Two sides of the Schwarzwald

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Sometimes I forget how flat Berlin is. On a glorious morning in the north of the Black Forest, running out from the village of Enzklösterle after the rain, I remembered. The road ran out from our campsite down by the river and up into a valley. At first it was paved, past the driveways of neat family houses and their colourful, flowered balconies. Then it was a gravel track. And then I turned onto a path through the trees, skipping from side to side to dodge the muddy puddles. All the way it was steep, so steep, and when it finally levelled, the trees retreating slightly to give me a view back down the valley, I had to stop, hands on knees, gasping for breath.

After a moment or two I recovered, and then started again. The path stayed more or less at the same altitude, clinging to the side of the hill, and I followed it for a couple of kilometres until I reached the next gravel path after, leading back down to the next village. The path was grassy, soaking my socks through my distinctly un-trail-shoes. But I did not care. The sun was warming but not yet hot, butterflies danced, and a jay crossed my path in a flash of turquoise, into the trees. When I reached the next village I dropped back down, to run home alongside the river at the bottom of the valley.

I don’t know what I expected of the Black Forest, but those few days in Enzklösterle were not it. We ate hearty South German food of course, drank some tasty beer, and walked amongst the trees. But even if I could not put my finger on it, I knew it was not quite the Schwarzwald of my imagination. It felt too rural, too rugged, even if we did spend a morning playing crazy golf. Perhaps it was because it felt so empty – we had the streets, the paths, the crazy golf course and the swimming lake we found pretty much to ourselves, in the middle of the school holidays. It was a pleasant surprise.

And then we headed south, driving through the Black Forest in the direction of the university town of Freiburg, not far from the French border. We passed through some spectacular scenery, the mountains higher now, opening the views out on switchback roads. The towns were all pleasant and prosperous-looking; many featuring a factory or other manufacturing plant tucked in between cliffs, rivers and roads, examples of those Mittelstand companies that are the backbone of the German economy. Every second turnoff seemed to point the way to some lookout point, travellers inn or walking route – always tempting – but we pressed on, until we saw the sign.

“Germany’s Highest Waterfall”

Oh yes. Now that sounded like something worth seeing, so we turned the car in the direction of Triberg. And there we found the Black Forest that we hadn’t been looking for all along.

The town with the “highest” waterfall (in fact this claim is disputed) was a shock to the system after the calm serenity we had left behind us that morning. We should have known when there was a queue for the car park. The next clue were the tour buses lined up along the road, blocking the view of the surrounding hills. Then there was the row of cuckoo clock shops, offering “tax free shopping” and a multilingual staff dressed in boob-squashing Dirndls. We pushed through the crowds, committed now, following the signs for the waterfalls. And then we saw the turnstile and it dawned on us … if we wanted to see them, we were going to have to pay.

Reader…

…we paid.

And they were fairly impressive, it has to be said. The water came crashing and splashing down, and the spray drifted across the path, and you could spend a fairly social afternoon taking pictures on iPhones for people who spoke a variety of different languages. But as we walked back down, ignoring the flyers advertising the other highlights of the town and the surrounding area (The Black Forest Museum, The World’s Biggest Cuckoo Clock, The House of a Thousand Clocks), wondering whether Triberg was German for hyperbole, I couldn’t help wish I was back on my path above Enzklösterle. At least we got out of town without a hand-carved timekeeping device in the boot…

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(There are no pictures of cuckoo clocks. Or dirndls. Sorry)

Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Katrin Schönig

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