Saturday, 21 February 2009

Germany - Day 2, a walk in the Black Forest

When I was a boy my parents had an LP record by Bert Kaempfert. He was a German band leader who was quite popular in the 1960s. They liked it anyway! One particular tune that I can remember distinctly was a jaunty little melody called ‘A walk in the Black Forest’ and today that was exactly what was on the planned itinerary.

It was a fine morning with a perfectly clear blue sky, just the way I like it, so after a substantial breakfast at the Merkur it was out of Baden-Baden in an easterly direction heading for the town of Gernsbach about ten kilometres away. It was early and the town was quiet with just a few people on the way to church and what was interesting was that the streets were all decorated with home made bunting all made from old rags and scraps of clothing but with no real clue to what it was all about. I have to say that the really nice thing about German towns is the cleanliness and with the sun shining so considerately the town centre, adjacent to the fast flowing river Murg was especially picturesque this morning.

The road out of town followed the river and wasn’t especially fascinating but after a few kilometres a left hand turn took us into the mountains and towards Schwarzenbach-Stausee, a sort of reservoir lake in an especially picturesque location. The car climbed steeply and negotiated a succession of hair pin bends first through deciduous trees surrounded by the remains of autumn leaf fall and then into dense conifer forest and as it did so we quite unexpectedly found ourselves above the snow line. Suddenly the Black Forest was completely transformed into the White Forest. There had been a substantial fall of snow a day or so before and the conifer trees were heavily laden with crisp white snow fixed in place by a hard frost and it was as though we had been transported into a traditional christmas card world of snow and ice, frozen lakes and winter pastimes.

What was especially impressive was that the roads were all perfectly clear and had obviously been subject to an efficient snow clearing plan that had kept them open to traffic. This wouldn’t happen in the UK of course because half a millimetre or so of snow in England brings everything to a complete standstill. The steady climb continued until what seemed like the top of the world and the forest looked like a freshly made bed with a pristine white sheet of pure Egyptian cotton spread across it. At this point the forest is about one thousand one hundred metres high which is just about the same elevation as Mount Snowdon. At its highest point the Black Forest mountains reach one thousand five hundred metres which is just a bit higher than Ben Nevis. And at this height it was just about possible to appreciate the vast scale of the forest. It covers an area of about twelve thousand square kilometres which is roughly the equivilent of Yorkshire which is the largest county in England.
I don’t know what I was really expecting from the Black Forest but one thing for sure it was much more impressive that Sherwood Forest or the New Forest where I have always thought there is a disappointing shortage of trees, for forests. I think the reason for that is that since the sixteenth century or thereabouts, Britain has always had a navy that used up all of the forest oaks in England to build wooden battleships but Germany didn’t become a naval power until the late nineteenth century by which time ships were made of steel. That probably saved the Black Forest from losing it’s trees and thank goodness for that.

From the top the road descended again back to the main road and on to the town of Freudenstadt. On the way navigation proved something of a difficulty because I have found that one of the things that could be improved in Germany is the standard of road signs and directions; and road numbers would be quite handy as well. It is hard enough grappling with places that were named by a tourettes syndrome sufferer like Badshitz and Klostermeebag but it is even more difficult when the road signs give confusing and conflicting information that continually test a drivers skill at performing three point turns. It is also disconcerting when the navigator is completely lacking in map reading skills and I always kew that I was in trouble when Kim kept turning the map round to face the way we were going in that female sort of way. This invariably means one of two things, either we are lost or we have just missed an important turning. I always know that this is the time to start making preparations for a u-turn.

The town of Freudenstadt was still clearing away the snow from the footpaths and the pedestrian areas and the there was a sense of community involvement as everyone seemed to be making their contribution to the work in hand. Passing quickly through town the scenic tourist road zigzagged wildly from left to right and always upwards towards Bad Rippoldsau and then dropped down again to Kneibis where it was time for a simple lunch and a glass of pils in an authentic German Gasthaus. I knew that the snow had only recently fallen and was probably the first fall of the winter because it was completely undisturbed and there was a lot of frantic activity as local people had obviously rushed to the countryside with their children for tobogganing and skiing and I suspect that just as in England snow isn’t as common in many parts of Europe as it used to be.

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