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Bavaria Beckons in Fall and Winter

If you love great beer, great cars and great holiday markets,

Bavaria is the ideal destination in autumn and early winter.


Beer is center stage at Munich’s Oktoberfest, the most famous festival in all of Germany, maybe even the world. For three weeks, from mid-September through the first weekend in October, breweries set up tents – some large enough to fit 2,500 people – for food, singalongs and beer. By tradition, only Munich’s six breweries can set up tents here, serving their own brews exclusively, including a special Wiesn beer named for the Oktoberfest location. 


Just in case you are wondering, Augustiner is the city’s oldest brewery, established in 1328, although Hofbrau and Lowenbrau are more famous. The others are Spaten, Hacker-Pshorr and the city’s youngest brewery, Paulaner, established in 1634. 


Oktoberfest has a carnival or state fair feel, with a sprawling midway of rides and games of chance, popular with families during the day. The festival began in 1810 to celebrate the wedding of the Crown Prince, later King Ludwig I, and also celebrate the fall harvest, including the hops, malt and barley that are the ingredients for beer, and has only grown in popularity in the years since.


Bavaria’s Car Culture

Munich is also home to BMW, with a sprawling visitor complex that showcases all the company’s brands, which include MINI and Rolls-Royce. Take a tour of automotive history from 1930s classics to futuristic models, learning about the technology of safety and design along the way. The BMW Museum adjoins the factory, which offers guided tours. It’s fascinating to watch a vehicle assembled, by a combination of 7,000 humans and almost as many robots. The factory produces 900 vehicles on an average day.


Nearby Ingolstadt is home to Audi, which also has a museum. The Audi Forum, as it’s called, takes you on a timeline from 1899 to today, with more than 100 cars and motorcycles on display. You’ll also learn that the four rings in the Audi logo represent the companies which merged to form Audi, including luxury carmaker Horch and one which made motorcycles. There’s also a factory tour here.


Ingolstadt is famous as well as the setting for Mary Shelley’s timeless horror classic, Frankenstein. This is where the diabolical doctor studied, at the old Anatomical Institute, now the Museum of the History of Medicine. You may need a beer after seeing some of the gruesome early medical instruments on display here, or some Frankenstein ice cream, which is really a bright red berry sherbet.


Castles and Christmas Markets

Head north/northeast from these two large cities in Bavaria along the Romantic Road, named for its abundance of Medieval castles and outdoor Christmas markets. Some markets take over the town squares starting in mid-November, others early December; all feature handmade gifts, food and decorations.


The most picturesque, popular and crowded is Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Rothenburg on the Tauber River), where the traditional holiday market dates to the 15th century, around when the town walls and buildings inside it were built. A brisk stroll around the walls is a good way to walk off hot mulled wine and the city’s signature schneeballen, strips of fried dough shaped into a ball and dusted with sugar or dipped in chocolate. There’s also a year-round Christmas shop here, Käthe Wohlfahrt’s Christmas Village, with a huge assortment of wooden figures, including classic nutcrackers.


Popular year-round is the Night Watchman’s Tour, a town history of Medieval murder and mayhem, by a guide in period costume leading the way with a lantern.


Less crowded is the holiday market in Nordlingen, which features a “crib trail” walk featuring artisans who create cribs for creches, including the town’s live nativity scene. 


Skiing and Snowboarding

Bavaria is home to one of the most iconic ski/snowboard destinations in the world, near the Zugspitze, the highest peak in Germany. Just north of the border with Austria is Garmish-Partenkirchen, two towns which united in the 1930s ahead of the 1936 Winter Olympics here, offer some 50 miles of downhill slopes for all levels, from beginner to adrenalin junkie, and more for cross-country – plus a BMW off-road test track. Lift prices here are less than half of Olympic sites in the USA, Salt Lake City, Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley) and Lake Placid.


Garmish is the more modern, fashionable half. Partenkirchen is the historic half, with cobblestone streets and half-timbered guesthouses that date to the 1600s and a more laid back, traditional feel.


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