lake itself is shallow and beautifully clear, filled with green-blue alpine meltwater, it is surrounded by mountains and is relatively sheltered. Perhaps those factors are helpful in some way for "trees growing on a rock in the middle of a lake", or perhaps it is a coincidence, but either way Hintersee has plenty such trees adding to it's charm.
Hintersee is a popular destination for photographers and hikers, a number of trails lead to and from this lovely lake and it is usually relatively easy to park.
My few days in Berchtesgaden were soon over and I made my way to my next home base in the Austrian village of Reutte. Upon arrival I found the owner in a state of considerable distress because my room was not ready - the indiviuals who had checked out earlier in the day had left the place in a truly terrible state. Sometimes I really wonder what is wrong with people that they can act without basic respect for others. The owner kept mentioning the nationality of the people who had left the mess, but I do not think that any country is entirely free of assholes so I do not see that it is relevant to the story. We agreed that I would delay my check-in by a number of hours.
My reason to be near to Reutte could be found just across the border into Germany. The village of Schwangau, near to Füssen, is the location of a number of spectacular buildings.
Lets start with the very beautiful Hohenschwangau Castle.
A castle has been on this site in the Allgäu Alps for many centuries, the earliest known records mention it's presence in 1397, but by the time the site came into the possession of King Maximillian II of Bavaria in 1832 it was in a dilapidated state. Maximillian began construction of the present day castle in 1833 and it was completed in 1837 with further additions being added periodically until 1855. This beautiful and perfectly situated castle was Maximillian's official summer and hunting residence.
My Finnish readers will be familiar with the attraction of a summer cottage, something which is traditionally passed down through the generations. Bavarian castles are similar, but Maximillian's son and successor King Ludwig II was not satisified enough with the castle he inherited in 1864. Construction of his own castle, Neuschwanstein, began in 1869, funded by his personal fortune and some personal loans.
The castle is a magnificent sight from the village below, overlooking the area from it's perfect vantage point, but even better views are to be found by making the steep hike up to the Marienbrucke bridge, crossing the wobbly bridge (nervously in my case), and continuing up a mountain trail for a while. The view of the castle with the village in the background is stunning and there are also clear views of the mountains to the south of the castle.
Neuschwanstein Castle has always been a magical place for me, having visited it as a 3 year old in 1978. It was nearly 40 years before I returned for a second look (a first look with my camera) and I have returned a couple of times since then. The castle itself is a major tourist attraction with more than a million visitors every year, so you will not get the place to yourself, but if you aim for sunrise or sunset times then you can get good access to the different viewing locations.
On this particular visit I enjoyed weather which was firstly too pleasant and then too unpleasant to be ideal for photography, but I still very much enjoyed the experience.
Another grand building, down on the valley floor, is the lovely Pilgrimage Church of St. Coloman, named after an Irish monk who stopped at the site on the first stages of his ill-fated 11th century journey to the Holy land (he was hanged in Austria shortly afterwards having been thought to be a spy due to his strange appearance).
I have seen beautiful photos of this church, it really suits a snowy winter scene, but every time I have attempted to photograph it the weather has been fairly miserable. When the light is not cooperating then some other tactics are needed to bring at least a little interest to the photographs.
On my final day of this trip, the weather was quite horrible - hammering down with rain, quite windy, and not very good visibility. When trying to photograph Neuschwanstein these conditions are actually very interesting, the castle itself is right around the cloud line on the most miserable days and this can give a deeply atmospheric feeling to any images you might capture before you get completely soaked through and miserable.
I spent a most enjoyable couple of hours in the meadows near to the Tegelberg cable car shooting timelapse footage of this castle in the clouds. Although it was very wet it was not very cold so I decided to use my waterproof jacket to protect the camera from the rain instead of protecting msyelf, accepting that I would be soaked to the skin as a consquence.
I have always loved spending time in Bavaria, and I hope I will have many chances to be there again.
I would like to thank all my readers for supporting my blog with their likes, shares and comments, I appreciate it very much.
Until next time,
You can also find me here...
The Magic of Rossfeld
I have made many trips to the Berchtesgaden area (in Southern Germany) over the past few years and during those visits I have returned to the Rossfeld mountain on many occasions. It is just a stunning destination.
During my September 2019 trip to Bavaria I stayed for a few nights at Villa Bello in the small village of Oberau, a perfect location for accessing various attractions in the area and especially close to Rossfeld.
At around 1600m the summit of Rossfeld is not particularly high compared to some of the surrounding mountains but it is a fantastic place to visit and has a number of key advantages as a photography location.
The most important advantage is accessibility. The road which leads to the summit is wide, well maintained, safe and easy to drive, with ample parking at the top and multiple stopping places on the way up or down. The road is a ring, the ends of which can be accessed from Oberau (850m altitude) or from Obersalzburg (750m) and you can drive your car all the way up to an altitude of 1570m.
This accessibility makes the destination suitable for anyone who can drive a car or get on a bus, spectacular views can be had in many directions at different points on the route without even leaving the vehicle.
For anyone who has driven on a lot of other mountain roads in (e.g.) Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Italy or Switzerland the Rossfeldpanoramastrasse road is the height of luxury. Perfect surfaces, a wide two-way carriageway, relatively gentle corners and a lack of surprise entrances or blind spots make this a very safe road. For first time mountain drivers a degree of caution should be exercised and special attention should be paid to the speed of travel (especially on the descent). The road is kept in such perfect condition by the collection of a toll, at time of writing access to the road costs €8 for a passenger car.
