It was a little bit brighter the next morning but not especially thrilling and it didn’t look as though we would get the snow that we had hoped for or the blue skies that we wanted for our photographs. We had flirted with the idea of taking a journey into the forest on the Black Forest Railway, The Badische Schwarzwaldbahn which passes directly across the Black Forest, through spectacular scenery on a route that is one hundred and fifty kilometres long, ascends six hundred and fifty metres from lowest to highest elevation, and passes through thirty-nine tunnels and over two viaducts but we had done that last year in spectacular winter scenery and we didn’t think it could be recreated on a slightly disappointing and overcast day so we decided to make the trip by car instead.
First we passed through the village of Ortenberg which was an ordinary sort of place except for a large castle standing in a dominant position on a hill with a good view overlooking this part of the Rhine Valley. It looked in good condition and we found out later that it is now a youth hostel. Once again we drove through Gengenbach, Haslach and Hausach and then followed the road to the tourist town of Triberg.
In a region that has more than its fair share of tourist attractions, none compare to this small town in the middle of the Schwarzwald because it has just about everything, the tallest waterfall in Germany, souvenir shops with the largest collection of Black Forest-related souvenirs and wood products for sale, and the world’s biggest cuckoo clock. Nearly every restaurant and café offers ‘authentic‘ Black Forest Cake, and tour groups arrive here by the busload.
Last year Triberg looked stunning under a covering of fresh snow but today by contrast it was disappointing. There were a lot of untidy road works, the pavements were covered in dirty grit and the shops just looked plain tacky and we could see it for what it really is – one big sticky tourist trap! We paid €1.60 each to visit the waterfall and we climbed the sweeping path until we reached the noisy falls where the Gutach River plunges over a series of cascades two kilometers long and about five hundred meters high. We couldn’t get very far up the trail however because the path was closed off to visitors after only a hundred metres or so, so we felt a bit cheated by that, grumbled a bit to each other and walked back down and out.
Triberg is the cuckoo clock capital of the forest and the main street was full on both sides of tourist shops selling Black Forest souvenirs and traditional crafts including the famous clocks. Although the idea of placing a bird in a decorated wooden box did not originate in the Black Forest the cuckoo clock as we know it today comes from this region located in southwest Germany whose tradition of clock making started in the late seventeenth century. The people of the Black Forest developed the cuckoo clock industry and still come up with new designs and technical improvements which have made it a valued work of art all over the world. The clock is a symbol of the Black Forest and is probably the favourite souvenir of visitors to Germany, Austria and Switzerland and the centre of production is right here in the middle of the forest in the area of Schonach and Titisee-Neustadt.
We spent some time in the ‘house of a thousand clocks’ amongst the richly decorated time pieces displaying carved leaves, birds, deer heads and all the other forest animals and sometimes the methods of shooting them as well. And with cuckoo clocks chiming and cuckooing all around us we even considered a purchase but the high prices and the pressure on the meager Ryanair baggage allowance stopped us from making the very basic tourist mistake of buying something for the sake of it and then wondering what on earth to do with it when we got it home.