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Visiting Austria, Switzerland, and Germany- Black Forest area, Munich & Dachau

Hello all. I went with a group to Switzerland, Austria, and France this past Sept., and now am planning a trip with students to Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. I have not been to Germany before (other than a half day in Munich) so I know very little about it. We plan to visit the Neuschwanstein Castle, and we have a free day in Munich. I welcome any advice or ideas about Germany, as well as Austria and Switzerland. For Switzerland, I've been to Geneva & Zurich, but this time will be in Lucerne- any input about that will also be helpful.
Finally, we will also be going to Dachau- is a guided tour a must? Any tips on best usage of our 3-4 hours there?
Thanks to all my fellow travelers.
Blessings,
Faith

Posted by
31435 posts

Faith,

Are you arranging the Itinerary of this tour, or are you taking a "packaged tour"? A few thoughts on your proposed plans.....

For visiting Neuschwanstein and Dachau, staying in Munich is a good idea as it's not hard to get to either of those places from Munich. For your trip to the Castles, you can either make the time-specific reservations on your own and travel there via public transit or take a guided tour with Radius Tours, and they will make all the arrangements.

The same thing applies for the trip to Dachau. With a group of students, my preference would be to use a tour firm like Radius as a more structured tour may discourage unruly behaviour. I've seen groups of students at memorial sites who weren't exactly behaving with the proper decorum.

If at all possible, I'd suggest more than one free day in Munich. There are a LOT of things to see there, and the Deutsches Museum alone could take the better part of a day. Another day trip that you could consider is a visit to Berchtesgaden, which has lots of historical significance. While there you could visit the Eagle's Nest, the Dokumentation Centre and Bunkers or take a Salt Mine tour.

Could you provide some idea on where you might want to visit in Austria? I'd suggest looking at Salzburg and area, and possibly a short visit to Hallstatt, which has a fantastic Salt Mine tour.

Lucerne is a fantastic city and that would definitely be a good choice. While there your group can visit the outstanding Museum of Transport, see the famous "Lion of Lucerne", take a cruise on the lake or a trip to Mt. Pilatus.

If you have the time, a visit to the Berner Oberland and the Lauterbrunnen Valley would also be worthwhile. That's a big favourite with many here! The scenery is incredible and while there you could ride the Cable Cars to the Schilthorn, which was made famous in the James Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service. You could take the Allmend-Hubel Funicular in Mürren and then hike down through alpine meadows (not a difficult hike). If the budget allows, you could also take the trip to the Jungfraujoch (highest railway station in Europe), an incredible engineering feat considering it was started in 1896.

It would be a good idea to have a look at RS Guidebooks for all the locations you plan to visit, as that would be the best way to narrow down sites and activities that would best suit your group. You should be able to find copies at your local Library.

When is this trip taking place?

Good luck with your planning!

Posted by
5496 posts

It's not clear how long this trip will be, or when. It sounds like you already have an itinerary if you already know you have a "free day in Munich"; if you want itinerary tips, you'll need to share what's been planned already. Does your group have a focus/interest? I mean, with such an open-ended inquiry as yours, you're going to get a lengthy list of places that people like and think you should visit, but how will you sort through it all to decide?

"I have not been to Germany before (other than a half day in Munich) so I know very little about it."

You know a lot already about group trip logistics. But you will need to inform yourself on the basics of Germany so that you can plan this one. I suggest a visit to the library - pick up a compact history of Germany and a couple of big-name guidebooks. What you learn should help you sort through the options.

Neuschwanstein "Castle", by the way, is a misnomer; in German, it's called a palace, because it's not at all a castle, but one of several late 19th century residential palaces built by King Ludwig II - only this one was made to resemble a castle. (Kudos to Ludwig and the set designer who created the place for fooling the entire English-speaking world!!) If castles interest you, there are hundreds of them in Germany. You'll find a thick concentration of castles in the Middle Rhine Valley not far from Frankfurt; the never-destroyed, 700+-year-old Marksburg Castle is the one most often toured and is also the home of the German Castle Association.

Your students might enjoy overnighting in a castle/hostel. The hostels in Bacharach and Diez are both former castles.