Click here for more information about Rossfeldpanoramastrasse.
What can you see from Rossfeld?
The great peak of Hoher Göll (2522m) is Rossfeld's close neighbour (to the south west) and it is a very imposing sight from the top of Rossfeld, appearing immediately adjacent despite being a few kilometres away.
The Göll massif is the first in a sequence of mountain ridges which decorate the landscape in the sweeping views which are available to the south-east from the summit of Rossfeld, following the valley of the Salzach river. On a clear day it is possible to see past the peaks of the Tennen mountains and past the hills from the Salzach valley all the way to the the mighty Dachsteinn (2995m) some 70 kilometres away. On hazy mornings these beautiful layers of mountains are a superb subject for photography.
Turning your gaze to the east from the summit of Rossfeld you can get views of the lush valley below with some interestingly shaped hills.
This valley is flanked on the other extreme by more mountainous ridges (the Totes mountain range). These views are also stunning although the valley is often in shadow at both sunrise and sunset.
The scenery to the north-east is a little more gentle, a flatter (but not flat) plain with villages and fields, often likely to be covered in fog in the mornings of spring and autumn.
The historic Austrian city of Salzburg lies some 20 kilometres to the north of Rossfeld, and it is possible to catch some distant views of the city, including the airport which is quite easy to identify due to the landing lights. To the north-west you can see a side on view of another huge iconic lump of rock, the Untersberg, topping out at 1973m.
As we complete the circle there are views of distant mountain peaks and some glimpses of buildings in the valley below, a highlight is the rounded form of Kempinski Hotel Berchtesgaden which looks like it could be either the new Apple headquarters or the lair of a James Bond super villain.
Overlooking this area, perched on the mountain above Obersalzburg, you can catch a glimpse of the Kehlsteinhaus or "Eagles Nest", a nazi stronghold from the 1930s. The Kehstein mountain is a sub-peak of Hoher Göll.
Hoher Göll itself is a popular climbing destination, offering a variety of different routes to to summit, from the pretty easy to the pretty challenging. The Purtschellerhaus, perched beautifully a few hundred vertical metres below the summit, provides a welcome staging post for climbers and a point of interest for any photographers who might point a lens in that direction from Rossfeld.
The range of different heights in the surrounding mountains means that you often have some feature or another which is in the clouds at Rossfeld. This can be a great bonus for photography. I particularly liked how the clouds were gathering above the Purtschellerhaus on this September morning so I captured their motion in a time-lapse.
The jagged rocky slopes also give great opportunities for dramatic images when the clouds are performing for the camera.
Now that we have covered the 360 degree attractions of Rossfeld it is only proper to mention the highlights of the mountain itself. The Ahornkaser is the highest tavern in Germany that you can reach by car and it offers a chance to get refreshments while on the mountain. It is also a good vantage point for photography with a charming mountain cottage nearby that has Hoher Göll as a great background.
The views that you can enjoy from Rossfeld are available all year round thanks to a dedicated effort being made to keep the road clear. I have previously visited during times of heavy snowfall and still been able to drive without any difficulty to the summit. Indeed the slopes on the north of the mountain are an active skiing area with beautiful panoramic views.
I hope that this introduction has made you eager to visit Rossfeld, it is one of my favourite places to take photographs because there are so many compelling possibilities in one easy to reach destination. I look forward to returning to Rossfeld in the future!
Until next time,
You can also find me here
A berlin break
As 2019 began the (wet, grey, boring) weather in southern Finland was providing me with no photography inspiration whatsoever... so I decided to head to Berlin for a couple of days to get started with the year's photography.
It seems that I took the wet, grey, boring weather with me on my journey so I decided to mainly shoot interiors and to indulge my interest in photographing staircases which got a hold of me in 2018 (in Prague, Budapest, Riga, Vienna, etc).
After checking into my hotel, near to Hauptbahnhof I went for a walk, thinking to visit a few churches (seeking photographs rather than absolution). One drawback of impulsive "where should I go tomorrow?" travel is that the location research time is somewhat squeezed... the first two churches I visited were closed for renovations. Third time lucky - the Neue Kirche was not covered in scaffolding and the doors were open.
The church building now hosts a museum dedicated to the history of the Bundestag. I was more interested in the building than in the exhibits it housed, the tall central tower contains a large open space at the centre for its whole height with staircases snaking around the outside.
The exhibition rooms and corridors also had some interesting nooks and crannies.
After a good night's sleep it was time to hunt for some staircases. I decided to go straight for the two which I was most interested in, one which was in the film museum and another in an office building. I eventually found the film museum staircase, but was unable to shoot there because it was under repair... that was a disappointment... but not to worry, I continued to the office building. At the office building I was informed by the guard that the owners had decreed that the staircase was copyrighted and nobody was allowed to photograph it. Well... that was also annoying. In both cases I had tracked down the location and got to within 3 metres of the place I would need to stand to take the picture... but I couldn't get a picture.
I decided on a change of scene to get over the staircase disappointments and headed for the Olympic stadium, site of Jesse Owens famous victories in 1936 and in more recent times the home stadium for Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin.
It was most interesting to be almost completely alone in a place where you would usually attend at the same times as tens of thousands of others.
I had a certain picture in mind, the football pitch as a green oasis in the middle of the dark empty stadium... but soon it became clear I would not be getting such a shot, instead of an oasis of green it was more like a sandy desert... with some desert tractors... they were relaying the pitch.
Visitors are allowed quite a good level of access to the stadium, you cannot get to every part of it, but you can get to different areas in different parts of the stadium, so you can choose to be down close to pitch level or high up in the stands and you can walk all around the outside of the stadium.
