Freiburg And The Black Forest
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The airy basket-work tower of the Freiburg minster rises before me over the black roofs of the houses, and behind stand the gloomy pine-covered mountains of the Black Forest. Of our walk to Heidelberg over the oft-trodden Bergstrasse, I shall say nothing, nor how we climbed the Kaiserstuhl again, and danced around on the top of the tower for one hour amid cloud and mist, while there was sunshine below in the valley of the Neckar. I left Heidelberg yesterday morning in the "stehwagen" for Carlsruhe. The engine whistled, the train started, and, altho I kept my eyes steadily fixt on the spire of the Hauptkirehe, three minutes hid it and all the rest of the city from sight. Carlsruhe, the capital of Baden—which we reached in an hour and a half.—is unanimously pronounced by travelers- to be a most dull and tiresome city. From a glance I had through one of the gates, I should think its reputation was not undeserved. Even its name in German signifies a place of repose.
I stopt at Kork, on the branch-road leading to Strassburg, to meet a German-American about to return to my home in Pennsylvania, where he had lived for some time. I inquired according to the direction he had sent me to Frankfort, but he was not there; however, an old man, finding who I was, said Herr Otto had directed him to go with me to Hesselhurst, a village four or five miles off, where he would meet me. So we set off immediately over the plain, and reached the village at dusk.
My friend arrived at three o'clock the next morning, and, after two or three hours' talk about home and the friends whom he expected to see so much sooner than I, a young farmer drove me in his wagon to Offenburg, a small city at the foot of the Black Forest, where I took the cars for Freiburg. The scenery between the two places is grand. The broad mountains of the Black Forest rear their fronts on the east, and the blue lines of the French Vosges meet the clouds on the west. The night before, in walking over the plain, I saw distinctly the whole of the Strassburg minster, whose spire is the highest in Europe, being four hundred and ninety feet, or but twenty-five feet lower than the Pyramid of Cheops.
I visited the minster of Freiburg yesterday morning. It is a grand, gloomy old pile, dating back from the eleventh century—one of the few Gothic churches in Germany that have ever been completed. The tower of beautiful fretwork rises to the height of three hundred and ninety-five feet, and the body of the church, including the choir, is of the same length. The interior is solemn and majestic. Windows stained in colors that burn let in a "dim religious light" which accords very well with the dark old pillars and antique shrines. In two of the chapels there are some fine altar-pieces y Holbein and one of his scholars, and a very large crucifix of silver and ebony, kept with great care, which is said to have been carried with the Crusaders to the Holy Land. .
We went this afternoon to the Jagerhaus, on a mountain near, where we had a very fine view of the city and its great black Minster, with the plain of the Briesgau, broken only y the Kaiser-stuhl, a long mountain near the Rhine, whose golden stream glittered in the distance. On climbing the Schlossberg, an eminence near the city, we met the grand duchess Stephanie, a natural daughter of Napoleon, as I have heard. A chapel on the Schonberg, the mountain opposite, was pointed out as the spot where Louis XV.—if I mistake not —usually stood while his army besieged Freiburg. A German officer having sent a ball to this chapel which struck the wall dust above the king's head, the latter sent word that if they did not cease firing he would point his cannons at the minster. The citizens thought it best to spare the monarch and save the cathedral.
After two days delightfully spent, we shouldered our knapsacks and left Freiburg. The beautiful valley at the mouth of which the city, lies runs like an avenue for seven miles directly into the mountains, and presents in its loveliness such a contrast to the horrid defile which follows that it almost deserves the name which has been given to a little inn at its head—the "Kingdom of Heaven." The mountains of the Black Forest enclose it on each side like walls, covered to the summit with luxuriant woods, and in some places with those forests of gloomy pine which give this region its name. After traversing its whole length, just before plunging into the mountain-depths the traveler rarely meets with a finer picture than that which, on looking back, he seems framed between the hills at the other end. Freiburg looks around the foot of one of the heights, with the spire of her cathedral peeping above the top, while the French Vosges grow dim in the far perspective.
The road now enters a wild, narrow valley which grows smaller as we proceed. From Himmelreich, a large rude inn y the side of the green meadows, we enter the Hollenthal—that is, from the "Kingdom of Heaven" to the "Valley of Hell" The latter place better deserves its appellation than the former. The road winds between precipices of black rock, above which the thick foliage shuts out the brightness of day and gives a somber hue to the scene. A torrent foams down the chasm, and in one place two mighty pillars interpose to prevent all passage. The stream, however, has worn its way through, and the road is hewn in the rock y its side. This cleft is the only en-trance to a valley three or four miles long which lies in the very heart of the mountains.
It is inhabited by a few woodmen and their families, and,, but for the road which passes through, would be as perfect a solitude as the Happy Valley of Rasselas. At the farther end a winding road called "The Ascent" leads up the steep mountain to an elevated region of country thinly settled and covered with herds of cattle. The cherries—which in the Rhine-plain below had long gone—were just ripe here. The people spoke a most barbarons dialect; they were social and friendly, for every-body greeted us, and sometimes, as we sat on a bank by the roadside, those who passed y would say "Rest thee!" or "Thrice rest I"
Passing by the Titi Lake, a small body of water which was spreadout among the hills like a sheet of ink, so deep was its Stygian hue, we commenced ascending a mountain. The highest peak of the Schwarzwald, the Feldberg, rose not far off, and on arriving at the top of this mountain we saw that a half hour's walk would bring us to its summit. This was too great a temptation for my love of climbing heights; so, with a look at the descending sun to calculate how much time we could spare, we set out. There was no path, but we prest directly up the steep side through bushes and long grass, and in a short time reached the top, breath-less from such exertion in the thin atmosphere.
The pine-woods shut out the view to the north and east, which is said to be magnificent, as the mountain is about five thousand feet high. The wild black peaks of the Black Forest were spread below us, and the sun sank through golden mist toward the Alsatian hills. Afar to the south, through cloud and storm, we could just trace the white outline of the Swiss Alps. The wind swept through the pines around, and bent the long yellow grass among which we sat, with a strange, mournful sound, well suiting the gloomy and mysterious region. It soon grew cold; the golden, clouds settled down toward us, and we made haste to descend to the village of Lenzkirch before dark.
Next morning we set out early, without waiting to see the trial of archery which was to take place among the mountain-youths. Their booths and targets, gay with banners, stood on a green meadow beside the town. We walked through the Black Forest the whole forenoon. It might be owing to the many wild stories whose scenes are laid among these hills, but with me there was a peculiar feeling of solemnity pervading the whole region. The great pine-woods are of the very darkest hue of green, and down their hoary, moss-floored aisles daylight seems never to have shone. The air was pure and clear and the sunshine bright, but it imparted no gayety to the scenery; except the little meadows of living emerald which lay occasionally in the lap of a dell, the landscape wore a solemn and serious air. In a storm it must be sublime.
About noon, from the top of the last range of hills, we had a glorious view. The line of the distant Alps could be faintly traced high in the clouds, and all the heights between were plainly visible, from the Lake of Constance to the misty Jura, which flanked the Vosges on the west. From our lofty station we overlooked half Switzerland, and, had the air been a little clearer, we could have seen Mont Blanc and the mountains of Savoy. I could not help envying the feelings of the Swiss who, after long absence from their native land, first see the Alps from this road. If to the emotions with which I then looked on them were added the passionate love of home and country which a long absence creates, such excess of rapture would be almost too great to be borne.