If you want to experience winter in Germany, you have to pay Bavaria a visit. There is something for everyone here – whether relaxed days in the snow or unforgettable adventures in the forest. And who better to tell you about it than those who have been calling winter their favourite time of the year here since childhood?
Locals tell of cross-country skiing, winter hiking, snowshoe tours, winter survival, tobogganing or game feeding in Bavaria. They cultivate their customs and traditions – but they also know where the perfect winter spots are and the best part: They even reveal their secret tips.
A small brick house, located in sleepy, wintery Franconia. Smoke rises from the chimney. In the middle of the Rhön, a low mountain range in northern Bavaria, Alexander Hergenhan stands in the almost 100-year-old workshop in Leubach. He builds his sleds according to old craftsmanship.
The old oven hums in the background, providing a bit of heat in the small house. Not a lot has changed since Alexander’s great-grandfather opened his Wagner workshop here in 1924. ‘Meanwhile there are perhaps more spiderwebs and dust compared to the time of my great-grandfather,’ says Alexander Hergenhan while laughing.
Bavarian craftsmanship: Each sled is one of a kind
A few pieces of ash wood are still cooking in the old sausage kettle behind the sled maker. The ash wood spends half an hour in the barrel-shaped cauldron. This makes it supple and pliable. Alexander bends it around a mould and fastens it to iron by hammering in a few nails. The wood pieces and moulds are then taken to the attic, kept there for drying for half a year. Alexander Hergenhan is particularly proud of the skids: ‘Most sled builders press the runners mechanically. Each pair of skids is handcrafted by us and therefore unique.’
A family full of woodworms
That wood just won’t let go off the family was also evident for Alexander. He took over the workshop from his uncle Andreas Weber in 2012 and is now in charge of the craft relying on the highest quality. The family only uses regional ash. Ash is a hard wood, but thanks to its long fibres it is elastic, abrasion-resistant and tough. ‘A sled from our shop lasts for generations if you don’t crash it,’ Alexander affirms and laughs with the expertise of building 150 such unique pieces in one year.
The toboggan tips from the Bavarian sled manufacturer himself
Once the sled is finished the vehicles are of course also tested by the craft family: ‘As a small boy, my uncle and his friends were quite scientific about stomping down the snowy slopes behind the church, pouring water over them and inaugurating the new sled runs the next morning,’ says the young sled maker, who also knows where the best toboggan slopes are:
- The Ochsenkopf in the Fichtel Mountains is an absolute must for toboggan fans. The second highest mountain in Franconia offers six different descents: the natural toboggan run Grassemann, toboggan slope Klausen lift, toboggan slope Lattalift, toboggan slope Bleaml Alm, toboggan slope Schmidtleiten and the toboggan slope in Weißenstadt.
- A winter experience of a different sort is a tour with sled dogs. With Musher, the sled dog handler, and a pack of cuddly huskies, you’ll be on your way through woods and across meadows. The Kranz family offers such tours, for example.
- In Franconia there is a toboggan slope in almost every village. As a child Alexander was often at the ‘Thüringer Hütte’, because here the slope is a bit bigger and there is also a hut with homemade specialities.
- Instead of the skids, you can also experience the Rhön forest on two skis across 70 kilometres of cross-country trails: The long-distance trail from Holzberghof to Sennhütte is a real highlight. The hunting lodge Jagdschloss Holzberg offers a great place to rest with hearty snacks. And yet that is only one of many cross-country skiing tips in Franconia.
- For romantics, sled builder Alexander reveals a further secret spot: The Rhön by night. The starry sky in the Rhön Nature Park is so visible, it even received the international ‘Star Park’ award.
In general, the Rhön is the perfect holiday home for families, according to Alexander Hergenhan – and he should know as he grew up here, after all. In winter time, they head out into the winter wonderland right outside their doorsteps. Cross-country skiing, tobogganing or snowshoeing and then warming up with hot cocoa by the open crackling fire.
And with a bit of luck, rare plants and animal species such as a black grouse or wildcat can also be discovered here in the wild. To Alexander, the most beautiful places and hiking trails in the volcanic low mountain range lie around the basalt lake or the Kreuzberg monastery, where the highly-praised monastery beer has been brewed since 1731. The traditional craftsman also recommends all guests a visit to the resort of Markt Oberelsbach in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Rhön. In the ‘Haus der Langen Rhön’ you can get information about the region’s impressive fauna and flora.
Have we wet your appetite yet? If you book in advance, you can give sled builder Alexander Hergenhan’s a hand and perhaps get a personal sled tip from the pro. The craftsman always enjoys a visit to his small workshop – particularly when sled owners pick up their new gem in person.
Traditionally different: Even more inspiration for your Bavarian winter holiday
No matter how you travel, the path through the forest in Bavaria is always good for your body and soul.
You can also experience exciting winter adventures in the other regions of Bavaria: Toboggan runs for all age groups, winter hikes through the Bavarian Forest, animal encounters during wildlife feeding, winter survival camps and of course powdery snow slopes.
More stories and personal tips are told by people from Bavaria in ‘traditionally different’ stories.
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