Bacharach hostel
Diez hostel

Posted by
12040 posts

" in German, it's called a palace," Sort of. It's official name is Schloß Neuschwanstein, (Schloss being German for "palace") but in spoken language, its commonly referred to as a Burg (= "castle"). The distinction between the two isn't always so clear-cut, as in the case of Schloß Heidelberg. So, it's not just English speakers who are confused.

Dutch speakers must be even more confused, because they use the same word (kasteel) for buildings that might be named "Castle", "Palace" or "Mansion" in English. But enough linguistics, it looks like a castle, so why not call it that?

Faith, can you give us a rough outline of how you envision this trip will run? That might make it easier to make suggestions. You mention Luzern- are you starting your trip there or ending? Where do you plan to visit in Austria? Rental car or public transportation? Time of year?

Posted by
27426 posts

How big is the school group likely to be, Faith? How old?

Will you have help planning this trip? It sounds like this year's group excursion was your first to Europe?

When will you likely go? For how long?

Posted by
30 posts

Thank you, all, for the replies thus far. The trip is planned for June, 2014, and we have about ten days total. We are going with a tour group, but will also have some free time. I will be taking a group of high school juniors and seniors, probably around 10-12 students total. They are very mature and well behaved, so I am fortunate.
I went to the salt mine in Hallein? when I was in Austria in 2006, and thought it was well worth the time. Unfortunately, we only have one day in the Salzburg area, so I'm not sure if we can fit that in or not. I want to get up to the Fortress, as I didn't have a chance to do that in either of my previous trips.
I am looking forward to visiting the Neuschwantstein Palace/Castle :) and appreciate the additional information about the name and connotation.

We will be travelling by bus, primarily. The outline of the trip now is as follows: We'll begin in Vienna, and be there for 2-3 days. Then we will travel by bus to Salzburg, where we'll have just one day. Then on to Munich, for a day or so, including Dachau, then on to Neuschwanstein. Switzerland is next- we'll be in Lucerne a day or two, then end up in Heidelberg. We'll have free time in Vienna, Salzburg, Munich, and Lucerne. The rest of the itinerary is pretty much set.

I have been to Austria twice, Switzerland once, but no real time in Germany before. I am very excited about this trip and welcome your input and advice. I really like the ideas you've all mentioned. Ken, I am a big James Bond fan, so I love the idea of taking the cable cars to the Schilthorn. I hadn't heard of the Museum of Transport in Lucerne, so I will definitely research that as well.

Someone mentioned the BMW museum close to Munich, in Germany. Has anyone been there? I thought the students would probably really like that. Also, I'd welcome advice about Dachau. I am not familiar with the Radius? tour group- but I'm sure I can schedule a guided tour, which sounds like what Ken recommended.

I think Russ asked about a focus- this trip will focus on Psychology. We'll be visiting the Freud museum and possibly Victor Frankl's institute in Vienna, then focusing on Jung in Switzerland. For Germany, I haven't really made the connections yet, but thought I'd check into Wilhelm Wundt there.
I am a huge history buff as well, so we're combining the social psych. elements with Dachau- the extreme conformity, compliance, and obedience that took place under the Nazi regime.

Stephen, thanks for the suggestions on the churches near Neuschwantstein, I love the old churches, and it sounds like the ones you mentioned will be very convenient to where we'll be.

Sorry this is so long! Thanks for all of your input and for sharing your expertise with me.
Sincerely,
Faith

Posted by
31435 posts

@stephen,

"Also one in Bertchesgaden."

I DID mention Berchtesgaden.

Posted by
31435 posts

Faith,

Regarding the trip to Dachau, there are two "schools of thought" on whether to take a guided tour or whether to travel there on your own. The trip involves a short ride on the S-Bahn to the town of Dachau, and then a Bus from the station to the Memorial. The reasons I suggested that the tour might be more appropriate in this case are:

  • I've found that I often learn a lot more about sites with guided tours, which provides a more rewarding and interesting travel experience. Especially for students, they'll learn more of the history with a Guide than by just going there and walking around.
  • Especially with a group of high school students, it's easy for them to become "distracted" to the point where they may not always conduct themselves with the proper decorum for a location like that. I've seen a few examples of that type of behaviour.
  • The tours provide some free time, which allows each person to explore on their own as well as "reflect" on what they're seeing.

If you're interested in a tour with Radius Tours, check their website for details and costs. With a group, I would highly recommend pre-booking the tour online!

If you only have a short time in Lucerne, a visit to the Schilthorn will be possible but it will take some time, which may not provide much time for Lucerne. You'd need to take a train to Interlaken Ost (~2H each way), local train to Lauterbrunnen and then either Post Bus to Stechelberg or Cable Car to Mürren. That may sound like a lot but it's really very easy. From either Stechelberg or Mürren you can connect to the Cable Cars that go to the Schilthorn. One caveat though - it's not cheap!

For your time in Salzburg, a visit to the Hohensalzburg Fortess is certainly worthwhile (great views). You can either get back to town via the Funicular, or walk down. There may be some in the group that will be interested in visiting the Mozart historic sites in the town.

Posted by
12040 posts

, "then end up in Heidelberg" Need any suggestions in this area (since I live nearby, I may know a few things about the region...). How old are the kids in the group? They may particularly enjoy being released for a short time to explore this university town on their own.

Posted by
12040 posts

Faith, I'll respond to your private message about Heidelberg publicly for the benefit of the group.

For those curious about Third Reich history, pay a visit to the Thingestätte. This is a large outdoor ampitheater the Nazis built for holding torch-lit nocturnal rallies (which turned out to be less of a crowd-drawer than they had hoped). It survived the war completely undamaged, and the city still uses it occassionally for concerts. You'll find it on the same mountain (Heiligenberg) as the famous "Philospher's Walk", but higher up. You can reach it without a car, but it will involve a vigourous uphill hike. And just above this on the summit of the mountain, you can also visit the ruins of the medieval St. Michael's Kloster.

I haven't driven by in several months, so I'm not sure what's still there, but the now-closed US Army Campbell Barracks had some classic specimens of typical Third Riech architecture. You could clearly see the buildinigs from the road. When the army occupied this kazerne, photography was not permitted, but that may have changed now that they've closed shop and given it back to the city government.

If the university is still in session, I suggest releasing the kids either on the Haupstrasse or the large park on the north bank of the Neckar river. Just a stone's throw away from this park is the Heidelberg zoo, which I think is one of the better zoos in Germany, but it may have less appeal for teenagers.

Dependin on how much time you have, I also recommend either a boat or train ride up the scenic Neckar Valley. It's similar to the more well-known Mittelrhein gorge. Lots of attractive towns (including the completely walled castle village of Dilsberg) and a dozen or so castles.

I love hiking through the surrounding Odenwald mountains and visiting all the small towns, castles and historic ruins in the region, but it doesn't seem like this would be feasilbe with your large group.

Posted by
11280 posts

You mentioned visiting the Freud Museum in Vienna. Unless it's changed dramatically since I was there in 2004, be aware that it's just an apartment with a few of Freud's personal effects, and a lot of poorly labeled pictures. You learn nothing about the man or his life there. For instance, on one of my walking tours of Vienna, I was told to be sure to see the picture of the house with Nazi banners hanging from it. And the tourguide explained that while Freud escaped to London, several of his sisters were killed at Treblinka, so be sure to look at the family tree on display in the museum. But without the tourguide's help, I would not have seen either of these things when at the museum. So, if your goal in going to the museum is to learn about Freud, prepare for disappointment; do a lot of research beforehand, and you may find it worthwhile.

Posted by
6843 posts

Faith:

My best advice to you would be to find a very good travel agent to work with on this trip. Your group is too big for a minivan (or two) and too small for a full size bus. Transportation would be easier if arranged by someone that really knows the area.

It's a good thing that your group is young. Your planned itinerary is pretty aggressive, and it will be very tiring. You don't want the tour to become one big blur for the tour group.

As for Munich, I especially like to visit the royal apartments downtown and Nymphenburg Palace. The Deutsches Museum is well worth seeing. And Dachau is a must see for young people; the museum can arrange for an English speaking guide. Forget the BMW Museum.

Posted by
30 posts

Thank you, everyone. I really appreciate the advice and ideas.