Saturday, October 18, 2008

View from Schauinsland
Freiburg and the Black Forest
October 8-13, 2008

We were in the Black Forest last weekend for our last trip in Germany. We’ve had off and on weather here in Saarbrücken this fall, and were hopeful that Freiburg, the sunny part of Germany, would be nice for hiking. And it was. The first day was super-foggy and we did a nice hike without being able to see more than a couple of trees in front of us. But it got better and we had a great time.
We stayed at an apartment on Augustusplatz, a busy square in the middle of downtown Freiburg. Downtown is pretty small, so both remaining medieval towers were less than 5 minutes walk, as was the Muenster. The train station was about 15 minutes. We’d rented this apartment for the location and because they advertised having internet and there were deadlines at work while we were gone and I knew I’d need to work (me needing internet for a change). We got to Freiburg about noon, after a 3-hour train ride. The room wasn’t ready so we at lunch at a café on Augustusplatz - pumpkin soup and sandwiches. Germany is big into seasonal foods so pumpkin is on pretty much every menu now.
Then we got into the apartment and put Maeve down for a nap, and I started looking for the Ethernet plug in. I had my cable with me, and assumed they’d probably have that or DSL. Nothing, just a phone line with extra jacks. So I went down and asked for help, and 30 minutes later someone came by with a print-out of instructions for Windows 98 computers. No cable, no DSL, no Ethernet, no wireless: analog dial-up. She claimed it was ISDN, and told me where I could find an electronics store to buy a cable. I took a picture of the jack and took my laptop with me to the store, where I bought an analog cable. After several more tries, making sure to plug the cable in correctly and dialing 0 before the number, I finally logged in and sent the work I’d done on the train. Needless to say, there was a lot of logging in and downloading, working off-line and uploading over the weekend. Adventure #1 in the Black Forest – I’m clearly used to high-speed connections.
We went by the Muenster that evening on the way to dinner. It’s a huge church but was not a cathedral; it was built completely with funds from Freiburg citizens. It’s under reconstruction, so the lattice-work tower that’s supposed to be spectacular was covered up. We were inside about 5 minutes when Maeve said she had to go to the bathroom. We’re in the midst of toilet-training, so like good parents, we took off for the local department-store (Kaufhof) bathroom like a shot. I was pretty sick with a cold, so I got to hang out quietly with Maeve in the handicapped bathroom while Mike went grocery shopping. By the end of buying groceries, still no toilet action. Back on with the pants and on to dinner. After this, we pretty much decided we needed to keep wearing training pants while we were out and about. After checking out a couple of supposedly veggie-friendly places that only had cheese spaetzle on the menu, we had dinner at a Turkish restaurant called Harem that wasn’t far from the apartment. They had tons of veggie options and the food was great. We even had leftovers packed in tin foil for the next day’s hike.
Our plan was to do 5 day hikes, one each day, and spend a couple of evenings after Maeve’s nap wandering around Freiburg. I’d checked out a number of hiking books from the library and looked around at different websites and come up with several interesting hikes that met multiple criteria – nice looking hike, not too far from Freiburg, easily accessible on public transit, and less than 10K long. There were surprisingly many hikes that met these criteria.

Day one was a hike out from Kirchzarten. This cute village is 13 minutes outside Freiburg on the train, and their tourism page had a dozen half-day hikes starting from town. When we got to town, the train going back into Freiburg was waiting on the other track, and we had to wait for the other train to go to be able to cross the tracks into town. The train line Kirchzarten is on runs down to Titisee through a big gorge and is called the Hollentalbahn. It’s one track most of the way, so the trains periodically have to stop to let each other by. We later took the train to Hinterzarten and got to see the Hollental. For the Kirchzarten hike, we picked an 8 K hike that went up to a Waldfahrtkappelle, which is a forest chapel, and had good views. The chapel was cute and had a biergarten attached, which was closed the day we went by. Rats! We kind of missed the views. We kept coming to open spaces where we could tell we should be able to see something, and looked at the fog. The hike was nice, though. Through town, over fields, up a wooded hill and through some forest, back downhill and through fields (including some horses), and back to town. Much of what we did was that way since we were hiking from in-town, we saw fields then woods then fields etc. Maybe with a car you could get away from the towns, but I think there would still periodically be farms and fields.

Hiking day two we got off the rail line and did a one-way hike between St. Margen and St. Peter. Both are connected via bus to Kirchzarten, and both are cloister towns with big church compounds. We wanted to do this on a weekday because the bus service tapers off on the weekend. We first took the bus to St. Margen from Kirchzarten – the whole trip from Freiburg was a bit less than 1 hour. The first part of the ride was through valley towns, then we started curving around uphill through St. Peter and then further uphill to St. Margen. There, we got off and found the tourist info to get a map, which turned out to be helpful getting out of town.

We then checked out the cloister – the walls were white and yellow and it had a fountain Maeve liked. We walked the Panorama trail – mostly on the ridgeline between the two towns.

Periodically the trail was in the forest, and periodically we saw farmsteads with lots of cows. Maeve liked the cows. About halfway through, the fog started burning off apace and we had views, and the trees and landscape were beautiful. The trees were about at peak, so there was a stark contrast between the deciduous and evergreen colors.

We saw another forest chapel. We got there at the same time as the hiking tour group we’d been behind at the bakery in St. Margen when we were all picking up pretzels to provision our walk. The tour group had pulled out their flasks and wine glasses.

Near St. Peter we saw some buffalo-looking cows as well as some Grimm-brothers type mushrooms with bright red caps with white polka dots. I’d always assumed the pictures of that kind of mushrooms in fairy tales were made up.

Another noticeable trait of the farmsteads in the Black Forest is the solar panels. Many farms and houses had the whole roof covered with panels. There were several super-picturesque farmsteads, two-story houses a with wrap-around wooden balconies draped in geraniums with a well in the front and solar panels on the roof. We had a few minutes in St. Peter before the bus came so we walked up to the cloister church – was much more ornate than the church in St. Margen. I suppose St. Peter had more money.

Hiking day three we went to Schauinsland. This is the large mountain very near Freiburg. It’s not the highest mountain the black forest, but it’s very heavily used as it’s near the city. You can take the tram then a bus to the bottom where there’s a cable car to the top. We planned on doing a 6K hike at the top. The ride up was impressive – it takes about 20 minutes in the gondola. The trees were gorgeous most of the way up – at the very top they were a bit past peak but all the leaves hadn’t fallen yet. At the top of the cable car there was the usual biergarten and a playground.

We walked to the peak, which is about 1200m and about half a K from the cable car. There’s a tower on top, which Maeve walked up, and you can see from Freiburg to Feldberg – the highest mountain there. On good days, you’re supposed to be able to see the Alps. It wasn’t foggy, but we didn’t have that good visibility. We didn’t have a very good map of the trails around so we weren’t sure exactly what to hike. We went to the Englanderdenkmal – a memorial for a group of British kids who got stuck in a snowstorm and several of them died.

We then walked to Hofsgrund, a village on the back of the mountain. The whole area up there is being used as pasturage – cows were everywhere which Maeve really liked. It was all rolling hills and deep valleys and wonderful fall colors. After lunch on a bench and giving Maeve a while to commune with the cows, we just kept walking figuring we’d eventually see signs to get to the cable car.

We walked past several pastures that had ski lifts going up them – the cows must all be in barns in the winter and I bet the skiing is nice. We eventually hit the main road that goes up to the cable car – there’s a path along side it, and walked up from there. We took a detour at the top of a ski-lift where there was a flat area and tried to get Maeve to nap. Mike and I relaxed in the sun, and Maeve played with grass. Nothing going on the sleeping. So we just walked out and went home for a late nap.

That evening we did dinner in BrennNessel, which is called a student bar, but had great food. There was a line outside when we showed up at 5:58 for the 6 pm opening. It’s a bit behind the main train station in a newer area of town, and we’d have never gone there if the restaurant hadn’t been recommended as veggie-friendly. We got pumpkin soup and cheese spaetzle and spaghetti with gorgonzola sauce and it was all yummy. I think we were hungry, but it was also good to get simple but tasty food.

Hiking day four was Hinterzarten. One of the reasons I wanted to hike from there was an excuse to take the Hollentalbahn through the gorge. It’s one of the many mountain trains that run through the Black Forest, in this case from Freiburg to Titisee. The gorge is between Himmelreich and Hinterzarten. The gorge was pretty – in places we could see the river at the bottom, other places were tunnels or just views of sheer sides. There’s also a road through it and a hike, but the hike is 15K, too long for us with Maeve. It was interesting to see when the train and the road were not on the same level – the train went through many tunnels, and the road switch backed at the bottom end to leave the gorge.

