In the southeastern tip of Bavaria near Berchtesgaden lies an aquatic ribbon known as Königssee, the third deepest lake in Germany. This narrow waterway stretches 4.8 miles long by 1 mile at its widest point. Wedged into a rift between steep mountains, it was formed by glaciers during the last ice age. Pure, unadulterated water makes this alpine lake beautiful with its emerald, mirror-like appearance. In fact, the water is drinkable.
The name, which translates to King’s Lake, came not from any particular king but more than likely from the nobles who made the area their favorite hunting grounds. Imagine the peaceful calm, where the isolation of steep rock cliffs makes it possible to hear every sound.
In the late 1800s, approximately 200 oarsmen shuttled thousands of visitors from the town of Schönau am Königssee the length of the lake. At roughly the halfway point sat St. Bartholomä where visitors could disembark to view the church and take hikes.
At the St. Bartholomä pier, a petite monastery, originally built in 1134 by the Provosts of Berchtesgaden, stood watch. In 1697, it was rebuilt in the Baroque style that looked as though it would be more at home in a Russian village with its wine-red domes instead of spires. It was actually patterned after the Salzburg Cathedral. The name came from the apostle Saint Bartholomew, the patron saint of alpine farmers and dairymen. Appropriate as this was who made up the local population.
With tourism in full swing, some entertainment was in order. About a third of the way along the length of Königssee, the boats entered a passage with sheer rock walls on either side, an ideal spot for an echo. The crew brought out a black-powder pistol and aimed it at one of the walls. The echo bounced back and forth between the rock faces as many as seven times. One would think that if peace, quiet, and calm were so strictly enforced, why would they disrupt nature with a gun blast? Apparently, that concern reached the right ears, and in 1930 a different demonstration took its place—the flugelhorn, a type of trumpet, but more mellow in tone. A member of the crew, often the skipper, would aim the instrument and play a classical tune that echoed back and harmonized with itself. (This magnificent display is still offered today. I’ve heard it myself several times, and it never ceases to amaze.)
Sailing past the little canyon, the electric boat silently motored to the aforementioned pier where the visitors could get out and stretch their legs. If the two-hour tour wasn’t enough, the more adventurous could hike to the fabulous Röthbach Falls or continue the cruise to disembark at the far end of the lake. From there, they could trek to Lake Obersee, a small, secluded body of water that perfectly mirrored the surrounding peaks.
A popular tradition in alpine settings dating back to 3000 BC was Almabtrieb, the herding of cows from their summer pasture high in the hills to their winter pasture below. In most areas, the cattle were either herded or transported by truck or train. At Königssee, the only way to get them from here to there was by boat as the terrain was nearly impossible to navigate around the lake.
A charming custom surrounding this moving of cattle took place in the fall, coupled with Octoberfest. A lead cow was chosen and given a homemade headdress constructed of evergreen limbs, flowers, and bells. The bovine who followed were also adorned, albeit not as elaborately. The parade would commence, and the villagers donned their lederhosen and celebrated with folk singing, dancing, and, of course, beer. In most towns in Bavaria, the parade took place along the streets and on through to the countryside beyond. At Königssee, the cows were given their festive gear after they disembarked from their special raft and then were taken on to their winter home.
The tradition of decorating the cows dates back to the mid-18th century in Austria. Allegedly, adorning the livestock would ward off evil spirits. This belief eventually faded away, but the delightful tradition continued on.
Who knew, when glaciers passed through this area all those eons ago, that Königssee would become such a rich area for locals and visitors to revel in.
Enjoy these two videos showcasing Konigssee, St. Bartholomä, and the echo.
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Kathleen E. Kovach is a Christian romance author published traditionally through Barbour Publishing, Inc. as well as indie. Kathleen and her husband, Jim, raised two sons while living the nomadic lifestyle for over twenty years in the Air Force. Now planted in northeast Colorado, she's a grandmother and a great-grandmother—though much too young for either. Kathleen has been a longstanding member of American Christian Fiction Writers. An award-winning author, she presents spiritual truths with a giggle, proving herself as one of God's peculiar people.