I Don't Know Why It's Called the "Black Forest"
early November 2001

 
Du bist ein Schatz!
You are a sweetheart!
 
My American neighbor Barbara had a long visit from her parents, and her Dad made Chili. When I told a friend back home about it, she said, "Isn't it nice to have friends who make you feel like home? Not just chili, leftover chili. Just like home." It's so true. I need people in my life who will give me leftover chili.

A Gram Parsons song came on the other day while I was sitting here getting pictures ready to upload -- I had forgotten it was on the CD I was playing -- and I just burst right into tears. I'm not sure why. It's the first time I've heard a GP song since reading his biography. I guess it affected me more than I thought. Plus, I got that whole home sickness thing going on lately.

Speaking of CDs, I can't get enough of the latest Oxford American CD. Absolutely the best of them all. If I could take only 10 CDs with me somewhere for a long period of time, I'd take all the Oxford American CDs, plus Robbie Fulks CDs (grin).

 

Es gibt einen kleinen Buchladen nicht weit vom Marktplatz.
There is a small book store not far from the marketplace.
 
Early this month, I headed South with Stefan, whom I met in Ireland, to the Black Forest. I have no idea why it's called the Black Forest. Lonely Planet Germany never says why, and I just don't have the energy to go looking for why on the Web. "Schwarzwald" looks exactly as you would expect a world-famous forest in Southern Germany to look, right down to the kitsch. While driving through, I had a flashback to my very first visit oh-so-many-many years ago, as a very young girl, to Santa Claus Land, Indiana -- the houses in the Black Forest look really similar to that long-replaced faux German village in the U.S. But that isn't to say it isn't beautiful -- it's lovely. I saw a thousand views that would have made great postcard covers, so many beautiful farms amid lush green meadows, all surrounded by pines.

Stefan took the Autobahn for part of the way down, but most of the way, we went on "B" roads -- the equivalent of U.S. highways. So much more beautiful than the yucky Autobahn, which is the equivalent of U.S. freeways, right down to Wal-Marts on the side of the road (YUCK). I'm not sure when the dramatic and very steep climbs began, but the climbs and the curves (but not the flora), reminded me of the Appalachians. There were many times I would not look outside of my side window -- I hate looking down steep climbs. It was so great to be in a rural area, seeing farms and open areas. And, ofcourse, there was always a castle in the distance. We joked about that a lot: "Hey, look, another castle !"

 

Der kennt die Stadt doch. Der weiß doch, wo er mich hinführen muß.
He knows the town. He knows where he has to take me.
 
Before sunset, we drove right up to the summit of a mountain -- Kandel. It was 1243 meters high (4077 feet). We parked outside of the single building anywhere around -- a large, traditional German Inn. We hiked up to the top, where people were flying kites. We walked up into the little gazebo-like structure at the very top and looked over the metal dial in the center, which points to all the major cities in the distance (London, Paris, Berlin..). You can't see them, even on a clear day, but it's cool to think of them out there somewhere. As we walked back, the sun was setting, and one side of the trees off to our right glowed gold. It was beautiful. This area is ski country, so a lot of the mountain top was bare. People, I would barely look down some of the slopes -- people SKI down these things?!

We continued on and got to Freiburg at around 6. It's a large city -- more than 200,000 people. But we decided to head back out of town to find a bed and breakfast in a smaller town. We stopped at a Gasthaus but they didn't have a room with a bath, and I hadn't brought a robe. We stopped at another Gasthaus, but they were actually only a restaurant -- they never got around to changing their sign. Finally, we ended up at Gasthaus Zur Sonne, in the tiny town of Vörstetten. It was exactly what I had in mind. It's an adorable little town, and the restaurant is tiny and full of wood paneling and locals. We walked through the very nice restaurant with our bags, through a door and up the stairs to the rooms. Our room was plain and lovely -- wooden floors, nice big bathroom, little patio, and even a TV (the only one we had for the whole trip). Ofcourse, this place has a web site -- that got to be another running joke of the trip ("but does this place have a web site ?!")

 

Oh, es ist gleich halb elf. Sollen wir gehen?
Oh, it is almost 10:30. Should we go?
 
I went to sleep and awoke to the sound of church bells; we were right next to the town church. I loved the sound, but Stefan told me later he was annoyed by it. That became yet another running joke -- hear church bells, laugh. Our room looked out onto a tiny street on one side, and a garden on the other. We went down for breakfast in a little side room of the tiny restaurant. There were four or five other guests there, so the room was full. Stefan read the headlines of the German newspaper to me, and I read Lonely Planet Germany to him. We had a hearty German breakfast of cold cuts, various breads, butter, preserves, a boiled egg, a glass of orange juice and a large pot of tea. This is THE German breakfast. I had it every morning for the rest of the trip, no matter where we were. Not complaining -- although some biscuits and milk gravy and some grits would have been awesome...

