German rhapsody

By Parag Ranjan Dutta

Eindhoven, Netherlands, August 11, 2012: My wife and I were on a 15-day tour of Europe. After an early continental breakfast we headed towards the German city of Cologne, enjoyed an orientation tour of the city. But we were eagerly waiting for the river cruise on the Rhine, from Boppard to St Goar, which was a lifetime experience.
As we passed by the lovely little towns, medieval castles, beautiful crop fields and vineyards on hill slopes along the Rhine, the natural and cultural landscapes intertwined to form a collage of some sort. After a one-and-a-half hour cruise, we alighted from the steamer and our coach rolled on towards Heidelberg. We were still following the Rhine to our left and reached Heidelberg late in the afternoon, almost in the twilight hour. Under the mellow sun, Heidelberg looked magical, with few cars and pedestrians on the roads.
Heidelberg is a world famous town university of Germany. We had dinner at an Indian restaurant. While most of the group members were relaxing after a hectic day’s activity I preferred to go for a stroll around. Darkness hadn’t descended yet because in Europe, daylight lasts till nine to quarter past nine in the evening. Beautiful trams were passing by, elderly women walking slowly back to their homes and small boys were peddling their bicycles in the special lanes. To my surprise I noticed a barber shop with a signboard in English!
August 12: We were staying at Hirschberg for the night with NH hotels, a Spanish chain of hotels found across the major cities of Europe. The hotel location was far from the madding crowd and almost outside the city limit of Heidelberg. The surrounding was full of greenery. On the eighth day of our tour, we were to reach Switzerland. After breakfast, we all assembled for a memorable photo session and hurried onto the coach for a long journey to the Swiss town of Engelberg.
At about eight, the wheels of the coach rolled on towards Black Forest. Beautiful German countryside on both sides of the road was a treat to the eyes. Wheat crop was already been harvested and carefully packed to be sent to the market. Just before entering the Black Forest region, the landscape changed from the barren fields to lush green Alpine meadows and small settlements with few huts.
During our drive through the Black Forest region of Germany we came across the most picturesque stretch of the entire tour. Germany was gradually unfolding its natural charm which made me mesmerised. The Black Forest is a deeply wooded region of mixed deciduous trees mainly of pine, elm, spruce and fir. Black Forest gets its name from the thick canopy of the evergreen coniferous forest which makes the sunlight very difficult to reach the forest floor. Hence the forest looks dark and black.
According to another view, the dark coloured fir and pine trees make the forest look dark and black. To our right, the Alpine meadows looked like green Persian carpets. As we passed through the Black Forest, the famous American poet Robert Frost’s words crossed my mind, “The woods are lovely dark and deep/But I have promises to keep/And miles to go before I sleep/And miles to go before I sleep.”
The second largest river of Europe, the Danube, originates here in the Black Forest region of southwestern Germany. Black Forest is also the name of a block mountain where the mighty Rhine flows through a rift valley in between the Black Forest and Mt Vosges of France but to commoners, ‘Black Forest’ is just the brand name of a pastry.
Our coach captain stopped at Drubba clock factory premises at Titisee for a lunch break and a visit to the clock museum. Nestled between two low lying mountain ranges, the clock factory is in the midst of a dense forest. The journey of the family shop began in 1956 when a couple, Klaus and Ursula Drubba, came to Titisee and began manufacturing and selling cuckoo clocks in the Black Forest village which is the home of original cuckoo clocks. The largest clock in the entire Black Forest region can be seen at the entrance to the factory.
Above the clock there is a small balcony decorated with flowers. A small stream with crystal clear water leisurely flows past the clock factory. The beautiful mountain range just behind the clock factory is clothed with conifers interspersed with Alpine meadows. The only German mountain railway track passes through the scenic Black Forest region.
The railway line is just above the hotel Hofgut Sternen and passes through a forest of dark fir trees. Hofgut Sternen has a self-service restaurant, Revenna Grill, for local cuisine. But we enjoyed a very tasty Indian cuisine in a makeshift tent. After lunch we had some time to visit to the clock factory and the museum. We were told that the wooden frames of the clocks are made of a hard wood variety, called linden found in Europe. There was a live demo of how the clocks are made.
After spending about an hour we headed towards the Rhine Falls at Schaffhausen along the German Swiss border.
As we hit the road settlements with typical house type designs and decorated with flower beds hanging from windows and balconies appeared at intervals and they looked very much colourful. Better known as Rhine falls, here the mighty Rhine plunges down cascading through a fall of 23 meters.
From a great distance we could hear the thundering sound and saw pure white foam of the falls. Schaffhausen is spectacular and the largest waterfall and one of the most important hydropower generating stations of Europe. This border town is a popular day-trip destination from Zurich and other Swiss cities.
Restaurants, souvenir shops and boat trips are available at Schaffhausen. The urrounding countryside is beautiful. The waterfall can be best seen from the right bank of the river and one can have a stroll along the sidewalks. We took a boat ride by paying five Euros each to reach a very steep cliff in the middle of the falls, where hardly one can stand with ease.
We had to climb a number of very narrow and steep steps carved on the tough cliff itself. I had to be extra careful standing on the precipice while taking pictures of the thunderous fall and the surrounding countryside. We spent about an hour at Schaffhausen and continued our journey to Zurich and then to Engelberg, our destination for three nights in Switzerland.

(The author is former head of the Department of Geography at
St Edmund’s College)

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