Busy Doing Nothing in the Black Forest

7 – 22 August 2019

We ended up spending an extra day at Stockach as the nice people at Caramobil completely failed to live up to the German stereotype of efficiency. We were indeed booked in for 7th August but despite us turning up a week early to check all was in order and get extra parts delivered, they had failed to order the fly-screen door we were booked in to have replaced. And then they had ordered the wrong fridge door. And failed to order the window catch at all. After seeing the look on our faces they hurriedly arranged to get a fly-screen there the next day and fit it as soon as it arrived.  

So a day later than intended we headed from Lake Constance to the Black Forest (Schwarzwald), an area of rolling hills with dark conifers cloaking their slopes. On the flatter ground, fields of maize and, surprisingly, tobacco (although we have seen a lot of cigarette machines around, we haven’t noticed a lot of smoking). The small town of Staufen im Breisgau is on the western edge of the Black Forest close to the French border and has a small campsite just 10 minutes walk upstream from the centre.

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Camping Belchenblick reception, Staufen im Breisgau

We had booked in for a while, Danny being convinced that German summers would be lovely and we would get in lots of cycle rides and walking.  

The day we arrived the sun was indeed shining and the town’s outdoor swimming pool next door to the campsite was buzzing. But the greenness of the landscape should have given us warning and we soon found that Britain is not the only place with unpredictable weather. The general tone was grey skies, regular periods of heavy rain and occasionally glorious sunshine which inevitably resulted in a thunderstorm – quite spectacular at times.

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The good news was that it was generally warm and once we managed a whole 8 hours without rain. The bad news was that sometimes it was colder than London.

The campsite is set between the river, and the railway & main-road. Given that our pitch was separated from the railway line and automatic crossing by just a privet hedge, we can report that the train service runs like clockwork.

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Our pitch, with  level crossing behind!

Thankfully the trains are short, electrified and only run every half hour. It surprised us how quickly we got used to it. Okay, it’s not as quaint as the cuckoo clocks that originate around here but pretty much as good for keeping track of time. 

Staufen itself is a pretty small town with an attractive old square that hosts a Saturday market, and a main street with small water channels (bächle) either side. Supplied by the river, these medieval runnels originally supplied water for drinking and for fire-fighting but today their main use appears to be for children to sail small wooden boats along. The town has a really nice feel and the buildings in the centre are very traditional in style although many are showing some big cracks. This is the result of a geothermal drilling operation in 2007 to provide heating for the town hall that went badly wrong. The old town has since risen several inches causing significant structural damage to 270 different buildings – two had to be torn down entirely. Tasteful protest signs are painted by some of the worst cracks. It’s a very polite kind of a place.

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Staufen Altstadt (Old Town)  – Town hall on right, red protest sign centre-left

The Neuman River that runs through the town has been contained within a pretty tree-lined channel with foot-and cycle-paths along it, and on the outskirts is an attractive old ruined castle on a small, vine-clad hill. Nice.

For Danny’s birthday we made use of the free regional public transport pass provided by the campsite by taking the train to the ‘capital’ of the Black Forest, Freiburg im Bresigau, where we dropped our bags at the Holiday Inn Express and headed off to explore.  

Freiburg is an old city and its position as a strategic transport hub led to it being badly bombed during WWII by the RAF – and also the Luftwaffe, by mistake! The centre has been rebuilt on its medieval footprint and many buildings round the Münsterplatz (the main square) look genuinely old. At it’s centre is the impressive red-sandstone cathedral with intricately carved spire, gargoyles and statues that took over 300 years to complete. Despite it’s size the bombers somehow missed it.

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Freiburger Münster (cathedral)

Impressive as it was, Danny refused to visit a church on his birthday. Instead we dandered around the bustling daily farmer’s market that surrounds the cathedral, filling the square with delicious smells. 

Like Staufen, the streets of the old town have bächle running alongside them, the gurgle of the water adding to the charm of the place. But even outside the old town centre there is a relaxed feel. The “most environmentally friendly city in Germany” has very light traffic with trams powered only by clean electricity and thousands of cycles making for minimal traffic noise.

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A busy street in Freiburg – with bächle & tramlines 

On a more sombre note Freiburg commemorates its Jewish citizens who were shipped off for extermination by way of bronze plaques set in the pavement outside their houses, and the site of the old synagogue, burnt to the ground by the SS in 1938, now has a shallow, reflective pool of water in it’s footprint. But it’s difficult to be sombre in Freiburg when the sun is shining and you are surrounded by the hum of people enjoying themselves – shoppers sampling the farmers produce, students sitting on the warm pavements chatting, and children playing in the fountains near the old synagogue.

In the evening we visited the Zirbelstube restaurant for a Birthday meal, a pine-clad place with crisp white tablecloths and waiters in traditional dress. We had finally discovered German food that didn’t involve some sort of pork with potato. Delicious. 

Back in Staufen we spent our time bouncing backwards and forwards to Camping Hentrich in Bad Krozingen to finally get the refrigerator door – a remarkably expensive item – and in-between that dandering round the village (it has and amazing cake & chocolate shop) or wimpishly sheltering from the rain and storms. 

Despite the weather we stayed longer than intended, waiting for a couple of parcels to arrive. As we had no TV reception – an inconsiderately placed birch tree saw to that – we had time to catch up with lots of reading, a couple of box sets and 3-months worth of The Archers. And in a break in the rain, a group of Alpenhorn players visited the campsite and provided an evening’s cultural entertainment – we find it’s the unplanned and unexpected that often provide the most memorable experiences.

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Alpenhorn Players, Camping Belchenblick – a memorable experience