A large circular structure with many repeating elements offers good possibilities to use lines and curves in your photographs.
It was an enjoyable visit to the stadium, despite the pitch repairs, so I thought that maybe my luck was turning after the churches being closed for renovations and the staircases being forbidden. I headed back to continue the staircase hunt, starting at a hotel where I had stayed for a weekend in 2015, oblivious to the beauty of the staircase I went up and down many times.
From there I went to a nearby office building where another elaborate creation awaited.
The afternoon staircases just about made up for the morning disappointments and I ended the day feeling more positive.
The next morning I set off on foot once again. Although Berlin has an underground/metro/subway/whatever-you-want-to-call-it I found it to be less useful for getting around than almost any other major city I had been to. There seemed to be enough lines and enough stations, but the amount of crossover points where you could easily get from one line to another seemed to be too low. Any time I needed to get somewhere I would investigate how to go by underground.... and the end result always seemed to be that it would be better to walk. A 55 minute walk usually seemed preferable to a a 45 minute walk-underground-bus-underground-walk fuss. I walked about 100,000 steps in 3.5 days on this trip.
My first destination was the Hackesher Market area, full of small shops, dark alleys and interesting architecture.
I was searching for a staircase with golden details which I knew was around here somewhere... but then I wondered up an unpromising looking alley and chanced upon something I liked even better.
My search continued through some more courtyards...
... before I finally found the staircase I was looking for in the first place. This was a very interesting area to wonder around.
After a morning of market capitalism it was time for spiritual cleansing, so I headed for Berlin Cathedral. At this location I was not chasing staircases, but I found them anyway... the path which visitors are directed to follow through the building includes a descent into the crypt as well as a climb to an open walkway around the edge of the domed roof.
The grand staircase leading from ground level up to the first level balconies was quite impressive.
Closer to the roof the stairways got a bit less elaborate but remained interesting.
I then made my way to an up-market shopping mall, a little more fancy than the Hackescher market, but before I could even turn my camera on I was intercepted by a security guard and received a long speech in German... "blah, blah, blah, blah, verboten, blah, blah blah". This was not the first time during the trip for a similar speech. As far as I had understood beforehand from googling about the law related to photography in Germany it is illegal to photograph someone without their permission if the person is clearly recognisable AND the person is the main subject of the picture... which sounds fair enough and is not an issue for me as I go to great lengths to try and make sure there are no humans cluttering up my frame. I was surprised how this translated into "no photos at all" in many parts of Berlin and also how actively it was being enforced.
I sought refuge in the foyer of a nearby hotel and restored my energy with a cappuccino.
My journey continued as I walked towards the Shell Haus, an office building designed by professor Emil Fahrenkamp and built in-between the wars. It is a "classical modernist architectural masterpiece" according to wikipedia - I am not qualified to comment on that, but to me the waved facade of the building rates as "cool", which is one of my highest ratings.
My route from Shell Haus back to the hotel took me through the Tiergarten, a large park area in the middle of Berlin. During the walk I saw many different birds, the most common being the hundreds of mallards inhabiting the park's waterways. From the corner of my eye I saw a flash of something more colourful and was happy to discover that one of the hundreds of ducks was not a mallard, it was something much more fancy - a mandarin duck.
I have not seen or photographed one of these before so this was a real bonus - the 194th (non-captive) bird species I have photographed.
One interesting thing about taking photographs in a city is the wide range of colours and shapes that you might see on a typical day, including many combinations that you will not find in nature. Sometimes this leads to unexpected photo opportunities, if you are just lucky enough to spot the potential.
On my final morning in Berlin I had a simple mission, seek out two more staircases that had come up in my research. I set off on foot once again, in the rain once again. As I approached my first destination I came upon another interesting building - housing the Hotel Motel One Berlin Upper West (or HMOBUW as the cool kids are calling it). It is often not very easy to find a good angle to shoot very tall buildings from street level.
The first staircase I searched for seems to have been a ghost... the building I was looking for could not be found at the address that google had for the building I was looking for... so that was that. It's a bit of a challenge to hunt down a building that has gone missing, especially when it is hiding somewhere amongst tens of thousands of other buildings.
I moved on and turned my attention to the last staircase on my list, in yet another office building. As I got near the entrance I saw that once again there was a guard between me and the staircase. I went and asked permission as politely as I could... expecting another rejection... but on this occasion the guard was perfectly happy for me to get on with it, a happy and surprising turn of events!
So.... that was it... I started heading back to the hotel to check out and head for the airport... but then I saw a staircase through the rapidly closing door of yet another office building. I stuck my foot in the door and investigated further... a bonus staircase was waiting for me, making amends for the one in the missing building.
This trip to Berlin reminded me of everything that I love and hate about shooting in large cities. A city provides such a target rich environment that it is possible to cover many locations in a single day, giving opportunities for a huge variety of subjects and styles. The artificial environment provides great possibilities for vibrant colours, strong lines and curves, repetition of elements, reflections and symmetry... all of which can be powerful elements in a photograph. A city is also swarming with people, making noise, getting in the way and cluttering up your frame. A city is bathed in harsh artificial lights, of different colours, creating many scenes with too high dynamic range and an uncoordinated mess of lighting. A city also has rules, some of which are not helpful.
Overall I really enjoyed this trip and was also extremely happy to leave... my next posts will be from somewhat more remote and unpopulated areas as I spend a few weeks in Scotland.
Thanks for reading my blog, please feel free to comment and to share with your friends!
