Germanys Black Forest holds within it secrets of cuckoo clocks and cherry liqueur.
Tall trees with low-hung clouds tell you that you are entering a fairy tale land,which is not too off the mark,really. Black Forest,in Baden-Württemberg,southwestern Germany,has been the setting for many a Grimms fairy tale,including Hansel and Gretel. Acres of meadows punctuated with farm houses and shimmering lakes bring home the point that you have stumbled upon one of Europes best kept secrets.
We arrived at Lake Titisee,at the foot of Mount Feldberg and Mount Hochfirst,that stretches across two kilometres. It was dotted with boats spread across a crystal-clear canvas of water,against the backdrop of the mountains. The lake is known for its frozen splendor during the winter months,when it turns into a skating rink for visitors. Legend has it,that in the first century AD,a Roman emperor seeing the magnificent setting gave the lake its name. Even centuries later,Lake Titisee is still a popular tourist spot,though most tourists are either Germans or Swiss.
The Titisee pathway is lined with hotels and restaurants with their facade of colourful flowers and the promise of unforgettable meals. But before succumbing to their charm,we trekked down the road to soak in natures bounty,surrounded as we were,by forests of fir. The other advantage of this walk,of course,was that we whipped up a voracious appetite. The region is known for its homemade breads,fresh vegetables,and for the famed local pork sausage,usually made from pigs reared at the myriad farms that dot Black Forest.
We stopped at Geeblick,a delightful restaurant with large windows that offered views of the lake. We went traditional there,with Schaufele,lightly smoked shoulder of pork,potatoes and onions pan-fried in lard and bibeliskas,cream cheese with aromatic herbs and chopped onions served with jacket potatoes. But,of course,it wasnt complete without the eponymous dessert,the black forest gateau. According to the affable chef,the cake with its many versions is called so because it originated from Black Forest. And while each restaurant tends to put together the cake,cream and cherries in their own style what is de rigueur is the use of kirsch a liqueur made by distilling the juice of Morello cherries that grow on the Rhine plains. Later we ventured out to the adjoining village with its farmhouses. Eating at a local gasthaus is an essential part of the experience,you cannot go wrong with an order of kaffee und kuchen here.
Titisees quaint stores offer visitors a peek into yet another equally well known industry that is synonymous with the region watch making. The cuckoo clock is the most famed product of this enterprise. The origins of the clock go back to the 17th century. Initially the clocks were handmade but the design has changed over the years. The stores stock all sizes of clocks,from the miniature versions,without the bird that pops out,to the original designs that are priced between 200 and 400 Euros. The shops also stock cow bells,wooden wind and water mills,cloth puppets of the Hansel and Gretel witch and an assortment of cheeses,liqueurs and honey. The German Clock Museum is also a huge attraction in Furtwangen,in the centre of Black Forest.
In the end,we did manage a walk in the forest. The thick forest with its tall and straight conifer trees,that formed a natural frontier to the Roman empire,offered an enticing mix of mystery and romance. Sunlight seldom penetrates through the trees,giving the impression of perpetual darkness,even in broad daylight. And while at it,we were mindful of the warnings by locals: If you come across a bear,dont look it in the eye,just run!
History and geography
The Black Forest is the largest mountain range in Germany. It dates back to first century AD when it was ruled by the Romans. They called it the Silva Nigra due to its thick impenetrable forests. In the 6th and the 7th century AD,the Franks of Roman Catholicism took over and established many churches,cathedrals and convents. Following several revolts against the aristocracy in the 15th and the 16th centuries and the Thirty Years War one half of Black Forest passed into the hands of the Electorate of Baden in 1803 while the other half went to the independent Kingdom of Wüttemberg in 1806. In 1952,the two merged to become the state of Baden-Württemberg.
How to get there
The closest airports are: Konstanz,Karlsruhe,Basel (Switzerland),Stuttgart,Zurich (Switzerland),or Frankfurt. Then take the train or hire a car.
Where to stay
Explore privately-operated gasthaus or working farms,which dot the villages. They offer excellent home-cooked food and are usually family-run enterprises. http://www.black-forest-travel.com also lists farms that offer accommodation in the area.