A trip to the Bavarian Alps was just what the doctor ordered. Extreme mild temperatures just before Christmas couldn’t hold me back to venture down to Garmisch-Partenkirchen once more to stand “On Top of Germany”.

As we moved to Munich eight years ago I couldn’t get enough of the fresh air & beauty of the Bavarian Alps as they were just down the road from where I live. Well, 60km is just down the road especially if you have a car. I got to see a lot of the area in those days & when I wasn’t out in the car I was often in Munich at the weekends & often even in the evenings after work & that in the middle of winter when the temperatures were well below zero. My wife said I was fanatical, I suppose she was right but after a while you realize that you start repeating yourself for lack of new challenges. These days I seldom go into town to shoot material without an idea or plan. I have lost a little bit of the spontaneity probably due to the fact that after a while you tend to think “Been there, seen it, shot it” syndrome. I do realize that every time you return there will always be something different, a small twist to the situation, be it from weather, light or time of year but it just doesn’t convince me to get up early or stay out late these days. Being a hobby I shouldn’t see it as being a duty or responsibility but the fact is, I do miss it sometimes.

The weather has been gorgeous the last couple of days & very mild too for the middle of December. I am on holiday for the next three weeks due to the forced reduction of overtime from the past year & Christmas holidays to boot. I still have lots to do with the websites & the processing of images never stops. Many reasons preventing me from writing my blog articles too I’m afraid.

I enjoy this view often as I go to work in the morning.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Anyway, I decided to take my chances with the weather & get my ass out of bed early, walk to the S-Bahn station in Unterhaching & catch the train to Munich, from there a train to Garmisch-Partenkirchen on the Bavarian/Austrian border & once there catch the funicular to the Eibsee, a beautiful lake surrounded by woodland situated direct in front of the Zugspitze, Germanys highest peak at 2,962m. From there I hoped to hop on the cable car that shoots up to the summit & shoot the sun going down before taking the last cable car back down, catch the funicular back to the railway station in Garmisch, hop on a train back to Munich, jump on the S-Bahn back to Unterhaching & then walk the last 15 minutes back home, carrying a backpack with around 6 kilos, plus a tripod.

Now as I describe all this it sounds even quite mad to me & to be honest such day trips aren’t for the faint of hearted. Getting up so early is for me the hardest part. I generally go to bed very late & don’t have to rise before 8:00am for work during the week. Once outside though, the fresh air wakes me up & I’m on my way with thoughts & expectations of the ongoing self assignment.

“For a moment the wind let up and the sun was just about to disappear behind the horizon. I couldn’t believe my luck, this was to be my reward for the effort of getting up this morning.”

I arrived at Munichs central station at around 9:00am to see my train waiting. I had 10 minutes to buy a Bayern ticket & hop on. My hopes were dashed as there was a queue at the ticket kiosk, not many but you all know that train tickets always take a while. Today was no exception & add to this a middle aged Italian couple that couldn’t speak any German then you can well imagine my frustration as my train said toodle pip & departed without me. The next train was in 35 minutes which was at short notice dropped from the schedule due to a technical defect. I could have spent this time sleeping & worse still it was robbing time from a very tight programme that I had in mind. Travelling always has it’s surprises & today was to be no exception.

It was 10:15am before we left Munich & 11:45am as we arrived in Garmisch. Luckily the Zugspitzbahn (funicular railway) is only a stones throw from the station. This is where I received my next shock, the next train was at 12:15pm. Holy shit, this is not my day I thought, another 25 minute wait, oh well, time for a coffee & a bite to eat. This was a good idea as I later realized as I had no more time to waste after this.

Cold morning air and a view for the Gods.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

A frozen Frillensee directly in front of the Zugspitze mountain range.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

The ride to the Eibsee takes about 25 minutes with a couple of stops along the way. From the station at Eibsee it’s a walk of about 10 minutes to the shores of the lake where the large Eibsee Hotel is situated. The path was covered in a compacted snow making it pretty slippery going but the view more than compensated for this little annoyance. It was so tranquil, no people & no wind making for almost perfect mirrored reflections of the peaks in the water from the opposite side of the lake. The peaks aren’t particularly high with little snow capping them but just enough for a couple of nice shots.

A little further on I arrived at Frillensee, this is basically a pond separated from the Eibsee on it’s southern shore. What makes Frillensee so special is it’s vertical backdrop of the Zugspitze massive, it’s pretty awesome. The pond in summer is crystal clear but full of dead trees, in winter it’s frozen over, surrounded by a large, dense Pine forest. I got to work shooting some material taking care with a panorama of the impressive vista before heading back to the cable car station. I didn’t have to wait long before we headed on up. The gondola was empty other than one other photographer & the attendant who was controlling the ascent. He sighted some mountain goats that were just a couple of black dots on the snow covered outcrops, it took me some time before I caught a glimpse of them before the stone walls & trees obscured the view. The cable car route is breathtaking & a real feat of modern engineering, it must have been very dangerous building these massive pylons that help hold the 4 thick, heavy cables. It takes about 10 minutes to reach the summit from 1000m to 2960m. Then it was up 3 floors of restaurant & museum stairs before the doors slid open & the sun & wind hits you straight in the face. The air is noticeably thinner at this elevation but was quickly forgotten as I caught my first glimpse of that alpine panorama, a sight that never fails to give me goose pimples.

