The article below was published in Pinnable’s newsletter in .


Saxon Switzerland in a Day

My friend Dirk & his family will travel to Dresden this summer, and they are planning a day trip to Saxon Switzerland to see the characteristic sandstone mountains alongside the Elbe river. One of the most popular tourist destinations there is the Bastei Bridge near Rathen, and the place gets fairly crowded during the high season. Locals therefore prefer to go to Königstein, a 40-minute train journey from Dresden, to climb the Lilienstein mesa or the Pfaffenstein mesa, each a 1¾-hour hike. Our kids prefer the latter because of its steep & narrow ascent through the so-called ‘eye of the needle’, and for the slender Barbarine pinnacle & the horrific legend that comes with it.

The Wehlgrund valley & the Bastei rocks
View from the Wehlgrund lookout to the Bastei rock formation

After conquering Pfaffenstein, a next possible target is Königstein Fortress, the mighty stronghold from which the Saxons helplessly watched the Swedish army invade the country in 1639, and the Saxon army surrender to the Prussians in 1756 without fighting. From the foot of the mesa, it takes roughly one hour to walk to the fortress; from the railway station it’s close to 45 minutes. Another thing to do in Königstein is rent a boat and paddle down the Elbe river to Rathen (1½ hours), or further, passing the Bastei rocks, to Wehlen (2 hours) or Pirna (3¾ hours). Whatever you do, also take the ferry to Halbestadt to enjoy the appetizing home-made food at Das Steingut, a charming eatery open on afternoons from April to October (except Mondays & Tuesdays). Your VVO bus & rail day ticket (€ 20 for a family of six) is also valid on the ferry.

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To get to Pfaffenstein’s summit you don’t necessarily have to climb the stairways & ladders through the narrow gorge of the needle’s eye (‘Nadelöhr’) on the northern side; there is an easier walking trail (‘Bequemer Aufstieg’) on the western side. From April to October, on Wednesday to Sunday, the mountain inn serves food & Krušovice černé, a Bohemian dark beer.


The Pfaffenstein is well known for the Barbarine rock pinnacle on its south end. Legend has it that in previous times, this rock was a girl from the neighbouring village of Pfaffendorf, whose mother sent her to church on a Sunday, but found her picking bilberries on the mountain instead. In her anger, she shouted ‘Petrify, you disobeyer!’ at her daughter — and it happened instantly. Today, the Barbarine is supposed to scare children & to teach them to always obey their parents. (Ideally, the legend should also teach parents not to curse their children.)


On the lower end of Pfaffenberg road in Königstein there is a Kursächsische Postmeilensäule, an 18th-century milepost that gives distances expressed as journey times to the nearest eighth of an hour. From here, Dresden used to be 7 hrs away, Meißen 12⅝, Leipzig 31⅞, Wittenberg 33⅜, and Berlin 46 hrs.


Although there is a wanted poster for RAF terrorists Ernst-Volker Staub (64 yrs old), Daniela Klette (age 60) & Burkhard Garweg (50) on display at the Königstein (Sächs Schw) railway station, it’s not very likely that you’ll bump into them during your stay here. But be careful if you do; they might be armed.