The Königssee is a natural lake located close to the Austrian border in the southeast Berchtesgadener Land region of Germany. The lake is mostly located in the Berchtesgaden National Park.
Situated within the Berchtesgaden Alps in the municipality of Schönau am Königsee, just south of Berchtesgaden and the Austrian city of Salzburg, the Königssee is Germany’s third deepest lake.
Located at a Jurassic rift, it was formed by glaciers during the last ice age. It stretches about 7.7 km (4.8 mi) north-south and is approximately 1.7 km (1 mi) across at its widest point.
Except at its outlet, the Königsseer Ache at the village of Königssee, the lake is similar to a fjord, surrounded by the steeply-rising mountains up to 2,700 m (8,900 ft), including the Watzmann massif in the west.
The name’s literal translation, Königssee, appears to be “king’s lake”; however. At the same time, German: König does indeed mean “king”; there had been no Bavarian kings since the days of Louis the German until Elector Maximilian I Joseph assumed the royal title in 1806.
Therefore, the name probably stems from the first name Kuno of local nobles, who appear in several historical sources referring to the donation of the Berchtesgaden Provostry in the twelfth century; the lake was formerly called Kunigsee.
The Königssee Railway (Königsseebahn) served the lake from 1909 until 1966. Its last tracks were dismantled in 1971, and the former station of the Königssee Railway in Berchtesgaden (Königsseer Bahnhof) was demolished in 2012. The only remaining element of the railway is the Königsee station, now a restaurant. The track route is mainly used as a walking path.
In 1944, a sub-camp of the Dachau concentration camp was built near a residence Heinrich Himmler had built at Schönau for his mistress Hedwig Potthast.
The lake is noted for its clear water and is advertised as the cleanest in Germany. For this reason, only electric-powered passenger ships, rowing, and pedal boats have been permitted on the lake since 1909.
The Bayerische Seenschifffahrt company operates passenger services along the length of the lake and calls at Seelände (Schönau), St. Bartholomä, Salet (mid-April to mid-October), and Kessel (on request). In ideal conditions, the most extended tour takes two hours from Seelände to Salet. Swimming is permitted except in the lock area at Seelände.
Due to its picturesque setting, the lake and surrounding parklands are very popular with tourists and hikers. In addition, the surrounding sheer rock walls create an echo known for its clarity.
On boat tours, stopping and playing a flugelhorn or trumpet has become traditional to demonstrate the echo. Previously shown by shooting a cannon, the echo can be heard to reverberate up to seven times. The trumpeter plays along with the echo so that there can seem to be as many as seven players.
St. Bartholomä, a famous pilgrimage church with an inn nearby, is located on a peninsula about halfway down the western lake shore. The small Christlieger island is located near its northern end.
South of the Königssee, separated by the Salet moraine, is the smaller Obersee Lake with the 470 m (1,540 ft) high Röthbach waterfall. Because there is no lakeside path on the steep shore of the Königssee, St. Bartholomä and the southern edge can only be reached by boat or hiking trails up the surrounding mountains, except during harsh winters when the lake freezes over.
Stepping on the ice, however, can be fatal, as it was for a motorist who drowned in his Volkswagen Beetle on the way back from St. Bartholomä in January 1964. The car was found only in 1997 at a depth of about 100 m (330 ft).