A birds eye view into the Höllental (Hells Valley).

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

A last shot before the sun sets behind the weather station and Münchenerhaus.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

I didn’t have much time & so got to work, the wind was ice cold feeling like -5°C at least, my hands were feeling the pinch already after 10 minutes & holding the heavy 70-200mm zooms metal housing didn’t help matters a lot. It got unbearable & the wind didn’t let up, I had to go inside & get warmed up. After a while I was back outside, the light was changing quickly, I had to make the most out of the next hour. My hands started burning again, I could hardly feel the shutter release let alone use the zoom properly, I decided to take shelter once more. Thoughts started to race through my mind; is this really what one would call fun what I’m doing? Is this worth the pain & stress? Of course it is & went back out onto the Austrian side of the viewing platform. Bloody hell, the wind was even worse on this side & I was shooting into the sun. I had to bracket a number of shots.

Sunset over the Swiss Alps.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

I noticed movement to my left & couldn’t believe what I was witnessing, on a large mast in front of the restaurant building a man was carrying out repairs to some cables hanging to the side fully exposed to the elements. Of course I had to take this opportunity & raced through the corridor separating the Austrian from the German side of the platform & was almost blown back by a strong wind boa. I could hardly hold my camera straight & had to pump the ISO value up to 400 to get a reasonably high shutter speed. After 10 shots or so I retreated back inside to warm my freezing hands. I checked the previous shots & knew again why I was going through this torture, the results looked promising.

Unbelievable array of warm tones shortly before the sun diminishes.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

The sun was going down, I had to get back out, I only had another 20 minutes before the last gondola leaves at 16:40pm. For a moment the wind let up & the sun was just about to disappear behind the horizon. I couldn’t believe my luck, this was to be my reward for the effort of getting up this morning. I have been on the Zugspitze a number of times but the sunset has always eluded me because the last gondola always left before the sun set. Today was my chance and I used it shooting away like a lunatic until I was told to leave as the last gondola was to depart in the next 10 minutes. The sun was gone leaving the platform abruptly in shadow, it was getting colder and the sky changed to a muddy grey with a band of pink on the horizon, that was it I thought, grabbed my backpack and made my way downstairs to the gondola. My hands were burning from the cold, my ears too but I didn’t care, main thing was that the pictures are good.

At this point all I wanted to do was get back to Unterhaching as quickly as possible to enjoy my catch from the day in my study on my monitor, unfortunately this must wait a while. We descended to the cable car station swiftly, outside the last residues of sunset colours diminished revealing a black carpet of forest around the barely visible Eibsee below us.

The sun was overpowering and that by -5°C.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Looks like someone lost the toss of a coin today.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

The last funicular took the remaining guests back to the railway station, I could hear people discussing the magnificant sunset they had witnessed, a sense of content was not to be overseen. Some were pretty exhausted, the thin air and the rampaging wind takes up a lot of energy. Some had fallen asleep, I too nodded off a couple of times before we arrived at the station. My thoughts were just on getting home, hoping that I didn’t have to wait too long for the train back to Munich. I was in luck, in 10 minutes the next train from Innsbruck was due.


The last embers of daylight diminish leaving the Zugspitze summit drift slowly into darkness.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

View across the Eibsee.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

I‘m not a religious guy but I do believe to a certain degree in fate and on this evening as I sat myself opposite an elderly gentleman who was tampering with a laptop fate struck. The man, obviously from the area due to his accent asked me if I was a photographer, I replied that this was my way of relaxing from my work in the advertising branch. His eyes broadened and he asked whether I was familiar with Adobe Photoshop. I laughed and explained that this was probably the only software that I know well. He started to banter about being a former photographer who in the analogue days developed techniques using colour processing in the darkroom for a reprographic company working as a freelancer. Of course there was no shortage of discussion material here, we got on like a house on fire. To cut a long story short this guy is using Photoshop today producing abstract art, some examples of which he showed me on his laptop combining photo material and painting techniques. Unfortunately we had to part our ways in Murnau but if there was one thing that sticks in my mind is the fact that this man was still full of creative enthusiasm and this at the mature age of eighty.

It was well past 20:00pm as I arrived back home to the warmth of our cosy appartment and judging by the delicious aroma coming from the kitchen my wife was cooking the evening meal, I couldn’t have timed it better. I still had time to open a beer, turn on my computer and transfer the days swag to one of my hard drives still thinking of the elderly man in the train. Eighty years old and still at it I thought, unbelievable.

There is hope for me yet. :-)

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