Schaffhausen to Heidelberg, Black Forest

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Schaffhausen to Heidelberg, Black Forest

This is the greater part of the long day's drive from Lucerne to Heidelberg, all in the Land of Baden-Württemberg. The route described here is the usual one via Titisee and Freiburg. It just sneaks into a corner, albeit a very attractive one, of the Black Forest. Distances are given from the Swiss border. A slower but very nice alternative through the heart of the forest, cutting out a featureless section of motorway, is also suggested via Triberg and the Gutach valley.

You enter the forest round about the village of Bonndorf (16 miles). By the time you've reached Lenzkirch you are into fairly dense forest. Both these villages are pretty but there is nothing of particular significance. You're better off talking about some general Schwarzwald themes.

The Black Forest  The Schwarzwald or Black Forest lies in the Land of Baden-Württemberg in the southwest corner of Germany. It stretches for 100 miles from north to south, between 12 and 40 miles from east to west. It covers an area of 1,900 square miles. It is one of the largest areas of forest in Germany. The Rhine forms its western and southern boundary, separating it to the west form the mountains of the Vosges in France. The average height of the Black Forest is from 2,000 to 3,000 feet. Its highest point is the Feldberg at 4,900 feet. The trees are beech, spruce and pine.

The forest is essentially about scenery, health, hiking, hunting and outdoor sports. It is walking territory par excellence. This is a good opportunity to talk about such fundamental German themes as Wald, Heimat, Wanderlust and Naturlandschaft, the passionate exaltation of nature, the strong spiritual attachment to the land they live on, etc. This is the forest as the source of folk legends, fairy tales and superstitions; the forest as the spiritual home of all things German; the mystical forest. This love of nature is perhaps no longer reflected in such romanticising imagery but finds its modern counterpart in the extraordinary importance given nowadays to ecology and forest conservation.

The forest is also about fine food and traditional crafts.

The Black Forest is reputed to have the best food in Germany, not surprising given its proximity to France. If you are free for lunch, you should try the local ham and, of course, one of the following dessert specialties:

Schwarlzwälderkirschtorte a touristic cliché but no less delicious for that

Zwetchenkuchen blue plums on a pastry base

Käsesahnekuchen a very rich cheesecake

Johannisbeerenkuchen red currants on a sponge base

The other great specialty of the Black Forest is craftsmanship. Examples of local woodcarving are everywhere. You should look out for the sickly-sweet road signs in Bonndorf, Lenzkirch or Titisee-Neustadt. Here, most famously, is the home of the cuckoo clock or Kuckuckuhr... Wherever you go in search of clocks and commission, they will give you, if you want one, a brief history and exposé of the clockmaking art. In brief, meanwhile:

  1. Clockmaking in the Black Forest dates back to 1667.
  2. 60,000,000 clocks are made here every year.
  3. The principle centres of manufacture are Triberg and Furtwangen.
  4. The biggest cuckoo clock in the world is in Schönach near Triberg. It is 23 feet long x 25 feet wide x 21 feet high. The cuckoo measures 3 feet.
  5. In the Furtwangen Uhrenmuseum they have one clock where the mechanism is a tailor who is knocked on his head with a shoe by his wife every hour.

Rejoining the itinerary...

Just before Titisee look out for glimpses of the lake below you on the right through the trees. As the road approaches a sharp bend on the descent towards the lake, the view opens out and there is a small unofficial layby you can stop at for a few minutes for a photo.

Titisee itself (31 miles) is a beautiful lake surrounded by gentle, tree-covered hills. The town is modern and touristic. From the parking to the lake you run a gauntlet of tourist shops, restaurants and hotels. If you don't have lunch included, you won't have a problem finding a place.

From Titisee, you take the B31 towards Freiburg im Breisgau. The road follows the Höllental or "Valley of Hell." After Hinterzarten the gorge becomes a little more impressive as the cliffs begin to close in. At the Hirschsprung Gorge, the narrowest point of the valley about 6 miles beyond Titisee, look up to the statue of a stag about to leap over the divide (in honour, apparently, of a true feat). From here the road descends rapidly to the open fields of Himmelreich or "Kingdom of Heaven." You are now effectively out of the forest. Occasional vineyards dot the lower slopes.

Freiburg im Breisgau (51 miles)  170,000 inhabitants, the largest town in the Black Forest. It is said to have the best weather in Germany. This is where in 1770 Maria Antonia, daughter of Empress Maria Theresia, left Hapsburg territory to enter France and become Marie Antoinette, wife of King Louis XVI. The road follows just to the south of the town centre through attractive, rural-looking suburbs. The dominating feature of the centre is the cathedral with its delicate lacework spire that is sometimes said to be the most beautiful in the world. You can see the spire clearly from the road (though not the main bulk of the building). The famous university was founded in 1547. In the 1920's, the Professor of Philosophy was Martin Heidegger, founder of existentialism. The C16 geographer Waldseemuller put the name "America" on the maps of the New World, naming it after the explorer Amerigo Vespucci. If you have the time you should definitely have a brief look in the centre between Munsterplatz and Rathausplatz.

At Freiburg you take the A5 north all the way to Heidelberg. The road follows the valley of the Rhine which for most of the way lies between about 3 and 10 miles to the west. There is no scenery and you pass nothing of man-made interest. France in the lovely form of Strasbourg is temptingly close by but out of reach. The magnificent C19 resort of Baden-Baden, northern outpost of the Black forest, is no more than an Ausfahrt sign. You can get no impression of Karlsruhe but at least you can see the outskirts.

Karlsruhe (128 miles) an important city, 270,000 inhabitants, founded in C18. It is the seat of the German Supreme Court and also of the internationally important School of Technology. Carl Benz, inventor of the car, studied here, and Heinrich Hertz, the discoverer of radio waves.

It is about another 35 to 40 miles to Heidelberg.

NB. This short route through the Black Forest via Titisee is not the only possibility, unless of course you have lunch included. If you have plenty of time (e.g. an extra day in Heidelberg and therefore are in no particular hurry to reach the castle) and you wish to delve deeper into the Black Forest, you can go via Donaueschingen, Triberg and the Gutach valley to join the motorway at Offenburg.

Triberg makes a lovely lunch stop with good opportunities for shopping (Willi Neff's is the best place for you) and the chance to walk up to the famous waterfall (entrance charge, allow an hour). Triberg has apparently the cleanest air in the forest, is a popular health resort and is also one of the most important centres of clock manufacture (the other is Furtwangen). The Gutach valley is perhaps the most traditional part of the forest. This is where you can see some examples of the typical local housing type, the Schwarzwälder Eindachhof. These are huge houses in which the cattle trough, the workshops, the bakery, the living quarters and any other rooms all sit together under one low-hanging roof with deep eaves. The roofs are sometimes shingle, sometimes thatched. The houses are usually approached by an earth ramp. The Gutach valley is also the home of the Bollenhut, the famous and ridiculous flat black hat with red bobbles on them. (Unless you're there during some festival or other, you won't see any women wearing them.)

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