The wild, wild black

Last Updated 26 October 2013, 14:23 IST

Home to Black Forest cakes and cuckoo clocks, the Black Forest region in Germany looks like a winter wonderland. Arefa Tehsin explores the town of Titisee bordering the forest...

Far back and long ago, Hansel and Gretel walked this forest and found a hut made out of cakes and sweet bread. Although we came across a lot of confectioneries, but thankfully no cannibalistic witch crossed our path. The Black Forest, an enchanting wooded mountain range in the Southwest of Germany, retains its fairy tale feel.

Bordered by the Rhine Valley on the west and south, the mountains of the Black Forest are covered by pines and firs. The canopy looks dark, almost black, and gives the forest its name. We chanced upon it on our visit to Stuttgart, capital of the state of Baden-Wurttemberg. With a week in hand and a Eurail pass, we started to explore the area in and around — castles, Mercedes Benz Museum, Palace Square and so forth. We were yet to see the most charming of all.

The Black Forest region is mountainous and almost rectangular with 60 km breadth and 160 km length. You can either drive down or take a train into the wild. The forest seems darker when the mountains are covered in snow, the tone enhanced by the contrast.

Breathtaking views

If you have a Eurail pass, you can just hop on to any of the trains to the Black Forest area. They are generally not crowded and stop at small villages all along the mountains. The train on its serpentine tract whirls, twists and chugs on through the dark forest cover. A local of the area, sitting opposite us, told us to keep looking out the window. It was just for a fraction of a second when we saw a deer with large antlers standing majestically on a forested cliff overlooking a sharp curve of the railway track. The artificially made deer, which would pass for a real one if not already informed, is placed as a sentinel in the middle of the forest.

There are numerous tiny villages that roll along the way and you can get down at any one of the small, almost-deserted railway stations. We got down at one such small town — Titisee. Although it was April, the town was still covered in snow. The activity was not much and colourful tourist shops yawned on the sleepy streets. Eateries in this tourist-friendly town had their menus and dishes of the day written on black boards, displayed outside the shops. The town also nestles the famous Titisee Lake. A platform on the side of the lake with a telescope mounted on it gives a picturesque view of the still waters, paddling ducks and snow-capped, fir-covered mountains beyond.

Cuckoo’s calling

Scattered around the Titisee Lake are cuckoo clock shops. Black Forest is home to the cuckoo clock and even has a German clock route for the tourists, giving the horological history of the region. The shops are a delight to be in with a tremendous variety of mechanical cuckoo clocks chiming in unison. The clocks do not just have the cuckoos peeping out of closed doors, but also dancing dolls, flying birds, and even whole farmhouses — with men cutting firewood, women drawing water from the well, hens pecking on grains and children chasing each other — that magically come to life with the strike of each hour.

Wood-carving is the traditional industry and it is put to good use in the cuckoo clocks made here since the early 18th century. If you end up succumbing to the excellent skills of the salesperson or just plain falling for a fascinating wood-carved clock, you may be surprised to receive a lifetime warranty of your new possession. The shopkeeper of the tiny village in the forested mountain will ask for your country and city and produce a phone number of a service centre there, in case you face a problem with the clock! That is the confidence and precision of German engineering and watchmakers.

As the name suggests, the Black Forest Cake also originates from the Black Forest region. Cream, sour cherries and chocolate are brought together by seasoned hands to provide a divine dessert.

If one is not short of time, Black Forest has a lot more to offer than its creations of cakes and clocks. The region stretches from the Rhine to Lake Constance and from the spa town of Baden-Baden to the French and Swiss borders. Long distance footpaths crisscross the countryside and cross country skiing is one of the main attractions. There are trails for mountain bikers too. The estimated network of all these tracks amounts to around 23,000 km!

The most impressive sites, other than the small charming towns, include gorges and waterfalls and highest peak and famous mountains. There are tours that take you to tiny villages and wineries, traditional farmhouses and museums. The Black Forest Open Air Museum portrays the life of the farmers in the 16th and 17th century and the German Clock Museum traces the history of the watchmakers. A few valleys in the mountain range house medieval mines, which have been reopened to the public.

The Black Forest, placed on the continental divide between the Black Sea and Atlantic Ocean drainage basins, has its fair share of rivers. The Danube originates in the Black Forest itself at the confluence of the rivers Brigach and Breg.

The captivating forest, valleys, rivers, lakes and mountains have borne the brunt of heavy mass logging. The original forest, which consisted of hardwood trees, has shrunk considerably in size and the fast-growing conifer trees have taken their place. The wildlife is similar to other such European forests.

Lumbricus badensis is a giant worm only found in this forest. Other animals that one can see here are Black Forest horses and the rare breed Hinterwald — the Black Forest cattle. You might also see a wolf or two. If you’re going on a night walk on one of the long footpaths inside the Black Forest, try not to leave the track.

Who knows, you might come across Little Red Riding Hood’s wolf. And with the restriction on hunting today, there may be no huntsman to save you.

(Published 26 October 2013, 14:23 IST)

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