In Hinterzarten, we were doing the Ravennaschluct hike, a hike up the gorge of the Ravenna creek. Heading out of town, we walked on the Heimatpfad, which is a learning path about Black Forest history and culture. The first part went through the Loeffeltal, the spoon valley, paralleling the railroad tracks heading back to the Hollental. It was called the Loeffeltal because there were lots of spoon smiths there. Now there are several mills that have been reconstructed with pretty long open pipes carrying the water from the river to the top of the wheel. Most of the wheels seem to have been connected to saw mills – at the foot of the Ravenna valley trail there was an information board about how the sawmill technology changed in the 19th century. We saw three or four during the hike, often with multiple sluice gates starting 10s of meters from the mill. The walk down the spoon valley to the bottom of the Ravenna gorge was pretty with farmsteads, small waterfalls, the river, the mills, and the train tracks just visible uphill through the woods. We then walked through a more developed area around the highway where there is a hotel. On the street to the hotel, we passed these really weird electrical poles – it turns out we were still on the history learning path and there were a half-dozen poles as part of a recreation of an old telegraph line.
The Ravenna gorge hike was a bit more crowded –about half way up, Maeve decided she no longer wanted to be in the backpack so we kept getting passed by small groups and a couple of bigger hiking tour groups. We’d seen some tour groups earlier in the week on the St. Margen-St. Peter hike, and we saw several in the Ravenna gorge. The gorge was beautiful. The creek flowed pretty steeply downhill. At the bottom, we passed under the huge stone arches supporting the railroad tracks. Two minutes further in were the old stone walls that had been used to support the previous railroad line. Then the gorge got narrower, with the trail using a fair number of wooden bridges crossing from one side to the other and several places where we ascended on stairs. The trees and light were wonderful. Half way up we passed a mill that is sometimes used for historical enactments of grinding grain. There Maeve decided to get out of the pack and walk the rest of the way up. This slowed our pace considerably, but she could do it. At the top was a village called Breitnau, part of the town of Hinterzarten. From there, there was a well-travelled path which was part of a long-distance hiking trail to take back into Hinterzarten. We ate lunch at the top of a hill with a view over pastures and to our left the ski jumps – Hinterzarten is apparently the place to ski jump in Germany.

That evening, we managed to go back to the Muenster and check out the inside. They were preparing for a concert by the Jr. college of music which was happening at 5:30, including a Gregorian chant and other church music. We decided to miss it and get dinner instead. We walked to what was supposed to be a Persian restaurant which was outside the medieval core, but was now an Indian restaurant, again with good veggie options, but not open until 6pm. So we went to option #2, a potato restaurant called Kartoffelhaus. There’s also a potato restaurant in Saarbruecken which is veggie-friendly, so maybe this is a German trend. Anyway, we sat outside on their patio and the food was great. Yummy salads, good bread, and tasty potatoes – Mike got his with Raclette and I got mine with Spinach. We had some issues at the table, particularly with spillage of Maeve’s orange juice/mineral water mix (orangeshorle), but managed to stay mostly dry and not too sticky. The Kartoffelhaus and BrennNessel were the best veggie food we had in Freiburg. Baden-Württemberg is not known for its veggie cuisine, and for the size of city, Freiburg had very few veggie-friendly options.

Our last day in Freiburg we had to take the train at noon, so we’d planned to do a short hike up Schlossberg, the hill right outside the medieval core where the old castle had been. There’s now nothing left of the castle but a few ramparts here and there, and there is an observation tower on top. So we walked out of town, past the second remaining tower from the old city wall, and 2 minutes later were on the path up the hill. The path first went behind houses and past some construction and then was out of the city though not far from the noise.

We walked past a few vineyards, which Maeve really liked as she’s a fan of grapes. There were purple grapes still on the vines, although some grape leaves were already turning red. Schlossberg goes up about 400 meters above the city, and only the bottom part is good for grapes, but it really seems amazing that 5 minutes out of town you’re in a vineyard and 10 minutes past that in the woods uphill.

About half way up is a road that runs around the mountain that was built around the turn of the 20th century when the Schlossberg was rehabilitated as a relaxation spot near the city. At the front of the hill, facing downtown, there is a big gun battery that has great views of downtown – we could see the weekly farmers market in the square beside the Muenster. We snacked there.

From there, we headed uphill to the observation tower at the top. It was very cool, as the supports were massive tree trunks. The view was good; we could supposedly see Schauinsland but we weren’t sure which mountain it was. And you could feel the tower sway. Mike took Maeve to the crow’s nest up top while I hung out on the big platform. The trees again were just beautiful.

As usual, I was concerned about time so we headed straight down from the tower, past a second brick tower lower down that’s closed off, and straight to the city. We’d gone up a round-about route, but it took less than 30 minutes to descend and hit the city gate. From there, we headed to the apartment to pay, then the train station and the train ride home. Maeve did well and got down for a late nap in Saarbrücken.

No comments: