As a 19-year-old airman stationed on the German-Czech border from 1966 to 1969, I was able to travel throughout Bavaria and southern Austria. Since then, I yearned to revisit the places I experienced as a young man to see whether their charm and beauty had changed over the years.
So, with my brushed-up German and my 19-year-old nephew, Scott, I arrived in Munich in mid-September, shortly before the start of Oktoberfest. We took a 30-minute train ride to the Dachau concentration camp. I could see in Scott's eyes his disbelief and sadness for the events that took place there - a stark and sobering exhibit of man's inhumanity toward man.
From Munich we traveled to the tiny village of Oberammergau to experience a once-in-a-lifetime performance of the Passion Play. Its history goes back to 1634, after the village was miraculously saved from the ravages of the Black Death. The play is performed every 10 years on the decade, put on by town natives or residents for more than 20 years.
From Oberammergau, we drove to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and a trip to the top of Germany's tallest mountain, the Zugspitze, nearly 10,000 feet, via the Eibsee-Seilbahn. The aerial cable car, which travels up the side of the mountain, is not for the faint of heart or those who have an aversion to heights. But the view from the summit is breathtaking - we could see the Alps of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy, which were still snow-capped.
From Garmisch, we visited the castles of Linderhof, Hohenschwangau, and Neuschwanstein, all built under the rule of King Ludwig II, the so-called Mad King of Bavaria, whose extravagance is aptly displayed.
Traveling into Austria, we stayed at a family-run hotel, the Sallerhof, in the town of Grodig, only four miles from Salzburg. This turned out to be the ideal base to tour Salzburg and Bavaria.
We drove to Lake Königssee and took a pleasant ride on an electric boat - no gas-powered boats allowed - to see St. Bartholomä church and Salet. From Salet, it is a 30-minute hike to the Obersee, a small, tranquil lake that I think is one of the most beautiful and idyllic spots in Bavaria. I put aside the pressures and cares of a troubled world and enjoyed the quiet solitude and beauty of nature.
At Berchtesgaden, we toured the Kehlsteinhaus, or "Eagles Nest." This mountaintop hideaway was a 50th-birthday present given to Adolf Hitler by Nazi Party leader Martin Bormann.
Back at the Sallerhof, the proprietor, Klaus, had arranged a special trip for us (Scott may have had a hand in this) - a tandem paragliding flight in the Austrian Alps. Arriving in the town of Werfenweng, we boarded a gondola to the top of the mountain. After a brief safety course, we proceeded to jump off the mountain. The exhilarating 45-minute flight into the valley was one I will always remember - especially the part when my feet touched solid ground.
Sadly, our journey had to end. The places in Bavaria and Austria that I had seen as a young man were happily still as clean and awe-inspiring as I remembered them, and I think Scott will return to these special places, as I did.