A decade ago, in one of my college German classes I was asked to choose a German town to be mine for the duration of the class. After much urging by my Santa Clause doppelgänger of a professor, my town became Mittenwald, a tiny village located in Bavaria a few kilometers from Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Extremely excited that we could visit “meine Stadt in Deutschland” I truthfully planned the entire day around us ending in Mittenwald where I had images of dusk sleighriding through snow in my head. “This is going to be AWESOME!” I squealed on more than one night, while making the Frenchman watch various circa 2003 powerpoint presentations I had made about the town. I told him all about it: about how violins were made there and how there were sleighs and cute music stores and about how there were two ski lifts that could take us up to mountain-top viewing platforms. I read articles online about all of the fun we could have, such as this one, from Afar Magazine. Everything and everyone agreed, it was going to be amazing in this perfect, artisanal German town.
Thus, after parking our car in what the signs said was Mittenwald we looked around wondering aloud if we were in the right village. Aside from the gentleman sleeping in the vehicle next to us the town was deserted (and, as we’ve already established, snow free.) “We must just be on the wrong side,” I confidently announced, warily eyeing the shut-up makings of a Christmas village. After wandering around for a bit only to find mostly empty and boarded up stores, we stopped in to the only cafe we could find to inquire about the violins. “Oh, all of the music stores and violins left a long time ago. There are some violin makers, but they are just workshops that the public cannot visit,” the shop owner told us. “The museum’s still there, but it’s not open now, and there is one music store, but it’s closed right now, too.” The ski lifts, it turns out, were also not in operation for as maintenance was performed. A decade’s worth of love for a tiny Bavarian village rose up into tears splattering into my coffeecup and apple strudel. “But, but… there have to be violins!”
The history of violin or Geigenbau making in Mittenwald is mostly attributable to Matthias Klotz, a violin maker of the 17th and 18th centuries. By Klotz’s death in the second half of the 18th century violin making in Mittenwald had already began to decline as instruments could be made piece-meal and then assembled factory-style, instead of carefully carved by hand. Following a resurgence in handmade, artisanal items after World War II, the Mittenwald violins saw a second revival though interest appears to have once again dwindled. During their heyday Klotz violins were played the world over, including, most certainly in the nearby towns of Salzburg and Vienna, and even by Mozart himself.
This is not to say that parts of the village are not lovely. The block of brightly-painted, storybook houses are magnificent images into the past to rival many Italian frescos, and, during the summer months, when the hills are full of wildflowers it is surely pleasant to stay in one of the chalets for a hiking or mountain biking holiday.
While others may have Neuschwanstein as their most disappointing Germany place, for me it was Mittenwald. And, if you had German class with me and were inspired to visit Mittenwald after my thrilling presentations, entschuldigung.
Read part 1 of our five-day Bavarian roadtrip here.
Read part 2 of our five-day Bavarian roadtrip here.
Read part 3 of our five-day Bavarian roadtrip here.
Read part 4 of our five-day Bavarian roadtrip here.
One of my German class treasures, based on likely even-for-then outdated information: