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A few weeks ago we visited the south western part of Germany, the Schwarzwald, for some adventure hiking. Since we were close to the French border, we reckoned it would be a good idea to take a short drive to visit Colmar, a beautiful mid-sized city in the protestant Alsace region of France. We walked amongst canals and medieval alleyways, and had soup, salad and sandwich lunch — accompanied by local pinot gris — at one of the local cafés.

Colmar, we found, had a few things to offer that will keep you interested: it was the birthplace of Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor of New York’s Statue of Liberty, for example. There’s a small museum there that commemorates his work — along with sculptures scattered around the town. And notice the enormous birds nest in the upper left corner of the photo. It is a bird famous for the area, the stork, or in local langugage, the “Cigogne d’Alsace.”

Although the weather was a bit cold, the spring was welcoming, and in full bloom.

Certain flowers are magical; the cherry blossoms are enchanting. The architecture was another feature specific to the regions surrounding Alsace; the wooden slats that decorate the façades in old town date the buildings to the city’s origins in the 9th century.

It was a pleasure as well, to cross over into a land where I had spent a lot of time earlier in my life. Perhaps that made it a natural calling for us to take this excursion.

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In the early morning we started off on a long hike in the quasi-wilderness, looking towards the highest spot over the small town of Oberried, Germany.

The sky was very blue when it was shining through the cloud cover. While we walked, we could hear the quiet hum of the forest, in chorus with all those morning birds. We walked for hours and hours.

It was cold at times. We walked over snow patches sometimes. It was occasionally warm when the sun came out, and it rained in intervals; soft rain… and then it poured.  We hid in a hunter’s lookout, and shared warm coffee from our thermos.

The journey tried our backs and legs for sure, but filled our spirits.

After our day-long trek we found ourselves at a local Gasthaus named Zum Hirschen. We had just walked into a Sunday-evening dinner with muddy boots and folded up pant-bottoms. The Gasthaus was surprisingly busy, so we found ourselves at the undressed Stammtisch — a table for locals.

We were joined by a local named Manfred, who squeezed in between all of us in our corner. This was a Buffalo Bill-like, elderly man equipped with mustache, short, rugged hair and after a beer or two, we discovered he had an excellent sense of ‘Schwarzwälder‘ humour. There were also a few ladies working at the Gasthaus, as they have for 20+ years. They all looked astonishingly alike, with short dirty blond hair and dressed in Dirndl, which is a type of traditional dress worn in southern Germany, Liechtenstein and Austria, based on the historical clothing of Alpine peasants.

In Austria, you hear that Germans don’t laugh or don’t crack jokes, but once there, you heard them laughing and working with their customers from miles away.

During our weekend adventure we chose to stay at a Bauernhof dated 1665, and which sat on top one of the hills overlooking Oberried. At the Gasthaus we discovered that it was owned by who the locals referred to as “the flowerman,” or otherwise known as Adolf Schweizer, and his wife, Rosa, to whom he’s been married for 65 years.

They were very friendly, but the fact that they spoke the Black-Forest German dialect made us have to strain our ears and brain remarkably hard to understand. On several occasions we ran into the couple usually in the morning as we were heading out — Adolf in a wife-beater t-shirt and Rosa in a well worn sweat suit — themselves ready to continue their day’s work at the Hof. There were no animals at their place, but the large greenhouses nestled between the brook, the fruit trees and the sheep on the hill, was something we were all quite keen on.

We spent a few the days in Oberried but we never got to taste the cake famous in the area called Schwarzwaldkirschtorte, or black-forest cherry cake. The cherries in this region are supposedly delightful, we were told, and we were encouraged to return while the cherries are ripe in the summer, and to have a cake underneath the cherry tree in the backyard.

It is definitely a thought…

During the off season however, the locals suggested we try the cherry schnapps — called a “Willie” by the locals. Whatever that means or refers to, it sent us off dancing into the night, and will probably bring us back to the region in the future.

Leaving for a road trip at 4AM has its benefits, believe it or not. This is especially true when you’re expecting to be a-drivin’ for eight hours. When we headed out of Vienna last weekend, we squinted at each lonely car we passed until the sun crept over the Alps to the South. We were on our way west toward the Ecke of Germany, France and Switzerland, to get away from the buzz of the city and breath nature’s fresh air.

Along the way we passed Upper Austria’s smooth, rolling hills, and numerous lakes. The Alps drew closer as we neared the German border — right up until we passed Salzburg — then they swooped back south as we headed toward Munich.

Like most road trips, a few more hours passed — as did a few pit-stops and constructions zones — and just as the backseat riders’ murmurs of “are we there yet?” began bouncing around, we found ourselves on the final stretch into the Breisgau-Hochschwarzwald district of Baden-Württenberg, Germany’s southwestern-most state, and home to the Schwarzwald.

A view over Oberried, from our Bauernhof

Sometime in the mid-afternoon, and as if in a dream, we arrived at our destination: the small town of Oberried, tucked away in one of the highest parts of the Black Forest. The history of the small town, with about 3,000 inhabitants, dates back to the 12th Century. The eerie tilt of ancient farmhouses, the narrow streets and nearly illegible Germanic typeface on buildings told the stories of the centuries past.

We had come — the four of us — to get a feel for a new place, a people, and to hike the surrounding forest. Just how that would turn out was yet to be discovered.

Oberried panorama

We weren’t much interested in the monastery church in the center of town — even if it was Easter, or named Maria Krönung for that matter; nor were we even in the slightest way interested in the amusement park that lay on a hillside nearby.

We looked toward the darkness, and the less often traveled paths. Up in the mountains it was still winter, and snow covered the highest slopes, but the hills, treetops, and rooftops of the Black Forest farmsteads were covered in spring sunlight. From Oberried, the trek to Feldberg (the highest mountain in Southwest Germany) and Schauinsland was but a few hours from where we stood.

to be continued…