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Feb 16, 2002
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Feb 17, 2002

February 16, 2002
On Top of Germany

Click on pink-border photos for full-size, full resolution photos. It'll make you giggle.
Just across the German border from Salzburg, Austria I refueled my Volkswagen Passat, then accidentally poured diesel fuel all over my hand and shoe. How nice. Then I drove down to Garmish-Partenkirchen, reassured by the fact that if I ran out of gas I might be able to cut off my fingers one at a time, shove them in the tank, and run on fumes. This was a last resort, of course. I still hadn't figured out how to fashion my own knife from iron ore, so there were some problems with that plan. I drove at silly speeds, passing through traffic-jammed-Munich again, afraid to stop for fear of mispronouncing that name as well in front of the locals, and frankly it just never looked that appetizing from where I sat. I was caught in a bottle neck in Garmish-Partenkirchen and made it to Zugspitz 20 minutes too late to ascend it.
Traffic Jam on the way to Zugspitz

Darn! I was fuming. But I was able to snap photos through the windshield without driving into a herd of goats because of that traffic jam. That Zugspitz has been such a problem. Iíd have to spend the night in Garmish now. I drove around town, praying Iíd find some decent lodging (it was peak ski season so it wasnít likely). By the way, youíve probably already seen this areaÖitís the stage of many world-class ski events. Iíve already seen a few on television since Iíve been in Germany. The 1936 Winter Olympics were held there too, and just over the mountain was Innsbruck, Austria, the site of the 1976 Winter Olympics. The border of Austria/Germany bisected the peak, and there used to be a border crossing checkpoint at the top, but since all the Europeans are brothers now, it was closed. Below you can see the cross on the top of Zugspitz...I think.

Zugspitz Summit?

I found a nice little Catholic church that had Saturday services, so I thought it would be a good idea to keep up with my commitments. At church that night I couldnít fold my hands in front of my face to pray while kneeling because Iíd inhale the fumes from the diesel fuel, concentrated in the hollow of my folded hands, and start coughing. It was pretty bad, a violent cough, the kind you get when someone kicks you in the stomach and then pours diesel fuel in your nose. It brought back memories of September 12, 1997 when my dear, sweet mother poured gasoline all over my arms in the back yard to be sure I wasn't too dirty for my Aunt Henrietta's funeral the next day. She really had her priorities straight. At church, some nice people gave me advice about the Patton Hotel. They were full but gave me a tip on another hotel, and I was lodged! Woo hoo!!! I was afraid Iíd have to use the pillow and covers Iíd brought in my station wagon and sleep in it.

I got takeout from McDonald's in Garmish, and ate in my 2nd story room as I looked out over the skiers and partiers on Saturday night. I was too beat to party. Too shy too. Besides, when there are parties, there are cigarettes, and when there are fuel-soaked partiers and cigarettes, there's trouble. I've watched COPS, Rescue 911, and Romper Room enough to know that. Below is a photo of Lake Eibsee at the base of Zugspitz. I don't know what those people are doing out on the lake (it was frozen).

Lake Eibsee at the base of Zugspitz
February 17, 2002 Ė Zugspitz:

Garmish in the morning

Zugspitz Tramway
Yesterday I woke up, got dressed (important), ate my free breakfast, drove up to the base of Zugspitz and ascended to the top of Germany on a perilous cable car that climbed right up the side of the windy 9731 foot mountain.

The car was packed elbow-to-elbow with smelly skiers and I was pinned against a window, sweating and praying all the way up. For a guy who is afraid of heights, small spaces, and has a larger than normal personal space, I really need to pick different vacation spots. You couldn't swing a dead fish without hitting someone who smelled like a dead fish. I looked out the window a few times but started feeling weak and closed my eyes again. Once to the top I walked up to the observation platform which is about three meters below the actual summit. Unfortunately the path to the summit was covered in four feet of snow and closed. I could have jumped the gate but I would have been climbing on sneakers, without gloves and a slip would have sent me off the edge of the mountain, which was a straight drop that would've meant certain death, especially after the fuel residue caused me to explode on impact.
Standing on/near the top of Germany

Garmish, Germany, from the summit of Zugspitz

Lake Eibsee as seen from the tramway near the summit of Zugspitz
Above is Garmish, seen from the summit.

On Zugspitz you straddle Austria and can also see Italy and Switzerland. I was never in Italy, but I did see Italy. It's white. Before me were hundreds of snow-covered peaks and the sun was perfect. The Neuschwanstein Castle was just 19 miles northwest of the summit. Now THIS is the most beautiful scenery Iíve seen in Europe. Itís strange to think I pedaled my bicycle to an altitude 4400 feet higher than this last July.

I was the only person on the cable car ride down. Descending was much easier than ascending. I walked around the car and looked out the windows without fear. I was going to live! At the bottom, a crowd had gathered near Lake Eibsee because a man who'd apparently been staying in one of the lodges next to the lake decided to walk out of his room naked. It was a big crowd pleaser, and people were calling each other over to see. I'm not sure he knew he was being watched, but it was a big deal to the tourists.

Then I lept through the air, did a triple somersault through the windshield, landed in the driverís seat and blasted out of Eibsee at 26,822 millimeters per second on my way to Ulm. Along the way I passed the Ettal Monastery, which was part of a Bavarian Castle tour package Iíd passed up this weekend in favor of doing it all on my own. I did it my way, just as Elvis sang a few days before he was found dead on the toilet. I was in good company. The monastery didnít look like much so I flew by. I'd seen the world's fastest airliner, the location of what was likely the world's most famous movie, the tallest mountain in Germany, the world's worst dressed man, and was now on my way to see the world's tallest church.

I felt like I was on top of the worldÖlike I had arrived. And here is the view north into Germany and below that,
south into Italy, Austria, and Switzerland:
Looking North towards Munich, Germany from Zugspitz Looking towards Austria, Switzerland, and Italy from Zugspitz, the highest point in Germany