Today we dock in Germany, but cross the river to visit France-Strasbourg, a French city with a German name. In the afternoon we return to Germany to visit the Black Forest.
We had the choice of morning excursions, Boris was inclined to go and walk around the city, but the canals offer the best view of the various sections of the city. I suggested we join the canal tour. Strasbourg sits between two navigable rivers and the old section of the city is circled by the canals. From the outside canal near the Rhine we moved to the canal that connects the Rhine to the Seine; you can go all the way to Paris.
A tour bus took us to the boat dock where we joined the other bus groups. The two tour guides shared the narration duties on the boat. The boat was very nice and the view was great but the tinted windows and morning glare made it very difficult to take pictures. I wonder if in different weather the boat top could be removed?
One of the first things we noticed was all the swans and the houseboats on the river. These houseboats are old barges parked in the canal Over 100 families live on the river. 25 % of the housing in Strasbourg is subsidized. Strasbourg is the seat of the European Parliament and the headquarters of many European humanitarian organizations, including the section of the European Union that deals with human rights violations including kidnapping between parents who are citizens of different countries. We passed the section of the city where these agencies are housed, beautiful buildings right along the canal.
Control of the city has transferred between many groups, particularly the Germans and the French. The city has a French flavor, but a particular section was developed with a definite German flavor to appeal to that group at a time when they were in control of the city. In fact, today many Germans from different regions of Germany visit the city for the familiarity of the architecture in this section, similar buildings have been destroyed in their home cities during the war.
We passed through two locks while on the canal with a special V opening invented by Leonardo di Vinci who took into consideration the flow of the river when creating the design. We passed the Little France Hospital and the Tanner’s Quarter. We saw the convent that became a prison and is now a prestigious University for Administration Studies. We learned that the more carving in the timber on the facade of the home, the more prosperous the owner. We passed the Raven Bridge (Torture Bridge) where prisoners were put in cages and dropped in the river. If they got out, they were free; most were eaten by ravens (hence the name).
At the conclusion of the canal tour, we left the boat and took the short walk to the Cathedral. I enjoyed the cruise which gave us a great feel for the city and the various sections. This was a tease and just made me want to return to Strasbourg. Had we not been interested in seeing the Black Forest, this would have been a great city to spend the afternoon in. Once at the Cathedral, our guide pointed out the various sites and the free toilets. There is lots of great shopping in this area of the city. Some headed straight to the stores (Boris included). I went into the Cathedral.
The interior of the Cathedral was gorgeous with beautiful stained glass and a unique astronomical clock.
When I left the Cathedral, I found Boris looking for me. He had found some interesting shops, including one that sold wonderful pottery (which I collect). The shop is La Maison de Hanssen & Gretel, 7 rue du Chaudron 67000 Strasbourg. Unfortunately, they did not offer direct shipping so it was not cost effective to purchase the pottery. Pottery is extremely delicate and heavy to carry home. I have learned from experience that you can not expect it to all be in mint condition when you arrive home. My carry on was small, so no extra space there. They did have some lovely table linens and I selected several thinking how much Sharon would like this shop; then she passed by. I think she has linen radar. We both delighted the French owners with our purchases; the wife made the linen items personally.
We crossed the canal and met our guide, a resident of the Black Forest for her entire life, for the afternoon tour. Lunch is included in our excursion and we’ll take the bus directly to the restaurant. There is a fair amount of driving involved to reach the afternoon stops.
We crossed back into Germany. At the end of the work day, so do many of the French . There is a 23% tax on renting and owning housing in France, but there is also a lower income tax. As a result, French citizens live in Kiel (on the German side where our boat is docked), but cross back over to Strasbourg in France to work.
One of the things this region is noted for is the storks. In the 1970s there were only 9 pair of storks left. During a particular season of the year they returned to Africa, but large numbers were dying in route. As a preservation method, conservationists began clipping the wings of the storks and after a few years the storks no longer attempted to make the trip Their number has grown to 700 storks today. Villages contribute to the cause by setting out food in buckets. Cameras were also install to learn what nesting materials were being used and unsafe items are removed from the nests.
