Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rhine Getaway: Black Forest, Germany (4/19/2014)

Saturday, April 19, 2014
In the wee hours, the Viking Gullveig ship arrived in Breisach, Germany at Kilometer/KM 226.5. It appears that the ship spent most of the night in the Grand Canal d'Alsace/a canalized section of the Rhine River, and that we went through four locks.
Breisach sits atop a basalt rock with St Stephansmünster/St Stephen's Cathedral dominating the skyline.
St. Stephansmünster/St Stephen's Cathedral
overlooking the Viking motor coaches
Breakfast usually started at 7:00 in the dining room. Early risers can get coffee, juice and pastries at the beverage stations at 6:00, and breakfast items are available in the Aquavit Lounge a half hour later.
Breakfast spread in the Aquavit Lounge
In the dining room you can order a choice of juices (orange, pineapple, multi-vitamin, grapefruit, apple, grape, tomato or V8), have buttermilk pancakes or French toast, get eggs scrambled, fried, or poached or an Eggs Benedict, and there is an omelet station. The buffet has a variety of breads and pastries, scrambled eggs, bacon and some sort of sausage, some kind of breakfast potato, as well as fruits, yogurt, hot steel-cut oatmeal and cream of wheat, and dry cereals, all with a variety of toppings.
The drill for shore excursions is to bring your Audiovox receiver hanging on a lanyard around your neck with an earphone, pick up your boarding card from reception so that they know who has left the ship, pick up your bus/guide number, and receive a bottle of water as you disembark. The ship can accommodate 190 passengers, who are divided into at least four groups (27A, 27B, 27C, 27D). Each group finds the Viking motor coach with their number and/or the guide holding the "lollipop" sign with their number.
Today we boarded bus 27A with our driver, Rostia from the Czech Republic. Our motor coach was a Mercedes Benz!
The local guides wore traditional dress, the men in felt hats and the women with Bollenhüte/pompom hats. On the bus, the guides used the bus audio system, but on the ground, they used the Audiovox system. Each guide was on a separate channel on the audiovox receiver. Through your earpiece, you could hear everything the guide said, not missing a word as you lagged behind to take photos, stepped into a souvenir shop or restroom, or marched ahead.
As we drove out of Breisach towards the Black Forest, we passed the Badischer Winzerkeller eG (Baden Wine Cellar, Inc., Europe's largest wine cellar, and the third largest in world behind South Africa & California) and saw the hill called Kaiserstuhl/Emperor's Seat whose vineyards make this area famous for wine.
The fertile flat farmland around the Rhein, rich with volcanic soil, was filled with fruit orchards (apple, cherry, pear, plum, as well as almond) and fields with mounded rows covered with plastic for growing asparagus.
Fruit orchard
Asparagus field
Rapeseed field in bloom (used to make canola oil)
Passing through the town of Ihringen, we were told this was the warmest area in Germany, thus ideal for vineyards. The buildings with large wooden doors opening into courtyards belonged to families who produced the wine.
In Wasenweiler, we were told that the towns in the region close the streets to traffic for a wine-tasting festival. People can go from one wine cellar to the next, trying the 45 or so wines of the region. Most of the wines are Spätburgunder/Pinot Noir, and there are also Riesling, Grauburgunder/Ruländer/Pinot Gris, and Weissburgunder/Pinot Blanc. Additionally Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Müller-Thurgau/Rivaner, Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, Silvaner, and Traminer.
The guide called the next area a reserve, where there were horse pastures. Apparently families of children with special needs can come on holiday and the children are provided hippotherapy/therapy on horseback.
Atop the St Stephanskirche/St Stephen's Church in Gottenheim, we could see a stork nest.
St Stephanskirche/St Stephen's Church
Unfortunately, we could not see a stork. That creature is a webcam disguised as a stork!
Webcam stork
We entered the Autobahn/controlled-access highway. Whereas other roads in Germany have set speed limits, the Autobahn has only a suggested speed limit (130 km/hr/81 mph)! However, we were traveling in a motor coach, and there are limits on buses, motorcycles, and vehicles pulling trailers. Unlike the U.S., all Autobahns are free (i.e., no tolls).
We reached the edges of the Schwarzwald/Black Forest and you could see some of the dark evergreens which at one time must have blanketed the area.
First view of the Black Forest
We followed the Panorama Road/Deutsche Uhrenstrasse/German Clock Route through Glottertal, a valley most famous as being the setting of a popular 1980s German TV series called Die Schwarzwaldklinik/The Black Forest Clinic. We were only to see an amazing farmhouse, housing several families.
Big farmhouse coming up!
Said to be built in 1517
Lumber mills are a big business in the Black Forest.
Lumber yard
Areas are reforested for lumber and much of the wood is from fallen trees and trees of a certain minimum diameter.
Our first stop was in the village of St Peter im Schwarzwald/St Peter in the Black Forest with its Kloster St Peter/St Peter's Abbey, a former Benedictine monastery built here in 1090 as a family monastery and burial place of the Zähringen family.
Kloster St Peter/St Peter's Abbey
It was rebuilt in Baroque style in the 17th century. The monastery was dissolved in 1806.
Abbey buildings
Abbey building with stone block pilaster? (KSS)
No, it's painted stucco! (KSS)
The Klosterkirche/Abbey church was built in the 1720s, designed by architect Peter Thumb, and made with red sandstone from the Vosges Mountains.
Klosterkirche/Abbey church
The Zweibeltürme/onion dome towers, we were told, were developed to allow heavy snowfall to slide off rather than sit on the wooden roof.
Klosterkirche/Abbey church interior,
frescoes (1727) by Franz Joseph Speigler
Sculptures attributed to Joseph Anton Feuchtmayer (KSS)
Cherub (KSS)
The faux marble is actually painted wood (KSS)
A unique presentation of the cross before Easter Sunday
Organ; all very rococo
We were given 15 minutes of free time and most people went for a cup of coffee.
Fountain with statue of Berthold II,
the Zähringen duke who brought the abbey here
(note Easter decorations)
A sewer cover with 'cobblestones' in the center (KSS)
We did stop in the Bäckerei Kreuz/Cross Bakery for a peek at Easter breads.
Bäckerei Kreuz/Cross Bakery
Bunny bread
Bunny cookie
More goodies: Linzer Augen/Linz "eyes" and heart-shaped Danish pastries
We did try a Nussecken/chocolate dipped almond nut bar and a Bretzel/pretzel.
It was said the children create all the Easter decorations.
Back in the motor coaches to drive higher into the Black Forest.
Due to winter weather conditions, the farming families were allowed to build chapels in their homes, marked by a cross and/or bell,
Farmhouse with a chapel bell and cross
or small chapels open to all.
Chapel to the left
We were told we climbed to 3,000 feet in altitude.
We drove through Höllental/Hell Valley, following the Höllentalbahn/Hell Valley Railway (1882-1887) that kept disappearing into tunnels.
Höllentalbahn/Hell Valley Railway
The railway was designed by Robert Gerwig, a German civil engineer who used loops and curved tunnels to avoid steep grades. This line has up to a 5.5% grade, making it the steepest railway in Germany. We were told that the railway was built by Swiss workers, who had experience building railway tunnels. My research comes up with German and Italian construction crews for the Badischer Schwarzwaldbahn/Baden Black Forest Railway (1863-1873, also by Robert Gerwig). Almost the opposite, it was Robert Gerwig who designed the approaches for the Gotthard Tunnel Railway (1872-1882) in Switzerland.
After traveling a few loops ourselves, we ended up in a valley at the Hofgut Sternen/Drubba complex that included a Best Western Hotel.
Tamiko with our local guide, Alba,
with her Bollenhut/pompom hat (KSS)
The local Bollenhut/pompom hat is made with large yarn balls; unmarried women have red pompoms and married women have black ones. A girl can start wearing the hat after she is confirmed. We were told there are a dozen pompoms to signify the woman wearing the hat is under the protection of the twelve apostles. Unmarried women may have an additional pompom to represent their husband, or only eleven. However, my research consistently comes up with fourteen pompoms.
