To the south of Munich, the region known as the Fünf-Seen-Land provides a tantalizing glimpse of alpine beauty as well as wide open waters for recreation right on the city’s doorstep. Of the two large lakes, Starnberger See is known as the Princes’ Lake and has the opulent real-estate to prove it; it was on the shores of this lake that “Mad” King Ludwig II and his doctor met their mysterious deaths one night in June 1886. The other large lake, Ammersee, is known as the Farmers’ Lake, which reflects its somewhat simpler style.
The region’s natural centre is STARNBERG on Starnberger See. The town, which is on S-Bahn line #6 from Munich, is one of the wealthiest communities in Germany, and the lakeshore is lined with expensive villas. The town itself has a rather suburban feel, albeit with a stunning setting at the north end of the lake, and a backdrop of distant Alps.
Housed in a beautiful lakeside building designed by Günther Behnisch, the Sammlung Buchheim or Museum der Phantasie in Bernried looks from the outside more like a luxurious spa than a museum. It houses the varied collections of the artist and writer Lothar-Günther Buchheim, best known as the author of the book on which the hit film Das Boot was based. The museum is built along a central axis, which allows the various departments to branch off independently – a clever solution to the problem of displaying a collection whose constituent parts never really make a coherent whole: roomfuls of applied art and unlabelled ethnographic objects feature, along with a good deal of Buchheim’s own work, but the core of the collection is a stunning selection of classic twentieth-century German art. Lovis Corinth is represented by his Dancing Dervish of 1904, Max Liebermann by some of his lovely drawings, while a few very early works by Max Beckmann contrast with his more familiar, later style. There’s a caustic Otto Dix portrait, Leonie, as well as works by the Expressionists Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Alexei von Jawlensky.
Where art presides at the southern end of the Starnberger See, beer and religion reign supreme on Ammersee, where the Benedictine monastery of Kloster Andechs crowns a hill top on the north side of the village of Erling. The monastery has for centuries attracted pilgrims to see the relics supposedly brought to Andechs by Rasso, an ancestor of the counts of Andechs, in the tenth century. These days it’s just as famous for its Benedictine beers, which can be sampled in the monastery’s Bräustüberl restaurant. The abbey church, which is not at all as big as its mighty onion-domed tower might lead you to think, makes up for its modest size with the exuberance of its Rococo decoration by the ever-industrious Johann Baptist Zimmermann. Buried beneath the Rococo swirls are traces of the fifteenth-century Gothic church, which was struck by lightning and largely destroyed in the seventeenth century; the Heilige Kapelle still retains its Gothic appearance.