We passed fields of flowers with a honor system pay box where customers could pick their own flowers and leave the payment. One survey showed the the #1 leisure activity in Germany is gardening. Another favorite is bicycling, also used for regular transportation. In Freiburg, the unofficial capital of the Black Forest, almost 100% of the citizens own bicycles and they make 45% of all their trips by bicycle.
The country is 40% forest. The pathways we traveled were not entirely or densely covered, but the cleared areas serve their part in preservation. The Romans feared the Black Forest and did not clear the land but simply made roads through it. The Irish came 1200 years ago and began to clear the area, building monasteries. There was significant logging in the 14th century; Amsterdam was built of wood from the Black Forest.
Reforesting efforts began in the 1850s. While the area used to be predominately beech trees, most of the reforesting has been done with spruce. 70% of the world’s cardboard production is done with trees from the Black Forest. Two of three tea bags are made from wood coming from the Black Forest.
We stopped for a traditional cold lunch of meats, cheese, and salad, including the famous black forest ham. The food was wonderful and we had the opportunity to have lunch with Sharon and Wendall who were also on the tour. There was time for just a brief walk in the forest and enjoyment of the lovely views before we were off to The House of Black Forest Clocks.
Right out front at our destination was what must be the world’s largest working coo coo clock. Along with the Pom Pom hats, cake, and ham, the carved wooden clocks are a symbol of the Black Forest. The clocks are a tradition going back 350 years. They are made almost entirely out of wood and were originally built by farmers in winter when it was too cold to work outdoors. The call of the coo-coo was probably chosen because it only needs two notes and is easy to replicate. (It is not because coo coo birds are good parents. The coo coo does not take care of its own young; it leaves their eggs in the nests of other birds, often ones smaller than themselves. They leave the rearing to these substitute parents.) Our guide passed around a sample bellows for us to see how the sound is produced.
At the House of Black Forest Clocks, you can browse through the gift shop and go upstairs and have a piece of black forest cake (included in our tour) in their cafe. Of course we picked out our own special clock. I had a hard time, but decided to go with the one I was first drawn to. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the owner Mr. Adolf Herr (yes, Mr. Mr.) who designs the clocks. He offered each of us a sampling of cherry wine. Inside he demonstrated his carving skills. He is a 6th generation clockmaker.
I don’t eat chocolate, but joined Boris while he sampled the cake. When we left, Mr. Herr gave us a copy of the recipe for traditional Black Forest Cake. Our guide translated some of the ingredients for us.
Our final stop was Vogtsbauernhof, the open air museum of Black Forest traditions and culture where they have original traditional village dwellings of the Black Forest. We had less than two hours, but you could spend the whole day here. I definitely recommend more time than we had. Our guide began by taking us to one of the traditional homes and giving us some background.
It is a fascinating study of a way of life. The home had space for the family on the ground floor with a ladder to the upper, bedroom floors. The cattle had the far end of the lower floor. Carriages and sleds were stored on the top floor. The home was built on a sloping hillside and a ramp connected the third level to the land for easy access.
The roofs of the dwellings were thatched, except over the doorways where both the people and animals entered. In the case of a fire and burning thatch, the alternate roof over the doorways allowed people and animals to escape the fire unharmed. It took anywhere from 300 to 500 trees to provide the wood to build a single home.
The heat was kept inside to keep the wood dry and prevent insects; smoke meat; provide better warmth; and to camouflage the smell of the animals. Of course there were lots of lung problems. This is one of the reasons beds were shorter. (I always thought it was because people had been shorter and had gotten taller over time). People slept upright so they could breathe better so the bed didn’t need to be as long. Lying down was also associated with death.
Electricity did not come to the Black Forest until 1919. Prior to that oil lamps were used. 300 traditional homes are still in use in the Black Forest today.
During the ride home our guide passed around a personal photo album of things she had talked about, including the animals of the region.We were exhausted after a long hot day, but it was fabulous and I recommend a visit. Lots of farm houses rent out rooms and I think that would be the best way to experience the area. Better start working on my German.