Until next time,
Crossing the border
In my last post, I signed off from the 1600m high summit of Rossfeld... so that is from where I will continue. As I mentioned the border between Germany and Austria runs through the middle of Rossfeld, the border line is indicated by a number of small white square stones that have a D for Deutschland on one side and an Ö for Österreich on the other.
This allowed me, for my own amusement (and probably nobody else's...), to set my tripod up with one leg on the border and one leg in each country in order to take the following photograph. My thought was that the top part of weather station looked a bit like a droid...
It may be that a lack of food and lack of sleep were affecting my thinking at this point :)
Breakfast helped restore some of my capabilities and I decided to head back across the border and make a visit to the village of Gosau and the lakes at Gosausee which was about an hour's drive into Austria, near to the mighty peaks of Dachstein.
In this part of the Northern Limestone Alps the geology is just right to produce spectacular jagged peaks similar to the Dolomites in Italy, making it very attractive to look at and of course to photograph.
From Gosausee you can journey to higher ground by cable car but on this occasion I decided to stay closer to the ground and hike along the path to the the upper Gosau lake. I did not study the signs very carefully but it was possible to see that the route was "suitable for families" and should take about an hour and a half.
As it turned out this route would require quite a bit of effort as it included a number of sustained climbs along the way, it was quite hard going in the early summer sun. Certainly it was suitable for families, as evidenced by the number of frustrated and tearful children I passed by the side of the road on my way. The hour and a half estimate was probably accurate enough for the downhill journey back to Gosausee but for the uphill outward journey I think that it was over-optimistic.
After reaching the upper lake I continued round the lake to the most welcome sight of the day, the Hohe Holzmeisteralm restaurant, where I could refuel with some cold drinks and a plate of bratwurst. The views around the Gosau lakes were spectacular but the light was too harsh to make for successful photography. I made my way back down the hilly path and drove back to the attractive Gosau village.
It seems to me that the Germans and Austrians have a huge appreciation for the beautiful scenery of their home lands, they seem to be at their best when out in nature and quite at peace with their surroundings. You almost always get a friendly greeting from the "locals" whenever you meet them whereas other tourists tend to be a little more suspicious.
After wandering around the village for a while I had a look at the map to see what I might do next and realised that I was rather close to Hallstatt, an idyllic village which is also a UNESCO world heritage site. I have tried on a number of occasions to organise a short trip to Hallstatt but the hotels there seem to be permanently full (or at least the ones that mere mortals can hope to afford are permanently full), so I decided to go there and check it out rather than returning directly to Berchtesgaden.
Hallstatt, as it turns out, is quite the tourist trap. As you approach by car you are carefully funnelled towards a sequence of car parks (costing about €3 per hour for the first few hours) from where you continue your visit on foot. The village itself is very nice, but also very touristy, and packed with people. When it comes to photography there, it is of course possible to find different views with varying levels of interest, but the main view is only easily photographable from one single public place - a 10m long gap beside the road from where you can get a view of the church against it's mountain backdrop. This space was packed with photographers.
I realised that I did not like the place enough to visit it again, so I decided to get some food and wait for dusk so that I could try and get a decent picture from the one viewing place. I believe that the best time to be there would have been sunrise, the village being in shadow well before sunset due to the mountains, but an early evening shot would have to do. As I got back to the car I could see that I had exceeded 40 thousand steps for the day, and it felt like it. The journey back to my accommodation in the dark was a careful one.
A new day dawned and it was time to change locations - the final two days of my trip would be in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, revisiting some locations from my earlier trip where the weather was mostly un-cooperative.
On that occasion my main target was the hillside above Geroldsee, where some alpine cabins decorate the sloping field with the lake and the mountains in the background. I didn't get what I wanted then, so I continued the search for the right conditions on this trip.
The mountains leave the scene largely in shadow at sunset (at least at this time of the year) and also partly at sunrise, so the ideal combination for Geroldsee is probably to have mist which endures for an hour or so after sunrise, allowing some diffused light to illuminate the scene.
When my alarm went at 0430 the following morning the conditions looked quite promising, clear-ish but not quite totally clear. As I drove towards the small village of Gerold the conditions changed dramatically... there was a very thick, very local, rather wet mist hanging over the area - visibility of about 50m.
Things did not quite look so promising at this point, but I still thought it might work so I climbed the hill to get to a good shooting position, my feet truly soaked by the long wet grass of the meadow. The time of sunrise came and went without any major changes in visibility, this may have been a boring passage of time if I had not been joined by a fellow photographer (and optimist) - Patrick Weinhold had arrived and set his tripod up near to mine.
As the sun rose and the mist burned away, we were rewarded for our patience.
It was good to meet Patrick and discuss various photography locations in the area, you can often meet interesting people when setting up your tripod in different locations.
On this occasion the mist made a couple of small comebacks before finally being defeated, offering good variations in the scene, and we tried to make the best of our chances.
This was a good morning after all and I was quite satisfied with events as I walked back towards my car and said goodbye to Patrick and his dog.
I returned to the Werdenfelserei hotel (where I was staying), a completely new hotel which just opened recently, and restored my energy with a truly excellent breakfast. It was a good choice to stay at this family owned hotel, there were still some finishing touches being put to the premises by the builders (it really was that new) but this did not interfere with the experience and it was possible to see immediately from the moment you walked into the reception that they are going to try and do things in the right way there. If they can continue that approach after a month, a year and a decade then it will be a big success.
