Gemütlichkeit: 1987 - 2004

The first issue of Gemtlicheit was January 1987. The lead story was about driving Europe's backroads and, though we didn't intend it, the first wordy sentence, Surely the greatest of the considerable pleasures of automobile travel in Germany, Austria and Switzerland lies in exploring the maze of backroads which overlay the countryside like a vast network of fine capillaries, established a tone and philosophy - though that's much too grand a word - for the next 200 issues. A few years later we soothed the ire of a substantial percentage of our readers by acknowledging - after discovering for ourselves - the joys of rail travel.

Another accidental portent of issues to come, was a story on Garmisch-Partenkirchen's Gasthof Fraundorfer, still the most gemütlich place we know. It is somehow reassuring that this modest inn has changed so little. The atmosphere is still as we described it 17 years ago.

Perhaps it's just the beer, but something transforming happens right around 10 o'clock. It is similar to the moment in "The Wizard of Oz" when the movie changes from black & white to color. One is drinking the same beer, in the same place, served by the same waitress but somehow everything is different.

It is about this time that Josef and Friedl begin to sing and yodel as well as play their instruments. Deeper into the night their harmonies begin to include achingly sad songs of unrequited Alpine love. The tourist tables are emptying and one or two large tables reserved for locals are now filled with ruddy-faced Bavarians, most in traditional dress, smoking and playing cards.

Sometimes, after midnight, Herr Fraundorfer, a huge, curly-haired man with bright red cheeks and wearing lederhosen made with enough leather to saddle a division of cavalry, will buy the house a round or two of schnapps. Often he will bring it to your table and, with a salute, knock one back with you.

Herr Fraundorfer, plagued for years by legs mangled in a bobsled accident, is now wheelchair-bound but still a late-night fixture. Though Josef has retired, the sweet, clear voice of Friedl is a poignant reminder of many past nights in this friendly tavern. Except for a few weeks off for heart bypass surgery several years ago, Friedl has performed six nights a week since 1959. And though she says she's turning control of the place over to her daughters, the linchpin of it all is still the indefatigable Barbara Fraundorfer. As you toddle off to your room after midnight she's likely playing cards with the men at the Stammtisch and, when you come down for breakfast at 7:30am, you'll see her, fresh and revitalized, bustling about, chatting up the guests. (Hardcore fans that want a keepsake to remind them of the Fraundorfer can purchase Friedl's CD 35 Jahre im Fraundorfer. Our favorite cuts are #5 Bergvagabunden and #11, Mit Musik und guter Laune .)

We can't claim the Fraundorfer as our discovery, though we did first go there in 1979. Even then it had long been a popular night-out for U.S. military families stationed in the area. Still, when we first wrote about it in 1987, it was pretty much a secret. Today it is well-known and in all the major guidebooks including those of Karen Brown, for many years a Gemütlichkeit subscriber.

Another story in that inaugural issue was on winter airfares across the Atlantic. Among the deals mentioned was a $398 New York-Frankfurt fare on TWA. As this is written, 17 years later, there are several New York to Europe fares at less than $200. This winter we here in Oregon can fly nonstop to Frankfurt from Portland for about $350. Of course, TWA is gone, as are Pan Am, Swissair, Sabena, Western, Balair, and several others who flew the Atlantic.

Sadly, the experience has been degraded. Inflight food is often swill, more seats are crammed into the same space, and airline computers with sophisticated load-management software ensure that most planes are filled to capacity (the airlines offer deals so good they simply can't be refused). Add in the current tedious security procedures and flying is no fun anymore, and a prime reason why so many travelers frantically seek upgrades to business class where the seats are bigger and food almost edible.

If our so-called philosophy and the Fraundorfer have stayed the same, much else has not. Technology has changed the way we plan our travel, and in some cases, the travel experience itself. In 1987, though the facsimile machine was just beginning to be mass marketed, most of us still communicated with Europe via telephone or post. Later, as it became affordable, the fax became standard equipment at virtually every European hotel and the reservation process became faster and easier. Rare these days is the hotel that doesn't have CNN on its cable TV menu, and our ability to quickly and easily get in touch with home and the next stop on our European itinerary is vastly enhanced by the cell phones many of us now carry when in Europe.

But by far the biggest technological change to the traveler's life is the Internet. The information one can unearth there is beyond comprehension. A simple Google search for travel websites yields some 11 million results. The Web gives us: driving directions and distances between any two points in Europe; personalized rail timetables; and online hotel bookings via websites that are virtual hotel brochures, complete with guestroom photos, prices, and restaurant menus. Of course with e-mail we can almost instantly connect with tens of thousands of travel vendors and with like-minded travelers who share our particular interests.

