The Black Forest is probably the second German region behind Bavaria that most of us have heard about from overseas. We know it’s, well, a forest and that it has something to do with fairytales. The Brothers Grimm, perhaps?
I’m of course talking about the fairytales in their original version––not the cutesy, sanitized versions that found their way to Disney. The German versions wouldn’t give two Scheiße about our modern conceptions of protecting children from violence and gore. The violence and gore were front and center in these stories. And many of these stories were inspired by the region of southwestern Germany we know today as the Black Forest.
The Black Forest
I’d been to the Black Forest once before. (Well, twice if you count that time I ran around Europa Park.) My last visit was nearly four years ago, spent almost exclusively in Baden-Baden. A perfectly lovely place, but it was before I was savvy in the ways of making the most of a German destination. Namely, I didn’t know about the plethora of Fernwanderwege or long-distance hiking trails and the various apps out there to help you find them and/or plan hikes in general.
We returned to the Black Forest with one objective––to run. After a short overnight in Freiburg, we hopped back on the train and over to Triberg––a village firmly ensconced in the Black Forest so much so that surrounding villages like Triberg often have “im Schwarzwald” or “in the Black Forest” as part of their name.
The plan was to spend a day in Triberg before packing up our running packs and charging up the nearby Mount Kandel. And by nearby, I mean 30-ish kilometers. We were to run to the top, spend the night on the mountain, and then meander back down.
Of course, it wasn’t clear whether or not the weather would mitspiel as the Germans would say––to play along.
Triberg and Clocks
Rain, rain, and then some more rain. That was our greeting to Triberg. We spent our first day underneath an umbrella and indoors. There’s an aesthetic that Black Forest visitors might mistake as Bavarian––and it is similar––but it’s also very much its own thing. We learned as much by ducking into the Black Forest museum where in the span of about an hour, you can learn about the different traditional outfits and the history of the region’s clock culture.
Indeed, that might be the other reason you know about the Black Forest. It’s where the cuckoo clock comes from, a relic of a time when––for reasons beyond my comprehension––people wanted a mechanical bird to scare the shit out of them every hour. The clocks are truly impressive, though.
What really stuck with me, though, weren’t the clocks, but the elaborate orchestra machines. These were the true mechanical wonders of their era. Drop in a coin and watch as a machine as large as a bookshelves plays back a composition with live instruments. But be warned––it’s loud. Melanie just about jumped through an adjacent exhibit surrounded in glass when the first notes of the tune startled her. You can see it in action somewhere within my Triberg story on Instagram.
Hoping that running would be in our future despite the rain, we took our host’s recommendation of getting some traditional food at Landgasthof Zur Lilie. For all the crap German cuisine gets, it’s where I go for a proper potato soup. But surprise, surprise––they weren’t serving potato soup anymore. They’d just switched to pumpkin served in drinking glass with cream swirled on top like a sundae. Suffice it to say, I’ve had worse appetizers.
For the main, I opted to truly dive into tradition with an order of Schäufele––cuts of meat from the pig’s shoulder. This is why I call myself vegetarian-ish. I cook and usually order vegetarian. But if I’m traveling, I’ll try the local specialty no matter what it is. It’s just basic traveling manners, you know? Unfortunately for this piggy piggy, folks in the Black Forest love their ham, and after some local Schäufele, it wasn’t difficult to understand why.
On our first full day, we were fortunate to find a break in the rain and head out for a run. We opted for a loop that would take us through the Triberg Waterfall at the end of our 11-kilometer run. It was an easy jaunt with just a fraction of the climbing we had ahead of us in Kandel, but we were grateful nonetheless to warm up our legs before the big climb the next day.
We ended with a downhill switchback shuffle alongside the Triberg Waterfall. This is why most travelers would come to Triberg. There is a price of admission, but if you’re staying in town, you’ll have to pay an overnight tourist tax that gets you a pass to cover certain destinations and public transit. Entrance to the Triberg Waterfall is one of those perks.
The Triberg Waterfalls are Deutschlands höchste Wasserfälle––the tallest waterfalls in Germany. Water from the Gutach River comes plunging down a total of 163 meters. But it’s not just one tremendous plunge. The falls are broken up into a series of sections as if the waterfall developed its own lock system. As far as Black Forest culture goes in my book, it definitely beats mechanical birds yelling at you on the hour.
To Mount Kandel
We’d been obsessively checking the weather forecast over the past day, downloading different weather apps to compare. By the morning of our planned long run up to Kandel, the forecast remained wonderfully vague and uncertain. According to various forecast, there might a thunderstorm toward the end of our run. Rain doesn’t scare me off, but the threat of lightning on the side of a mountain can.
Over breakfast, we finally made the decision to go for it. Our gut feeling was that it’d be okay. Plus, it’s what we’d come to do. So we were going to fucking do it. And so around eight in the morning on that first of September, we were on the streets of Triberg in our running gear––me with the heavier pack with our clothes and food and Melanie in the lighter Salomon vest––starting our march up to Kandel.
All According To Plan?
We planned our route using Komoot by simply plugging in our start and end points. The app figured out the rest––for the most part. There was a hiccup where Komoot guided us through trail that clearly no longer existed, if it ever did. But I hardly blame Komoot because in most any other corner of Germany, there would’ve been a sign to a place like Kandel. In fact, it wouldn’t be until the final few kilometers up the mountain that we’d finally see a sign pointing to the peak of Kandel.
Otherwise, the route was remarkably smooth and easy to follow considering it took Komoot fumbling together whatever it could fine between us and Kandel. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t run into a couple of other road blocks.
Just south of Neuenweg, the route pointed us across the Gutach and a small pasture before ducking back into the forest. Problem is, a farmer had blocked off this public route (there were trail markers to other destinations pointing in the same direction) for his cows. The farmer left a sign that said cutting through the field was forbidden and “a threat to life.”
I looked at the map and didn’t see another option through that didn’t add significant kilometers to our already long route. So, we opted to roll under the wire, keep our distance from the cows, and follow the short path across the field where we rolled under another set of wires and back onto the trail. In total, we were probably under “a threat to life” for not more than a minute or two. But it was long enough for me to imagine my bovine-made obituary.
Google Maps to the Rescue
Shortly thereafter, about 21 kilometers in, the Komoot route appeared to take us through someone’s backyard to start the ascent up the mountain. After failing to spot anything, I asked a curious onlooker how to get up Kandel and she kindly pointed us back down to the road and around the pasture. Even then, there weren’t signs or anything that made it clear how to get up the mountain. Eventually I took to mixing our Komoot route with what Google Maps said was the best way to get to the top.
Finally, we found our way, but only to lead us along a trail that was eventually blocked by a fence warning of lumberjacks at work. Again, the “Durchgang” or way through was forbidden and “a threat to life.” But once more, we didn’t see another way to the top and we weren’t about to call it quits or head back into town and call a cab. We decided that if lumberjacks were at work, we’d probably hear some chainsaws. We didn’t.
And so we shimmied around the fence and continued on our way. For the record, the only other fence we saw on the trail to presumably block hikers coming from the other direction was tossed to the side of the trail. I decided that perhaps due to the pandemic, work was cancelled, and someone forgot to take down their fence or never had the chance to. In any event, I’m writing now so that means we didn’t get crushed by a falling tree. Mazel tov for us.
The Final Ascent
At this point, we were running with a slight ascent along wide gravel travel. I assumed that would be the end of it until we finally found our first sign pointing to Kandel, the one I mentioned earlier. I was happy to see the sign, but not happy to see what it was pointing to. The arrow-shaped wooden sign pointed toward brush that had clearly long since covered up the trail. But we charged on nonetheless with me regretting that I had forgotten my longer hiking pants. My knees broke out with small, itchy hives as they rubbed against the adjacent plant life covering the trail. I must’ve looked like John Cleese’s Minister of Silly Walks trying to step over branches and leaves.
Somehow our planned 28-kilometer run turned into 34 kilometers. But about six-and-a-half hours after we started, we were finally at the peak of Kandel––1241.3 meters and the second highest point in the Black Forest behind Feldberg at 1493 meters.
After much fretting, the rain stayed away for the entirety of our run until a cool, windy sprinkle at the very end. We stumbled into the Berggasthaus Kandelhof and began the process of removing our horrifically smelly clothes (not before checking in, mind you).
Zweribach Falls and Furtwangen
The next day’s run down the mountain was far less eventful. We used Komoot again to plan a route, shorter this time to Furtwangen where we could get a bus back to Triberg. In planning the route, I noticed more waterfalls along the way––Zweribach Falls.
Though not as high or tremendous as those in Triberg, they were far less visited and therefore not as developed. You could still walk across rocks to get closer to the falls. Had it been a warmer summer day, I would’ve happily jumped in for a dip. As it were, I was perfectly content to admire with respectful distance––social distancing from the falls, if you will.
With one last morning to kill in Triberg, Melanie decided to take a rest from running. But I wanted to take advantage of the clear skies and head out for one last jaunt around Triberg. There was that autumnal crispness in the air that I’d been loving since arriving a few days prior. It’s no wonder this corner of Germany is one of the most popular regions to visit for some natural therapy.
And as most of my stories on Germany end, I left with loose plans to come back. After all, there are plenty of Fernwanderwege criss-crossing throughout the Black Forest. If I don’t run them, who will?
Looking for more Germany? Check out the Germany off the beaten path travel guide, my top things to do in Germany, the most important German travel phrases, and how to ride the German train system. Want something more literary? Read chapters from my upcoming memoir on moving to and living in Germany — There Must Be Order.