As a family, one of our favorite trips hands down is to the Salzburg area in Austria and the bordering German Berchtesgaden area, mostly due to its “something for everyone” nature that we’ve grown to love.
In the days long before our post in Denmark, we actually lived in Vienna for three years and so the alpine area became a favorite, even for a weekend trip. We first started going as a couple, then with an infant, then with a toddler and now with two. Each trip leads us to a new discovery or two, like the Haus der Berge Nature Center and Nature Playground in the town of Berchtesgaden. We no longer live in Vienna of course, but this area of Austria and Germany keeps us coming back. We could even say they were the precursor to forest school.
I had actually forgotten that we had gone on a trip there last year, but one of the benefits of strolling down memory lane, is going through the photos from the year past and realizing how much I hadn’t gotten a chance to write about! Haus der Berge ended up a highlight of our trip, for us and for the kids so I thought I could still share here, especially as we were there almost a year ago exactly.
Haus der Berge translates into “house of the mountains” and serves as a visitor center of sorts for those coming to see the Berchtesgaden alps (more on that adventure on our other blog and our absolutely favorite place to stay, btw they are awesome with kids). It only opened in 2013 so it’s rather new on the scene as far as the town goes, but it filled a much-needed gap.
The inside of the center itself has great and interactive exhibits on the wildlife and seasons of the surrounding alps, featuring lots of local taxidermy. Our daughter was going through a major raptor/birds of prey phase at the time (um, thank you Wild Kratts?) so the various stuffed hawks and falcons suspended in flight from the ceiling were a highlight for her. As were the displays detailing how the animals live throughout the year.
But for kids, the major highlights start once you work your way through to the outside. These guys really deserve some kudos for playground design as it teaches you about the alpine area at the same time that you play in it. Case in point, all of the climbing structures and enclosures actually are built in various traditional styles of fences and ramparts used throughout the mountains to protect land, prevent erosion, or contain livestock. Little signs detail how each is built and the major advantages and disadvantages – you wouldn’t think you would learn that much but I certainly did and we ended spending a lot of time talking about the differences of the various builds.
The play area itself was a treat with plenty of places to climb, and balance. The structures are low enough to be doable, but complicated enough to require kids to do some thinking. At the time, our youngest was just figuring out the joys of a playground so many of the structures were too big for him but he enjoyed following around his big sister and throwing a rock or two all the same.
The tree house at the top of the structure and climbing with the aid of rope holds were here favorite!
Between the actual nature center and the playground, we ended up spending the better part of the afternoon there and only left because we got hungry (the few tiny packs of gummy bears didn’t quite cut it and we missed last call at the little cafe they have on the premises). The center is open year-round, and it would easy be great in the summer and fall, as well as on those days that end up a little too warm for spring skiing. I don’t know what the winter days would be like but my guess is that if you dress appropriately, it’s fair game!
The climbing wall was the feature we couldn’t pry her off in the end. Unlike most practice rock climbing walls with different color holds attached to an otherwise flat surface, this one was built to look and feel like a natural mountain face. Children had to actually find holds and navigate their way up. Again, like the playground, it was low enough that a fall would be safe but tall enough to make kids feel accomplished. If the goal of the wall was to inspire kids to eventually take a stab at the real thing that surrounds this area everywhere you turn, I’d say that that mission was accomplished!