Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Black Forest - Jan 11

Our marvellous host has a drive through the BF planned. We had always thought of it as an enclave or pocket, but it is absolutely huge: around 180k long and averaging 50k wide. We drive into the middle, to Bad Griesbach and (what else) a little local restaurant with local delicacies. But first, a small bush walk, to an abandoned dam which holds special memories for our host. Very rustic (dam was for a fishing lake) and quiet. And rainy. So we retreat to a lunch of wild venison (hirshragout) which is really gamy and marvellous. Then a schnapps - firewater, made from a cherry base. The first slug lifts the top gently from your head, the second (although you're technically meant to knock it all back in one swallow) gently stirs the brain cells with a long-handled silver spoon and the third... well you can't feel it.
The BF drive continues: there was a hurricane (150-200k winds) several years ago which simply flattened parts of the forest, and the processing industries (a lot of them, all over - the BF is a huge wood resource) are still working through the bulge in log supplies. Most of the region is well roaded: there are bush tracks for the logging, and the whole area is intensively managed or at least kept an eye on by rangers, compartment by compartment. The extent amazes us, even in the 200 k's or so we drive. Snow on the tops, pine forest (black trunks, dark interior, hence Black forest) on the steeper slopes. Then all of a sudden, on gentler slopes, a consistent pattern emerges: cultivated land, orchard trees amongst this, then a village in a hollow by a stream, more fileds, back into forest over the ridge tops. Many, many villages. Intensive cultivation, with no fences. Very neat and orderly, even to the extent of sealed narrow roads through the fields for the farm equipment, all open to the main roads.
It's all very Swiss/German postcard, and there is a whole lot of it. No wonder this area was coveted by the kings of yore. The weather as we drive through is not great - mist, rain, if it was colder there would be snow over the tops. But we like this: it gives a sense of how 'black' the forest must have seemed in older days, when bears, wolves and other carnivores roamed, the damp crept everywhere, the fire burnt lower and cabin fever set in. This is Brothers Grimm territory, no doubt about it. Again, this experience is not the usual touristic one: which is evidently limited to a selected few pretty villages, and a brief swing through some trees somewhere along the line. We really feel we've seen the real, hard-working, orderly Germany. And to cap it off, we take a short-cut through the cultivated fields on the way back to Sindelfingen (after stopping in at a fish ponds back in the forest, to buy some smoked trout for dinner), and it's like driving through the farmers' private territory. A 2.4m sealed strip, cultivated to within a metre or so each side, park-like trees dotted around. No fences, no stock (all is kept indoors except a few sheep). An absolute delight. And we have trout, more good wine, and cheeses for dinner. Ans see a totally delightful little film that is shown every New Years throughout northern Europe: Freddie Frinton's 'Dinner for One'. FF was English, but this is a rare treat, around 50 years old, very slapstick/music hall influenced. We'll try to get a copy somewhere along the way.
There's no doubt that the fabled German fussiness is there: nice smooth railbeds for the trains, orderly fields and forests, sealed roads down to farm lanes, beautiful machinery (the factory we see is spotlessly maintained and every cable and pipe has it's place), but what's missing from this stereotype is what we've seen: the humour, the earthiness, the sense of judgement in architecture, and the delight in nature (those monks and their ceiling paintings of which we have many photos). This won't be our last trip to this area.

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