How we look forward to weekends!
H’s kind of job puts him perpetually on stress mode so he wants to make sure that our weekends are fashioned to serious nature-walking and discovering new places. It’s not only therapeutic, it’s also a way of discovering the extraordinary out of the ordinary.
So even a trip to the supermarket must be done in a holiday mode. Luckily we are mere ten-minute drive to the German border and Lidl Supermarkt (yes, that’s the spelling in German) is not far away. After loading the groceries at the back of the van, we have a choice of either taking the forest trails, the river beach, the Rhine promenade – German side or French side, the Gambshein lock where barges and boats wait until the water levels go up or down so they could pass through, the wide choice of restaurants and shops – all these within a few kilometers radius. That’s weekend day one done.
For weekend day two – and this is the cherry on the cake – is a trip to a Black Forest village.
Since we arrived in Alsace six weeks ago, we have visited several Black Forest Städte. Baden-Baden, Gengenbach, Achern, Buhlertal. Last Sunday it was Haslach im Kinzigtal.
Haslach is one of the stops of the Black Forest Railway line , one of the most scenic railway journeys in Germany. The train winds its way along a spectacular panorama of hills, valleys, rivers and magical Städte of the Schwarzwald.
With a population of more than 7,000, Haslach is located in the Kinzig valley, hence the name Haslach im Kinzigtal. Between 1100 and 1200, it became the center of the local silver mining industry and the wealth that came with it elevated Haslach into a city status in 1278.
The two towers dominating the town’s skyline belong to just one church – the Parish Church of St. Arbogast, a fusion of medieval, 18th and 20th century architecture.
This is the medieval passageway underneath the 18th century church tower.
Taking shelter inside that passageway is the town’s oldest piece of art dating back to the Roman times. It is the tympanon of the 12th century medieval church, a stone relief showing Adam and Eve on the left, the tree in the middle and God on the right.
Haslach was devastated by the fire of 1704 then rebuilt as a pure half-timbered town and have been carefully preserved since then. It was in 1978 when it earned its place on the Black Forest Conservation List. In 2001, it joined the list of towns and villages that comprise the ‘Deutsche Fachwerkstraße‘ or German Timber-Frame Road.
The fairy tale image of Germany can well be seen in Haslach with its cobblestone streets, half-timbered houses and their murals.
This is the City Hall reconstructed in 1732 and further renovated in 1953. Only the vaulted hall on the ground floor built in 1572 is what remained of the 1704 fire. The murals depict local people in their traditional dresses as well as figures from local legends.
Art, murals, jesters and writers
Haslach was named after the hazel tree (“Hasel”) which shows in the town crest. The hazel tree also inspired the creation of a jester figure.
On the day of our visit, the streets and buildings are decorated with buntings and banners with images of jesters. Every end of January, a Jester Festival takes place all over the Black Forest towns. Can’t wait to attend one this coming weekend.
In this mural on a house located parallel to the market square, the houseowners are throwing away bread to the locals below. I wonder if it signifies some history of Haslach.
For us who don’t speak German, above sign on a butcher’s shop is always helpful.
"In this house was born the writer, Heinrich Hansjakob on 19 Aug 1837".
The son of a baker and farmer, Heinrich Hans Jakob was a Catholic priest, politician and writer. One of the most widely read German authors, he has written over 70 short stories, diaries, travelogues and articles about religion, politics, history as well as life and struggles of the people living in the middle Black Forest.
"I do not know who first came up with those ugly words "forest crime" and "forest criminal". It was a hard man who made it so that the fetching of brushwood and firewood - which is what the poor do to warm themselves and to cook their frugal meal - appeared a crime. But the word is still thriving in the courts. (Hansjakob, 1897)
Haslach has an amusing sense of art. In the Hauptgasse, you will find these bronze statues of a farmer and his daughter watching over a bronze sow and piglets.
She looks like a witch, in which case, it could be part of the Jester Festival decorations.
They can also be poetic in various ways….
As I said, if you don’t speak German, just look at the images you pass by. This is the Stork Guesthouse or Inn
It’s lunchtime and we were desperately looking for a place to eat. We have scoured the town from inside to out, some were closed, most are snackbars, one bistro was completely taken over for a party. We passed by this building earlier but presumed it was the City Hall (judging by the murals). It was only when we noticed the menu sign from a distance that we realized it’s a restaurant. Indeed, it is a guesthouse restaurant in a historic building constructed in the early 1800s.
A classy restaurant with an old world charm. The interior walls are covered with murals depicting scenes of Africa, India, Russia and elsewhere. I saw a painting of a cat and a monkey off the ceiling as if they are there to entertain while we waited for our orders.
We had Black Forest “Ragout” (pronounced Ragu) of wild venison and boar slow-cooked in red wine accompanied by a generous serving of cranberry sauce and pouched baby pear (I say “baby” because of its small size). H and I concurred how cranberry sauce could perfectly complement the deep savoury sauce of the Ragout. This meal is one of the cheapest on the menu at 17.80euros a plate. Still a bit pricey but what the heck, it’s almost perfect! The service is quick, the food is deliciously out-of-this-world that I couldn’t believe the Germans could concoct such culinary masterpiece. The only negative review we could give is the awkward practicality of the S-shaped plate. Everytime we lay our fork or knife on the side, it goes sliding down onto the thick sauce.
The walk in the woods
After that satisfying meal, it was time to hit the forest itself. We drove til the edge of the town where pastures, farmhouses and horses dot the hills. Everything is quiet, nobody about, it was just us in the carpark.
It’s a clear day, the snow of the previous days are slowly melting, a perfect day to amble about, inhale the fresh air and embrace the lush forest.
We meandered our way up the hill until Haslach appeared just a town in miniature. The climb was gentle, the footpath well-groomed and pleasant for hiking.
We have trudged many hills and woods since Charlie came into our life ten months ago and all of those walks have been so exhilarating. But the Black Forest is totally different. Magical. Probably because we associate it with Hansel and Gretel. Even Charlie is blown away.
Just like when my soul seems to float everytime I hear classical music playing, I felt exactly the same way as we meandered our way along these majestic conifers. My heart was leaping, or was it singing?
This beautiful part of Germany has bewitched many travellers and nature-lovers, the place that had been the subject of fairytales, novels, travel stories. But there are also horrible events that happened here. It is here where three Nazi camps existed to house 1,700 prisoners from 21 countries. Tortured and forced into labour to build a secret underground factory for machinery of war, most of them did not survive due to inhumane conditions. The camps and the mine were destroyed and sealed off forever and a remembrance now stands on its place, the Vulcan Memorial. Unfortunately, I was not aware of this piece of war history so we missed going there. Next time.
Back to the present. Still can’t believe I’m here, right in the forest. I am kneeling close, savouring the scent of each pine needle. (I had to pinch off a small branch and picked a fallen pine cone on the way – to frame and hang on the wall at home as souvenir.)
I even cared to photograph a tree root. I hear the quote of Tasnim Hammed murmuring on the air –“Learn character from trees, values from roots and change from leaves.”
Some three kilometers uphill later and not wishing to be caught by darkness, we decided it’s time to to turn around, but first, a souvenir shot of Charlie atop a pedestal.
Walking downhill, it’s fascinating to observe the self-propagating character of the pine tree. These seedlings, if well spaced and replanted elsewhere could reforest the entire planet multifold then this world will be a better place:
Hiking done, there’s still one last thing to do before we leave Haslach, and that is, to sit in a café and do the traditional Black Forest cake tasting.
The time was four in the afternoon. While the town was practically deserted this morning, it was from early afternoon that the locals start manifesting their presence, trickling into the square and alleys, ambling infront of closed shops. Even roadside parking areas are slowly filling up with cars. As we entered this coffeehouse which is annexed to the City Hall, how surprised we were to see this heaving humanity that filled nearly all the tables. Families, couples and friends enjoying their cup of coffee and kuchen. Luckily we found a cozy corner by the bar.
And this is our third Black Forest cake moment taken over the last three consecutive weekends. “Next time we’ll try the other cakes”, H whispered. I couldn’t agree more. This Haslach version has too much whipped cream.