Loisach River

© Paul Wurster

The Blue Ribbon

When Murnau is mentioned, this normally evokes pictures of the Murnauer Moos bog nature reserve and the three lakes with swimming access: the Staffelsee, Riegsee and Froschhauser See lakes. The fact that the Loisach River winds through Murnau is a well-kept secret. Yet this mountain stream with its source in Tyrol, Austria offers a magnificent landscape and rich diversity: rapids for courageous kayakers and rafters, peaceful coves for sunbathing and refreshment, cycling and hiking paths for those seeking exercise.

In the past, it was the timber rafters who exploited the Loisach River to transport logs from the alpine forests of the Werdenfelser Land region. Today it is used for recreation. The Loisach gorge between Griesen and Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a well-known white-water mecca. Downstream from Eschenlohe, the Loisach River flows gently and is ideally suited for leisurely rafting and fishing. Visitors wanting to take a day trip and summer vacationers are all sure to have a memorable day here, be it in the water or on shore, on foot or on a bike.

From Tyrol, Austria to Bavaria

The Loisach River runs for 114 kilometres before merging with the Isar River north of the town of Wolfratshausen. The source of the river is in Austria, in the Tyrolean municipality of Biberwier. It lies north of the Fern Pass, between the Lechtal Alps and the Mieminger range. From there, the river flows north through the Ehrwald basin, alongside the federal highway towards the town of Griesen, the German-Austrian border crossing. In Bavaria, the Loisach River flows past the Zugspitze Village of Grainau and then to Garmisch Partenkirchen. There it is joined by the Partnach, which formed the famous Partnach Gorge, before winding its way in a northerly direction between the Ammergau Alps to the west and the Estergebirge group of mountains to the east.

It passes the towns of Farchant, Oberau, Eschenlohe and Ohlstadt before reaching Murnau on the Staffelsee Lake. The river passes the Hechendorf district and flows on to the town of Großweil. From there, it takes a turn to the southeast, flowing towards the town of Schlehdorf, north of the stately Herzogstand mountain and into the Kochelsee Lake. At the northern shore, the mountain stream leaves the lake and makes its way to the towns of Benediktbeuern and Penzberg were it finally departs from the northern foothills of the Bavarian Alps. After the village of Eurasburg, in the Pupplinger Au, a wet area north of the town of Wolfratshausen, the Loisach River finally merges with the Isar River.

The course of the Loisach River was different before the Ice Age. A gigantic rock fall was the reason for the change in the river's course. According to scientific findings, a huge amount of rock broke off from the Loreakopf, the Eastern pillar of the Lechtal Alps, with the rock debris filling a section of the valley below the Fern Pass and blocking the river. Before that, towards the end of the Tertiary Period, there was still no natural connection between the Lermoos-Ehrwald basin and the Garmisch valley. The Törlen and Daniel mountains were connected by a ridge at that time, and it was this that formed the water divide. Back then, the Loisach River flowed in the opposite direction, in the direction of the Gurgl Valley. When the rock fall blocked the river's course, it dammed to form a large lake. A swamp area can still be found at this place. During construction of the Ehrwald railway, deposits of sea chalk were found near Lermoos, yet further testimony to the dammed-up lake formed by the rock fall. The inland water finally overflowed at the lowest point, between the Törlen and Daniel mountains. And the Loisach River carved its way ever deeper between the mountains and the Lermoos Lake ended up disappearing.

Through roaring waters

The Loisach River was not always merely known for being part of an enchanting countryside. It was once an important waterway and central connection between the Werdenfelser Land and the capital of the state of Bavaria. Back then, it was virtually impossible to transport heavy materials and products on land and over long distances without a waterway. And thus, this mountain stream grew to be very important in the trading and selling of goods from the early Middle Ages onwards.

In particular, logs with a length of 12 to 18 meters from the abundant forests around Ettal and Linderhof were transported down the Loisach River. The logs were tied together with iron clamps, a wooden rod oar was attached to the back and then the log raft floated down the river towards Wolfratshausen. The rafts were steered by two or three strong men and glided downstream at a speed of around ten to twelve kilometres per hour.

In the year 1785, around 300 log rafts, each consisting of a dozen fir tree logs, made their way down the Loisach River every month. They transported around 1,500 steres of beech wood, 100 steres of fir tree wood and 600,000 schar shingles. Besides these, they also carried fish from the mountain lakes and streams, gypsum from Oberau, glass goods from Murnau and the surrounding area, chalk, limestone and other resources from the Werdenfelser Land region, brown coal and quarry stone from Schlehdorf and Großweil, along with livestock, lard and cheese from the Oberland region. However, the Loisach River was not just used to transport goods. On the authorities' order, regular trips to the market in Munich on Ordinari rafts were introduced to transport goods and passengers. Depending on how much water the river had, the trip from Großweil to Munich took around 6 to 8 hours.

In the summer months, between April and September, an independent profession developed: that of the raftsman. Initially, the physically strenuous and dangerous work was only a cottage industry carried out by farmers, bakers, butchers, shoemakers or tailors. It was not long, though, before raftsmen's businesses sprang up, such as in the Hechendorf district of Murnau. From there, they steered rafts between Oberau and Schönmühl near Wolfratshausen. The raftsmen of Hechendorf even had their own songs, including texts like "Mia Flößer san lustige Leit", which were still being sung in the nineties, around the turn of the century. The rafts had to manoeuvre the rapids at the small dam of Großweil and sand banks before passing through the Kochelsee Lake, after which the waters were mostly quiet. Despite these difficulties, the Hechendorf raftsmen were proud of their summer profession which offered them diversion from their otherwise settled lifestyle. The independence and the opportunity to get out and travel were attractive to many a young lad. However, the long journey back on foot provided leisure time to come up with some absurd ideas. Like the raftsman from Hechendorf who bought a bicycle in order to ride back home swiftly and without walking his feet sore. On the first trip, he tied the bike onto the raft. But when the first thunderstorm came and the waves got high, the bicycle promptly fell into the water and disappeared.

In Schönmühl near Wolfratshausen, the journey was usually over for the Hechendorf raftsmen. From here, the trip continued down the Isar River, so that Isar raftsmen usually took over the rafts and their freight. So the raftsmen of Hechendorf swung their high rafting boots over their shoulders and hiked homewards towards Murnau, taking the route past Penzberg. Once there, a hearty meal of cold cuts awaited them at the Ähndl restaurant or at the Heimgarten inn in Hechendorf. Yes, rafting was a good side job in the summertime. The trading of goods between the Werdenfelser Land region and the state capital flourished. In 1885, around 2,500 rafts from the Loisach River arrived in Munich. However, after the Munich – Garmisch-Partenkirchen railway line was opened, all this suddenly changed, and traffic on the Loisach River finally came to a complete halt in 1892.

Recreational options

The mountain stream has a length of 114 kilometres. Accordingly, the Loisach River offers a great variety of recreational options. Enjoy the beautiful landscape of this river – in the water and on land. Great fun is guaranteed in every case.

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