For more than 125 years, residents in the tiny German town of Oberammergau have commemorated the eve of the birth of the fairy-tale Bavarian King Ludwig II with a dramatic and fiery bonfire display, called the König-Ludwig-Feuer.
One of the joys of exploring Germany’s Bavaria region is witnessing the people’s penchant for preserving tradition. In the village of Oberammergau, where we’ve spent much time visiting my parents, it’s not uncommon to spot an older gentleman wearing a loden green, woolen hat, with feather, during a grocery-shopping trip. On holidays, ladies often don vibrant Dirndls (dresses with poofy sleeves and aprons finished off with a pretty bow). And, during festivals, dancers of all ages take to the stage to show off their dancing skills, looked on by revelers with mugs of beer, a lively brass band, and an occasional yodeler.
During the last weekend of every October, the village of Unterammergau, Germany honors St. Leonhard, the patron saint of agricultural animals. The event begins with a horse procession through the village of 1,500 people, and culminates in an open-air church service, during which more than one hundred horses are blessed. (Unterammergau is the neighboring village to Oberammergau, where we’ve been spending the past summer and autumn. Together with O-gau, the village’s name is an essential ingredient in a well-known, and especially challenging German tongue twister about the two villages.)
“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” ― John Steinbeck
The experience of awakening to the first snowfall of winter is magical, especially when Mother Nature delivers as she did today in Oberammergau, Germany (nothing to shovel, but confectioners’ sugar-like dustings on the surrounding mountaintops). Here, Mount Kofel, which we successfully climbed this past summer, shows off her winter apparel, while ephemeral, downy clouds drift overhead.
Towering over the village of Oberammergau is the Kofel, a Matterhorn-shaped mountain with an elevation of 1,342 meters (4,400 feet). The name Kofel means ‘cone-shaped mountain’ in Celtic, and so hints at the tribes and peoples that once passed through this mountainous part of Germany.
The Bavarians we’ve met in this picturesque town are well-versed in the art of hiking, known as wandern, in German. As a result, they’re able to call off the names of these mountain peaks with the same sort of ease with which they ascend them. Coming from the Midwestern United States where hikes are typically through flat terrain, and well aware of my distaste for heights, I wasn’t sure I would have the fortitude to reach the Kofel’s summit.