Mai Huong

Königssee in Germany is a crystal-clear lake set among peaceful and stunning natural surroundings.

The sole use of electric boats was mandated to preserve Königssee lake

Located in the German state of Bavaria near the Austrian border, Königssee is advertised as Germany’s cleanest lake and is a popular attraction for tourists and hikers. The 8-kilometer-long lake, located mainly within Berchtesgaden National Park, is reminiscent of a fjord at the foot of Mount Watzmann, whose height reaches up to 1,800 meters. Legend has it that King Watzmann was a tyrant and as a punishment God turned him and his seven children into stones surrounding the lake.

I arrived in Königssee at the end of summer, and found it crowded with lines of visitors waiting to buy tickets for electric boat tours around the lake. Despite the great numbers of visitors in peak seasons, the boats always follow a fixed schedule with no extra tours to avoid disrupting the lake’s serenity. There are two stops, St. Bartholomew’s Church and Salet, and I chose the tour to St. Bartholomew.

The 8-kilometer-long lake, Königssee, is reminiscent of a fjord at the foot of Mount Watzmann

I was struck immediately by the emerald green color of the lake. Having visited many mountain lakes, I’ve come to realize that they usually share crystal-clear water but differ in their shades of color based on the geographical features surrounding them. On the shores, the quiet mountainside’s pine trees mirrored themselves on the lake while the rocky cliffs of the Alps towered above. All intertwined and created a majestic yet poetic natural scene. (After my trip, I read that specks of limestone in the water and light refraction create the wondrous green of Königssee.)

The electric wooden boats that we traveled on are also a part of the lake’s history. In 1810, the Kingdom of Bavaria took over Berchtesgaden and the area around Königssee became the royal hunting grounds. Wooden rowboats used to be the only means of transport on the lake. Eventually, the number of visitors surged, leading to the use of motorboats. However, concern grew that the noise of the engines would scare animals away and the sole use of electric boats was mandated to preserve nature, regulations that remain in effect. Once fully charged, these electric vehicles can travel for 12-14 hours at a time.

As our boat gently glided on the deep green water, I marveled at the peaceful natural setting. The boat stopped after rounding the only bend of the lake. The captain then took out a trumpet that he had prepared in advance, faced the mountains, and played a musical piece. Sheer cliffs encircling the lake sent out echoes as if we were listening to a trumpet ensemble. In the lake’s silent atmosphere amid majestic mountains, the solemn sound of the trumpet thrilled the passengers. At the end of the song, the visitors all gave the captain a round of applause.

During boat tours, playing the trumpet to demonstrate the echo for tourists has become a memorable tradition. In the old days, boats used to fire cannons and the sound would echo up to seven times. In the 1930s, to ensure safety, cannons were replaced by flugelhorns and now trumpets. After 30 minutes, we arrived at St. Bartholomew’s Church. I could see from afar its red domed roof standing out against the emerald green background. The church was initially a small chapel built in 1134. Then, in 1697, it was reconstructed into a church with a pair of red onion domes inspired by Ottoman architecture.

We passengers got off and walked along the vast grass lawn surrounding the church. A small path led into the forest for hikers and glacier and cave enthusiasts. The water was so clear that pebbles could be seen on the lakebed’s smooth sand. I scooped up and took a small sip of water, which was sweet and ice-cold.

Red domed roof of St. Bartholomew’s Church stands out against the emerald green background

After walking for a while, my legs felt tired so I laid down on the grass, vacantly staring at the rustling canopy above me. As I inhaled the smell of the grass and listened to the gurgling sound of the water beating against the shore, time seemed to stand still. When I started to feel cold, I got up and visited a coffee shop for a hot cup of tea.

It was a bit chilly when the evening came. I put on a jacket and returned to the dock. Looking back, I tried to etch the stunning views of Königssee into my memory. When life is hard, I will recall the serene Königssee, like a stream of fresh water that eases my mind.