Being fabulous in the Forest

“I wonder why they call it the Black Forest?” I say aloud as we wound our way through the streets. It’s a Sunday- the day when everything is closed in Germany- and the three of us have decided to celebrate a day off by going for a walk in the infamous Black Forest. A quick Chrome-assisted Google search (instant translation for the win!) has given us dozens of walking trails to choose from, and we’ve selected one with nearby parking and options for a 3, 5, or 11-kilometer hike. Even though we’re not 100% sure what we’re getting ourselves into, we’re excited to be spending the day outside.

After a brief scrabble and series of parking misadventures, we find ourselves following a steep road up the side of a large hill. Even though it’s not hot outside, the road is un-shaded and we quickly find ourselves sweating in the sun. Up, up, up…the road narrows, becomes more like a path, as we climb towards what we hope will be a trail through the Black Forest. Right now, as Hannah is quick to point out, our path is neither Black nor particularly Forest-y. She speculates that the forest was named in jest.

Much to our relief, the path eventually becomes more level. We’re still in the sun, overlooking the towns in the surrounding valleys, but the view is spectacular and we don’t appear to be lost- a major risk of finding hiking trails that are labeled according to unfamiliar standards. We take a few moments to photograph the scenery, catch our breath, and drink a little water before pressing on. And around the corner, we’re rewarded when we find the Forest.

It sounds dramatic to say that- “we find the Forest”- but the way our trail intersects with the tree line, it’s entirely true. Up ahead, our bright, sun-soaked trail leads straight into a straight edge of forest, composed of extremely tall trees with absolutely no branches growing from the lower 40 or 50 feet of their trunks. It’s almost as though a razor were used to create the line. And from this vantage point, the answer to my question is evident: where the trees are growing, the foliage is so dense that the forest appears to be in a constant night. It’s enough to give me a brief chill.

Once inside, however, the atmosphere is significantly less intimidating- and lighter- than it appears from the outside. Grasses as long as my leg cover the forest floor, and we can hear a few birds high overhead. The path winds its way among the trees, which are spaced far enough apart that we can envision the princesses of European legend- Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Clara, and even Disney’s Belle- meeting witches, falling asleep, and having their fairy-tale adventures around every corner. Every now and then we pass rickety-looking deer stands- the only reminder that we aren’t the only humans in here. Beyond our footsteps on the dirt path, and the hushed conversation we pass back and forth, the forest is serene and very, very quiet.

As our path proceeds throughout the afternoon, the forest changes as well. The long grasses and branchless trees give way to more scrub and shorter, coniferous trees, and we start to encounter more people- some running, some on horseback, many with dogs. We stop and picnic on the side of the trail, drinking radler and trying to suppress the subsequent belches when other hikers are nearby, and watch the local insect life parade across the path in grave peril of being trampled. “Why did the beetle cross the road?” Hannah asks us at one point. “To make an album cover!”

Eventually, when we pick up our bags and return to the hike, we find that the trail winds back to the village by way of private roads. For a while, we walk past hillside homes with overwhelming views of the forests and valleys, small leafy bushes and low-hanging branches brushing against us as we stroll by. Our trail switch-backs through the same scrubby hillside flora we had encountered on our way up, and we’re back in the city centre. As we walk back to the car, we make plans for our next hikes- an all-day trek through the trees, a backpacking expedition through the entire region, Sunday afternoon strolls like the one we’ve just had. And as we talk, it becomes increasingly obvious that our brief afternoon hike was only the beginning of our Black Forest adventures.