Garmisch-Partenkirchen: The Aspen of Germany

Aspen, Colorado and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany have many traits in common: both are picturesque towns built against the backdrop of some of the world’s most beautiful mountains, attracting hikers, explorers, and winter sports enthusiasts who seek an escape from city life. Although Aspen has multiple sister cities across the world, its partnership with Garmisch-Partenkirchen dates back to September 23, 1966 — the first of its sister cities.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen is located in Bavaria, near the Austrian border and close to Germany’s tallest mountain at 9,718 feet tall — the Zugspitze. Thanks to its proximity to the Alps it is one of Germany’s major resort towns, but it also has a turbulent past.

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For many centuries, Garmisch and Partenkirchen were separate towns. The original Roman road passed through Partenkirchen and was first mentioned in history in the year A.D. 15. From the 13th century until the early 19th century, the prince-bishops of Freising ruled the region, and governed from the nearby Werdenfels Castle. Like much of Europe, during the 16th century the towns of Garmisch and Partenkirchen were subject to hardships including the bubonic plague outbreaks and witch hunts. Those accused of witchcraft were tried and burned at the stake at the Werdenfels Castle. In the 17th century, the castle was seen as a place of terror, and was abandoned. Today, only ruins remain.

During Adolf Hitler’s ruling in the early 20th century, the region was chosen as the site for the 1936 Winter Olympics. In preparation for the games, Hitler decided to unify the two towns, calling the new city Garmisch-Partenkirchen. After World War II, the town was used as a recreational center for the U.S. military. Some long-term residents still consider themselves loyal to either Garmisch or Partenkirchen and refuse to recognize the name change.

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Travel Tuesday: Partnach Gorge

The Parnachklamm (“Partnach Gorge”) consists of rock strata formed 240 million years ago. © dpa / picture-alliance

In the mountains of the Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen is the Partnach Gorge – a natural monument filled with waterfalls, rapids, caves and beautiful water basins.

The 2,303 ft long gorge is incised by a mountain stream and visitors can walk through it year-round.

The hike along the Partnach Gorge goes partially through mountainous caves. © dpa / picture-alliance

The sedimentary rock strata of the gorge (called Muschelkalk in German) was formed 240 million years ago – back when the region was still a shallow sea. Traces of the burrowing and feeding of marine animals can still be seen on the strata. The gorge itself was formed many millions of years ago when the Partnach stream cut into the rocks, creating  a river that flows through the mountains and forms the gorge.

Back in the 18th century, local Germans used the gorge to transport firewood to nearby towns on a raft. This, however, was quite dangerous, due to the strong current of the Partnach Gorge.

Today, however, the gorge is more of a tourist attraction than a method of firewood transportation. There is a small entrance fee in the summer months.

The Partnach Gorge is filled with icicles in the winter months. © dpa / picture-alliance

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy