German Road Trip #1: Black Forest
Welcome to my seven-part story about a spontaneous Bavarian road trip. How spontaneous? Booking the hotel day-of spontaneous. Foregoing any research and getting completely lost in the Alps spontaneous. Approaching each new day with zero expectations spontaneous. Not knowing which clothes to pack spontaneous. We hadn't experienced anything like this since our Philadelphia-Baltimore-car-breakdown honeymoon debacle (which if you know, you know).
In the age of Corona lockdowns, we accept that nothing is certain. We cancelled several big vacations in March/April, and had been cautious about getting too attached to our upcoming September trip. The plan was to spend two weeks in Northern Italy visiting friends and gaining ten pizza pounds. A few days before our set departure, new guidelines were implemented and we could no longer leave Bavaria. Welp, good thing we hadn't booked anything!
That evening we discovered the Alpine Road, the oldest tourist route in Germany. It has a website dedicated to it, which proved to be invaluable.
The next seven, or so, blog posts will be dedicated to this trip and all of our stops along the way. We actually continued this route North, ending our trip in Passau.
We began the journey in the Black Forest. I actually didn't know anything about this region, except that I needed to buy a cuckoo clock and there should be a lot of cake. It was more mountainous than I expected, and magical-feeling. Very Grimm Fairytales.
A random side note about me: My grandparents are very well-traveled (shoutout to Mémé and Pépé who I know are reading :) ), and after each trip, they brought back a doll for my mom and her two sisters. Me, being the first-born granddaughter, inherited ALL of these dolls. Much to the dismay of anyone sleeping over, I had a wall-length shelf above my set of twin beds, just filled with dolls. I always admired them, and now realize they exposed me to all different types of traditional costumes and clothing. I never quite knew where each doll came from, but now that I am becoming more traveled, I recognize an outfit when I see one. This happened in the Black Forest. I mean, how can you not remember this look:
These hats bring me an incredible amount of happiness. The hat is a Bollenhut, "Ball Hat", and appeared around 1750 as part of a regional folk costume. There are 14 pompoms total -- red meaning that a woman is single, black if she is married, and completely absent if she is a widow. While I didn't see anyone actually wearing this, many advertisements and bus stops portrayed the ensemble.
The journey begins in Schiltach, which is known as the "Capital of Half-Timbered Houses". It did not disappoint. Half-timbered houses have a certain affect on me. Like, a physical response. I can literally feel my soul leap in happiness every time I see one. In this instance when I was surrounded, I could barely contain myself. The afternoon was spent pointing in every direction and going "eeeeeeee look at that one!" every five seconds. The sensation was a mixture of 'cute aggression' and absolute euphoria.
There are several things to do in Schiltach besides gawk at the architecture. Of note, there's an old town and market square, a pharmacy museum, a town museum, a museum for 'water, bathrooms and design' (very tempting), a museum for timber rafting and tanning, and a castle hill hike.
We visited the town museum and were interested to learn about why we saw devil motifs everywhere. Yes, in this fairytale town there are some interesting design choices involving an imp and a distressed-looking woman. Apparently, the town burned down several times, but in 1533 a service girl from a nearby town was blamed for a horrible fire. The townsfolk accused her of being in league with the devil. Although she was not present at the time of the fire, her guilt was maintained because she had simply flown out of town on a broomstick. Unfortunately she was burned at the stake, which did not solve the town's problems as there were multiple fires after that.
Some quick logistical notes:
- Parking: On this particular weekday, we didn't have a problem finding a free, open-air parking lot. There are a lot of camper parking lots as well.
- Food: We ate one meal at Pizzeria zum Kreuz, which has a nice patio looking over the river. Apparently the place to eat is Adler 1604, which was unfortunately closed while we were there. We stopped by the grocery store on our way out and bought some beer, cheese, crackers, and salami for dinner. I'm embarrassed to admit that was not an isolated incident.
- Hotels: There are several hotels in town, but they were a little pricey for us. We opted to stay in the town of Gutach in Gasthaus zum Hirsch. Family-owned and the breakfast was great.
The Hunt for a Cuckoo Clock
En route to Freiburg, we were on a mission to buy a cuckoo clock and not feel scammed in doing so. There's some scattered info on the internet, and one-time tourists who think they know best. I wanted to check out Rombach & Haas (which we didn't for lack of time) and Oli's Schnitztube in Triburg. While in Triburg we were also lured into The House of 1,000 Clocks.
Lucky for us, a roadside attraction stopped us before we made it into town. A giant cuckoo clock caused us to swerve into the nearest parking lot and take a closer look.
We naturally payed the 1 euro to see it in action. It succeeded in its intended purpose of getting us to enter the House of Black Forest Clocks store. We were just browsing at first, but a young salesman (and I mean like 13 years old) started talking to us. The clocks are made by his grandfather, Adolf Herr, and his family has been making clocks for 6 generations. The young salesman was learning the craft as well, and his sister was working at the register. We eventually even met Mr. Herr and had a great overall experience. I know this is coming from a one-time tourist with opinions -- but I think they're the best and we ended up coming back to The House of Black Forest Clocks to purchase ours. They were familiar with our VAT forms and everything.
We went to Triburg, as I mentioned, to visit some other stores and compare prices. We found that everyone else within a 50 miles radius was also doing this same thing. Despite the crowds, I did enjoy the time spent appreciating the clock's designs and details. I think they are beautiful pieces of functional sculpture and I will treasure mine forever, even though we silenced the 'cuckoo' noise almost immediately.
We arrived in Freiburg around 4 PM and really had zero plans or expectations besides finding some food. Our accommodation was in a good location, but was not great overall. No parking, no breakfast (because Covid) and the first room we entered had not been cleaned (EEEK Covid!). We were obviously immediately put into a fresh room, but it's what we get for booking last-minute while also being cheap in a city. It was honestly a one-night stop and we just wanted to wander aimlessly. Which is what we did.
Freiburg is the sunniest and warmest town in Germany, and in early September the weather was perfect for an evening stroll. It's a university town, and there were a lot of people outside enjoying the atmosphere. I think people in general looked very happy. Maybe it's because we were in a lockdown lull, and people were glad to be outside and see their neighbors. We wandered around the main square and all alleyways leading up to it. We wandered the Market Hall, indulged in some sushi, and wandered some more. I know there was a lot we missed, which means there's a good reason to come back. I really only took a handful of pictures.
All in all, the first leg of our trip was a good start. The Black Forest is beautiful and I'd like to return one day, especially for the Ravenna Gorge Christmas Markets and to explore more half-timbered towns nestled in the hills.
We left after breakfast the last morning to drive to our first Bavarian destination: Lindau! I hope it doesn't take me months to write another blog post... until then.. Tschüssie!