At our only commercial stop during the entire cruise, we had the options of watching a cuckoo clock-making demonstration, a glass-blowing demonstration, and a Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte/Black Forest Cake-making demonstration, or to see the life-size cuckoo clock perform the hour, hike into the Black Forest, and have coffee and a slice of Black Forest Cake. We had previously been to a Drubba shop in Regensburg, Germany, and did not feel a need to again see a demonstration of how a cuckoo clock is made. We wanted to walk to the nearby chapel, but were told it was at least 15 minutes to get there, and another 15 to come back and we would miss everything else.
The café and cuckoo clock shop building;
façade is actually a giant cuckoo clock
Although the cuckoo clock was not invented in the Black Forest, because of their wood-carving tradition, they developed and improved the cuckoo clock, making it their own with the traditional wooden case of carved leaves and animals.
Traditional Black Forest cuckoo clocks
Chalet-style cuckoo clocks. a Swiss innovation
Today, even in German cuckoo clocks, the music boxes are all Swiss-made.
Modern pendulum clocks
We wandered through the souvenir shop, peeked in at the glass blowing and Black Forest Cake stacking.
Beer steins of all sizes
A modern Christmas pyramid/carousel
Traditional Black Forest smokers
"Making" a Black Forest Cherry Cake (Viking)
Still having time, we wandered in the direction of the path into the Black Forest, which led to some waterfalls. But we didn't get that far.
Ravenna viaduct of the Höllental Railway
We found the replica of a historic 18th century Zollhaus/customs house with toll gate.
Zollhaus/customs house
Then just over a slight rise, we saw the St Oswald Kapelle/Chapel!
St Oswald Kapelle/Chapel (1148)
It might have been a 15-minute walk round trip! By the time we saw the chapel, it was time to return to the bus and to see the giant cuckoo clock perform at 11:30. The cuckoo surprised us by popping out first.
Barely caught the cuckoo
Then the dancers rotated out one door
and back in the other
The dancers from inside the souvenir shop (KSS)
The buses continued down Höllental/Hell Valley, which became particularly narrow.
Höllental/Hell Valley
At one time the narrowest section of the gorge was 130 m/426' high and only 9 m/30' wide, which led to a legend of the Hirschsprung/Stag's Leap. As told by our guide, there was a prize offered for the person who could capture a large stag. A poor young boy hoped to win the prize by herding the stag onto a rock by the gorge, and having it fall to its death. However, the stag was able to leap across the gap, and it was the boy who fell to his death. This version is told as a cautionary tale to children. Today there is a bronze stag standing on the rock.
Bronze stag (Viking)
We drove through the city of Freiburg im Breisgau, the gateway to the Black Forest, getting glimpses of Schwabentor/Swabia Gate and Martinstor/Martin's Gate. Another brief ride on the Autobahn to return to the Viking Gullveig in Breisach.
Pick your own flowers on the honor system
The routine upon returning from a shore excursion is handing in your boarding card so that they know you are back on board, returning the bus/guide number, and sometimes receiving a little extra something like a wet towel or a drink to refresh yourself.
Today we had our safety drill, putting on our life jackets and going to the mustering point (the dining room for us).
Safety drill
At lunch, there is a buffet with a couple appetizers (tomato and mozzarella with pesto, and liver pâté with Cumberland sauce), a pasta (fusilli alfredo with sliced turkey and parmesan), salad fixings and fruit. From the waiter you ordered the entrée (Züricher geschnetzeltes: tender slices of veal in mushroom sauce with potato rösti and vegetables), or a sandwich (roast beef and herbed cream cheese on crusty baguette with lettuce tomato & sprouts), and/or a soup (spinach velouté with crème fraîche). There were also two dessert choices (brown sugar & cinnamon baked apple with caramel sauce, or Black Forest ice cream coupé with chocolate-cherry ice cream, marinated cherries & whipped cream). (Are you full yet?)
Next: Colmar.

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