A day on Starnberger See

A royal tour

Our author has been living in Munich for twenty years, but has never spent a whole day on Starnberger See (lake). He wants to change that.

As the MS Starnberg departs, we stand on its viewing platform: ten metres (estimated!) above the surface of the water, blinded by the light of the summer sun. My daughter sits beside me at knee height. She has crammed herself into the opening of a slide that winds down to the sun deck – and then realised that it’s hard to slide well on metal while wearing a dress: too much skin, too little fabric. Now, she asks me to be her rug; she wants to slide through the pipe on my lap. “That’s going too far! You have to slide down by yourself!” I say – I’ve always found it ridiculous to see adults on play equipment.

The last time I was on a lake cruise, I was a teenager on Ammersee, not too far from here. Back then, I started out enthusiastic: a boat trip! Then, deep boredom dampened my spirits. Always the same landscape, only old people on-board, the sun beating down mercilessly, all conversation ebbing away into meaninglessness. My companions came to find me intolerable. It might have been my age, but until now I had always put it down to the slow pace at which we were moving.

The bucentaur – the ship – had been built by Italian craftsmen, because Turin native Henriette Adelaide missed her home and wanted to transform Bavaria into Italy to at least some extent.

The ship turns gently away from its port of departure in Starnberg and heads for Berg, located close by on the east bank of the lake. The MS Starnberg is something like the flagship of the Starnberger Seenschifffahrt company’s six-vessel fleet. The ship is 56 metres long, 15 metres wide and 13 years old; she is also a catamaran, whose decks rest on two hulls. A bronze figure is enthroned on the prow: Neptune, god of the sea, looking as though he is just about to stride off across the water. He is a reminder of the origins of the Starnberger See cruise. These go back as far as the 17th century – indeed even as far back as the 16th century, when Duke Albrecht V sailed across the lake on a frigate. But it is the story of the bucentaur that is truly legendary.

Elector Ferdinand Maria had a fleet of luxury party boats, and from 1665 onwards the magnificent flagship among these also had a figure of Neptune on-board, with its shimmering, gold nose in the wind. In those days, there were no diesel motors; instead, there were royal subjects. A total of 128 of these had to row the Elector and his wife, Henriette Adelaide of Savoy, across the lake. The bucentaur – the ship – had been built by Italian craftsmen, because Turin native Henriette Adelaide missed her home and wanted to transform Bavaria into Italy to at least some extent. So the bucentaur resembled a Venetian galley. Aboard the ship, the pleasure-seeking Henriette and her spouse hosted wild, extravagant banquets, complete with fireworks and cannonades.

I am moved by the degree of grandeur. This is something everyone should experience – Bavarians, guests. Everyone. You simply cannot get a much more beautiful view than the one we are enjoying from this ship. The lake, the Wetterstein mountains, castles, the gentle hills of the Alpine upland.

Our cruise also includes a party – though it is quieter and a little more modest than the Elector’s bashes. A seventieth birthday is toasted with Weissbier towards the front of the upper deck. The guests also skin Weisswurst to enjoy with the beer, as the Alps appear on the horizon, thick white clouds move across a deep blue sky, and the lake surrounds us with an even deeper blue. Berg, the place where King Ludwig II met his end, emerges ahead of us. It doesn’t get more Upper Bavarian than this. The pomp of the Wittelsbach family, a staggeringly beautiful landscape, and the local cuisine all meet here on deck with us.

I am moved by the degree of grandeur. This is something everyone should experience – Bavarians, guests. Everyone. You simply cannot get a much more beautiful view than the one we are enjoying from this ship. The lake, the Wetterstein mountains, castles, the gentle hills of the Alpine upland. And it is so quiet. The wind blows voices away, the water murmurs, the land flows past. We are far away from everything. Nobody disturbs the quietude. Life goes into slow motion. On the other hand, my change of heart has happened astonishingly rapidly. How on earth could I ever have found this form of tour stupid? Incomprehensible. Trapped in prejudice.

We pass Berg and the big cross in the lake that marks the spot where King Ludwig II drowned, along with his personal physician. My daughter asks me how anyone could drown so close to the shore. All my attempts at explanation fail; the death of the fairytale prince remains a mystery that even we cannot solve. After another stopover at Leoni, we cross the water and the Alps appear in their full splendour, from the Benediktenwand at Bad Tölz to the Zugspitze. Magnificent. We reach Possenhofen, and once again, we are immersed in high nobility; Starnberger See was the favourite lake of the Bavarian rulers.

The MS Bayern – the oldest ship in the fleet, built in 1939. She carries us to Bernried with the casual elegance of an old lady who knows that she can no longer keep up with the young things (MS Starnberg, MS Seeshaupt), but who can’t help but outshine them when it comes to dignity and experience.

My daughter is suddenly very excited – she is a fan of Sisi, who spent the summer months in the local castle as the young Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie. We briefly glimpse something behind the trees by the bank – a main building with four towers. Today, the castle is divided into private flats. A boat trip like this is also a journey into Bavaria’s history, past former residences of kings and empresses, and the places where they amused themselves.

On we go to Seeshaupt, going ashore for the first time, for a period of an hour and a half. Our stomachs are rumbling, but we are still in a great mood – so far, the trip has been absolutely uplifting. Now we have a stopover of almost two hours. We go for a swim before lunch. On the banks of the lake, not far from the pier, is the Seeterrasse Lidl, a cosy beer garden with a swimming pier and a sunbathing area. We eat char and Kässpatzn (cheese noodles), both very good, and afterwards, we roast ourselves in the sun and then cool off in the water.

The time flies by. And then the next boat peels itself away from the depths of the lakeland, a white dot that grows into a machine. The MS Bayern – the oldest ship in the fleet, built in 1939. She carries us to Bernried with the casual elegance of an old lady who knows that she can no longer keep up with the young things (MS Starnberg, MS Seeshaupt), but who can’t help but outshine them when it comes to dignity and experience. There, we step ashore once again to look at art.

The Buchheim Museum is north of Bernried, just a ten-minute walk from the pier along the footpath that runs beside the lake. The museum rises out of the park in the shape of an abstract ocean liner. The museum, opened in 2001, was planned by Günter Behnisch, who also designed the Munich Olympic Stadium. Universal artist Lothar-Günther Buchheim – whose most famous work is probably the novel on which the film “Das Boot” was based – was the man behind the museum’s construction.

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The museum is home to Buchheim’s collection of Expressionist art, among other things. We walk through the bright, airy room, look at works by Kirchner, Beckmann and Buchheim himself, and enjoy the view from a long bridge across the lake. It would be nice to stay here a little longer. The park has deckchairs that invite us to lounge around, but the return journey is about to begin.

The MS Starnberg collects us once again. A storm moves down from the mountains; the sky darkens dramatically, the wind freshens and tugs at our hair. We are standing on the viewing platform once again. My daughter asks me again to go down the slide with her. Okay. Let me be your underlay! We streak through the silver pipe. She laughs, and so do I. It was actually fun! Ahoy!

 

 

Text: Benedikt Sarreiter; Photos: Frank Stolle

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