When I started planning my ‘big adventure’ there were a number of places in the melting pot for a starting point. After much ‘umm-ing and ahh-ing’ the start point eventually became München (Munich), from where a comparatively newly waymarked Jakobsweg snakes its way south-west towards, but not over, the Austrian border, ending this leg at Lindau, a Bavarian island city on Lake Constance. From here pilgrims would then cross into Switzerland and continue through France, cross the Massif Central, and ultimately head to Santiago de Compostela.
Sign above the door of St Jakobsweg Church, Munich
Because I needed to connect with another path called the Via Claudia Augusta, my plan was to follow this Jakobsweg for about 150 kilometres (of the 250), and what a different pilgrimage experience this proved to be. For this leg of my journey I had as a companion my sister-in-law, Joan. Joan arrived in München a couple of days before me and had done some leg work in preparation, finding a reasonable map (1:100,00), far superior to the line drawings in my German outdoor guide, and also the start point, St Jakob’s church in St Jakob’s Platz. We did try to get a pilgrim credential, but the nun tried to give us sandwiches instead. I think she thought we were homeless, and so we gave up on that one!
Unfortunately, though Joan had found a shell above the Church, we never found another sign for the whole morning’s walk! The path follows the River Isar and is a lovely walk along its banks though we had a little niggle of doubt for a while as to whether we were heading the right way! The problem is that for these first ten kilometres or so there are no signs whatsoever, and due to restoration and/ or building work along the river bank, we were sent on numerous detours, from which it was, at times, difficult to find our way back to the river! Hence there were many more kilometres walked than were necessary. We were elated on seeing the first sign seeing it as, at long last, confirmation that we were on the right track!
Day 1 after leaving Munich has pilgrims walking through some lovely stretches of forest
For the next few days the path often went through beautiful forests, sometimes narrow, sometimes wider. They are truly beautiful forests but my pleasure at walking through them was somewhat diminished due to the fact that a week before I had left Australia I learned for the first time about the dangers and, too late to do anything about it, of tick fever. I made sure that I avoided brushing against undergrowth and got into the habit of resting on the numerous seats provided, rather than lolling on the ground, and then doing a tick check at shower time. This is one thing that we don’t seem to be warned about, but as the travel doctor told me, “It mustn’t be taken lightly it can lead to encephalitis among other things”. His advice was not to walk in the forests until the end of the season: a bit too hard on this journey, so I followed his second piece of advice which was a regular tick check!
Sign on an old barn wall just before Wessobrunn
Along with the forests, one of the special, and different, things (for a South Australian at any rate) about this path is water! We often followed streams and rivers and there were numerous sees (lakes) which we could either follow along or, alternatively, cross by ferry. Because of the novelty factor of being able to travel by ferry, often very large ones, we inevitably made that choice, which also meant that we got to see the land from a different perspective too.
Once we picked up the first sign near Pullach, the signs, the map, and my guidebook all matched. But unfortunately this wasn’t to last, and the closer we got to Forgensee, the more choices we had, resulting in long pauses and much debate. The path often went in two or three different directions around the lower end of a lake, around the top end, and then several choices across it! Thus the total length of the route could be quite flexible depending on which choices are made! Accommodation on this path varies in price, from about €25-55 each, and style, but nowhere were we able to stay in pilgrim-specific abodes. A number of times, when I pulled out my pilgrim credential to have it stamped, I was referred to a different venue to get the ‘official’ stamp. In one instance, at Kloster Schäftlarn, it was to the monastery across the road where the priest who stamped it used a blotter to ensure it didn’t smudge; in Wessobrunn to the church where I stamped it myself, and in Kloster Andechs the church office.
Being able to enter almost all the churches we passed so different from the Spanish ones hearing music in many places, including on log rafts drifting down the River Isar, seeing men dressed in traditional lederhosen and women dressed in their lovely traditional dirndls, tasting the traditional Bavarian food… these were some unique experiences making this Camino different, and special.