Gemütlichkeit's Website

One of those sellers of travel, of course, is Gemütlichkeit. Here you can renew your subscription, send us a change of address, get a quote on car rental or transatlantic airline tickets, find rail pass prices, book a hotel room, compare prices on travel insurance policies and, of course, delve into our million-word archive of reports on travel in the regions of Europe we cover. There's a good deal of free information on the site, but only you as a subscriber have access to the vast majority of it (see page 2 for the latest login ID and password). It's a resource we at Gemütlichkeit use every day and if you have yet to browse it, you're missing something. Go to the site, click on Members, enter the codes from page two of the latest newsletter, choose the Archive or the Hotel Database. Here are just a few of the stories that are as valid today as when they were first published:

December 1994, 10 Favorite Train Trips. Includes such trips as the Glacier Express and the Transalpin Zürich to Vienna run.

May 1995, Driving in Europe. Advice on renting and driving a car in Europe ends with five favorite backroads routes. We describe the scenery, the towns and villages, and recommend hotels and restaurants.

August 1995, Grand Tour is a suggested 14-day open jaw auto trip that begins in Zürich and ends in Frankfurt. Three days are spent in Munich and other stops include Wald-Schönengrund near St. Gallen, Appenzell, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Hohenau, Bamberg, Muggendorf, and Marktheidenfeld. We offer specific route instructions, suggest the best maps, hotels, restaurants and provide information on what not to miss along the way.

October 1995: Austria by Auto: The second part of our Grand Tour series. Includes four days in Vienna, short visits to Graz and Salzburg and some of Europe's most thrilling and beautiful mountain driving.

December 1995, Memory: Both funny and poignant recollections from the first nine years of Gemütlichkeit. There's the time in Vienna when we stumbled onto reclusive film star, Greta Garbo, lunching all alone in a huge, private dining room at the Palais Schwarzenberg; and a reader survey response from a subscriber who signed himself H.S.H (His Serene Highness), then his name, followed by XXVIR.v.p. His royal comment: We are content with your publication.

July 1996, Castles: Ten of our favorite castles and castle hotels. (You'll have to update room prices and one of them, Schloss Matzen in Austria, is no longer open.)

June 1997, Avoiding the Summer Tourist Crush: A dozen interesting and charming alternative destinations to such household names as Salzburg, Lucerne, and Rothenburg that are often overrun with visitors.

May 1997, Brewery Drive: Starts in Germany and ends in the Czech Republic.

January 1998, Bargain Bavaria: Less visited villages and inexpensive accommodations in southern Bavaria.

June 1999, Pedaling the Danube: How the novice cyclist can leisurely negotiate the famous Danube's flat bike path between Passau and Vienna.

November 2000, Swiss Walks: Three Swiss cities, Samedan, Interlaken and Lucerne, are a base of operations for a series of easy to moderate, but spectacular, mountain walks.

March 2000: Great Swiss Train Rides: Four celebrated Swiss rail trips: the Golden Pass route, the Glacier Express, the Bernina Express, and the William Tell.

August 2001: Traveling Without an Itinerary. First installment of a two-part guide to footloose, flexible European travel.

August 2002: The Swiss Travel System. Switzerland's fabulously coordinated network of trains, buses, lake steamers, and cable cars.

Better Search & Sort Features

In the past year we've made some key improvements to gemut.com. The most important of these being a better search capability. Perhaps you'd like to know what we've said in past issues about Friedl, the singer at the Gasthof Fraundorfer in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Enter the words 'Friedl', 'Gasthof', and 'Fraundorfer', and choose 'All my keywords' from the drop-down menu. You'll get one match, the June 1996 issue, which you can then choose to read online or download.

The hotel database has also been improved. Hotels can now be sorted in ascending or descending order by several criteria including value rating, quality rating, price, location and Editors Choice.

We plan soon to launch a forum at the site where visitors can post travel questions, pass on their own tips and advice, and comment in general on Europe travel. During late November through early December you may see your editor's trip reports e-mailed daily from Europe.

Gemut.com will continue to grow as we add more stories, more pictures, more deals, perhaps even video and, in the not too distant future, an e-mail version of Gemütlichkeit. But whether it comes to you electronically or via regular mail, Gemütlichkeit is where you will continue to find our destination assessments, best value hotels and restaurants, off-the-beaten-track discoveries, and our sometimes cockeyed look at travel to Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Ahead in 2004 we see a substantial increase in travel to Europe, higher airfares, stabilized car rental prices and no increase in rail prices.

Whether you've been with us for all 17 years or this is your first issue, we thank you for your support. RHB

December 2003/January 2004