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Driving Away a Myth of Germany's Black Forest

March 16, 1986|HARLAN HAGUE | Hague teaches U.S. history at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton.

AITERN, West Germany — The name Black Forest suggests mystery, leafy paths in dark, forbidding woods frequented by fairies and gnomes. In reality, the forest is a region of picturesque villages and wooded hills laced with hiking trails, in southwestern Germany near the borders of France and Switzerland. The forest is about 105 miles long, 20 to 37 miles wide.

The central region, called the Upper Black Forest, is noted for its scenic countryside and attractive villages. The area is a popular holiday destination among Germans and other Europeans, but few Americans find their way here. Indeed, nowhere do you see many people except in a few lakeside spas.

You can get a good impression of the region with a one-day circular drive, beginning at the university town of Freiburg. At the start or end of your tour, take time to see the Romanesque-Gothic cathedral there, begun in the early 13th Century. Climb the tower for a view of the town and the Vosges Mountains to the west in France.

Visit the historic buildings (Wenzingerhaus, Kaufhaus and Archiepiscopal Palace) on the Munsterplatz just south of the cathedral, and the New Town Hall on the nearby Rathausplatz. Take time to enjoy the tree-shaded walks and the myriad flowers in balcony boxes.

A Peak Panorama

To begin your journey, drive north from Freiburg to Waldkirch. Visit the old section around the church of St. Margaret. For a panoramic view of the region, continue on the road past the church to Kandel Peak.

On the main road again, drive east through the lovely little villages of St. Margen and St. Peter. Each has a historic baroque church. Farther on, you reach Titisee, a charming lakeside resort where tourists on sunny days crowd the shops and sidewalk stalls and lie on the sandy beach where there are paddle boats for rent. It is a nice spot for a morning coffee at an outdoor cafe.

The road now climbs to Kappel, a pretty village with a church and a view of the countryside. Drive a bit higher before dropping down to Schluchsee, the largest lake in the forest and a pleasant resort town. Drive on and soon you will see the signs for Feldberg, just off the main road. From a parking area you can take a 15-minute chairlift ride to the famous statue of Bismarck. Another 15 minutes of walking and you arrive near the highest point in the Black Forest for a panoramic view.

A Choice of Routes

A few miles down the road, at Todtnau, you must make a decision. There are two routes, equally interesting, that you can take for Freiburg. The main road, Schauinsland Road, turns north, following signs for Todtnauberg and Gunterstal. Be forewarned: A section of this route south of Gunterstal is famous locally for its use as a mountain auto race course. It has some hairpin curves that will test your driving skills. If you take your time you should have no trouble, and the rewards are substantial.

If you decide to take the Schauinsland Road, pass through Todtnau and start climbing. A short distance beyond the town you will see a sign for a waterfall ( Wasserfall ), leading into a parking area. The trail to the fall, a series of falls and cascades, is in a wooded gorge and is well marked. Don't be misled by a sign that tells you it is a 10-minute walk--it's longer, and all uphill, although not terribly strenuous.

If you prefer a nice stroll rather than a climb, drive past the parking area a few hundred yards higher until you see a refreshment kiosk on the right on a sharp curve. Park there and take the trail just behind it. The walk to the falls is shady and mostly level.

Back on the main road you will see signs pointing to a side road for Todtnauberg, the highest resort in the Black Forest. The setting is impressive and the village interesting, but it can be bypassed if time is a factor.

Leave at least an hour of daylight for the balance of the drive to Freiburg. It is only a few miles but the road is winding, and you will want to stop occasionally for viewing, particularly near the summit.

Winding Toward Aitern

The alternative drive from Todtnau, which I prefer to the Schauinsland Road, turns south just past Todtnau, toward Utzenfeld. (If time permits, visit the pretty little town of Schonau a few miles farther on the same road.) Just south of Utzenfeld, turn west, following signs for Belchen and Staufen.

Climbing steadily, you soon reach the village of Aitern. This is a delightful place to spend the night if you can spare the extra day. It has rustic guest houses, small hotels and homes that accommodate travelers. I am prejudiced--always, in every country--in favor of the latter.

At Aitern my family and I stayed in a charming old village house with stacks of neatly cut firewood in front, partially covered by cascading flowers of half a dozen varieties and hues. A balcony that ran the width of the house was protected by the deep roof overhang. Three cows were kept under the same roof in a barnlike room at the back, driven each morning to pasture and brought back each evening.

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