The Bavarian Zugspitze Railway [Bayerische Zugspitzbahn – http://www.zugspitze.de/en/summer/berg/zugspitze/zugspitze.htm] is an outstanding travel experience – a 19-kilometre journey by metre-guage electric railcar from Garmisch [sic] station at 705 metres above sea-level to the Zugspitzplatt (2,588 metres) near the summit of the Zugspitze mountain, 2,962 metres (9,718 ft), the highest point in Germany.
The railway was originally driven in 1930 to a higher point, Schneefernerhaus (2,650 metres) where a hotel was constructed: the hotel is now a scientific field-study centre, serviced by the railway.
The first part of the journey is a conventional, fairly speedy route along the valley floor, until at Grainau the rack-section begins and the train climbs precipitously up to a tunnel-mouth at Riffelriss (1640 metres above sea level).
From then on the entire journey is in tunnel, 4,466 metres (14,652 feet). The smart advice is to travel at the front of the train so you don’t have to climb the last few feet along the sloping station platform.
The physical effects of being at high altitude are immediately noticeable: walking up a short flight of stairs produces disconcerting breathlessness, and I found that when I came out of the cold fresh air into a warm interior my voice wouldn’t work for a few moments.
I was told that coming up to this height gradually by rail was a better idea than using the cablecar that covers the 6,398 feet from the lake to near the summit in ten minutes.
The little chapel above the tourist centre was consecrated in 1981 by the then Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI.
The indoor facilities at the top are fairly spartan, understandably geared to skiers.
Outside on the plateau, making the most of the superb 360° view across the Alps on either side of the border between Germany and Austria, is a circular restaurant with a revolving roof to catch the sun and shade as required. It’s the most congenial place on the Zugspitzplatt to shelter for refreshments, though the food-menu is necessarily restricted because of the location.