This Easter we decided to visit the Saxon Switzerland national park located in the south-eastern Germany, right next to the Czech Republic border. The region is well-known for its beautiful landscapes, sandy rocks and of course the famous Bastei Bridge, so it’s been on our radar for a while. We just couldn’t find a suitable time, since it’s so far away from Bremen – driving five and a half hours is not something you want to do on your typical weekend. Easter Holidays that last 4 days in Germany proved to be a perfect opportunity to finally hit the road.
Day one – Moritzburg castle and the Bastei Bridge
We wanted to spend as much time in Saxon Switzerland as possible, so we didn’t really stop much on our way there. The only small detour we took was to see castle Moritzburg not far from Dresden. The castle (though to me it looks more like a palace) is located on an artificial island surrounded by water. Previously it served as a hunting mansion for the dukes of Saxony but today it’s a museum that anyone can walk into. There’s nothing really special inside but if you’re interested in history, you might find it interesting.
The building itself is quite impressive and I’m sure would look absolutely gorgeous on a sunset of a quite day when it is reflecting nicely in the surrounding waters. Unfortunately we got there midday and waiting a few hours for the best light was not an option. So we just walked around taking a few snapshots you can see here and then moved on. If I happen to visit the area again, though, I’ll make sure to try and be here on a late afternoon, it could really make a stunning image.
The number one thing we wanted to see in Saxon Switzerland was obviously the Bastei Bridge (Basteibrücke). Built almost two centuries ago (first of wood, then rebuilt in stone), it’s the most famous landmark of the region and attracts a swarm of tourists every year. In practice this means unfortunately that most hotels around are fully booked long before any holidays and you would do wisely to book early. We didn’t, so we ended up staying in a small town of Gorisch some twelve kilometers to the south, which is really only a 15-20 minute drive from the Bastei Bridge, so it wasn’t too bad.
By the time we checked in and had a quick snack, it was getting late, so we hit the road again to get to Bastei by sunset. Getting to the bridge is really easy – there’s a large parking lot close by and then it’s a simple 10 minute walk to the bridge. No need to climb or go uphill.
The bridge is absolutely stunning. It’s hard to imagine that someone would build something so complex and beautiful just to connect a few standalone rocks. It’s not even a true bridge in that sense since it doesn’t really get you anywhere except for a few viewpoints with breathtaking views of the plains far below, rocks and river Elbe. At 75 meters it isn’t too long and you would probably only need half an hour to an hour to cover everything it has to offer.
If you turn left just before entering the bridge, you would eventually get to the Ferdinandstein rock viewpoint. That’s where you get that classic postcard view of the bridge you see everywhere. As I soon learned though, this viewpoint really lends itself more to sunrise shooting rather and isn’t that great for sunsets. There is a viewpoint on the opposite site that would be perfect for that, but unfortunately it’s partly closed after a large piece of rock fell of it a few years back. So I had to improvise. Below are a couple of shots that I took during sunset that day.
Day two – rain and more rocks
I wasn’t completely happy with my sunset effort, so the next morning I was up early, eager to get back to the Bastei Bridge by sunrise. Interestingly enough, we weren’t the first ones to arrive. When we got there, we were greeted by a couple other photographers who woke up even earlier. It’s worth mentioning here that the viewpoint on the Ferdinandstein rock is very small, barely enough to fit 5 or 6 people. So while I still had enough room to setup and get a good composition, those who came after us had to stay at the very edge of the platform and that’s not where you want to be. On the upside, you get to see how other photographers work from close by, always an interesting pastime.
I should really have stayed in bed sleeping though, because all we got in the sky that morning were thick grey clouds without so much as a hint for sunlight. After freezing in the cold for an hour and a half I finally called it and went back to hotel to get some sleep.
Bastei is a great place to do some hiking and that’s exactly what we did in the afternoon, exploring the rock formations of Papstein and Lilienstein. Both are very similar but offer very distinct views of the region. The hikes to the top are short (about 20-30 minutes) but quite intense. Both summits have a small cafe that is excellent to rest a bit and have a hot drink. I was quite amazed to learn that the staff hikes all the way up every morning and then goes back down every evening. Free exercise.
Personally, I liked Lilienstein more, even though that’s where we finally got wet (the rain has been catching up on us the whole day). It’s a bit higher, so you get better views at the top and the way to the summit is more interesting. It’s a bit unfortunate that we couldn’t appreciate the surroundings at a better weather, but it was still definitely worth it.
Originally we also wanted to climb one more summit – Pfaffendorf – for sunset, but by that time the weather has turned really bad, it was pouring rain, the road was closed off due to road works so we had to scrap the idea. I suspect it would’ve been very similar to the other too though.
Day three – Schrammsteine and the Devil’s Bridge
The third morning of our stay began with what was seeming becoming a tradition – waking up at 5am. Annoyed by the previous day’s weather, I was determined to finally get some sunrise shots. Unfortunately, although the light was better this time around, there were still too many clouds. Interestingly, even though I arrived to the Bastei Bridge even earlier, once again there were already photographers there. Apparently it’s a very popular spot, so it pays out to come early. In the end, I got a few shots I’m reasonably happy with, such as the one in the header of the article, so I was pleased to call my mission in Bastei done.
Our plan that day was to spend the morning in the Saxon Switzerland area and then head a hundred kilometers north to see another iconic photography spot – the Devil’s Bridge (Rakotzbrücke). To finish off our stay in the national park, we decided to explore its eastern part and take a hike to the summit of Schrammsteine rock formation. This one took the longest to get to (about an hour walking one direction) and is probably the most strenuous, with lots of steep stairs and shallow places.
It’s definitely worth doing though – the views are fabulous at the top. Out of all the places during our stay I certainly liked Schrammsteine the most. If for some reason you only have time for one hike in the area, this is the hike you want to take. Even in the bright midday when we got there, it looked absolutely stunning, so I bet at sunset or sunrise it would be just magical. If I had more time, I would’ve definitely returned at a later hour, even though it’s not the most easy spot to get to. Well, next time I guess.
The Devil’s Bridge is located near the town of Weißwasser that quite remarkably resembles the cities of the former Soviet Union with its concrete-paneled houses. The difference between eastern and western Germany can still be easily observed here. We didn’t linger in the city though and headed straight to the bridge some 5 kilometers away. There’s not much else in the area to be honest, so it’s probably not worth coming unless it fits your overall trip plan well.
I can’t think of any reason why the Devil’s Bridge would actually exist except for the pure aesthetics. The lake it crosses is tiny and can be walked around in just 10-15 minutes. And the bridge is closed nowadays anyway. It’s actually quite amazing that they spent several years to build it back in the nineteenth century. But, usefulness aside, the bridge is stunning. It’s built to form half a circle, so during the quite weather when the lake waters are calm, together with its own reflection it creates an illusion of a perfect circle. It’s easy to see why it’s such an iconic spot (especially popular with photographers, so come early – the platform with the best view is very small, so it only take a couple guys with tripods to completely fill it).
This photo of the bridge above is probably my best image of the entire trip. We arrived an hour before sunset and it was still raining. And then, suddenly, the clouds cleared and the sun come out, just for a few minutes, filling the scene with this magical golden flow. It’s one of those moments when everything came together for a great photo. It lasted mere minutes and then it was gone. I waited for another 40 minutes till sunset, but although the sky cleared, this amazing light never came back. I felt sorry for a couple of photographers that showed up 5 minutes after it was gone, the view just wasn’t the same for them.