Ja, where have you gone, the almost Caribbean-looking blue-green bays of the Tiroler Ache? The day before, brave swimmers took a dip in the clear water of the mountain river and then warmed themselves in the sun on the fine, white pebble beaches on both sides of the river. This scenery provided almost irresistible photo opportunities for all hikers on the so-called smuggler path, which leads through the Ache gorge up to Klobenstein.
On the hidden paths in the border region between Austria and Bavaria, traders used to bring back wine and fabrics from Italy and salt from Austria. During the world wars, alcohol and cigarettes found their way abroad here.
Sweaty from the tour over the narrow, stony paths and a little jealous, the hikers looked down at the bathers from the wobbly suspension bridge over the “duck hole” and enthusiastically pulled out cell phones and cameras to capture the idyll. The “duck hole” has nothing to do with water birds, it denotes the end of the hole, the mountain ridge that the river has cut into the rock over millions of years.
This narrow part of the gorge was once only 3.4 meters wide. But because the water tends to accumulate here during floods, then discharged impetuously and finally completely flooded the village of Kössen in 1904, it was blown up in 1906 and the gorge widened to eleven meters.
Rafting in the mountains between Tyrol and Bavaria
Just one day later, there is hardly a soul left in the mountains between the Austrian Tyrol and Bavaria, not even white-blue border guards. Just a group of thickly padded men with red plastic helmets, wrapped in neoprene suits and brightly colored life jackets, with a large, orange-colored rubber dinghy in tow.
They are the only splash of color in the scenery, because the sky is gray today, the forest is gray-green and the Tiroler Ache presents itself as a foamy, light brown broth, no longer a Caribbean look. This is how none of the guests imagined the rafting tour.
Stefan Lukas, the rafting guide, laughs. “The heavy rain has churned up sediment. But he made the water a little wild. And we get wet while rafting anyway! ”He says it and lets the boat into the water, somewhere on the banks of the Ache near the village of Kössen.
Here the river flows in the wide bed, perfect for practicing Stefan’s commands and to dip the paddles into the water to the right or left and pull them through vigorously. As soon as it works, the first water eddies and rock ledges ensure dynamism.
The Ache is now getting narrower and narrower and digs deeper and deeper into the terrain. Walls rise up on both sides, partly wooded, partly made of bare rock. Even if the sun were shining today, it would hardly find its way into this giant rock crevice, at the bottom of which the rubber dinghies cross the foaming water lonely in sometimes wild zigzags.
Two curves further on, the tides calm down, the rubber dinghy suddenly glides smoothly over the green border to Germany. The hackneyed term “untouched nature” comes to mind here: except for the splashing of the water, there is silence, the backdrop is reminiscent of a fantasy film, especially with the slowly rising clouds of mist over the water.
The river creates new territory on the Chiemsee
In the afternoon the sun prevailed again. The landscape is spectacular, the river has swollen again demanding. The program includes a swimming break, but not everyone in the group takes advantage of the swirling water.
Further downstream, in the Tyrolean Achendelta nature reserve, the wild mountain waters look more like a gathering of calm lakes. Between the Chiemsee locations Übersee and Grabenstätt he pours his collected debris – rock from the limestone Alps blown by the cold, gravel and fine sediment – into the Chiemsee.
This creates new land on which alluvial forests of willow, ash, alder and oak settle, where beavers, water bats and kingfisher live. The river brings in around 310,000 cubic meters of freight annually, creating new territory on the lake the size of 1.5 soccer fields. In other words: the Chiemsee is getting smaller from year to year.
The official name of the Ache is Tiroler Achen
“100 years ago people tried to wrest land from the Chiemsee for agriculture. Today people complain that it is silting up, ”says Stefan Kattari, the creator of a special exhibition on the Ache in the local museum in Grassau. Because the Ache is “only at first glance a completely normal mountain river, which sometimes has threatening floods in spring, but invites you to swim and barbecue in summer”.
At second glance you can see that the river is more dynamic than most in Central Europe. The momentum was largely retained because no one built a dam or attempted to regulate or canalize the river for boat traffic or settlement plans.
There are still gravel banks here, which have become rare in Europe and which, for example, offer the little ringed plover suitable spawning grounds. There were certainly plans to lay hands on the river. But the idea for a hydropower plant got stuck in border disputes between Austria and Bavaria – a dispute that turned out to be a stroke of luck for nature.
That is why the Ache can do what a natural river does: In spring, the meltwater from the mountains floods the Achendelta on the Chiemsee heavily, creating opportunities for an alluvial forest and its growth. The official name of the Ache is – also in Germany – Tiroler Achen, because it flows through Tyrol for the majority of its 79 kilometers between its origin in the Salzburger Land and its mouth in the Chiemsee.
Endangered animals find a home in the Achendelta
At the Chiemsee, nature guide Peter Nentwig accompanies groups through the green mix of ash, willow, alder, poplar and oak. “Conifers can’t get their feet wet, and beech trees can’t either,” he explains. The Achendelta is one of the last functioning inland deltas in Central Europe and has been a nature reserve since 1954.
All kinds of animal refugees, whose habitat is threatened, also settle here: water bat, fast duck and great crested grebes. Siberian irises and a 100-year-old five-armed poplar also thrive.
Only the painter’s shell, which the Chiemsee artists once used to mix paint, has almost disappeared. The rather dominant zebra mussel that was brought in from the Black Sea killed it off.
When the Chiemsee glacier gouged the lake about 12,000 years ago and this was then filled with mountain water, the deepest point in the lake was 240 meters. “Today it is only as deep as the church tower overseas – 73 meters,” says Nentwig.
This is about halfway through the Chiemsee’s life. “In about 8000 years the Ache will flow into the Alz – today the outflow of the Chiemsee, on which you can go kayaking. A small area of water will only remain around the islands of Herrenchiemsee and Frauenchiemsee, ”predicts Stefan Kattari.
It is a bit of a shame to think that at some point there will only be a larger pond left of the Chiemsee. The view of the refreshing water, of the many swimmers jumping into the water from the shore and wooden walkways, of the stand-up paddlers and the sailboat parade in the middle of the lake, of the Feldwieser beach bar with sun loungers and is just too beautiful Umbrella drinks. But nobody really has to worry today: You will still be able to enjoy Lake Chiemsee around the year 10.019.
Tips and information
Getting there: By car via the A8 Munich – Salzburg. By train via Munich to Prien or Bernau am Chiemsee.
Experience water: Sport Lukas offers rafting tours in Schleching, sportlukas.de. Chiemsee-Kaufmann has stand-up paddling in the program, chiemsee-kaufmann.de. Kayak trip on the Alz from Seebruck, kajakverleih-chiemsee.de. Nature tours convey the Chiemsee agenda, naturerlebnis-chiemsee.de.
Information desk: Chiemgau Tourism, chiemsee-chiemgau.info
This article was first published in August 2019.
Participation in the trip was supported by Chiemgau Tourism. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at axelspringer.de/unabhaengigkeit.