A flight to Stuttgart takes less than two hours from the UK. The good news it takes even less than that to get out of Stuttgart and onto somewhere more interesting. Which is anywhere frankly, but we chose the town of Gengenbach in the Black Forest last July.
A nice thing about the Black Forest is that most of it is actually forest. The valleys have been cleared for farming, but the many hills remained crowned with trees; and it’s jolly pretty to look at. Rather like the New Forest I suppose, but the trees in the Black forest are darker, if not black, but, then again, the New Forest isn’t that new. I wonder who names these forests? Anyway, if you like forests and drinking beer, then the Black Forest is gonna tick some of your boxes!
Gengenbach is a gorgeous, well preserved mediaeval town. Not as well preserved and beautiful as Rothenburg ob der Tauber, but nowhere is. Europe has lots of these medieval civic relics. They built in stone, whereas Britain built in wood; they left a legacy. I like York and Stratford Upon Avon, they’re OK, but our provision is threadbare compared to what Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and Turkey don’t even bother to brag about. It’s a pleasure to just amble around, stumbling across little back streets, and discovering charming buildings.
Like many German towns, Gengenbach is spotlessly, suspiciously flawless. As if a team of dental hygienists scrubbed every stone and lintel each night. Though I suspect the truth is that the Germans don’t foul their civic centres like we do ours. I didn’t miss the flotsam of polystyrene kebab boxes and patches of dried vomit, but the streets were a little too pristine, perhaps. These places can feel like ‘show towns’, like Mevagissey in Cornwall, a bit too nice to be true… anyway.
The beer is superb. At home I’m the real ale type (fat and pretentious) but I like to go native when I’m abroad. German beer is of a piece with its surroundings, clean, crisp, and pure. It is brewed to strict standards of unadulterated perfection, rather like French bread which, in contrast, tastes equally great but doesn’t get you pissed. There is something sublime about sitting in a market square, gazing lustfully at a bottle of newly opened Paulaner Bier, while droplets of moisture course down its neck. But, you can’t drink all day, so what else can one do?
If you have children and they are misbehaving, I can recommend the Open Air Museum at Vogtsbauernhof as a punishment. This will certainly teach them a lesson and you’ll be able to use it as a threat for years to come. Essentially, the museum is a collection of old wooden houses built to the original specifications. I’m guessing all the exhibits are genuine, having been moved to the museum from elsewhere. No doubt the signs did explain this; but I was too bored to read them.
Anyway, the general idea is to drag stroppy children around the displays meticulously explaining the construction of the buildings, roofing materials, wooden pinnings etc. this should induce tears of stupefaction and whining pleas to go on the laughably named ‘play area’. Here there are some tastefully arranged blocks of wood for that very purpose. While they’re boring themselves there, you can nip into the café and have a plate of chips and a beer. Don’t sit too near the bins though as there are clouds of wasps on the scale of a Biblical plague. If they get too aggressive, you could invite the children over to finish your chips.
So, what else is there? The Black Forest is the home of Black Forest Gateaux. There, I said it. You knew it was coming – don’t lie. The salvation of the sweet menu in Berni Inns throughout the 1970s, in fact, pretty much the only thing on them other than apple pie and vanilla ice-cream. I’m old school. I always liked it and plenty of places in the Black Forest claimed to sell the finest version. I ate one and it was great, really great, very filling, very, very filling. In fact, so filling it was eight hours before I got my appetite back – and I trekked up a mountain that day. Interestingly (no John, this isn’t interesting) the original recipe dates back to 1915 and was created by a chef called Josef Keller (yawn). It is on show in the Open Air Museum Vogtsbauernhof. Inevitably.
But recreation opportunities are not all dull. Triberg has… well… over to the Black Forest tourist online guide;
“The churning, tempestuous rapids of the Gutach plunge to a depth of 163 m over seven cascades: Germany’s highest waterfall is a magnificent natural performance! You must have seen Germany’s highest waterfalls in Triberg! Foaming and roaring the water plunges 163 meters into the river called ‘Gutach’.”
You just know it’s going to be a disappointment, don’t you? The waterfall and its surrounding park provide opportunity for a pleasant stroll and I liked it. There’s no need to describe it as if it put Niagara Falls to shame. That “163 metres” isn’t a straight drop. It gently courses down the side of the hill. Triberg could be a nice enough town, but it’s chosen to cash in with waterfall fridge magnets, plastic cuckoo clocks, cheap beer steins and faux lederhosen. It’s all a bit desperate. That stated, I have a good friend who loves Triberg. Maybe I didn’t see the bits he enjoyed.
Should you go?
There are better places in Germany but it’s OK. I’d recommend a short stay in the Black Forest. We were there for five days, and Gengenbach is as good a base as any. Every hotel can give you a free pass for local buses and trains, which makes it easy to get about; remember to take some photo ID with you or you may get fined. The scenery in the region is gorgeous, there are plenty of satisfying walks, the food and beer are splendid; take a good book.
If you liked my blog, there’s every possibility that you’ll like the comic novel I’ve recently published. As much as I enjoyed teaching, and respect those who do the job, there’s plenty to laugh at. I spent 30 years giggling 😊. It’s a bargain at £2.21 for the Kindle! Click on the image for the Amazon link.
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