Fotoeins Fotografie

questions of place & home
Maibaum, Zugspitzplatt, Zugspitze, Germany,

Zugspitze: can I see Italy from here?

“If I’m at the highest point in Germany, can I see Italy?”

Over the years, I’ve seen at various times the claim made about seeing Italy from the tallest mountain in Germany.

I’m startled by morning sun, streaming through the window into my hotel room in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I rise slowly from the bed, barely able to keep my eyes open. I shuffle across the room, and pull the small linen drapes aside. It’s blue everywhere, and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. My eyes are now wide open, heart pumping with excitement, because I know skies are gonna be clear up top. Later I learn forecast conditions for the Zugspitze summit are excellent: mostly sunny, visibility out to 160 kilometres (100 miles) with a high temperature of -8C/+18F. It’s why I brought the 70-300 lens to find out for myself how true the claim really is.

Below I show photographs with sightlines and their corresponding average azimuths*: east-southeast (105 degrees), southeast (135 degrees), south (175 degrees), southwest (210 degrees), west-southwest (250 degrees). I label specific mountain peaks of interest in addition to the flag of the country where the mountain is located. In a few cases, mountains lie along the border between two nations in which case I provide two country flags. For the labeled peaks, I’ve also provided further information about mountain heights and sightline distances in the map below.

I provide in the following map sightlines corresponding to the images below. Click on the arrow-window icon at the upper-left corner of the map for the legend and additional labels.

North-northeast (35°)

Alps, Zugspitze, Germany,

North-northeast with azimuth about 35 degrees; camera settings: 1/400-sec, f/16, ISO 500, 32mm focal length. The camera direction is towards Munich (somewhere behind Starnberg Lake).

East-southeast (105°)

Alps, Austria, Zugspitze, Germany,

East-southeast with azimuth about 105 degrees; camera settings: 1/1000-sec, f/16, ISO500, 300mm focal length. With the exception of the Wettersteinhauptkamm shared between Austria and Germany, all identified peaks are located in Austria including the nation’s tallest mountain Grossglockner at 3798 metres (HL).

Southeast (135°)

Alps, Austria, Italy, Zugspitze, Germany,

Southeast with azimuth about 135 degrees; camera settings: 1/1000-sec, f/16, ISO500, 260mm focal length (HL).

South (175°)

Alps, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Zugspitze, Germany,

South with azimuth about 175 degrees; camera settings: 1/1000-sec, f/16, ISO500, 135mm focal length. At lower-left are radio antennae for Telekom Austria’s reserve relay station (HL).

Southwest (210°)

Alps, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Zugspitze, Germany,

Southwest with azimuth about 210 degrees; camera settings: 1/1000-sec, f/16, ISO500, 300mm focal length (HL).

West-southwest (250°)

With careful examination of sightlines out to about 110 kilometres, I’ve managed to identify these mountains in Liechtenstein: Grauspitz, Plasteikopf, and Augstenberg.

Alps, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Zugspitze, Germany,

West-southwest with azimuth about 250 degrees; camera settings: 1/1000-sec, f/16, ISO500, 170mm focal length (HL).

Can I see Italy from Zugspitze on a clear day? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’ not only for Italy, but as I’ve shown above, it’s also a ‘yes’ for other peaks in Germany, Austria (including Grossglockner), Switzerland, and even Liechtenstein.

A slightly longer exposition

I’m in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area in southern Bavaria for a few days in late-February, and I’m hoping there’ll be at least one decent clear day. It’s a risky gamble in winter, with snowfall on the day I arrive. But the forecast for the next day is in my favour, and I head to the summit on the cogwheel railway with the first service the following morning.

On a clear day at Zugspitze, I know I should be able to spot various peaks of the Alps in neighbouring countries. Inspection of maps tells me those mountains must be present by label and by name, but can I spot some of those peaks for myself, even if I view them through a long-lens?

After a slow scenic climb, I brace for the -10C temperatures up top. The best views west and south are from the Tirolian or Austrian side, based on a previous visit. Over the next couple of hours, I alternate between short- and long-zoom lenses, as I switch between stepping inside briefly to swap lenses and warm my hands and remaining outside to freeze under clear skies and unlimited visibility.

I won’t know immediately if I have chosen sightlines wisely and if photographs “contain” the “correct” mountains. While the short zoom will get me large (angular) wedges and panoramas, I don’t have time to make many “thin wedges” with the long zoom. Educated guesses and intuition lead the way, because that’s all I’ve got. It doesn’t take long until I’ve become a walking icicle, and I mentally wave the white flag in surrender. With a cup of steaming coffee in the warm confines of the summit cafeteria, I have a quick scan of the images on the camera, and I’m satisfied with my haul of images.

When I sit down with the pictures months later, it takes me a few days to figure out where and what I’ve photographed, to line up various lines of sight (with the help of information displays on the summit), and to find out which mountains I’ve spotted with a combination of geography, map-reading, geometry, and even some physics.

I make mistakes along the way, but the answer to my question is better than expected. With judicious south-facing sightlines and patient photography in cold but gorgeous conditions, I find various peaks in the Alps across five nations: Germany, Austria, Italy, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland.

But can I see France?

The answer is ‘no.’ Closest to the east-northeast is the city of Basel at the Swiss-German-French border at a distance of over 250 kilometres, which is beyond the maximum horizon distance visible from the Zugspitze summit at a height of 2962 metres.

* Azimuths are measured with north at 0 degrees, east at 90, south at 180, and west at 270 degrees.

I made extensive use of Google Earth, Google Maps, Alpenwelt Karwendel, AMAP Austria (from BEV Bundesamt für Eich- und Vermessungswesen), and Open Topo Map. All determinations are best effort and remain subject to further confirmation. I made all photos above on 25 February 2017; alle Fotoaufnahmen sind mit Wasserzeichen versehen worden. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie on as

8 Responses to “Zugspitze: can I see Italy from here?”

  1. corneliaweberphotography

    Henry, your post makes me so very homesick right now, that’s where I spent part of my life , my aunt of 104 years, has lived in Garmisch , right at the foot of Zugspitze, and believe it or not I have never been up there. I hiked up the mountain next to it , Alpspitze some 40 years ago. My beloved father had passed with the view of the Zugspitze in 1991. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fotoeins

      Hi, Cornelia, and thank you for your kind comment. I’m pleased the post and images have provided some warm memories of your family. I’ve also gone up to Alpspitze to have a look around in winter conditions. Unfortunately, I don’t ski nor do I snowboard 😅 I’d really like to go back during the spring to autumn period to visit Garmisch-Partenkirchen and these mountains in full green. Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

    • fotoeins

      There’s always so much to do in Germany, even in places I’ve already visited. I’ve been to Tegernsee in both summer and winter, and I would very much like to see the Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Oberstdorf areas in summer. To that end, I will take any recommendations for hikes. The great thing is that the GaPa website and their displays at the base stations to various cable cars show which hikes are open. The one obvious “flat” hike I would like to do is to walk along the Loisach river floor from Garmisch all the way to Grainau. And then there’s Partnachklamm, which I still haven’t done, and Wank, which I still haven’t gone up to have a look. Oh, did I mention that I would also like to visit Oberammergau? Hah, way too much, but not a bad problem to have.


    • fotoeins

      Hi, Charlotte, and thank you for your comment. These parts of the Alps are very easy to reach as you may well know; if you don’t, I believe you now have ideas for upcoming winter holidays! 😊 I also appreciate the time you’ve taken out of your busy schedule to stop by my blogsite. Have a great holiday season and all the best to you in the new year!

      Liked by 1 person

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