The great monastery was founded in 1330 by Holy Roman Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian for a group of knights and a community of Benedictine monks. This is the largest Benedictine monastery in Germany; approximately 55 monks live here. The abbey was replaced with new buildings in the 18th century and now serves as a school. The original 10-sided church was brilliantly redecorated in 1744–53, becoming one of the foremost examples of Bavarian rococo. The church's chief treasure is its enormous dome fresco (83 feet wide), painted by Jacob Zeiller circa 1751–52. The mass of swirling clouds and the pink-and-blue vision of heaven are typical of the rococo fondness for elaborate ceiling painting.
Today, the Kloster owns most of the surrounding land and directly operates the Hotel Ludwig der Bayer, the Kloster-Laden, and the Kloster-markt. All of the Kloster's activities, from beer production to running the hotel serve one singular purpose: to fund the famous college-prep and boarding schools
which are tuition-free.
Ettaler liqueurs, made from a centuries-old recipe, are still distilled at the monastery. The monks make seven different liqueurs, some with more than 70 mountain herbs. Originally the liqueurs were made as medicines, and they have legendary health-giving properties. The ad tells it best: "Two monks know how it's made, 2 million Germans know how it tastes." You can visit the distillery right next to the church and buy bottles of the libation from the gift shop and bookstore. The honey-saffron schnapps is the best.
It's possible to tour the distillery and the brewery. For a distillery tour, call in advance; brewery tours are on Tuesday and Thursday at 1:30, and you need to register before 11 on the day of the tour.