A region known for its dense forests, picturesque towns, and stories from the Brothers Grimm, who would have guessed that a young girl’s fascination for Germany’s Black Forest region would come from a rather unusual place?
POSTED BY PINKY
I was a child of the ’70s, living in a country that was under a dictatorship that subjected our entire nation to martial law. And in the midst of all that, my family was among those fortunate to have led an ordinary life. Ordinary was good.
And like most kids, I wasn’t allowed to watch TV on school days. However, I found myself one day suddenly in the strange company of a small box. It was my parents’ old black-and-white TV. Placed inside my bedroom, much like the proverbial marshmallow experiment conducted on kids on delayed gratification – except this one was conducted on yours truly on a daily basis. Why? Because there was nowhere else in the house to put the TV in. Really? 😩
So What’s a Girl to Do?
An insomniac even then, with the lights ordered kaput by 9pm and unable to continue reading my favourite book of the moment, I oftentimes caved (I was but a child, mama!) and would naturally turn to – you guessed it – my new roommate, the telly. With the volume turned down to a bare minimum and my face practically plastered onto the screen for me to hear anything at all, I would get myself ready.
Ready for late nights of the most amazing array of old classic films. I’m talking about “Singing in the Rain”, “Brigadoon”, “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Roman Holiday”, “The Philadelphia Story”, “Sunset Boulevard”, “Rear Window”.
So where does the Cuckoo Clock come in?
In a movie called, “The Third Man” with Orson Welles. This classic film noir had everything – murder, mystery, drama, suspense, a love story, chase scenes around postwar Vienna. And this line from Orson Welles’s elusive character:
“Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
Okay first, wrong country (Orson Welles, how could you?). As I later on found out upon checking in our ever-reliable, well-worn encyclopaedia (no Google back then, kids!), cuckoo clocks were actually made in Germany, not Switzerland.
Nevertheless, as trivial or insignificant as Welles’s character made it sound, the idea of the cuckoo clock had been planted in my stream of consciousness. To me, the cuckoo clock stood for something that was foreign and new. Something to be experienced yet tangible at the same time. But more importantly, it was from another place far, far away.
And so on my first solo trip to Europe, I made sure I got to visit the Black Forest, or Schwarzwald in German.
Traditionally known as the home of the cuckoo clock, this clock wasn’t actually first invented in southwestern Germany’s heavily-forested mountains (which was how the region earned it its name, by the way). However, the technical improvements made over the years and quality produced by generations of clockmakers here since the 1700s have secured Schwarzwald’s reputation as the only place worthy of sourcing this classic German keepsake.
And entering an entire shop full of them for the first time – these amusing clocks in varying styles and sizes, some unpainted, others in vibrant colours, all cuckooing at the same time – was like being in a candy store. A Hitchcock-like moment for some, but for me it was coming face-to-face with what years before had fuelled my desire to see what it was like on the other side of the world.
And years later, on a drive from the pretty little towns along Germany’s Romantic Road towards the Alsace region of France with my husband, I finally got to try the other thing the area is known for, the Schwarzwalder Kirchstorte or Black Forest Cherry-torte, more popularly known as the Black Forest Cake or Gateau.
That’s Josef Keller’s heavenly concoction of layers of chocolate sponge cake soaked in cherry schnapps called the kirschwasser, mixed in with cherries and cream, then decorated and topped with more cherries (traditionally black), whipped cream, and chocolate shavings.
We decided to partake of the region’s famous cake by driving to the health and spa resort town of Badenweiler for afternoon tea. We had gone in late May, and luckily the air was nice and crisp, and the sun was out. So we decided to stay in a pleasant little outdoor café, eating our cake as we watched the world go by.
Here you can also enjoy the therapeutic pools (and sauna) in Cassiopeia‘s hot thermal baths. We got to explore the area and I must say, it was quite an elegant property. Set in a serene environment (it was pretty relaxing when we were there, at least), it would be perfect for a calm weekend getaway.
There are several places to stay in the area but the vibrant university town of Freiburg im Breisgau, also known simply as Freiburg, is always a good choice. Known as the Jewel of the Black Forest, it sits at the foot of vineyard-laden mountain slopes, criss-crossed by small streams, and has a pleasant medieval town crowned with an impressive Gothic cathedral and the oldest universities in the country.
The closest international airport would be the Euroairport of Basel/Freiburg/Mulhouse, 46km from Freiburg. But you can also fly into Zurich or Frankfurt, which offer more international connections, then drive or take the train to Freiburg from there.
I still don’t own a cuckoo clock. Frankly, I don’t think I ever will. I’ve come to realise that I actually take greater pleasure in the chase, knowing that the perfect cuckoo clock is still out there for me, far from my reach, just sitting, hanging, waiting to be found. And for as long as I don’t have it in my grasp, my search continues. And who knows where that’ll take me?
How about you, do you have a “cuckoo clock”?
Read about our trip to Bavaria here.