The 1936 Winter Olympics put Garmisch-Partenkirchen on the map, with a lot of Nazi fanfare stealing the show from the athletes. The most famous competitor to emerge from the games was Norwegian figure skater Sonja Heine, whose twirls on the ice at the Olympic Ice Stadium earned her three gold medals, launched a Hollywood career, and made her a favorite of gossip columnists (her affairs with boxer Joe Louis and actors Tyrone Power and Van Johnson, along with her vile temper and Nazi sympathies, supplied plenty of juicy material). You can take a spin yourself on the three public rinks (Adlerstrasse 25, tel. 08821/753291; 5€ adults, 2.40€ kids 6–15; public skating daily July to mid-May 11am–4pm) and on the lake when it is frozen. The Ski Stadium, with two ski jumps and a slalom course, is on the slopes at the edge of town. In 1936, more than 100,000 people watched the events in this stadium, and the World Cup Ski Jump is held here every New Year’s Day.
An especially pleasant in-town excursion is along the pine-scented Philosopher’s Walk at the edge of Partenkirchen, with views to the peaks that form a backdrop to the 18th-century Chapel of St. Anton.
To the Top of the Zugspitze
The tallest mountain in Germany, soaring 2,960m (9,700 ft.) above sea level, lures view seekers up its craggy slopes on a tremendously popular thrill ride. The only challenge is deciding how to make the ascent, but whichever way you go, you’ll be treated to phenomenal mountain views all the way up, at the top, and on the way down—provided, of course, it’s not snowing or the mountain is otherwise enshrouded in cloud cover, in which case the trip is pointless. One way begins on the Zugspitzbahn (cog railway), which departs from its own depot behind Garmisch-Partenkirchen’s main railway station. The train travels uphill, past boulder-strewn meadows and rushing streams, to the Zugspitzplatte, a high plateau with sweeping views, where you transfer to a cable car, the Gletscherbahn, for a 4-minute ride up to the summit. The second way is to take the Zugspitzbahn for a shorter trip, disembarking at the Eibsee Sielbahn (Eibsee Cable Car), which carries you to the top. Round-trip tickets allow you to ascend one way and descend the other, in order to enjoy the widest range of spectacular views. When you reach the top, you can linger on a sunny cafe terrace before making the descent. Round-trip fares are 42€ for adults, 32€ for ages 16 to 18, and 31€ for ages 6 to 15. For more information, contact the Bayerische Zugspitzbahn, Olympiastrasse 27, Garmisch-Partenkirchen (tel. 08821/7970; www.zugspitze.de).
A Hike to Konigshaus AM Schachen
Perhaps with Wagner’s music ringing in your ears—or, okay, “The Sound of Music”—you can hike through Alpine meadows up to the remote mountainside lodge that in 1872 King Ludwig II had built in a style that crosses a Swiss chalet with a Greek temple. The ground-floor rooms resemble those of a simple mountain dwelling, but upstairs is the “Türkische Saal” (Turkish Hall), a Moorish fantasy out of “The Arabian Nights” where low divans surround a fountain. Ludwig would sit here in Eastern attire in the company of his hookah-smoking retinue. The effect is all the more extravagant considering that teams of workers had to cart all the building materials up the mountainside. More than 1,000 species of Alpine flora grow in an adjacent botanical garden. The only way to reach the lodge is by a well-marked trail that makes a fairly easy, 10km (6-mile) ascent up the mountain. Once up there, admission is by guided tour (in German only, but guides will usually explain things in English if you ask), at 11am, 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm. 4.50€ adult, 3.50€ children, kids under 14 free; www.schloesser.bayern.de. Allow at least half a day for the hike and your time at the lodge.