We left Rothenburg ob der Tauber (and Bavaria) a little after lunch, and spent the next few hours slowly driving south towards the Black Forest. It was a slow/fast combination of German Autobahns, and small country roads. But, progress was steady, and kilometres ticked by without effort.
One of our friends from Japan was living just outside of the Black Forest. We hadn’t seen them since 2010, when they moved back to Germany. They are kind of living off the grid, and communication was a little challenging. We’d received a rough address of where they lived, which was a community of portable dwellings on the edge of Tübingen. We found the community, but it was pitch black by the time we had arrived. Our friends didn’t know we were coming, and we just had to hope that they were home – and it was an OK time to be visiting.
We grabbed a light from the van and went to try and find their cabin. Fortunately we were able to get the attention of one of their neighbours who was able to steer us in the right direction. We’d caught our friends by surprise, and it took a few moments of confusion for her husband to recognise us.
We joined them for a quick bit to eat, and let them get an early night, since they had a newborn in the house.
We had moved our van into a flat space inside the community, right next to our friend’s cabin. We hadn’t really seen much of the area when we arrived last night, as there wasn’t really much lighting in this area – unsurprising, since it’s off the grid. This morning we were able to see just eclectic the mix of buildings the residents were living in here. There were many converted railway carriages, old buses, and some more modern portable cabins. Our friends were living in something that would best be described as a multi-story tree house – minus the tree. It had an incredible sense of community here.
We started the morning by collecting some of the communal bread and vegetables donated/discarded by local businesses. We even got some cheese and milk from the community cows.
We also had time now to chat with our friends, who we had tried not to impose on with our late arrival last night. It was a simple life, with a similar level of luxury to our motorhome. They had solar power, with a small battery to run their lighting and charge their phones. They also had wood-fired oven for heating and some cooking, portable tanks for water, and a compostable toilet. Their cabin felt like a home, just like Gunter to us – it felt like an extremely spacious home compared to Gunter. Though, we did have a 60” TV in our van…
After lunch, and during a brief break in the weather, we went for a quick walk into the neighbouring forest. We came across a herd of sheep grazing on the public lands, and
The sun was shining for the first time in days, and it was glorious. Though, the dark skies forebode that this wasn’t set to last much longer. At it didn’t, not long after we returned to their cabin, the wind and the rain came down with tremendous force. And then came the hail, thankfully not like the golf ball variety we have at home that destroys cars and homes alike.
And we continued sitting inside their warm cabin, drinking coffee, eating, and chatting about all that had happened in the seven years since we last saw them.
Today was more or less the same as yesterday, minus the walk into the forest. We drank coffee, we ate, we chatted.
I got the opportunity to share Vegemite with our friends, and his Japanese mother, who is currently visiting, too. It went down better than I had expected, though possibly because I controlled how much was applied, and warned that it’s not chocolate, but something quite salty and rich.
It was around 3PM by the time we finally left. I’d noticed that the gas bottles in use here were the same as the one we’d bought in Krakow several weeks ago – and different to the ones in France/UK. Even though it was the exact same shape, with the exact same valve, the stores wouldn’t allow us to exchange, as it was a Polish brand. We eventually found a specialist gas store, however they would only sell us an entire new bottle, with no refund for our old Polish bottle. It was expensive, but not knowing how much gas we had left, and not wanting to risk losing heating, I paid the money.
We didn’t drive far out of Tübingen, as sun set shortly after leaving – and half the point of our visit to the Black Forest was to see the Black Forest. We spent the night just outside of Freudenstadt, a small town right on the edge of the forest. Even though we’d done next to nothing the past two days, we were both exhausted, and had an early night.
It was another exceptionally cold evening, though I’d become accustomed to sleeping with socks and my thermals now. Still, my nose felt like ice when I awoke. I started the heating, knowing that we could use as much gas as we wanted as we’d be home in a week or two. It didn’t take long to get the van into toasty double-digit temperatures again, allowing us to get out of bed and start the morning.
I looked outside, and was genuinely surprised to see that the town was white. There was about 70mm of snow coating the landscape, though thankfully the roads still appeared clear. By the time we’d started driving, much of the snow had started to melt, other than the northern facing areas, which were still hidden in shadow.
We tried to drive through the forest as much as possible today, eschewing the motorways where possible. The driving was beautiful, with the thick forest covered in snow. I was hoping to pass by some small hamlets, but the few towns we did pass were quite modern and unappealing.
The driving was fun though, with narrow twisting roads, and short sharp hills that naturally cut through the terrain the way new roads don’t.
I’m not really sure how this town got stuck in my head (maybe it’s just childish way it sounds). We arrived a little after lunch after a solid morning of driving. It seemed that the snow was even deeper here, feeling like a beautiful winter’s day. We cooked a quick lunch in the car and then went to see what the fuss was about.
The sun was shining, but I couldn’t really feel the warmth from the rays. My hands were tucked deeply into the pockets of my jeans, and I was wishing that I’d bought a proper winter coat. I just keep telling myself, only a few more days, then it’ll be warmer…
We walked towards what looked like the centre of town, which eventually brought us to the lake, Titisee (Titi Lake, which is just as funny). We walked around for a while, past the souvenir shops and cafes, but unable to really find the attraction. The lake was pretty enough, but nothing exceptional. But, for some reason, it was exceptionally busy, with coach after coach dropping off Chinese and Korean tourists.
I hadn’t researched the town, and felt slightly deflated that it wasn’t something incredible. We returned to the car for some more scenic driving.
Freiburg is the largest city in the Black Forest, and sits right by the French border. It’s a lively student town, as well as having a beautiful old district. But, the main reason I decided to spend the night here was it having a cheap motorhome park with WiFi – I’m preparing for a job interview, and the pre-3G cellular connection we have while roaming is maddening. We parked, paid, and set off on a walk into town.
It immediately felt like an energetic town. I hadn’t see so many young people in quite some time. It might have been small in comparison to many of the other cities we’ve been to recently, but somehow it felt like it was probably more fun here.
It was pretty easy to find the huge Freiburger Münster cathedral, with its main tower standing tall above any of the surrounding buildings. Naturally, we were drawn towards it, and soon found ourselves standing inside yet another incredible gothic cathedral. It mightn’t have been as detailed or enormous as some that we’ve seen recently, but it still was awe-inspiring for me.
The only problem was it being exceptionally dark inside, pushing the limits of what my camera could photograph without a tripod. Even with the full force of the afternoon sun bearing down the cathedral, only the faintest of glow was coming through the intricately coloured stained-glass windows.
The exterior of the cathedral, as well as the square and shops surrounding it were in my mind the highlight of the town. The square was a wide cobbled area, surrounded by beautiful coloured buildings, but nothing was able to steal the limelight from the cathedral for long. I mean, just look at those arches, the rose windows, and the spires on top of spires.
Since we were leaving the Black Forest tomorrow morning, we made sure to sample the black forest cake – aka, Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, because most things sound more intense in German. I’m sure everyone has had this kind of cake before, but if you haven’t, it’s a rich dark cherry torte, with about a daily intake worth of cream. It’s good. Very good. But, I still think my allegiance lays with cheesecakes. Or a pavlova, if I’m feeling patriotic.
There was an interesting mix of old and new in this town. Brand new shiny glass buildings lay side-by-side with centuries old ones. I could have quite easily gone for one final wurst before leaving Germany tomorrow, but made do with trying to empty what was left in our kitchen before returning to UK.
We were back in the motorhome park, and I found that I was spending more time attempting to debug the WiFi (who uses channel 3 and 9?!) than actually being able to use it. It was terrible, and I eventually gave up and returned to using my phone to prepare for the upcoming interview. It made me realise how lucky we’ve been to not need to pay money to sleep in places like this.
Tomorrow we’ll be back in France, which we’re both looking forward to again.