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Germany, Cuckoo Clocks And The Black Forest

Germany's Black Forest, the Schwarzwald, is a tourist hot spot bordering France and Switzerland in the far south west of Baden-Württemberg. Air fresh and pine scented. Forest filled with color: reds, golds, oranges, browns, greens and yellows. At night dark, mysterious.

A mixture of wild romantic landscapes, woods, vineyards, hills, mountains, lakes, waterfalls and thermal springs; scattered with ancient wide roofed farmhouses, castles, palaces, baroque churches and monasteries.

And famous for traditional wood carving, including the Black Forest Cuckoo Clock. Carved wooden pendulum driven clocks that use small bellows and pipes to mark time with the sound of a cuckoo, and strike of a gong.

When the cuckoo clock tradition began isn't known, although there is a 1629 description of one belonging to a Prince Elector as well as a 1650 musical handbook with an illustration. Although often claimed cuckoo clocks came from Switzerland, which is just across the border, it was in the Black Forest the industry first began and developed during the 18th century.

Long snowbound winters together with a plentiful supply of trees, initially even the clock’s parts were wood, meant making and carving Cuckoo Clocks was a profitable way for farmers, and others whose work depended on the seasons, to use the winter months.

When spring arrived the completed clocks were sold from a rack mounted on the back of a member of the family or a clock peddler, Der Uhrentraeger. A "clock carrier" who sold them door to door, wearing a traditional smock and hat still worn by some guides in the Black Forest.

Originally it would take the clock maker a week to make a clock, but by 1780 teams of two were able to produce ten clocks a week, and by the mid 19th century three people, two craftsmen and an apprentice, could make 18 clocks in the same time.

A form of mass production had developed in an industry that by 1808 had grown to involve almost 700 clockmakers and 600 clock sellers.

Germany is crisscrossed with theme routes, from The Romantic Road to signposts of the life of former Pope Benedict XVI, and one of them is the Deutsche Uhrenstrasse; a circular 320 kilometer "German Clock Road". Beginning and ending in the city of Villingen-Schwenningen, it explores and highlights the traditions and history of Black Forest clock making with workshops, museums, clock face painting studios and the world's largest Cuckoo Clock.

A journey into the world of clocks, it travels through medieval villages and beautiful areas of central and southern Schwarzwald; as well as the eastern edge of the Baar area mountain range.

One of the most scenic of Germany’s routes it passes Titisee, the largest natural lake in the Black Forest and formed by the glacier from a 1493 meter, almost 5,000 feet, peak Der Feldberg. It is believed to be named after the Roman Emperor Titus, who lived in Germania briefly, and parts of the region were under under Roman Empire control for centuries.

A hundred years ago Titisee was just a few farm houses, but as a now popular health resort it has joined the region’s historic thermal springs; valued since the Roman era and a center for health cures and spa treatments for centuries.

The "Gutach", a small river flowing from Lake Titisee, joins another forming the foaming "Wutach" and then travels through a gorge. A nature reserve since 1928, the thirteen kilometer long trail passes Flora and Fauna that have died out long ago elsewhere, and where there are 1200 protected rare species. From moss and ferns, to more than one hundred different kinds of birds, 500 species of butterflies and 1,000 different beetles.

Triberg, a "picture book" old town, has spectacular waterfalls that make unforgettable backgrounds to an annual Advent Christmas market, and a traditional clock maker, who continues to produce an entire cuckoo clock himself. From the clock movements to making and carving its brown stained case.

Old customs are still alive in the whole of the Black Forest, including the costumes from throughout the clock making area, which are not only for the tourist industry but worn on Sundays, Christian holidays and special occasions.

The "Bollenhut" is a hat decorated with large red poms, and worn after a Roman Catholic confirmation for as long as the wearer remains unmarried; then red is replaced by black. About 2 kilograms (4 pounds) of wool is used for each hat and they have become a symbol of the Black Forest, but officially Bollenhüte belong to only three villages: Gutach, Kirnbach and Hornberg-Reichenbach.

Other villages have their own costumes, and there are 158 different styles of hat, such as the Schäppel in this photo worn by a bride on her wedding day, the replacement for her Bollenhut with red poms.

Just to make a change from clocks there are "Köstlichkeiten aus dem Schwarzwald". Delicacies from the Black Forest including from the 14,000 "Kirschwasser" distilleries. The majority artisanal, and producing among other Edelbrände the sour cherry liquor that, for centuries, has been one of the region's specialty fruit schnapps. While also originally made from wild cherries is the delicious, if made correctly, "Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte", Black Forest Gateau. A layered combination of chocolate, cherries and cream.

Schnapps joins many regional specialties found on the clock route as the Black Forest is a real treat for food lovers. There are the many varieties of Black Forest Ham, Schwarzwälder Schinken, spiced and cured as it was in the days when salting, or smoking, meat was the only known way to preserve it to last throughout winter; fitting perfectly to rye breads still baked in wood fired ovens. A huge variety of specialty sausages only found locally, Cold Cuts, Forest Honey, Schwarzwälder Bärlauch-Senf - wild garlic mustard, different wine jams; the list is almost endless and then of course there are the Michelin starred restaurants that use local produce.

The Black Forest and the Deutsche Uhrenstrasse, German Clock Route, filled with tradition, history, scenery, thermal springs and old fashioned inns. A feast for not only for the mind, eyes and health but also the appetite.


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Illustrations: Black Forest Farm house from 1900, typical of those still found in the area, Library of Congress - Watercolour depicting 18th century home based Cuckoo Clock Makers courtesy de.Wikipedia - Gutach Tracht with Bollenhut and Schäppel, trachtenkapelle-gutach.de



Germany (Eyewitness Travel Guides): The Eyewitness Travel Guide for Germany is absolutely the best travel book available for anyone who wants to visit the country, either from the comfort of their armchair or in person. It has stunning illustrations together with easy to read descriptions, and is my personal favorite.





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