Well for me it all started in the local pub on one beer (actually if truth be told it was a lot more than one) fuddled evening in Wellington seven years ago. Two years later I wake to find a ring on my left hand and a short while later I'm boarding a plane with my new German, and hang glider pilot - there are some compensations - wife Isabel on the way to Munich. Ok, so I can blame a moment of alcohol infused confusion, but what would induce you to holiday here, when there are so many other great flying destinations to choose from?
First and foremost of course has to be the flying. This is excellent, with a variety of stunning mountain scenery, great distance potential and large landing fields. Towering over the German flatlands, the German Alps signal the start of a flying playground with altitude. Here FAI triangles are the most common form of cross-country flight. These triangles are, as opposed to the musical kind, quiet and relatively large (anything from 100km on an average day to 300km on a very good day). With the convenience of shorter retrieves, flying triangles leaves more time available for the most important parts of the whole flying experience - the Landebier (landing beer) and after flight chin wag. As I'm sure you are aware, beer - especially Weissbier (wheat beer) - and the associated gardens where it grows, play an important part in the Bavarian culture. Sitting in a beer garden with a cold Weissbier during the warm summer evenings after landing has to be one of life's great pleasures.
Also convenient is the process of getting to the top of the mountain. Nearly every flying site is accessible by Seilbahn (cable car) or Sessellift (chair lift). You simply load your glider, yourself and harness aboard the appropriate transport and are carried to the top in a few minutes.
In addition to the flying (and beer), southern Germany offers many other activities which make it particularly suitable for non-flying family members or weather. Some of these include mountain biking or hiking in the mountains, swimming or windsurfing in one of the many Seen (lakes), or even surfing on the Eisbach stream in Munich's Englischer Garten (English Gardens). For those less sport minded there are many cultural and historical sites to visit in Munich and Salzburg and the towns in-between that are well covered in the Lonely Planet and other travel guides.
Finally there is the driving. If you are, like me, a not so secret petrol head who has never grown up, and were raised in a country where going a few kilometres over the speed limit is strictly verboten, then you'll love it here. Germany is one of the few countries in the world where you can legally overtake a police car at 200km/h on the Autobahn (motorway) and not get a second glance. Now if only I could convince the Frau to exchange the camper van for a Porsche with a roof rack.
Rather than try and give details on all of the many outstanding flying sites within every petrol head's two hour dream Autobahn tour of Munich, I’ll discuss instead just a few of what I consider are the highlights. For further details on these or any of the many others nearby, I’d recommend purchasing a copy of the excellent DHV flying map – the Deutsche Fluggelände Karte. While the map is written in German, it is easy to understand with details on site altitude, wind direction and suitability for hang gliders or paragliders.
First stop on our petrol head’s tour, around 70km from Munich along the A8 Autobahn to Salzburg, is Wallberg, a 900m AGL mountain situated at the southern end of Tegernsee (Lake Tegern) with takeoffs to the north, north-west, west and south. Access to the takeoff is via cable car and hang gliders must be Kurzpack (short packed), with separate landing fields for paragliders and hang gliders. I have to admit that I’ve never actually flown here. Wallberg did have one slight disadvantage for spoilt hang glider pilots like me - the 100 vertical metre hike from the top of the cable car to the main north takeoff. While my ever understanding wife declares that I’m just a girl, I hold to my claim of back injury avoidance - light a Litespeed is not. With a new lower takeoff completed, she is not going to be able to call me a girl for much longer however.
Driving further along the A8 towards Salzburg from Wallberg we come to Samerberg, the town at the base of Hochries and around 80km from Munich. Hochries, an 890m AGL mountain with north/north-east and north-west takeoffs, is an easy place to fly with great views and two large landing fields - one for hang gliders and paragliders and the second for paragliders only. Access to takeoff is with a chair lift followed by cable car to the top. While not renown for being a cross-country site, the 2005 Bavarian Open nevertheless had three tasks of over 100km, with the last being 196km.
