Wednesday, September 5, 2012

BREISACH, GERMANY: Part 1, Trip into the Forest

Breisach is a little town on the Rhine in southwestern Germany with a population of 15,000.  It is known for its wine and has three kilometers of caves where the wine is made.  I knew cheese is sometimes made in caves, but I didn't know wine can be as well.  This area produces 175,000,000 liters of wine per year.  WOW.

Wine growing in the region started in the Roman Empire era with vines brought from Italy.  There was a Roman law that soldiers had to drink one liter of wine each day.  No doubt that is why this region was such a popular place to be assigned!

A book on the Black Forest region given to me
by Mom after our trip there with her in 2000.
Breisach was the first stop on our Rhine River Cruise.  How wonderful to be in Germany, in the Black Forest region that our mother loved so much!  We were at the start of a journey on which we would see several places where Mom had spent significant amounts of time.

This was a bittersweet experience for the ten of us as we thought of Mom's youth spent in this country, and of her love for Germany that kept drawing her back summer after summer until she was almost 80, well over 50 years after she had emigrated to the United States.

Bob and I and our kids had also driven through this region with Mom in December 2000 when we traveled with her in Germany.  Although covered in snow at that time, it was still incredibly beautiful.  I remember her pleasure in sharing it with us.  For some reason I do not understand, she refused to let us take notes while she talked.  How I wish now that we had somehow taped our conversations!

Anyway.  When we docked in Breisach, we hopped on a bus and headed for the Black Forest.

 We had a very fun guide for this tour who told us all kinds of interesting information, including these facts:
* 90% of Germans speak some English.
* The "Black" Forest was a name given by Romans because the hills look black in color.
* The European watershed is in the Black Forest.  The Rhine runs north, and the Danube runs south to the Black Sea.
* For those who want to buy a home in Germany, only 50% mortgage loans are available.
* Breisach has more sunny days than any other town in Germany, but the average temperature is only 55º F.
* The highest point in the Black Forest is 1500 meters (4921 feet) above sea level.
* One-third of Germany is covered by woods and forests, and there are 3000 km of footpaths in the forest. (That's 1864 miles!)
* The first ever referendum on the possibility of a European community was held in Breisach in 1952, and Breisach was the first city to vote in favor of such a move.
* The Black Forest area is 70% Catholic.
* 90% of Germans declare a religious affiliation for tax purposes, and a portion of their taxes goes to support the churches.  10% declare themselves atheists, and the same amount of money goes to the government.  That's quite different from our idea of the separation of church and state!  Although not many Germans actually attend church, they do realize the cultural value of their beautiful old buildings.

Our first stop was St. Peter's Monastery in the tiny town of St. Peter.  It was a lovely Baroque church built and burned down several times from the 11th century to the 14th century, and finally rebuilt in its current form in the 1720s.  Unfortunately, the abbey was closed when its lands and holdings were secularized and given to German monarchs in 1806, but the building is still maintained using those government funds just mentioned.

 I love the colorful interiors of Bavarian churches:

 I've spent some time trying to figure out the difference between Baroque and Rococo.  I would have said that this church is an example of the Rococo style, which is also what our guide said, based on its light interior and bright colors.  However, it is very symmetrical and linear, and most sources I looked at said those are Baroque features, and that this is a Baroque church.  A Rococo church would focus more on curves and assymetry, and there would be more secular art along with the religious art.

I couldn't help but be drawn to the sprinkling baptism and flying dove on the left and the gruesome upside-down crucifixion of St. Peter on the right.

Zoom in on that figure on the left.  Why is he waving to the baby lying on the ground?

The area surrounding this monastery church was as beautiful as the church itself:

Imagine living in a town where the retirees play this kind of chess in the courtyard:

 . . . or where a thirsty resident can get a drink from a fountain like this one:

We returned to our bus and headed deeper into the forest, enjoying the sights as we rolled along:

Our second stop was at Hofgut Sternan, a little forest-hidden artisan village known for its production of cuckoo clocks.  I loved this shop which is itself a cuckoo clock.  On the hour, figures come out of those doorways and dance to music:
 In addition to the cuckoo clocks, handcrafted glass items are popular tourist items, and several glassblowers were at work:
 However, it was hard to compete with wall after wall of beautiful cuckoo clocks:

These babies ain't cheap.  For example, this one was priced at 995 euro, or about $1250 US dollars:
Rather than a beautiful, meaningful, hand-carved cuckoo clock that would look fabulous on my living room wall, I settled for a rich, delicious piece of Black Forest Cake that doesn't look so great resting on my hips:

After a long morning touring the Black Forest, some of us were a little worn out:

 In fact, some of us were getting just a little loopy:

Angie and Pete, I'm not sure why I didn't get a picture of you.  Count your blessings. Of course, you never know what is in future posts . . . 


  1. It was hard not to think constantly of Mom, wasn't it? I didn't get a piece of that cake. Time to go back.

    Who ARE those fools in your last picture???

  2. I'm glad you got some good pictures of the Black Forest. But none of the fun church in Breisach with the funky statue in the courtyard (and the drunk woman climbing on top of it)?

  3. We stood in line with a guy who studied drink in the Middle Ages (water wasn't really potable then). Yep, they were allowed one liter a day, but the women and children only were allowed mead to drink. This guy invited us to dinner, hoping we'd split a bottle of wine with him, but he found out (at dinner) that we were non-drinkers, so he about drank the whole bottle himself. I'll always think of him and his factoids when I think of the Vatican.

    We loved the Black Forest! Your pictures are wonderful, Judy.