Today, we wrap up our Black Forest experience with a final trip to Oberkirch and its castle.
The magical region of the Black Forest has been our weekend retreats for the past several months and it has never failed to fascinate. This fairy tale part of Germany will forever have a special place in our hearts.
Goodbye, Foret Noire, we will definitely visit you again sometime.
Where’s the best place to spend a wedding anniversary for a couple who fell madly in love with Germany and the Black Forest, who are passionate about nature hiking, who still believe in fairy tale romance and who are deeply attached to European medieval history and culture….
Where else but in the magical, fairy tale looking town of Gengenbach.
City of towers and half-timbered houses, Gengenbach, with 11,000 inhabitants, was founded in the 13th century. It was burned down in 1689, rebuilt and remained almost as is, untouched by the two world wars so the town is practically the same as it was from the 17th century. It has been chosen as background for films like Charlie and the chocolate factory and have inspired painters and writers.
Drove past a castle on the way to Gengenbach. It would have been nice to stop but we have to be focused. and proceed to our destination. There’s so much to see but so little time.
The entrance tower gate to Gengenbach with the town’s coat-of-arms – the imperial eagle.
This is just one of the three towers left standing after the great fire of 1689. This is the Kinzigtorturm, the main entrance located near the banks of the Kinzig river where it got its name.
Under the tower is a paled gate weighing two tons.
On the left is the 18th century Rathaus (Town Hall) with its Rococo – Classicism style. During the Advent season, it becomes a magical attraction when its 24 windows open one by one until Christmas Eve arrives. The most beautiful and the largest Advent Calendar house in the world is in Gengenbach.
The market square is the center of all activity. Here is where the weekly farmers markets, the Christmas market and about all other events take place. Most of the historical buildings like old palaces, Baroque and half-timbered houses are concentrated on this square, which is an intersection of three streets, each leads to a tower gate.
In the center of the square is the 16th century Röhrbrunnen fountain.
The fountain’s column is crowned with the statue of a knight in armour, holding a shield with the town’s coat of arms and a scroll where the town’s urban privileges as a free imperial city are written.
Facade of the old Council Chambers
Had I read about this place earlier, I would have insisted on buying some bread if only to have a taste of how pine/beech/fir wood stove oven-baked bread tastes like. This is the six-generation monastery bakery that bakes wonderfully fragrant country bread.
The old watermill, renovated in 2009, located not far from the monastery and the monastery bakery.
In the center with the pointed roof is the Schwedenturm (Sweden Tower), one of the many medieval towers still standing in town. These towers were part of the old fortification that protected the city from invaders. It is open on one side, with a long staircase, originally as a lookout tower, but now only serves those who just want to have a good view of the town .
The half-timbered house on the right, built in 1747, was the house of a dyer. Fabrics were hung to dry on the uppermost floor protruding from the house.
Time for a cup of coffee, a very pleasant spot where, infront of us is the road leading to the Market square and, behind us, is the ex-Benedictine monastery.
This is the 8th century Benedictine monastery now a part of Offenburg university of Applied Sciences.
Spring of carnival figures in a courtyard next to the Tourist Office. Gengenbach is famous for its Jester Festival every January/February where people parade in witch and jester costumes such as what these statues are wearing.
This picturesque house is where the romantic Engelgasse (Angel Alley) starts. Notice the protruding upper floor, built to gain extra living space which was a trend in the 17th/18th century.
Engelgasse . The district where the master craftsmen of the town lived (17th century onwards). Their artistry is expressed by the way they designed the timber frames of their houses. Also, wine growing was a source of livelihood so all the houses have their own wine cellars with an open entrance from the street.
The courtyard near the Tourist office is full of outdoor restaurants.
Another tower gate
Self-service bric a brac store, i.e., you pay at the honesty box provided.
This wall was part of the old fortification, just one of the few remaining as most of it had been demolished and the stones used as building materials at the time (17thC onwards)
The long steps that will take you up vineyards, orchards and straight to the forest. The Black Forest is not for the weak knees as there are plenty of steep hills to negotiate.
