The Black Forest: Dreadful or Delightful?
In the mid afternoon under the glowing Northern sun, a dark and spindly tree branch hangs directly overhead. It is knobby and crooked, reaching down with it's brittle pincers as if to shake your hand. Neon green moss infests it’s every nook, crack, and boil, and you stop to think that you’d never want to shake it’s hand, even if your life depended on it. You duck a little, brushing off your hair, but continue to walk forwards.
Below you are splotchy damp stones. You step delicately around sprigs of thin leaves and loose dirt, and ahead of you a tree trunk has fallen. What a shame. You bend it’s boughs back gently and throw a leg over it's withering bark, careful not to touch the invisible chirping bugs scuttling below. The walkway seems to be getting tighter—denser. Those bright mossy greens begin to degenerate into dark, grimy leaves, each one hidden by another. No use trying to step around the plants now, you think... but you keep moving forwards.
Before you can blink an eye, the forest has gone dark—black, almost—and you can hear a river somewhere, but you can’t see where it is. Your pace quickens, heart racing. Your foot lands in something soft and wet, and you scream. There is no response. Everything is still and silent. No wind could penetrate these haunting pines. You look up and they look right back at you, speckled rays of light catching high up in their floral nets. Their eyes are grim and mammoth. You sit down on something smooth and hard, breath hitching in your throat, and you begin to wonder... which way is out?
This cryptic scenario played over and over in my head as we bounded up the long, smooth road to Germany's infamous Black Forest. Our tour group (including my Cousin, Aunt, Grandma, Grandpa, and Mom) was sardined in a bulky blue tour bus, noses pressing against the window in anticipation of our first official excursion. How sinister it all looked, I thought. Some Romantic Era poet must have been rolling in their grave. Better yet, their ghost was probably perched up on some dismal ledge, contemplating the fickleness of life while observing a tiny forest squirrel nibble a nut.
From a distance, the forest looked like a series of walls, each more daunting than the last. The tour guide tediously explained that those walls of pine had coined the forest’s title. This ominous giant lurking behind the local village had been an eerie neighbor for hundreds of years, accumulating myths, legends, and tradition. Rightfully so.
Our tour bus slowed to a halt as we reached the entrance, and my fantastical reveries immediately began to fall away. The forest that had looked so menacing from afar instantly transformed into a serene, calm, and stunning habitat.
For one, I had never seen such awe-striking foliage in all of my life; the photos will never do it justice. Every inch of space was blanketed in bright and flourishing leaves. As we walked along, listening to our guide through static-ridden headphones, we passed creaky wooden bridges, babbling brooks, and ancient towering trees. There was nothing even mildly spooky about the experience. We didn't bump paths with a devilish twig monster lurking behind beheaded logs, nor did we have a run-in with witches, necromancers, or hermits. There was simply life, and lots of it.
I think that may come as a disappointment to some. A haunted forest is supposed to feel haunted, right? I’m not so sure. Maybe the sheer age of this forest could fulfill the human need to induce heebie-jeebies.
Even though we faced a significant lack of creepy ghost stories, our local guide told us one folk legend that seemed much more fitting. Apparently, if you drink fresh water from the Black Forest River you will be able to speak impeccable German in an instant! I would have tried it, but I figured I was much more likely to contract a parasite than a new language.
When our short walking tour ended, we were all hurriedly shuffled into the small clock-making town that sat inside the bus-accessible region of the forest. Here, we were met with professional glass blowers (we definitely bought handmade jewelry and a tiny glass hedgehog), cuckoo clocks, and Black Forest Cake. There was culture and there was happiness, no matter how western-washed the whole experience was. For me, existing in and appreciating such an all-encompassing living being was authentic enough. Plus, we were able to eat fresh slices of Black Forest Cake with a giant plush bear, so that certainly sweetened the deal.
I guess the moral of this fairy tale would be: Not everything is as it seems.
Thank you so much for reading! Let us know about your run-ins with forests, or Black Forest Cherry Cake in the comments below. See you next Friday!