Sunday, April 28, 2013

Bavaria's Fraueninsel

A view of the Alps from Frauenchiemsee
There's a lake in Bavaria that's called the Bavarian Mediterranean Sea or das Bayerische Mittelmeer in German. We go there at least once a year. It's a popular destination for a day trip, and its real name is Chiemsee of course. I have no idea how it gained its comparison to the Mediterranean Sea. It's nowhere near as big as the Med. Maybe it's a mini-Med? It has islands and a few beaches but mostly promenades and traditional Bavarian houses with the Alps as a backdrop.

The lake is famous for a few reasons, but the two best known are the castle built by Bavaria's crazy King Ludwig II on the island Herrenchiemsee and the Fraueninsel, whose name is actually Frauenchiemsee but everyone in Bavaria calls the island die Fraueninsel.

I've lived in Bavaria so long that I couldn't really say whether I'd been to the Fraueninsel before our recent visit. I was sure I had been there, but as we walked around the island I had the odd feeling that I had never been here before. It's a beautiful, tiny island. It's the smallest community in Bavaria. The walk around it is about one kilometer. You can do it in about 30 minutes, but you should take it slowly. The restaurants and the shops on the Fraueninsel have been there for years and years, some for centuries. If you like smoked fish, this is your place. The island is also famous for pottery.

The monastery on the island has a long, interesting history. Founded in 782, it was most active from the 11th to the 15th century. Destroyed of course, as almost everything is, and then rebuilt in the 18th century, it's now run by around 30 nuns--although I saw only one.  And I should thank her for not chewing me out for taking the picture in the church (below). I really didn't see the sign telling me not to.

Wikipedia indicates that the government of the Fraueninsel is a theocracy. A sovereign municipality--the smallest in Bavaria, which makes me wonder how many "municipalities" there are in Bavaria. The island of course is part of the German social democratic system, but also governed independently.

The people on the island are Germans. The children play soccer under and around you. They ignore the tourists basically. I wonder what it would be like to grow up in such a small community that attracts so many tourists each year. Do the children feel like celebrities or goldfish? Or celebrity goldfish?

Like Phi Phi Island in Thailand and Mackinac Island in Michigan, Fruaenchiemsee is a car-free zone. There is hardly room on this island for cars anyway. If there weren't thousands and thousands of tourists scuttling about here, it would probably be the most peaceful place on earth.


Frauenchiemsee with the Alps in the background

Spring is probably not the best time to visit Chiemsee. The wind on the boat is biting, but as the sun comes out and warms us up, it's easier to take pictures. We usually go in summer when a chilly breeze is more welcome. If you're in Bavaria, a day trip to Chiemsee is a day well spent. A round trip on the boat that takes you to most places on the lake will cost around 9 euros.

I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations.