Lake Konstanz

Sunday 10th October 2010, Salem, near Lake Konstanz, Germany
We left Innsbruck mid-morning, once the sun was up and the fog had dispersed proving that the surrounding mountains really were there.

We were anxious to reach Friedrichshafen on the northern shore of the Bodensee, or Lake Konstanz, as soon as possible. With over 250 kilometres to travel it was practical to take the excellent, smooth motorway, shooting in and out of tunnels rather than struggle up and down mountains all day. In Austria, even from the motorways the scenery is sublime – except when deep underground with millions of tons of rock overhead when it does tend to lose its Alpine charms. We reckon we've travelled a good 40 to 50 kilometres inside mountains today, sometimes only shooting out long enough for a quick glimpse of sunlight before burrowing back down again.

Scenic motorway, Austria

We crossed into Germany mid-afternoon and reached Friedrichshafen just before 3pm. When we last came this way we passed along the southern shore of the Bodensee, a lake 40 miles long by 8 miles wide, bordered by Austria, Germany and Switzerland. It occupies the crater of an extinct volcano.

The southern shore is mainly in Switzerland. It must be the only area of Switzerland that is flat! From there, on our previous visit, we could see a dirigible airship flying along the lake near Friedrichshafen and determined that next time we passed this way we would follow the northern shore and investigate the Zeppelin Museum in the town.

By the time we reached the town today and parked, it left us only two hours to visit the museum. It was all rather technical with texts only in German so I understood far less than I'd hoped.

Before the Second World War Zeppelins were constructed in Friedrichshafen and test flown over the lake. Named after Graf Zeppelin, their inventor, they are cigar-shaped airships. A lightweight frame was covered with a tough textile material and packed with cylinders of hydrogen, enabling them to float in the air. They were however, highly flammable. Gondolas were suspended beneath for passengers. The size of some of the airships was awesomely large. The first Zeppelin, LZ-1, was tested from a floating hanger on the lake in 1900. It was 420 ft long and flew at a speed of 20 kilometres per hour. Zeppelins were later used by Germany during WW1 to bomb London and Paris and could be airborne for over 100 hours at a time.

Early airships could only land on water. Ship and hanger on the Bodensee, Zeppelin museum, Friedrichshafen

Lightweight metal framework covered with fabric, containing cylinders of hydrogen gas, Zeppelin museum, Friedrichshafen

In the 1920s and 30s even larger ships were constructed and revolutionised long distance passenger transport with regular transatlantic flights as well as flights to India and around the world. The most famous – or infamous – airship was the Hindenburg, 804 feet long and capable of travelling at 84 miles per hour. In 1937 the hydrogen cylinders ignited as it arrived at Lakehurst, New Jersey. It was completely destroyed and 36 people died in the disaster. It effectively ended the use of Zeppelins for commercial flights.

Airships were also used for exploration. In particular the museum had a feature on the use made by the explorers Roald Amundsen, Lincoln Ellsworth, and General Umberto Nobile in 1926 to explore the North Pole.

During the Second World War the factory at Friedrichshafen was heavily bombarded by the Allies and the industry was never resumed.

Today we have clambered around in the passenger area in a reconstructed section of a Zeppelin. It was all surprisingly modern and comfortable. Indeed, to us it looked very like the cabins, lounges and restaurant areas on board Brittany Ferries latest cross-channel passenger ships! We have also seen detailed sections of how the ships are constructed including the materials and tools used, learned about the techniques and problems of take-off and landing such giant craft and come to appreciate something of the physics of flight. The engines themselves were quite beyond my comprehension when the text was in German anyway and I'm afraid I was more impressed with the elegant crockery used in the dining area and the wooly undies needed by Roald Amundsen during his exploration of the North Pole!

Double cabin on board a 1930s Zeppelin, Friedrichshafen

Passenger accommodation on a 1930s airship showing restaurant, cabins and lounge area, Zeppelin museum, Friedrichshafen

Monogrammed coffee service, Zeppelin museum, Friedrichshafen

Just when we thought we'd seen everything we discovered the top floor of the museum was full of religious art! It had nothing to do with the Zeppelin museum but with nowhere else to house the town's collections, our ticket included access to 15th century carved wooden saints and a few crucifixions.

Gallery of religious art, Zeppelin museum, Friedrichshafen

The town of Friedrichshafen lies on the shore of the Bodensee. So large is it we could not see the far shore today and international car ferries ply between Switzerland and Germany from the port. Because the Zeppelin factory in the town was so heavily bombed, everywhere has been rebuilt and it is a modern town reliant on the warm climate and the lake to encourage tourism. Today boats were plying their way around the lake, calling off in the town for passengers to disembark for cosy coffee and cakes or an ice cream as they wander the water's edge in the late sunshine of an autumn Sunday.

Ferry arriving from the Swiss side of the lake, Friedrichshafen

By the time we'd left the museum and had a look around the town and waterfront of Friedrichshafen the sun was setting, a dazzling disk to blind us as we drove west along the shore to our selected campsite at the far end of the lake. Fortunately we discovered another far nearer Friedrichshafen, set back from the lake with its northern shoreline of endless hectares of grapes. This is obviously an important wine producing area.

Children's play equipment near the Zeppelin museum, Friedrichshafen

Once we settled on the campsite we rang Eva who lives in the town of Konstanz on the far side of the water. We have been trying to contact her for a while without success. Today we were lucky. She is in Salzgitter selling the home of her late mother Ethe but will be back in Konstanz tomorrow. She suggests we take the car ferry across to Switzerland and drive along the shore on her side rather than going right round the lake.

Followers of our travels will recall that in the 1920s Ian's mother worked for the family of the renowned painter Hans Peter Feddersen in Northern Germany looking after his young granddaughter. That child was Ethe, Eva's mother, who died earlier this year whilst we were in Corsica. Etha's children, and Ian and his sister, are all anxious that the links between the two families should not end now that neither Ian's mother, nor Ethe are alive. We promised to call next time we were passing and are as good as our word. We are looking forward to seeing Eva again. Last time she was an eleven year old with pigtails. Now she will be a mature woman in her fifties!

Monday 11th October 2010, Stockach, near Lake Konstanz, Germany
We have not travelled very far today, camping just a little further around the lake from last night. We had expected to be well into Switzerland by this evening but the day has been so successful we lingered far longer with Eva than expected.

The sun was bright, the lake shining and the trees glorious in their autumn colours as we drove along beside the Bodensee this morning. Somehow we missed our turning for the ferry but it really didn't matter. We drove around the end of the lake, passing through vineyards, huge apple orchards and pretty villages with Fachwerk (half-timbered) houses, that really were called such names as Nussdorf and Dinkelsdorf.

Eva's village sits right on the lake with vistas of sailing boats and shining water from her lounge window. She was just arriving back from the overnight train down from Salzgitter, 700 kilometres north of here. Her car was loaded with boxes, carpets and books rescued from her mother's house before it is sold. We fell to and carried everything up several flights of stairs to Eva's flat, stacking it into her spare room to sort later. By this time we were all chatting as if it were days rather than decades that we were last together. Time for a coffee and some reminiscing on the sunny balcony. Jointly we produced a very nice lunch of fresh pasta and salad followed by apple sponge. Ian was sent off to Modestine for our sharp knife and to the village shop for a lemon while I was set to work preparing the desert. Ian and Eva are convinced their mothers would be overjoyed if they could have looked in on our happy day. Eva gave Ian a copy of the book written jointly by her parents on the life and paintings of Hans Peter Feddersen with some excellent reproductions of some of his works. Particularly agreeable are his rural scenes and landscapes of the countryside of Schleswig-Holstein.

Eva and Ian reunited, Konstanz

As can be seen, we are both fine, Konstanz

By the time we'd said our farewells the sun was already low in the sky. Rather than drive off into Switzerland to find a campsite for the night we drove along the lake to this site where we discovered, as we arrived, that we have already stayed here back in 2007 when we found it excellent. It still is but such was our surprise and sense of déjà vu, we accidentally stopped Modestine a couple of feet outside the designated parking place for reception. Overfull from afternoon coffee Ian then jumped out and scuttled to the loo before actually checking in. When he cheerfully and apologetically did so he got a very frosty reception indeed. We are still not sure why but at last there is a campsite lady who has definitely not fallen for his command of German and his British charm!

Related links to earlier reports of the area:
Bodensee In particular entries for 7th and 8th June 2008.