We drove back to Freiburg and parked in an underground garage that I am certain filled up within 20 minutes after we pulled in. We walked through town to the massive cathedral (Münster), which was red in the morning sun. It's not nearly as massive as Köln's (geesh, what *is*?), but is dang impressive nonetheless. I'll just never get used to massive European churches; they are so out of the realm of my experience. Outside and all around the Münster square were street vendors selling flowers, fruits, veggies, other foods and crafts -- the colors were brilliant. Yet another German postcard come to life. We discovered what Lonely Planet Germany leaves out in its description of the church: the very funny gargoyles all over the rim of the outside, that serve as drainage during rain. They are probably three stories high, and not obvious at first glance. None are the same. There are probably 30 or more. There's a pig, a boar, a dog, a goat, all sorts of different men, all with mouths wide for the rain water to pour out of. One man has his ankle pulled back behind his neck, so his open mouth make it looks like he is reacting from the pain. And then there's the nude figure, who faces inwards to the church and whose ass sticks out, so that water can pour out from his (or her?) anus. How'd THAT get passed the clergy?!

Ofcourse, I decided to climb the tower. It's like an obligation -- here I am in Europe, and here is this tower, and maybe the view is just really something, so swallow that pounding anxiety and start climbing... Stefan has read my web site, and likes to make jokes about climbs. "Look, more steps you can climb and write about later." The ever-circling stone steps of this tower were, at first, wider and fewer than Köln cathedral, and the graffiti much more interesting, particularly the ones from the 1800's. After two hundred and nine steps, you come to a very large landing beneath the cathedral bells. That's where you finally pay admission. There's gift shop up there, and the bell machinery is encased in class, you can view all the sprockets and wheels. The bells are one flight up on a separate staircase. Up we went, just as a bell was ringing. ZOWIE!!! I was entranced. It was sooo loud, and the bell ringing was bigger than a hot tub -- but it wasn't actually the biggest one! I wanted so badly to do my Charles Laughton impression, but only Paul thinks that's funny, and he wasn't here on this particular German church tower climbing exhibition, and I'm not sure Stefan would have gotten the joke, so I held back.

 

Bist hier also an der Uni eingeschrieben?
So you are enrolled in the university here?
 
We went back down the landing and then went over the steps that continue up the tower. These are much, much more narrow that what we used to come up, and much more narrow than those at Köln. When someone passed me, I had to grab the center slab and lean forward and hope my feet wouldn't slip. The tower has long, tall windows carved in it, so it's very bright and offers views all the way up -- which makes it even more scary than Köln. After a few flights, we got to another landing, and stopped to gaze directly up into the porous steeple that towered above us. Lovely. but my heart was pounding. And then it occurred to me that the steps continued up, but the steeple above us was hollow. Which meant the final landing was on the outside of the steeple. Having learned from the Hill of Slane experience, I now always double check these kinds of things... but I decided to still go up, heart pounding though it was. The top wasn't crowded, it all looked reasonably sturdy, and the views were spectacular -- the pictures I took don't do it justice (so I didn't upload them here). I loved hearing all of the different languages around me of the tourists from different countries, mostly Italian and French.

Getting down was hard, because so many people were coming up. I did not like going down at all, because I was so afraid of falling. But there was only one way off that crazy ride...

We walked around Freiburg afterwards, admiring the mosaics on the ground in front of shops (to note what kind of shop it is), and the rivulets that run along many of the pedestrian-only streets. I just loooove pedestrian-only streets. We found a huge clock in the courtyard of a former monetary, and some rather risque statues outside the German Salvation Army. And I got shoo'd away from an elaborate vine that had been trained to run back and forth across a street (Germans are so damn picky) and then we had lunch at a place with cranky waiters. We went back to the car and left in the mid afternoon, passing a massive line of cars waiting for a place in the garage.

 

Ja, aber schaut euch nicht nur die Jazzkeller an. Und setzt euch nicht nur in die Cafés.
Yes, but don't just visit the jazz clubs. And don't just sit in the coffee shops.
 
We drove through even more beautiful places than the day before, much less-densely-populated areas. There was a long, long stretch of mountain tops where it looked like there had been a forest fire, but Stefan said it was actually a horrible storm two years ago. He said it wasn't a tornado, but I totally think it was. More than one, actually. I could never list all of the beautiful things I saw. So many adorable little villages or farms or herds of sheep. We passed a place called St. Tredput, a church on a little hill, with a mountain as a backdrop. It looked like it was Eastern Orthodox, with rounded steeples instead of the usual sharp Germans ones -- I'm going to go hunting around on the net and see if I can find info about it.

Western and Southern Germany are oh-so-Catholic. Majorly Catholic. All towns center around a very large church, always one that dominates the town. Then there's also an endless number of ornate chapels everywhere -- look up on a mountain, there's a little chapel. Then there's all the roadside crosses, giving you yet another chance to repent. And then there's the dieing Jesuses hanging every where. It's eerie at times. I like images of Mary on the half shell, but here, it's all Jesus, all the time, writhing in agony on the cross.

Even more dramatic and high climbs on Friday afternoon, through even more beautiful country. We drove up Mt. Belchen, 1403 meters (4603 feet). Again, just a single but very large traditional german ski resort building at the top, just below the crest of the mountain. We walked up the little trail to the very top, only about 6 meters. And there was one of those metal dials again, showing us where London and Paris would be. And Stefan pointed off into the distance, and there were the Swiss Alps.

After Mt. Belchen and the Alps, we headed even farther South through the Black Forest. Stefan wanted to see the village and lake of Titisee, specifically because of the name (men are men, no matter what country they are from). We got there just as the sun was down. I didn't like it -- it was filled with souvenir shops, souvenir kiosks, and touristy restaurants and hotels. We walked down to the glacial lake, which is two km long. But there really wasn't anything to keep us. We moved on to find a bed for the night. Once again, we stopped at a restaurant with a sign that said "Gasthaus" and, once again, they said they didn't rent rooms anymore. The next stop was at the Pension Daheim, in Lenzkirch/Saig, which was strictly a bed and breakfast -- no restaurant. It was perfect . They had a little home-made brochure in the room which I took with me. It has an English translation. My favorite line: "Please articulate any complains to the house-management direct." We were very near the French and Swiss borders.

We put our luggage in our room and headed to another village to look for dinner. We found a small German restaurant, and I had fish and Hefeweizen -- a very tall wheat beer that I just adore -- Manuel turned me onto it on my very first night in Germany, during that August workshop back in 2000. In fact, I had two. Stefan and I both did. The only other people in the restaurant were four people at a table on the other side of the restaurant. They were drinking a lot . One guy was from East Germany -- Stefan could tell from the accent.

 

Also, eine Schale ist glaub' ich 500 Gramm, ne?
Well, I think one container is 500 grams, right?
Saturday morning, we woke to a thick, beautiful frost. It may have been the first of the season. We had a little patio on our room that looked out over a yard and then a forest-covered valley. We went down for breakfast, and there was just one other couple in the eating room. This time, in addition to the usual German breakfast (see earlier comment), we actually got to choose what kind of eggs we wanted! I asked for scrambled. I was so happy. I loved this place.

 
One note -- you don't have to talk to other people at a bed and breakfast. Actually, it's quite easy to keep totally to yourself. Most people do, I think. What I like about them is that they are small, not some big hotel or restaurant, and the service just seems so much better. The rooms are usually just like a hotel room, except that there's usually no TV.

We then went to Schluchsee, a small village 10 km south of Titisee. It's a resort town, but is soooo much less commercial than Titisee -- just as Lonely Planet Germany said it would be. We walked around some of the lake -- it was lovely. As we walked around some of the lake, we passed this couple, and the guy said "Gut Gosse" -- or something like that. Someone had told me earlier that it means "Good God" (or, God is good) and is a traditional Bavarian greeting (we were really close to Bavaria, but not officially in it). We walked down to the sandy part of the lake, and a small boat went by, and a person in the middle was saying something to his fellow travelers, though we couldn't hear what, and extending his arms. And Stefan said what I was thinking: "He is telling them how big the fish was." We both got a good laugh out of that.

We left the lake and drove further south, moving on through gorgeous scenery, now more rolling hills and farmlands than forest-covered mountains. It all looked ever so much like the landscape that Steve McQueen raced through on his motorcycle at the end of "The Great Escape." I kept waiting for him to come riding by, actually. And I noticed that all of the hay bales in Germany are shrink wrapped in thick white or blue plastic. I wonder how they do that?

 

Ja. Das hört sich wirklich interessant an.
Yes. That really sounds interesting.
 
We continued on towards Switzerland. Stefan wanted me to see the Rhein Falls, but had forgotten they were actually over the border. We stopped in this tiny town, the border guard came up and looked at our I.D.s (I always carry my passport with me) and, upon seeing mine, walked off to check something in his booth. Luckily, I checked out okay and we got to continue on. But I was so mad to discover that he hadn't stamped my passport! All that trouble? I want my passport stamped!

We came to a much larger town than what we had been in before -- I don't remember the name -- and parked. We walked down to the falls and I was floored -- I wasn't expecting them to be so huge! And loud! We heard tourists around us speaking in Italian, Spanish, French, Swiss German -- it was cool. We took a boat out to this massive rock in the middle of the falls and climbed up to the top. It was soooo scary, but fun. The boat that takes you out there rocks around a lot as you get close to the falls. Everyone made the universal ooooh and ahhhh sound as the boat tossed around on the waves a bit.

Oh, god, there's the Dubai International Airport commercial. It's an acid trip without the acid.

We headed back North -- no stop at the border back into the country -- and had lunch in a family-run restaurant in a tiny farm town. I have to say that I was really tired of German food by then. I was so hungry for a plate of vegetables, or some rice, or a PIZZA, or a burrito... In addition, all the German restaurants in the Black Forest had a way of making me feel like I'm in someone's living room...

 

Ich werd' dich hinbringen.
I will take you there.
 
We stopped at Vogtbauernof to see the Schwarzwald Frelicht Museum (Black Forest Open-Air Museum). It's a traditional farming village, with some structures that have stood in the valley since 1570. Other old buildings were moved there later. Other than MASSIVE farmhouses (people, I am talking massive -- everyone that worked a farm and all the farm animals lived together in each), there were also about four mills that ran on giant water-driven wheels, a bakery, a chapel -- all with thatched roofs and authentic wooden furnishings. Absolutely no smoking! Several times a month, people from surrounding villages come and work the farm, to show tourists how things were done before electricity and modern tools, like creating their own shoes, baskets, bread, etc. It was the second-to-the-last day it would be open for the rest of the year, and since it was almost dark, the admission woman let us in for only 5DM. It was really neat, and I wish we had gotten there about 30 minutes earlier, so I could have taken some pictures. Only thing I didn't like was the front, outside of admission, with all its kitsch-filled shops and food kiosks, including one that featured an absolutely repulsive drawing of a hamburger... yuck.

It was pitch black by the time we left. We headed to the next village, stopped at the first Gasthaus and -- you guest it. The second place was just too darn expensive. The third place was full. The fourth place was completely empty. Not sure why -- it was clean, had a bit of charm... anyway, we stored our stuff and, this time, just stayed in the restaurant downstairs for supper. Stefan said the regional accent of the people around us were so thick that he couldn't understand them. They had a wild game menu, and I really wanted to try something, but then just played it safe and had the pork steak with fries yet again.

 

Hm. Dann geh' in die Stadt, und kauf' aber nicht direkt am Marktplatz, sondern geh' ein bißchen außerhalb, Richtung Stiftskirche.
Hm. Then go into town, but don't shop directly at the market square, instead go a little bit out of the main drag, towards the Stiftskirche.
 
Sunday morning, we went back downstairs for breakfast. And that's how I discovered we were the only people that stayed there that night -- there was only one table set for breakfast. We had exactly what we had for the last three mornings. Then we continued heading back North. We hit Cuckoo Clock central -- geesh, they really were EVERWHERE. We stopped at Triberg, which is kitsch city, and walked into the woods to see Germany's tallest waterfalls, which were quite really lovely. I kept waiting to see Frodo. We climbed the trail up along the falls almost to the top, but I got tired. We had a lot of laughs over the three different places that claim to have the World's Biggest Cuckoo Clock. We weren't there at a time when we could have seen if there were giant Cuckoos in them all.

Stefan got on the Autobahn for most of the way back after that. It's really yucky, but it's quicker. And suddenly, our good weather was gone, and the fog was soooo thick. As we got to Frankfurt, he switched on the radio so I could hear the American army base radio station, which at that moment was playing country music. I will never been so happy to hear George Paisley as I was in that moment, I think.

 

Sehr schön. Und die Uni, wie alt ist die?
Very nice. And the university, how old is it?
 
See all the photos from this essay, and MORE at:
this part of ye old web site.

All of these phrases are from Transparent Language's "word of the day" emails recently.

Hey, check out this web site. Wonder who this is?

More later . . .


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