A Travellerspoint blog

From the Rhône to the Rhine: Around Lake Constance

View Benelux 2022 on zzlangerhans's travel map.

My original plan had been to take the car ferry over the Obersee to Meersburg but the uncertainty about the schedule and logistics pushed me to choose the road around the northeastern end of the lake instead. It probably took us a half hour longer but the drive was pleasant and we didn't have to worry about the protocol for getting our car onto a boat. Meersburg is a preserved medieval town built on a hillside along the shore of Lake Constance. We began our visit in the pedestrianized upper town which was packed with fairy tale houses whose facades were either half-timbered or ebullient pastels. I think of all the medieval towns we had passed through Meersburg was the most colorful.

At the southern end of the upper town is a wide cobblestone square in front of the salmon-colored Neues Schloss, the former seat of the Prince-Bishop of Constance. After the bishopric was dissolved at the beginning of the nineteenth century the building was variously used as a school, an institution for deaf-mutes, and a military barracks.

On the opposite side of the building was a well-manicured garden and a belvedere from which we could look out over the lower town and the wide expanse of Lake Constance. We spotted an unusual shape in the sky above us and were surprised to note that it was a Zeppelin that was clearly on the move over the lake.

From Neues Schloss a short wooden bridge led to Meersburg Castle, a twelfth century construction that preceded Neues Schloss as the Bishopric of Constance and is currently under private ownership. Although the castle remains open to visitors we had no reason to add yet another to the long list of castles we had toured on this journey. From the bridge we had an excellent view of the yellow and red building housing a seventeenth century water mill. A stone staircase brought us down to the level of the mill which was adjacent to the ground floor of the castle. Ian wanted to visit the small Zeppelin museum next to the staircase but I knew there was a much larger one a little further down the lakeside road in Friedrichshafen. I told Ian we only had time to visit one Zeppelin museum and he decided to wait for the bigger one, which proved to be a fortuitous decision. From the bottom of the staircase a street led downward to the lower town and the lakeside but we decided it would be better to push onward to the next town.

Friedrichshafen was much larger than Meersburg and had been rebuilt after almost complete destruction by Allied bombing, so there was no old town whatsoever. I had set a course for the Zeppelin museum but once we arrived in town I realized we should probably have lunch first to avoid the fate of the previous day when all the decent restaurants had closed by two. I found an interesting seafood restaurant at a boating club that had good reviews and it wasn't until we had clearly left the center of town that I realized the restaurant was halfway back to Meersburg along the shore. Lunch was decent enough in a pleasant outdoor setting but I was still irritated about having wasted a half hour driving because of careless planning.

On the way back to the museum we passed an area of brightly colored tents at the lakeshore that could have been some kind of festival. We made a note to check it out afterwards but pressed on to the museum. Street parking was nonexistent and the first parking garage I targeted was full, forcing us to find another a few blocks away from the pedestrian area. The streets were very crowded, even for a Saturday at a lake town, and there was a profusion of trailers and kiosks selling clothing and fast food.

The reason for the Zeppelin being a big thing on the German side of Lake Constance is that Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin built his first airship near Friedrichshafen and the inaugural flight in 1900 took place over the lake. The Zeppelin we had seen from the Neues Schloss in Meersburg belonged to a new generation of airships that carry sightseers on tours around the lake.

The main thing I learned from the Zeppelin Museum is that I don't have much interest in Zeppelins. Ian's fascination with the subject arises from his obsession with disasters, namely the Hindenburg, but that event was understandably downplayed in the museum. The highlight was the partial replica of the Hindenburg in the center of the museum from which we learned that the cabins and lounges were surprisingly spacious and luxurious. We were all tired of the place after about an hour but got lost trying to leave and ended up wandering through an adjacent art museum for another fifteen or twenty minutes before we finally found the exit.

Once we were back in the streets it was clear some major event was taking place in the town. The square in front of the St. Nikolas Church was absolutely packed with people who were watching someone give a speech from a balcony. I had no chance of getting through the densely packed audience so I sent Mei Ling through with the kids hoping that the crowd would have some mercy on children who wanted to get to the front. I never got a glimpse of what everyone was cheering for but Mei Ling was able to capture a little of it on video for me. With a few minutes to myself I did some quick online searching and found that we had fortuitously stumbled on an annual celebration called Seehasenfest. The festival was inaugurated in 1949 to commemorate the rebirth of the town after its near total destruction by Allied bombing in 1945 and was designed primarily for the amusement of children. Since the locals around the lake are nicknamed "sea hares", the festival is named for them and begins on a Thursday when a boat is rowed into Lake Constance to retrieve the Sea Hare. This Easter Bunny-like mascot becomes the guest of honor for many other activities that take place over the weekend.

Since we couldn't understand a word of the speech we made a quick escape to the lakeside promenade where we found all the colorful booths and tents we had passed earlier. There was more than enough food here for us to have avoided the long trek for an expensive lunch at the boat club. Rather than dwell on that small bit of poor planning I relished in our good fortune at having stumbled upon such a unique celebration by pure chance. With the Tuesday night party in Dijon, Ommegang in Brussels, and now this it really seemed the god of travel had been looking out for us this trip.

It was a very large festival for such a small town. There were clearly people visiting Friedrichsafen from all the nearby towns and possibly even further afield. We walked all the way to the end of the promenade where there were a couple of rides suitable for the kids, and a couple that were way too intense for any of us. There were art installations and a water jet along the rocky beach and bands playing in the adjacent park. One of the most entertaining sights was the water jousting, where men in silly costumes knocked each other off the prows of rowboats with rubber-tipped lances.

It would have been nice to stay in Friedrichshafen longer but we still had another town to visit in Switzerland before continuing on to Liechtenstein. We all congratulated Ian for choosing the big Zeppelin museum in Friedrichshafen even though we hadn't really enjoyed it. If he'd picked the one in Meersburg we might have bypassed Friedrichshafen entirely and never known about Seehasenfest. The highway around the lake took us through Austria for about fifteen minutes and I amused myself again by asking everyone to guess what country we were in now that we had left Germany. As I expected they guessed each of the other six countries on our itinerary but couldn't come up with Austria as I had never mentioned the possibility that we would be passing through. Once we reached Switzerland the landscape changed dramatically back to the serpentine two-lane roads and rolling green hills I remembered so well from the beginning of our trip more than a month earlier.

Appenzell isn't one of Switzerland's best known villages but it was the clear choice for a stop in this sparsely populated area in the northeastern corner of Switzerland. The town of Appenzell is the capital of the tiny canton of the same name and is located amidst an outlying subgroup of the Alps called the Alpsteins. I was hopeful for a scenic view of Säntis, the highest mountain in the area, and there was a very appetizing restaurant recommended by the Lonely Planet. Parking was simple enough in a large lot in the very center of town. When we walked towards the chosen restaurant we found the street was closed off for an outdoor party with a live band and tempting smells of barbecuing meat. Unfortunately the admission price was absolutely outrageous, the equivalent of almost a hundred dollars a person, without any food or drink included. We attempted to circle around the party for a way into the restaurant and ultimately realized that because of the festival it was closed for the evening. We had to scramble for another place to eat and eventually ended up in a hotel restaurant that was also obscenely expensive and had a very boring menu. The town itself was charming but there were no majestic mountains in sight.

After dinner we drove up into some of the surrounding hills hoping for better views but we never did find Säntis. We did get a better appreciation of Appenzell's idyllic position in a narrow valley between ridges. The remoteness of some of the farm houses up in the hills felt almost terrifying to us as lifelong city dwellers. Eventually dusk took away what views were left and we embarked on the last leg of an extensive day of driving.

Our arrival in Liechtenstein was quite anticlimactic considering it was a new country for all of us. It was already quite dark and the road was flat, straight, and featureless. It wasn't similar to the unattractive, industrial surroundings of Luxembourg City but it felt very generic, almost like traveling through a rural area of the United States. Our accommodation was a fashion studio that was doubling as a short-term rental on weekends. It was quite an ostentatious and whimsical apartment, full of odd little surprises. It seemed to match the country itself, a strange little place about whose history I knew nothing. I hoped to remedy that lack of knowledge somewhat on our upcoming last full day in Europe.

Posted by zzlangerhans 11:25 Archived in Germany Tagged road_trip family family_travel travel_blog meersburg friedrichshafen appenzell tony_friedman family_travel_blog seehasenfest

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


I was just in Switzerland last week so it was fun reading this now that I am back home.

by littlesam1

Comment with:

Comments left using a name and email address are moderated by the blog owner before showing.

Not published. Required
Leave this field empty

Characters remaining: