Not forgetting these
This area of Germany may not leave the world a cultural inheritance quite in the same league as Italy and Greece but you have to admit it's good fun!
It also has some stunning scenery that is a refreshing contrast to the baked arid regions of Northern Greece or even the icy heights of the Austrian Tyrol.
We arrived here last night after a pleasant day pottering across the peaceful green countryside with its rolling hills of dark forests and flowering meadows. In the folds of the landscape the towering church spires indicated yet another immaculate little village of huge barns roofed with wooden tiles, farmhouses and smart residential properties each set in its own pretty garden, the fences smothered in a profusion of bright roses.
Along the wayside the verges were a mass of spring flowers – so much later than in Greece that we have been able to enjoy this prettiest of seasons twice! Purple lupins grow wild here in the same profusion as bluebell woods in England. They line the roadsides and stretch across the hillsides around the shining trunks of the silver birch trees. Sprinkling the bright green grass around them are pink flowering sorrel, yellow tormentil and buttercups, pink campion and herb Robert, and white marguerites and stitchwort. Okay – poetic bits over, just look at the pictures!
Finding ourselves on the main road heading towards Freiburg, and recognising we had travelled the same route in the opposite direction in 2005 on our way to Munich, we turned off along a deserted side route. This eventually led us down to the shores of the Schluchsee set amidst the dark pine forests that give this region its name. Here we parked in the tiny town of the same name and walked down to the lake. The railway runs along the shore but it's only really for tourists. There is a peaceful, sunny stroll along the lakeside with the occasional restaurant serving coffee and cake - all very sedate and civilized. For the energetic there are rowing boats and paddle boats for hire though there were few takers yesterday and the boatmen were looking decidedly bored. How can they possibly make a living?
Back in the town centre we sat on a bench outside the main church licking ice creams before investigating the interior. In Switzerland we had found the churches bare, almost stark by contrast to the baroque exuberance of Austria. This church was a complete contrast to both. The tower was obviously older than the building with its huge roof of wooden tiles. (These were 25 years old and already in need of replacing at a cost of nearly 300,000 euros!) Inside the church was very modern with some stunning wood and stone carvings by an obviously highly gifted craftsman. What the different carvings around the walls, the altar and the font actually symbolised however was quite beyond our understanding although the stations of the cross must have been among the images depicted.
When we were in the Hunsruck area of Germany last year we had found the campsite completely full with Dutch campers. They even had Dutch newspapers delivered to them daily. They told us there is a Dutch camping association that has negotiated special out of season deals at various campsites across Europe. They were paying considerably less for the same site than we were. So this year we joined them and it's one of the best investments we've made. Unfortunately Greece wasn't covered but we have managed to use several since arriving back in Italy. The book of sites is produced by ACSI and costs around 10 euros. We've recouped the cost over two nights! The sites have all been of an excellent standard, the only minor difficulty is that we don't speak Dutch whereas practically everyone else on the sites does – regardless of country. Still, they are a cheerful, friendly nation and we've got used to waking in the morning to the sound of clogs crunching on gravel as they pass by to collect their morning bread in their bath robes.
The site we found on lake Titisee is as near perfect as any we have found anywhere during our travels. Not only do all the taps work, there are shower screens – a first! – soap dispensers, loo paper, hair dryers, central heating if it's chilly, entire banks of washing machines and tumble dryers, a library – full of Dutch "bodice rippers" – a TV lounge, a games room with a snooker table, a restaurant and coffee lounge and even wifi!!! What's more, everything actually works! The management are charming and do everything possible to make the experience something to remember. With so much here, why would people need to leave the site? Indeed, we get the impression many don't. For those who would like to see more of this region however there is an unbelievable bonus. The campsite can provide guests, free of charge, with a transport pass giving absolutely free use of the buses and trains within the area. This covers down to the Swiss border in one direction and France in the other! We had intended moving on to Freiburg tomorrow but it's far less hassle to take the train and leave Modestine here on the campsite. Our final bonus was buying a card for two hours wifi access and being given one for 24 hours at the same price as they'd run out of two-hour cards! Because this is one of the Dutch listed sites, we are only paying 14 euros a night to stay here. Bargain or what!