After breakfast, it was time to get high. Almost 3000m high in fact as I headed to the top of the Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany at 2962m. The weather remained variable, cloudy with clear patches, which meant that there was a real risk of not being able to see much at the summit, but this was my only chance to be there so I went anyway.
There are two easy ways to get to the summit of the Zugspitze - you can take the cog wheel train through the mountain to the skiing station and then a short cable car ride to the summit, or you can take the Eibsee cable car directly from the valley floor (beside the beautiful Eibsee lake) up to the summit.
At the ground level cable car station I was able to read that the cable car broke three world records - the longest unsupported span of wire, the biggest difference in altitude from bottom to top and the tallest support tower - for a cable car. This is all very impressive... but if you are slightly nervous about cable cars you really dont want to hear that - you want to know that it has world records for being the safest, smoothest and least frightening.
Despite some reservations, the journey into the clouds was a smooth one. The cable car ascends quickly (the entire journey takes less than ten minutes, the gondola travelling at nearly 40km/h), the first section is a short one, connecting the ground station to the lone support tower (a 127m tall pylon - meaning that you are over 120m off the ground when the car passes). From there the rest of the journey is without support along the the 3213m wire which stretches between the support tower and the summit. The ride as a whole takes you from an altitude of 973m to one of 2950m.
Upon reaching the summit the visibility was about 100m... there was nothing much to see apart from the activities of the Alpine Choughs which were very actively circling above the bratwurst eating visitors on the sun terrace, looking for scraps.
I spent a couple of hours at the summit, hoping for some breaks in the weather, but was not lucky. That is my second time to stand at the very top of Germany, and on both occasions there was nothing much to see... maybe one day I will be third time lucky.
After descending from the mountain I decided to make the short trip to the village of Wamberg... following a narrow single-track road as it wound it's way up a steep slope. I am not 100% sure that it was allowed to drive that road, I could not understand the German signs... so I was prepared to explain that I was an ignorant and apologetic tourist if anyone objected to my presence. At the top of the winding hill there was a beautiful scene... some mountain cabins with the village church in the background. The weather was cloudy, blocking the mountains, and it was the wrong time of day... but this could be an excellent location in the right light. Another time...
In the evening it was time to return to Eibsee, at the foot of the Zugspitze, where I hoped for interesting evening light so that I could take pictures of Frillensee, a very small but very beautiful lake. The light let me down on this occasion, so I tried to find some alternative shots that did not require a beautiful sky.
The next day was sadly my last one for this trip, I always feel so at home when spending time in southern Germany. On my way back to Munich airport I made a slight detour to check in on another favourite destination, the spectacular Neuschwanstein castle. This castle is an amazing subject for photography but it is undergoing renovations at the moment and the main gate is covered in scaffolding, spoiling the views that I like the most at this location. Another hazard is the huge swarm of tourists that gathers every day to visit the castle, so I confined myself to having a look from far away... I mean to revisit this location in a few months after the renovations are completed.
Thanks a lot for reading this post!
Until the next time,
The state of Bavaria, in the southern part of Germany, bordering Austria, is simply one of my favourite places to be, and also one of my favourite areas to photograph.
At the end of May I made my 5th photography trip to this amazing highlight reel of a region, spending a few nights near Berchtesgaden, followed by a couple of nights in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. By day I split my time between Germany and Austria, crossing the border multiple times as I travelled between destinations.
One thing that was immediately obvious as I drove towards Berchtesgaden was how lush and fertile the land was at this time of year. All the fields and trees were the brightest of colours and the plentiful birdlife was highly active wherever you looked.
On my first morning I was at the beautiful Hintersee lake by around 0500. This mountain lake, framed by tall peaks, is a lovely place to be and a really great photography destination. There are some famous views there which have been photographed extensively, but it is one of those places where there are so many possibilities that you can also find your own new compositions.
There is an "artists path" which follows the shore of the lake, with different Hintersee inspired artworks displayed at intervals. This walk is exceptionally beautiful, taking in a number of lovely views, and it takes around 30-40 minutes to walk round the lake.
At this time of year there are great possibilities for misty mornings, and this was a good example of one such morning. Conditions can change very fast once the sun starts to burn off the mist and it very quickly changes from "too much mist" to "not enough mist"... but on the other hand it is quite hard to predict exactly when that change will happen so photographing in these conditions involves a fair amount of waiting around.
The water at Hintersee is remarkably clear and free of pollution and it is also shallow, calm and sheltered - there are possibilities to see the bottom of the lake through the emerald waters and there are also good possibilities for reflections. There are many options available to a photographer when planning a shot.
For anyone who visits this area, whether they are interested to take pictures or not, I highly recommend Hintersee as a destination, it made an immediate impression on me when I first visited in 2016 and I have not become immune to it over numerous subsequent visits. It's one of those places you can't get enough of... I wish I was there now.
I could not leave Hintersee without making my version of one of the more heavily photographed views. There are a few rocks in the lake with trees managing to grow directly out of the stone, and they provide an interesting focal point for a picture with the mountains rising on either side (hidden by mist and cloud on this occasion) and the Hintersee village on the right hand side.
After the beautiful early morning at Hintersee it was time to retreat to my accommodation for breakfast. On previous visits I had always stayed at the truly excellent Hotel Edelweiss, a superb hotel which I definitely recommend, but on this occasion the Edelweiss was full so I decided to try a different approach, booking into Villa Bello in the village of Oberau, a few kilometres from Berchtesgaden. I chose this location because it was particularly near to Rossfeldpanoramastrasse and I liked the idea of being able to get from my room to the top of Rossfeld (about 1600m) in just a few minutes on occasions when the light looked promising. Villa Bello is a lot more basic and resides at the other end of the price range from the more up market Edelweiss, but I think that both offer great value for what they are.
