Towering evergreen trees, thick clumps of fern and gorgeous waterfalls—yes, we are talking about Schwarzwald or the Black Forest. The sinister forest has not only been featured in countless Grimm brothers' fairy tales, but it is also known as the birthplace of the cuckoo clock. And who hasn't heard of the famous Black Forest Cake? The delicious cherry gateau, layered with rich cream is a sinful gastronomic indulgence!
The Black Forest is part of the state of Baden-Württemburg and shares its borders with Germany, France, and Switzerland. The origin of its name is a matter of debate, though I prefer to believe that the dark-green leaves of coniferous trees inspired its name. The Black Forest has its share of deciduous trees as well, but it is its dense fir population that makes it appear almost black, from a distance.
Schwarzwald was on my “must-see” list, so when our neighbour and friend, Frank offered to take us on a three-day hike through the Black Forest, I jumped at the opportunity. Reaching the forest was not much of a challenge, thanks to the efficiency of Germany's mass transit network. We caught a train from the Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof or the main railway station to Freiburg, an upbeat university town. Freiburg itself, with its cobblestoned market square, its majestic cathedral and sun-kissed alleys is fun to explore, though it is frequently used as a gateway into the Southern Black Forest.
From Freiburg Hauptbahnhof, we hopped on to a bus which landed us at the foot of Feldberg, which has many ski and lake resorts. Though it is only 1,493 metres tall and has a rounded peak, Feldberg is the highest point in the Black Forest. Luckily, the uphill climb was not much of a challenge for an eight-year old boy, and we managed to reach the top in less than two hours.
The view from the top was breathtaking! Hill upon hill covered with evergreen forests littered with half-timbered farmhouses greeted our eyes while the snow-covered peaks of the Swiss Alps peeked over the horizon. The wind was particularly strong at Feldberg's peak, as there were no trees but only grassy pastures alongside a natural lake, probably of glacial origin, lying beneath the hill, as still as a mirror.
The steep walk worked up an appetite and we decided to have lunch. A sign led us downhill, to a farmhouse cum restaurant only to find that it was closed for the entire week! Nevertheless, we cheerfully munched on the bread, cheese, tomatoes and apples that we had brought along. Sometimes, even the simplest food can taste like a five-star meal.
We continued with our journey through acres of golden pastures with cows grazing peacefully while the tinkling of their bells filled the air, like a hundred wind chimes. We stayed the night at a traditional farmhouse-turned-guesthouse and had a hearty German meal of crispy green salad, piping hot schnitzel with pommes frites, and of course, a slice of Black Forest cake! Needless to say, that we enjoyed every morsel of it.
The next morning we left the pastures behind and ventured deep into the heart of the forest. Other than the crunch of dry leaves beneath our shoes, the humming of the cicadas and the occasional clicking of our cameras there was nothing to be heard. None of us spoke, not even my little boy, as if the forest had us cast a spell upon us. In hushed silence, we marveled at the beauty around us with rapt admiration.
Time ran out and before we knew it, we moved out of thick forest in the middle of quiet countryside dotted with traditional farmhouses and amiable dairy cows. We came across a sign which said that the German philosopher Martin Heidegger had lived there for a while. One of his most famous quotes: "The most thought-provoking thing in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking." Food for thought, don't you think?
After walking downhill for another hour, we arrived at a quaint little village with hefty half-timbered houses, and bright red germaniums on the window sills. A tiny souvenir shop which was unattended by a keeper, surprised me. Apparently, shoplifting was an alien concept there and customers were requested to exercise their conscience.
After stopping for a quick bite of cheese sandwiches, on wooden bench overlooking a gargling brook, we walked along it, in a bid to track down waterfall called the Todtnauer Wasserfall. Armed with his map, Frank led the way while Ayman and I followed his suit. After an hour of labored trudging, we heard it. My son could hardly contain his excitement and hurried along lest the waterfall disappeared through a wormhole.
Even the rushing sound could not prepare us for the glorious sight of the 97m tall waterfall, which we stumbled on as we turned the corner. Never have I seen such a spectacular waterfall! Frank tried to tell me that there was no need for me to feel so elated as this was neither Niagara nor Victoria. Having never seen those, I told him that Todtnau is my Niagara, for now.
Though our journey through the Black Forest continued for another day, I would like to stop narrating the experience, because even in retrospect, the waterfall was the climax of our journey through the Black Forest. After I left I still had the nagging feeling that there was still so much left to explore. This reminds me of an old saying in my country, “If you love the forest, the forest will beckon you.” It is not easy to defy the call of the wild, so I guess I will be back again and soon.
Afsana Tazreen is a Program Coordinator at FES in Bangladesh.