The lovely park at the edge of the town complete with its mini-zoo, exotic trees, flowers in season, a pond, a children’s parkride and many more. Everytime we went there, there was always a wedding or fashion photoshoot happening.
An inhabitant of the ostrich farm inside the park.
The Baroque bell tower of St Mary’s church
The grandiose wall-to-wall frescoes inside the church are reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.
I was completely in awe while gaping up around me. It was the same feeling when I was church-hopping in Rome. Goodness, this church could easily compete with the basilicas and cathedrals of the Eternal City.
And just like all the other churches of Europe, there are memorials of the two world wars. This one for the fallen men of Gengenbach in World War 1 (1914-1918)
and this one, for World War 2 (1939-1945)
Forest Walk: Schwaibach
Wow, a foot spa in the forest! Located just at the entrance of the Schwaibach forest, it’s more for the exhausted hikers than for those who are just starting. The sign says, if the queue is long, that each person should limit himself to 15 minute footbath.
Since nobody’s about, Charlie just had to get in to take a dip.
Interesting to see these “green” lounges. One thing that we strongly admire about Germany and the Germans is their adoration with everything that comes from nature.
It’s the season of foxgloves!
Cherry harvest coming soon.
After climbing up a few hundred meters, a bench is waiting for us to take a pause.
and do some photography
I feel like singing “The hills are alive” again
A birdwatcher’s hut to try but we wondered if it’s strong enough to take our weight..
From where we are standing, we could see the long Kinzig river, its total length is 95 kilometers extending from the Black Forest to the Upper Rhine (Switzerland, France and Germany)
Whoah, a schnapps station! This is the best part of all our Black Forest hikes! Just when we thought we are getting dehydrated or feeling we’ve gone so remote that we have probably reached the end of civilization that the first sight of a self-service schnapps station is a big relief! We are not that far after all and a miniature cup-full is just fine to get our spirits going back up again.
Each cup is 1-euro and you have a wide choice among various fruit flavours – cherry, peach, pear, apple – the same fruits we see in the vast orchards scattered in the Black Forest valleys.
Schnapps are fruit flavoured liquors and the highly popular cherry schnapps is the one they add to their most sought-after Black Forest cake.
The forest walk
One last view of the Kinzig valley on the way back.
Nature Hiking has become our obsession. We are so obsessed with it that we dedicate half our weekend to serious hiking trips. We don’t mind a double-digit- kilometer itinerary nor an altitude of 700meters (which we did the other weekend) because the reward we get during and after the hike is simply out of this world. The stunning views, the amazing flora and fauna, the positive energy we get from communing with nature, the health benefits, the family bonding we do in a place (the forest) where material things are absent.
And where’s the best place to indulge in nature hiking than in the most beautiful region of Germany, the Black Forest.
We just love this region, it has everything that Nature has to offer: forests, lakes, rivers, hills, green meadows, flowers, wild birds and other creatures, clean air, clean waterways, spring waters free for drinking.
Of course, we also give half the credit to the country, the Black Forest region and its people. Why? Because they make hiking so easy and so pleasant that you end up wanting to do more.
Here is a partial list why we are so addicted to hiking in the Black Forest:
1- Easy parking and its free
2- Easy hiking routes that have been carefully laid out, you only need to be fit to be able to ascend and descend on foot
3- Hiking paths are created in the middle of vineyards, orchards, near residential gardens, along fast flowing rivers, waterfalls
4- Drink stations along the way (water and schnapps or fruit flavoured liquors) for the thirsty hiker
5- Easy to follow signs posted in every corner
6- A wide choice of hiking itineraries available online
6- Hospitable people who are always ready to help and serve
7- Fairytale looking towns and villages with beautiful gardens to marvel at.
.. and so on and so forth.
Here’s the trek we made in Waldulm, a charming town beautifully spread out amongst vineyards, forests. orchards and lovely sceneries.
Our starting point is the Rathaus in the center of the town.
Just when we were parking the car next to the Rathaus (Town Hall) carpark that we saw this group of archery enthusiasts in the sport grounds.
The fact that there are arrows on the legs of that board only means this is their first day of training.
The town of Waldulm with the church of St Albin (1882)
A sculpture piece infront of the Rathaus showing grape harvest.
We see a lot of stork images like this displayed outside houses which means that there is a new baby in the household.
Germans love creating gardens, it’s their “green” living room, and nothing will stop them whether they have a garden area or not.
War memorial for both WW1 and WW2
Waldulm is a vineyard town as indicated in their insignia.
Off we start our hike.
Walked past vineyards and excited to see these grape buds!
The cherries are out, too. They should be ready for harvest in June.
Next to the vineyards are big houses with interesting outdoor decors.
A terrace to die for.
Hikers checking where are they in the map.
A golden fountain to quench Charlie’s thirst.
The rhododendrons are in bloom.
A wine barrel doorway
A lookout building above the vineyards
Relief sculpture showing the harvest of grapes.
The town of Waldulm, the St Albin church and its cemetery
Charlie is always sniffing for anything that moves and in the forest, there’s plenty of them e.g. deers, field rats, squirrels…and when he sees one, he goes berserk.
Drink stop. This spring water is sooo good!
Lovely to have a picnic here.
We continued the hike in the forest
Somehow, we lost the footpath, got carried away marvelling at the sights, we had no choice but to traverse the vineyard so we could re-join the road. The slope is so steep that I had to move inch-by-inch lest I stumble.
Arrived at the Church of St Albin (1882)
Where the image of the Anunciation is painted above the portal
Visited the cemetery next to the church
Even graves are landscaped
This grave is adorned with the shape of the heart.
A very common tombstone cross is this one with the image of grapes.
On one grave, I noticed this silver box with a protruding metal, opened it and voila, a cleaning brush!
A WW2 soldier’s tomb
I am guessing that the veil belonged to Barbara who was a religious woman…
A private garden
Allium, from the Onion Family
A garden decor (yes, they don’t seem to throw anything)
Passed by the back of a garden shop where thousands of seedlings are kept along hikers’ way.
I must add to my list how the Black Forest region is still safe from human harm’s way. I mean, no problem about stealing. First, they have the honesty box where you buy produce and just drop the money on the box. This one, look how close I am to the plants and yet, i am expected to be honest enough not to put some on my pocket.
A fake window (nothing on the other side of the wall.
Azalea from the Rhododendron family
Resting after a long hike, I noticed a stork in the park where my camera was lucky enough to follow his movement. In this photo, he saw us, probably got scared so he flew away.
He was flying
He landed on a grass where he found a worm.
The Roman emperor Caracalla* (AD 198–217) bathed in its mineral thermal waters to cure his arthritic pains. American novelist Mark Twain once said, “I fully believe I left my rheumatism in Baden-Baden.” The great Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky lost all his money and his wife’s jewels gambling at the casino and in the end, had to write the novel, “The Gambler”, to pay off his debts. Bill Clinton proclaimed, “Baden-Baden is so nice you have to name it twice.”
I agree with Bill, it is extremely nice that we will keep going back for as long as we are in Alsace. We’ve seen it twice and will go back again, after all, it’s just 50 kms from where we live.
The first time we visited Baden-Baden was last December, just after Christmas. We wanted to experience their world-famous Christmas market but I was left spellbound not only because of the magical setting of their Christkindelsmarkt but also of the town’s picture postcard beauty. Glorious buildings, stately mansions, exquisite gardens, the green hilly landscape, the gently meandering river Oos. It has the “rich and famous” appeal of Monaco, the architectural gems of Paris, the Victorian gardens of England, the spectacular houses-on-the- hills scenery of the French Riviera, the Roman ruins and classical buildings of Athens, and add to these – the twelve thermal springs, the gastronomic restaurants, a shopping mecca, a cultural haven.
We went back early April, just in time when the cherry blossoms were at its peak and daffodils and tulips were dancing beneath our feet. If you saw my post, “Spring in Baden-Baden”, I’m sure the flowers have blown you away just as they did in me. And now that my excitement has settled down, it’s time to post the sights of Baden-Baden – behind the flowers.
For those coming in with their cars, most of the parking are underground, probably to keep the city green and free of unsightly ground level car parks. For us, we didn’t want to park in a dark confined place because: (1) we might want to leave Charlie in the car if we decide to dine in a fashiionable Michelin-starred restaurant (just kidding!) (2) we didn’t feel like splurging our money on carpark fees. Luckily, we found a space uphill on a residential area just at the edge of the town.
This is the route to our walking tour. Enjoy!
We came into a beautiful park dotted with cherry blossoms and in the middle of it is the bust of the French Romantic composer, Hector Berlioz. What is a French musician doing on German soil, I wondered.
To mark the opening of the newly built Theater of Baden-Baden in August 1862, he was commissioned to write an opera thus, he created “Béatrice et Bénédict” based on Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” He went on to conduct annual gala concerts in the same theater which was well attended by a world audience.
The Opera House.
Built in 1892-1894 originally as a train station but closed down in 1977 , this glorious Neo-Rennaissance building re-opened its doors in 1998 as the first ever opera house in Baden-Baden. With a seating capacity of 2,500, it is the largest opera house in Germany and the second largest in Europe.
Deutschland ist unteilbar 1945 – 1990
(Germany is indivisible 1945 – 1990)
We could have easily passed this memorial stone unnoticed as it is almost concealed behind the bushes and by its green colour, like a soldier in camouflaged uniform. This monument is just one among many, built between 1949 and 1990, scattered in various cities of Germany to serve as reminder to its citizens that despite a divided country, it is united in spirit. The year 1945 was when the Nazi regime was defeated and the country split into East and West and 1990, the fall of the Berlin Wall, was the year these two were reunited.
We finally arrived on a busy pedestrianized street – the Lange Straße, where shopping, sitting in outdoor cafes and people-watching perfectly go together. Also, this is where Charlie enjoyed dog-watching, like a master-and-dog parade was going on, the furry ones sporting their signature collars or leashes.
This popular konditorei (pâtisserie and coffee shop) at the Lange Straße is where we sat for coffee and cake. They seem to be oblivious to papararazis like me. It’s good promotion for their shop, too.
Coffee fix done and we continue the tour. This is a stag signage of a hotel nearby and next to it are two BMW limousines obviously on standby at guests’ calls.
We begin our climb up the Old Town.
See the climbing trunk of wisteria plant alongside the balcony. That’s one reason we are going back in May to see it covered with flowers. It’s a majestic vine.
I photograph for hundreds of reasons and one them is to scout for ideas.
We arrived in the Market Square where the neo-Gothic Stiftskirche (Parish Church) stands at the center.
We had a quick brunch at a restaurant just outside the church where the kind manager/waiter recommended their delicious white tomato sauce soup cooked with cheese. It was served exactly like this, inside a brown paper bag, probably to keep the heat so I never bothered to remove it. Creamy delicious. I must cook one at home.
Not only that the waiter is kind, he also invited us to take a peek at his restaurant. He told us that all the staff have some form of disabilities and their aim is to give a chance to all especially those who have skills in the kitchen. The waitress who served our drinks has a speech problem, H noticed that she stammered while replying to our question and the chef is blind in one eye.
“Kindness is a language the deaf can hear and the blind can read.”
(Their motto above)
What a lovely meal! Our hunger gone and glad to have encountered a restaurant doing a noble deed, we resumed our sightseeing. Just behind the church is the famous thermal spa, the Friedrichsbad, (on the right) and its museum (on the left).
The rear entrance of the Friedrichsbad spa.
The Friedrichsbad was built in Renaissance revival style during the reign of Frederick II, Grand Duke of Baden. It opened in 1877. Spoiled by the Gellert Bath of Budapest where we enjoyed not only its curative thermal waters but also marvelled at its glorious Art Nouveau architecture, we thought we should also try this luxurious spa of Baden-Baden, after all, it is 40 years older than Gellert and no doubt more glorious. I did some research, price is not bad, the 17-step bathing ritual would be heaven, but there’s a catch – you have to be naked just like everyone!