After breakfast it was time to head for my next location, I intended to be on the first boat heading out into the beautiful and peaceful lake Königsee in order to be ahead of the crowds as I made the trek towards the tallest waterfall in Germany, the 470m tall Röthbach falls.
The journey to the Röthbach waterfall is quite a long one, beginning with a boat from Königsee. The first stop of the boat is at the iconic St. Bartholma church with its red roof and towers, but in order to get to the waterfall you need to stay on the boat until the final stop at Salet, a trip of about 30 minutes from Königsee. From Salet it is about a 20 minute walk to reach the north side of Obersee lake. This lake is absolutely the most beautiful and most photogenic part of the journey to the waterfall.
At the north side there is a single boathouse which provides a great foreground for a picture of the surrounding mountains reflected in the lake, with the waterfall clearly visible (despite still being kilometres away) in the background.
The weather on this day was rather variable, the battle between the sun and the clouds was very hard fought and each had their victories, this meant that there were some moments with an interesting combination of light and shadow.
Obersee, like Hintersee, is exceptionally well sheltered from the wind and this means that flawless reflections are often possible in the lake surface. The walk around the lake is a bit challenging in wet conditions as the rocky path becomes quite slippery, but there are some very beautiful views to enjoy on the way.
The walk to the south side of Obersee takes around 30 minutes, depending on the traffic. The path, at the steepest and slipperiest part, is also rather narrow, so it can be quite a bottleneck due to slower moving people in front of you or people returning from the other direction. This was why I wanted to be in the first boat of the day, hoping at least to avoid the two-way traffic on my journey to the falls. At the southern end of the lake you can find another solitary boathouse, looking back towards its counterpart at the northern end.
After the boat journey, the hike to Obersee and the journey around to Obersee's southern side it is now time for the final push towards the waterfall.
That final part of the journey takes around 30-40 minutes. The waterfall itself is not a particularly good subject for photography when you get closer to it (other opinions may be available on this subject), but it was good exercise and interesting to see it in person.
Some of the other observers appeared to be somewhat less interested, this cow only had eyes for the fresh green grass.
After completing the return journey to Königsee I confess that I started to be quite tired. Even though it was only mid-afternoon it had already been a long day and I had carried my camera stuff for close to 30 kilometres. I retreated to a restaurant in Berchtesgaden for some food and checked the situation in some photography competitions I had entered.
I was delighted to see that one of my staircase pictures from Vienna had won the Top Photo award in the Black and Yellow challenge on GuruShots, an online photography competition. I participate regularly in these competitions and occasionally I manage some successes - I added a "Recognition" Page to this site in order to keep a record of any notable achievements.
Restored by the meal, and encouraged by the win, I decided to visit the Maria Gern chapel at dusk. Those who have studied my previous posts might remember that I have shared very similar shots before... but I really like this view and I always want to try and make improved versions or just capture the scene in different conditions.
This trip included such a range of locations that I will have to cover it across multiple posts, but before I conclude this instalment I would like to share some images from my drive up to the summit of Rossfeld the following morning. The Rossfeldpanoramastrasse toll road is a super way to get to a panoramic viewpoint without requiring extensive and time consuming hiking. For a few euros you can get past the gates and drive all the way to the summit at about 1600m elevation. Rossfeld is not a particularly lofty peak compared to many of the surrounding mountains but it is located beside the Salzach river valley which gives enough surrounding space to make Rossfeld a superb viewpoint to many directions.
The summit of Rossfeld is right on the border between Germany and Austria and the available views cover the territory of both countries. It is possible on a clear day to see all the way past the Tennen mountains to the Dachstein massif some 70km away.
I have spent many early mornings at the top of Rossfeld, sometimes quite uselessly if the cloud level is low, but so far I have not become tired of watching the sun gradually illuminate the different layers of the valley below and burn off the morning mist.
That's it for part one of this trip, I hope that you have enjoyed this post and consider tuning in for part two!
Thanks for reading,
Back to the beginning...
My latest trip, to the Berchtesgaden area of Germany, was a return to the beginning in a number of ways. This magical area, with spectacular alpine scenery and the vertical elements that I always look for in my landscape photography, was the venue for my first ever photography trip back in April 2016. I was so taken with the place that it was also the venue for my second ever photography trip back in May 2016. Germany itself has long been a favourite country of mine. I lived there for about three years when I was very young, leaving when I was three and a half, which may have something to do with it, but I also spent a lot of time there while working with great colleagues from our Ulm site in the Nokia days. For whatever reason, the country as a whole is a comfortable destination for me, and the southern part of Germany is somewhere that I just love to be.
The town of Berchtesgaden, at an elevation of about 700m, rests in a valley surrounded by spectacular hills and mountains. The area has rich salt deposits which made it an important town, changing hands between various countries in the conflicts of the 19th century. For my purposes it is a perfect base for a photography trip as it is in the middle of an area which is filled with amazing sights. Within 15 minutes you can be on the shore of the beautiful lakes at Königsee or Hintersee, at the foot of the cable car to Jenner (1876m), looking at the beautiful Maria Gern Chapel, exploring the gorges at Wimbachklamm or Almbachklamm, or driving up Rossfeldpanoramastrasse for amazing views of the surrounding scenery.