Wednesday 11thth June 2008, Titisee, Black Forest
Yesterday we walked through the forest along into Titisee, or as we have taken to calling it, Kitchisee. It is actually rather a pleasant place. During the afternoon the heavens opened and we were soaked in torrential rain. We used our free bus pass to return to the campsite and spent the entire evening listening to the rain drumming on the roof. During the night there was constant thunder and lightening and this morning we found ourselves surrounded by water. Modestine looked as if she was in the lake rather than on its banks!
Despite the rain we were off early to catch the bus to the railway station. Here we took the train in to Freiburg, nearly 50 kilometres away. The trip was completely free! How can they offer such a bonus to tourists?
It was still pouring when we exited the station at Freiburg and made our way to the tourist office. We knew nothing about the city except that it is a university town with a population of over 200,000. Over a coffee as we sheltered from the continuous downpour, we read the booklet we'd acquired and discovered it also has a magnificent cathedral, a market square, two town halls, several museums, a modern shopping centre with department stores – the first we've seen since we were in Bologna back in early April! It was also for several years the home of Erasmus from Rotterdam and has a green hill on the edge of the city that once had a castle on the top. The city was very severely damaged during the Second World War but, unlike England, Germany rebuilt many of its city centres exactly as they had been. So the city has retained its original appearance with reconstructed 15th and 16th century civic buildings, town gates and churches. There is a liberal use of gold paint which makes the buildings shine in the sunlight.
As we finished our coffee the sun came out and it has been perfect all day. The centre of the city is closed to all traffic except the old fashioned trams which run through the cobbled streets out to the suburbs. During the afternoon we took a ride on a couple of these simply because they were fun, free and an opportunity to sit down!
The streets are attractions in themselves being decorated with cobbles and pebbles of different colours and textures. Outside many of the shops and businesses a mosaic logo of pebbles has been set into the pavement identifying the business carried on there. So there are hairdressers' signs, grocers' signs and signs for bars, trades and banks. They really are an attractive asset to the town. Along every street flows a small channel, again an attractive feature and it helps ensure the streets are kept spotless.
As we stopped to admire the impressive façade of the house of Erasmus we were swamped by a group of Africans in long colourful robes and golden sandals. They were speaking volubly in their own language while a poor German lady tried to explain to them in French exactly who Erasmus was! One wore a large crown of silver and purple velvet that looked rather chic with his sandals and calf-length colourful robes. Others appeared to be his bodyguards. He also had his wife and a kiddie in a pushchair. We have concluded it must have been a royal party from a French West African country being given a guided tour of Freiburg! Well, the things that are going on every day we never dream of! Obviously we were not the only important visitors in town that day.
The flower and vegetable market surrounds the cathedral and is a very pleasant place to wander. Here Freiburgers were buying fried burgers and sausages cooked on open grills on the street and served with a bread roll and loads of onions and sauces. We joined them for a cheap lunch of Thüringer Bratwurst with mustard – Jill, and Currywurst – Ian. They are not things you can eat elegantly but a great experience, looking up at the mediaeval carvings of the cathedral with mustard and curry sauce trickling down your chin. It is amazing how much of the food consumed in Germany is in the form of sausages. We have been speculating as to how many miles of sausages are eaten throughout the country every day. It must be staggering!
The cathedral is sublime. Generally it survived the war intact but there are obvious signs of bomb damage and shrapnel in the walls of dark red sandstone. The stone carvings are exquisite and many, particularly in the entrance porch, are painted. There are beautiful side chapels with mainly 16th century paintings and brightly coloured stained glass windows, some being mediaeval, most dating from the 16th century.
Many of the buildings are neo-gothic, blending well with the reconstructions of early gothic. Dark red sandstone is mainly used, particularly for the university buildings. The library here reminded us of the John Rylands library in Manchester, a similar style and date and it was pleasant to see many of the students sitting and chatting in the afternoon sunshine.
Jill at least was beginning to flag and even Ian admitted we'd seen the main sights, had our tram ride and perhaps we could make our way back to the station. The trains here all have an upstairs, like London buses. So we returned to Titisee on the top deck, snoozing for most of the journey.
Back by the lake the sun was still shining as we stopped for our ultimate Black Forest experience – coffee and Schwarzwälderkirschtorte! It was delicious but now there is no excuse not to move on. We could linger in the area. It is very pretty, but we've done what we came for and time is calling us home. In any case, the rain and thunder have returned with a vengeance this evening. Tomorrow we will move on into France again.