We took the train to Lindau, Germany where we picked up a rental car. This will be the second time driving for me on this trip. I survived Italy, so I figured Germany would be a piece of cake! And it was much, much easier to drive here. The roads are really nice, everyone follows the rules and all the sites are well marked. We drove through the back roads to the small Bavarian town of Fussen. Bavaria is similar to Switzerland (and Austria) in some ways, but it is amazing to met how it still has a culture of its own.
The next morning we toured "Mad" King Ludwig's castles. The two famous Bavarian castles are Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein. They are really incredibly beautiful, especially against the backdrop of the Bavarian mountains. We got there early in the morning and there were still some low lying clouds against the hillsides. It looked exactly like a fairy tale! Hohenschwangau was the castle where King Ludwig grew up. It was actually a lot smaller than it looked, but the inside was ornately decorated. Neschwanstein was the castle the Ludwig built for himself, based on the painting by a set designer. It was never completely finished. Ludwig managed to bankrupt the state of Bavaria, was declared mad in order to remove him from the throne, and mysteriously died in the lake by his castle 2 days later. Six weeks after he died, the first tourists came to Neuschwanstein to see what their king was doing. If only he knew how much money his castle brought to Bavaria now! The castle itself is amazing and was the inspiration for Walt Disney's fairy tale castle and Disneyland. Sadly, King Ludwig only spent a couple of months living in the castle.
From the castles we drove along the back roads to Oberammergau. Oberammergau is the center of German woodcarving. Since we had already seen the Swiss equivalent, we decided to see the German version as well! It was really incredible. There were much larger workshops in Oberammergau, and a lot of the carvings were produced for more commercial means. Some of the special pieces on display had been commisioned by churches or public buildings. The carving was so intricate and detailed -- it was amazing! We walked around the town and visited several shops and workshops. Most of the people working in the shops were carvers. My favorite was a woman about my age who had been studying carving and doing carvings for about 10 years. She had a little boy about 10 months old who just hung out in the shop while she carved. He loved flirting with everyone and watching people on the security camera. She, along with other carvers, mentioned that it is getting harder and harder to make a living as a woodcarver. Peole are not buying as much and are not wanting to pay as much money for the really detailed pieces. It is sad, but I guess that this always happens with arts and crafts. As things go out of style, some art is lost. Hopefully the amazing art of German woodcarving will not go that way.