An additional 30 petrol head fun filled minutes along the A8 from Hochries and approximately 50km from Salzburg, is Bergen and its 1120 AGL mountain Hochfelln. With take off (north, north-west, south or south-east) possible from 10am during the main cross country season, it is no wonder that some of the longest hang glider and paraglider flights in Germany are flown from Hochfelln every year. Access to the various takeoffs is simple via two cable cars and a short walk. Due to the sometimes difficult starting conditions and long glide out to the often turbulent landing paddock, Hochfelln is not recommended for those of little experience.
Perhaps a better bet for the inexperienced, yet also suitable for those of greater skill, is the Hochfelln "neighbour" and where I fly most often - Rauschberg. Around 20 minutes from Hochfelln as the car flies and dominating the town Ruhpolding at its base, Rauschberg at 960m AGL is, along with Hochfelln, the starting point for many of Germany’s longest FAI triangles, with flights of over 200km regularly flown here.
With south/south-east, north and north-west takeoffs, Rauschberg caters for both the early starters, along with those who, like my Three Dwarves wife (due to her morning resemblance to Sleepy, Dopey and Grumpy), require a bit more sleep. Perhaps because of the difficulty of the main ramp takeoff for paraglider pilots, Rauschberg is almost solely a hang glider pilot’s mountain with a normal weekend seeing over 50 hang glider pilots on takeoff. Spectacular scenery, plenty of set up space, two large easy landing areas, and a short flat walk to the main ramp from the top of a very easy to load cable car also account for Rauschberg's popularity.
Dropping down a gear or two, around 25km from Rauschberg via Landstraße (B-road) and just over the border in Austria, is Unternberghorn in Kössen. At 1050m AGL, Unternberghorn/Kössen is best known as a paragliding site and on a busy weekend there can be a large number of gliders in the air. In spite of this, Kössen is suitable for both beginner and advanced pilots of both persuasions with the main takeoff an easy nature start to the west, which provides great views of the sheer jagged cliffs that make up the Wilder Kaiser range. Additional takeoffs are available to the north and north-east. Not interested in flying far today? On the side of the large landing field is a Fliegerbar (pilot's bar) where you can fill that hunger and satisfy that thirst with a nice cold beer directly after landing.
Pedal to the metal back along the A8 to Munich, braking (even Michael Schumacher has to sometimes) onto the Mittlerer Ring (middle ring road) and on the gas once more heading south along the A95 Autobahn, an hour from Munich we arrive at the mountain resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Here we have the choice of five flying sites, with two of the more notable being Wank and Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain.
Yes, just in case you've gone blind, you did read that correctly, the mountain is called Wank. Having visions of overjoyed to see me, long grey flying suit clad pilots, with hang gliders in their pockets, I haven't quite managed to get up the nerve to fly from here yet. Wank, a relatively low 720m AGL with three takeoff directions of north-east (suitable only for hang gliders - which must be Kurzpack), south and south-west, is reached via cable car and provides striking views of Zugspitze looming in the distance.
Being over 3000m above sea level, weather conditions on Zugspitze can and do change rapidly, meaning I haven't been able to fly from here yet. Take off is limited to south or south-east - unusual wind directions, except during the unflyable Föhn - so plan on an early start. Once on top you'll be treated to breathtaking views, which on a clear day can stretch into four countries. With 2,230m AGL to play with, even bombing out takes a while.
Finally, a discussion of flying (and mad driving) in southern Bavaria can’t go without mentioning a flight over the Mad King's (King Ludwig II) fairy tale castle – Neuschwanstein. From Munich, we tear off down the A96 Autobahn to Lindau and after around 40 minutes leave the Autobahn slowing down to drive south on Landstraße to Füssen. Shortly before Füssen we come to Schwangau, the village at the base of Tegelberg. From Tegelberg, a 910m AGL mountain with takeoffs to the north-east, east, west and north-west, it is a short glide over Neuschwanstein. The large official landing field is directly in front of takeoff.
With its wonderful scenery, diversity of sites, great cross country potential and variety of non-flying activities, southern Germany is the sort of place you can take non-flying friends or family on a flying holiday without a guilty conscience, or compromising your flying. While you take the cable car up the mountain to go flying, they can use the car to swim, hike, mountain bike or visit one of the many museums or cultural attractions in the area. English is widely spoken, accommodation relatively easy to find, the beer great and finally for those of you with synaptic connections of pure petroleum, there is the driving - who said Kiwis can't fly?