Maybe try the Caracalla bath instead ….
The dome of the Friedrichsbad seen from the park above.
In Baden-Baden, it’s easy to lose track of time and direction. We just followed our feet to where they took us, to the lovely nooks and crannies of achingly-beautiful flowery parks we stumbled across such as this garden above the spa. The Parish Church (Stiftskirch) is peeking from behind.
Baden-Baden is sprawled around hills so one has to negotiate through myriads of stairways which is not a big deal when you get rewarded with lovely views and a healthier body. We never saw obese people, honest, and if there are, they are probably tourists from other countries.
They call it the “city of stairs” so here are some stair-full of photos.
The hundred steps to Michaelsberg. On the left is a water cascade that joins the river Oos below.
Stairway in the old town
This is a stepped alley leading to the New Castle above. Notice the alley name.
A passageway leading up to the New Castle.
Negotiating the town steps could give you a chance to peek at people’s kitchens.
Steep steps running alongside a multi-level chessboard park.
A wooden passageway attached to the retaining wall of the old town. I was terrified walking here, imagine if the floor suddenly goes crashing down because of my weight.
One moment we were walking on suspended footpath, the next, we were trespassing a courtyard. (But it’s actually a public passageway.)
– End of the Stair series –
While climbing the steps up the new Castle, we passed by this gate of an elegant mansion now a B&B. It boasts of a panoramic view of the town.
The tower of the New Castle (Neues Schloss) peeking out of the cypress trees. The castle was the residence of the Margraves of Baden From the late 15th to the late 17th century, then used as the summer residence of the Grand Dukes until it was sold, in 2003, to a ruling Kuwaiti family. It is now being built as a 146-room luxury hotel (Hyatt) scheduled to open in 2018.
The castle and its gardens are closed to the public but the terrace is open to everyone who wants to enjoy the breathtaking views of the town.
So while there is no chance to see what’s going on inside, I just consoled myself to taking photos of everything outside. This must be one of the side entrances.
Could this be the former herb garden outside the castle’s kitchen?
This fountain is still showing traces of a glorious past.
The rear side of the castle.
On our way down along Castle Street, we passed by this Baroque styled fountain they call the Obertor. Erected in 1783, it was dedicated to the then city mayor Peter Nagel.
A remnant of the tower wall.
Back on level ground, we went walking along the famous boulevard , the 361-year old Lichtentaler Allee. Here you will find several museums, the Casino, the Theater and the Corinthian- columned Trinkhalle (above).
A very pleasant thing to do is sit for coffee outside the Trinkhalle, bask in the sun and immerse yourself to the sublime beauty of the gardens around.
But we didn’t stop for coffee, we climbed up the Michaelsberg instead and took delight at the staggering scenery of the town below and the bucolic parkland where we are now standing. I envy the ducks who live in that small house on the pond, what a great view they have.
Turning our eyes to the pond, it is teeming with frogs’ eggs, there must be millions of them, all attached together but there is not a single sound of croaking frogs anywhere. Where have they all gone?
Red trees dotting the park, they’re gigantic, they could be hundreds of years old.
At the very top of Michaelsberg is the 19th century Romanian Orthodox Church which houses the tombs of the Stourdza family. Michael Stourdza, Prince of Moldova, originally had it built for his 16-year old son who was assassinated in Paris.
Designed by Bavarian architect Leo von Klenze in classical style, it is built with layers of white, red and brown sandstone, a porch supported by four columns and a dome with an orthodox cross perched above. The presence of this structure above the hill reminds me of Athens but in greener surroundings.
So that’s it. Tour done. We shall go back again soon to this beautiful town and hopefully, will get the chance to soak on the soothing thermal waters of . . . Caracalla.
*After doing my calculations, the date of Caracalla’s birth and the date he soaked in the thermal bath of Baden-Baden, he was only 12 at the time so it’s quite intriguing that less than 2000 years ago, arthritis was already affecting children who have not even reached their puberty. By the way, he was assassinated at age 29.