Visiting the area in November is something of a gamble when it comes to the weather. I had been watching the forecasts closely and it seemed that the weather would be a mixture of cloudy and clear days with temperatures fluctuating either side of zero. This sounded pretty good to me, there may be a chance to capture the area covered in the first snow of the winter and there could be a balance between periods of capturing new shots and other periods of going through the results. It was definitely the off-season for the locals, the hiking and summer tourism season was well and truly over, but the skiing activities were not yet up to speed, and that also showed in some of the attractions - the Jenner cable car was out of action for maintenance and the gorges were just open routes rather than being staffed as they are in summer.
My biggest hope for the trip was to get an updated and improved shot of the Maria Gern chapel. This has been one of my favourite places to photograph since the moment I first visited it in April 2016. The beautiful chapel, perched on a hillside, with the road curling round it in an s-bend, and the crowning glory of the iconic Watzmann mountain in the background. My best picture from there in 2016 was taken at night, capturing the headlight trails with a long exposure.
I hoped that during the trip I might be able to enhance this shot with snow, stars, more headlight trails, sunset/sunrise colours or many of those. Getting such an opportunity would require some persistence and also some cooperation from the weather.
On the afternoon of my arrival I headed for Hintersee, a fairly small lake surrounded by mountains, with a level path winding its way around the shore, a fantastic place to go for a walk in any season. On this occasion, in a pattern that was to persist through the whole trip, the clouds were almost constantly too low for the mountains to be visible. I had to make do with occasional glimpses of mountain through the clouds.
My accommodation for the trip was the fantastic Hotel Edelweiss in Berchtesgaden. I have stayed there three times now and it is just about perfect. The family run hotel is in a prime location in the middle of Berchtesgaden and has direct access from the very convenient and not very expensive underground parking. The rooms are generous, clean and well taken care of. The breakfast is sensational. The service is always polite and helpful, and there is a great pool and spa area. Considering all these things, the price is very reasonable. I would highly recommend it to anyone, but please don't all go there in case the prices go up and it makes it harder for me to get a room next time.
While Maria Gern might be my favourite place to photograph in Berchtesgaden, my favourite place to be might be Rossfeldpanoramastrasse - a toll road which lets you ascend from the valley floor (700m elevation) all the way up to the top of Rossfeld (just under 1600m elevation) via a series of hairpin bends. This is a real pleasure to drive, and it offers spectacular views, to all directions, both of Germany and across the border into Austria. On a clear day you can easily see Dachstein in the distance, some 70km away. On this trip however, the visibility was often closer to 70m than 70km.
Over the next days, the weather failed to live up to the forecast, the clear spells did not arrive and the temperature did not go low enough to allow snow at the level of the valley floor (there was however an abundance of rain). I tried to find some breaks in the weather, moving between places and also changing elevation in case there was a way to get under or over the clouds, but it seemed like there was no relief. I realised that all the things I had in my mind to photograph on the trip were impossible without visibility of the mountains. This was pretty frustrating... but all I could do was keep trying and hope for a break in the weather.
On the third evening, there was finally a short window of opportunity, as the clouds lifted higher than the mountains for about 25 minutes in the period after sunset. Luckily I was ready for this at Maria Gern, and tried to capture a longer exposure image with the headlights of multiple vehicles coming and going.
This was at least something... but the dark and moody weather makes it very hard to get attractive colours to an image like this.
The following day there was another short weather break, this time while I was near the summit of Rossfeld. The clouds were split, below 1400m there was no visibility and there was also cloud cover above the mountains, but in-between there was a window of partial clarity and the impressive Göll massif (the highest peak being Hoher Göll at 2522m) was visible from Rossfeld for the first time during the trip.
At Hintersee there was an improvement in visibility also as the surrounding peaks came into at least partial view, but still the featureless grey skies were ever present. Those characterless expanses of grey do rather limit your options for making beautiful images.
That evening another small weather window opened after sunset, and it was possible to see through the cloud blanket at Maria Gern for the first time in the trip, for about 25 minutes before the clouds gathered again.
That night, finally, the first snow of the winter arrived to the lower elevations in the Berchtesgaden area. As usual on these trips, I was up and out at about 0530 - around 90 minutes before the sunrise. I headed for Maria Gern, for maybe the 10th time in the trip, hoping to find it blanketed in perfect fresh snow and also dreaming that the Watzmann mountain would be visible. As many in Finland can recognise, the day of the first snow is the trigger for everyone to forget how to drive, this manifests in many ways but the main ones are to drive far too cautiously and to drive nowhere near cautiously enough... both things being relative, each of us has the luxury to place ourselves somewhere in-between at the "just right" point and observe how everyone else gets it wrong.
Early that evening, back at Maria Gern for the umpteenth time, the skies were at least more interesting, with many shades of grey instead of one, but the mountains were still not visible.
At this stage, the trip was starting to feel like a disappointment from photography point of view, the mountains had been visible for a total of about 90 minutes during the past 120 hours, and I had not really been able to make much progress. There was one night left, and then possibilities to shoot until lunch time before heading back to the airport. Last chance.
The final morning was a a beautiful one, but the world was still shrouded in cloud - the cloud was however white rather than grey and looked like it might burn off as the morning progressed. I headed to Maria Gern once again, hoping that the sky would clear to reveal the mountains as the sunrise approached. Once again this was a frustrating morning... 2 hours on top of a hill in temperatures below zero... above me I could see clear blue sky, behind me I could see the first rays of the sun hitting the Untersberg mountain but ahead of me a bank of cloud obscured the view behind the Maria Gern chapel. Disappointed, I headed back for breakfast.
