Zugspitze celebrates the first ascent: from lonely mountain to tourist magnet

It is Germany's highest mountain – and has demonstrably been climbed by people for 200 years: Since then, the Zugspitze has developed from the 2962 meter high end point of extreme expeditions to a destination for mass tourism. A historical summary since the officially documented first ascent on August 27, 1820:


The Bavarian lieutenant Josef Naus and the local mountain guide Johann Georg Tauschl, together with several companions, manage the first ascent of the Zugspitze, which has been officially proven. They reached the summit in the Wetterstein Mountains southwest of Garmisch-Partenkirchen at noon on August 27, 1820 on an expedition that was commissioned by the state to survey land.


In the first few years after the first ascent, the Zugspitze remains the domain of daring pioneers. From the middle of the 19th century, mountaineering became fashionable, and railways allowed long-distance travel. Alpine clubs drive development. In 1855 the first accommodation for mountaineers opens in the Zugspitze massif at around 2000 meters. In 1883 makeshift accommodation followed directly on the summit.

Alpinism on the Zugspitze is picking up speed


In view of the ongoing trend towards alpinism, a larger mountain hut is built below the summit of the Zugspitze and inaugurated in 1897 – the Munich house that still exists today. Even then, there was a dispute about the limits of tourist development. The Munich section of the German Alpine Club responsible for the construction even split up in the dispute. A meteorological station is also being built at the hut.


The summit, over which the state border between Germany and Austria runs, developed more and more into a tourist destination after the First World War. Winter sports are becoming modern. In 1926, a cable car to the Zugspitzkamm goes into operation on the Austrian side, together with a new hotel at around 2800 meters above sea level.

Bavarian Zugspitzbahn and luxury hotel are built


The Bavarian Zugspitzbahn starts on the German side – a cogwheel railway, partly in tunnels, which leads to the ice-covered high mountain plateau below the summit at around 2,650 meters. The luxury hotel Schneefernerhaus is being built at the terminus, which will open a year later together with a cable car to the summit.


After a deep break caused by the Second World War and its aftermath, tourism started up again at the end of the 1940s. Now the signs are finally pointing to ski and mass tourism. More and more slopes, lifts, smaller cable cars and other facilities are being built around the summit. In 1963, the new summit cable car goes into operation, taking visitors from the Eibsee valley station on the German side directly to the mountain top. It creates even faster access to the summit.


Nature reminds us that the Zugspitze is a hostile environment despite all the development measures. On May 15, an avalanche hit the sun terrace of the Schneefernerhaus and kills ten people. The accident leads to the construction of numerous avalanche protection devices on the mountain.

Luxury hotel closes and becomes an environmental research station


The Hotel Schneeernerhaus closes and is converted into a state environmental research center, while the Zugspitze remains attractive as a destination for skiers and summer excursionists. In the 80s and 90s, new cable cars are built and the existing systems are expanded in some cases at great expense.


The old Eibsee cable car will be replaced by a more powerful new construction on an almost identical route. The spectacular construction breaks several technical world records. An accident during an emergency exercise seriously damaged the runway in the following year and led to an interruption of operations lasting several months.


The Zugspitze continues to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Some of them are still in the classic mountaineering class. According to estimates by the Bayerische Zugspitzbahn, the number could reach a new record at 30,000 this season.