The Edelweiss breakfast lifted my spirits somewhat as I sat with my back to the window and thought about what time I would need to leave to get back to Munich airport. After eating an enormous breakfast I turned to check the weather - it was stunning. The clouds has burned away and it was a beautiful day. I hurried to pack my things and checked out in a terrible rush before making my final visit to Maria Gern where a fairytale scene awaited me.
After drinking in the beautiful view for a while, and taking many photographs, I realised that my wallet was not in it's usual place. I guessed it would be in the car and carried on. Returning to the car, it became apparent that my wallet was gone... along with my credit card, drivers license, etc. This was not good. I retraced my steps... fortunately it was not a long trail. I had the wallet when checking out of the hotel, then I went to the lift (10m walk) and descended to the car park before driving to Maria Gern. I double checked my route at Maria Gern and also triple checked the car before calling the hotel and driving back to the car park... where I found my wallet and all its contents. It had been lost for about 80 minutes. No harm done, but I do not recommend anyone else to try this experience.
After this unplanned detour I had about 2 hours before I had to leave for the airport. I returned to the summit of Rossfeld where the fresh snow and beautiful blue sky combined to make it a place of amazing beauty. There is no better place to be than in the mountains when the weather is like that.
It was a fantastic way to conclude my trip, in such beautiful conditions at one of my favourite places.
As with my other November trip, to Iceland, it had been a pretty challenging trip, with a lot of time and effort needed to squeeze out comparatively few good photographic opportunities, but once again I loved being in Berchtesgaden despite the difficulties. It is usually the case when dealing with landscape photography, that you are at the mercy of the weather conditions to some extent... occasionally you hit the jackpot, but often you are limited in your options. All you can do is be in position and ready to take advantage of any opportunities that come your way, and keep your eyes open for possibilities that you didn't consider in advance.
Now I need to try staying in Finland for a little while, at least long enough to sort out the insurance claim from my Iceland trip equipment accident, and then consider what my best options are for this time of year, I need to find destinations that are less weather dependant and subjects that are possible to work with regardless of poor visibility, the 2017 mountain photography season seems to be done.
Until next time!
Increasingly depressed with the Finnish summer weather, and determined to make a start on my "following my interests" activities I headed for the Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen for a 4 night trip. One practical thing that makes Bavaria an even more attractive destination is the sheer perfection of the Finnair flight schedules from Helsinki to Munich. You can leave almost every day at 0800, which is early enough but not ridiculous, which gets you into Munich before 1000, so even allowing for hassles with baggage and rental car you can still easily be hurtling along the autobahn towards your chosen destination by 1130. On your departure day the early evening flight gives you almost a full day for activities but still gets you into Helsinki before 2300.
My intended photographic targets for this trip were mainly mountain lakes, with mountain ranges in the background, and my pre-trip research highlighted Geroldsee, Eibsee and Frillensee as three such possibilities as I headed for the area dominated by the Zugspitze mountain, the highest peak in Germany at 2962m altitude. I also wished to revisit Neuschwanstein castle in Fussen, a place that I had been to twice previously in 1978 and 2016, I did not wish to wait another 38 years for my third visit.
When photographing in natural light (rather than in a studio or indoors) then the best thing that you can hope for is interesting weather. The weather does not have to be good, it can be spectacularly bad, but one way or another it should be spectacular in order to get the best results. The beautiful colours of those moments before sunrise and after sunset are a highly prized target, but sometimes a horrendous storm can be even more interesting. In this case, hoping to include mountain peaks in my pictures, it was most important that the skies were at least partly clear otherwise the verticality would disappear.
I landed in Munich in beautiful weather, my baggage arrived safely and I picked up my 1.2 litre Skoda Rapid (a slightly ironic name as I was to find out) and hit the road for Garmisch, about a 90 minute journey. With 68 kilometres to go I was passed (at about 200km/h) by a lime green Lamborghini and I had the feeling that this trip was definitely going to the right direction. That feeling did not last very long however as the storm clouds gathered overhead... and it started to pour with rain. It rained and rained and rained and rained. For all 4 days. Almost without stopping. Its difficult to take pictures of the mountains when you can't see the mountains!
Despite the less than ideal conditions and poor forecast I was determined to give myself every chance. Each morning I left the hotel at 0430 and drove to a suitable sunrise place, ready for the best light which would have been between 0530 and 0630. Each morning I got soaked through, didn't see the mountains and didn't see any sunrise colours... but if there had been a break in the weather (or even an interesting cloudscape instead of a uniform grey curtain) then I would have been ready and waiting to catch it.
My days were spent exploring. The journey on a cogwheel train and cable car to the summit of the Zugspitze was fascinating even though the visibility at the top was less than 100m instead of more than 100km. The walk around Eibsee and the small detour to nearby Frillensee gave some beautiful views, even in the pouring rain. A visit to Fussen allowed some planning for future photography, but the front gate of Neuschwanstein castle was covered in scaffolding which rather spoiled the view from my preferred directions and the view of St. Coloman church was not quite the same when the mountain range in the background is totally obscured by grey mist. One unplanned highlight of the trip was a visit to the Partnachklamm gorge, a fascinating kilometre long stretch where the water has cut through the rock over the millennia, easily accessible by well maintained walkways.
On the final evening there were some minutes around the sunset where the clouds cleared enough to view the mountains behind the beautiful Frillensee lake... and a rainbow completed the picture nicely.
Overall I very much enjoyed the trip, and took many hundreds of pictures... although almost none of them were the pictures I was planning for.
The journey has begun.
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