A Walk Through The Odenwald
( Originally Published 1889 )
B- and I are now comfortably settled in Frankfort, having, with Mr. Willis's kind assistance, obtained lodgings with the amiable family, with whom he has resided for more than two years. My cousin remains in Heidelberg to attend the winter course of lectures at the University.
Having forwarded our baggage by the omnibus, we came hither on foot, through the heart of the Odenwald, a region full of interest, yet little visited by travellers. Dr. S- and his family walked with us three or four miles of the - way, and on a hill above' Ziegelhausen, with a splendid view behind us, through the mountain-door, out of which the Neckar enters on the Rhine-plain, we parted. This was a first, and I must confess, a somewhat embarrassing experience in German leave-taking. After bidding adieu three or four times, we started to go up the mountain and they down it, but at every second step we had to turn around to acknowledge the waving of hands and handkerchiefs, which continued so long that I was glad when we were out of sight of each other. We descended on the other side into a wild and romantic valley, whose meadows were of the brightest green; a little brook which wound through them, put now and then its "silvery shoulder" to the wheel of a rustic mill. By the road-side two or three wild-looking gipsies sat around a fire, with some goats feeding near them.
Passing through this valley and the little village of Schonau, we commenced ascending one of the loftiest ranges of the Odenwald. The side of the mountain was covered with a thick pine forest. There was no wind to wake its solemn anthem ; all was calm and majestic, and even awful. The trees rose all around like the pillars of a vast Cathedral, whose long arched aisles vanished far below in the deepening gloom.
" Nature with folded hands seemed there.
for twilight had already begun to gather. We went on and up and even higher, like the youth "in "Excelsior;" the beech ,and dwarf oak took the place of the pine, and at last we arrived at a cleared summit whose long brown grass waved desolately in the dim light of evening. A faint glow still lingered over the forest-hills, but down in the valley the dusky shades hid every vestige of life, though its sounds came up softened through the long space. When we reached the top a bright planet stood like a diamond over the brow of the eastern hill, and the sound of a twilight bell came up clearly and sonorously on the cool damp air. The white veil of mist slowly descended down the mountain side, but the peaks rose above it like the wrecks of a world, floating in space. We made our way in the dusk down the long path, to the rude little dorf of Elsbach. I asked at the first inn for lodging, where We were ushered into a great room, in which a number of girls who had been at work in the fields, were assembled. They were all dressed in men's jackets, and short gowns, and some had their hair streaming down their back. The landlord's daughter, however, was a beautiful girl, whose modest, delicate features contrasted greatly with the coarse faces of the others. I thought of Uhland's beautiful little poem of "The Landlady's Daughter," as I looked on her. In the room hung two or three pair of antlers, and they told us deer were still plenty in the forests.
When we left the village the next morning, we again commenced ascending. Over the whole valley and half way up the mountain, lay a thick white frost, almost like snow, which contrasted with the green trees and bushes scattered over the meadows, produced the most singular effect. We plucked blackberries ready iced from the bushes by the road-side, and went on in the cold, for the sun shone only on the top of the opposite mountain, into another valley, down which rushed the rapid Ulver. At a little village which bears the beautiful name Anteschonmatten wag, we took a foot-path directly over a steep mountain to the village of Finkenbach. Near the top I found two wild-looking children, cutting grass with knives, both of whom I prevailed upon for a few kreutzers to stand and let me sketch them. From the summit the view on the other side was very striking. The hills were nearly every one covered with wood, and not a dwelling in sight. It reminded nie of our forest scenery at home. The principal difference is, that our trees are two or three times the size of theirs.
At length, after scaling another mountain, we reached a wide, elevated plain, in the middle of which stood the old dorf of Beerfelden. It was then crowded with people, on account of a great cattle fair being held there. All the farmers of the neighborhood were assembled, clad in the ancient country costume-broad cocked hats and blue frocks. An orchard near the town was filled with cattle and horses, and near by, in the shade, a number of pedlars had arranged their wares. The cheerful looking country people touched their hats to us as we passed.' This custom of greeting travellers, universal in Germany, is very expressive of their social, friendly manners. Among the mountains, we frequently met groups of children, who sang together their simple ballads as we passed by. .
From Beerfelden we passed down the valley of the Mimling to Erbach, the principal city in the Odenwald, and there stopped a short time to view the Rittersaal in the old family castle of the Counts of Erbach. An officer, who stood at the gates, conducted us to the door, where we were received by a noble-looking, gray-headed steward. He took us into the Rittersaal at once, which was like stepping back three hundred years. The stained windows of the lofty Gothic hall, let in a subdued light which fell on the forms of kings and knights, clad in the armor they wore during life. On the left as we entered, were mail-covered figures of John and Cosmo de Medici; further on stood the Emperor Maximilian, and by his side the celebrated dwarf who was served up in a pie at one of the imperial feasts. His armor was most delicate and beautiful, but small as it was, General Thumb would have had room in it. Gustavus Adolphus and Wallenstein looked down from the neighboring pedestals, while at the other end stood Goetz von Berlichinoen and Albert of Brunswick. Guarding the door were Hans, the robber-knight of Nuremberg, and another from the Thuringian forest. The steward told me that the iron hand of Goetz was in possession of the family, but not shown to strangers; he pointed out, however, the buckles on the armor, by which it was fastened. Adjoining the hall is an antique chapel, filled with rude old tombs, and containing the sarcophagus of Count Eginhard of Denmark, who lived about the tenth century. There were also monkish garments five hundred years old hanging up in it.
The collection of antiquities is large and interesting; but it is said that the old Count obtained some of them in rather a questionable manner. Among other incidents they say that when in Rome he visited the Pope, taking with him an old servant who accompanied him in all his travels, and was his accomplice in most of his antiquarian thefts. In one of the outer halls, among the curiosities, was an antique shield of great value. The servant was left in the hall while the Count had his audience, and in a short time this shield was missed. The servant who wore a long cloak, was missed also; orders were given to close the gates and search everybody, but it was too late-the thief was gone.
Leaving Erbach, we found out the direction of Snellert, the Castle of the Wild Huntsman, and took a road that led us for two or three hours along the top of a mountain ridge. Through the openings in the pine and larch forests, we had glimpses of the hills of Spessart, beyond the Main. When we finally left the by-road we had chosen it was quite dark, and we missed the way altogether among the lanes and meadows.. We came at last to a full stop at the house of a farmer; who guided us by a foot-path over the fields to a small village. On entering the only inn, kept by the Burgomaster, the people finding we were Americans, regarded us with a curiosity quite uncomfortable. They crowded around the door, watching every motion, and gazed in through the windows. The wild huntsman him-self could scarcely have made a greater sensation. The news of our arrival seemed to have spread very fast, for the next morning when we stopped at a prune orchard some distance from the village to buy some fruit, the farmer cried out from a tree, they are the Americans; give them as many as they want for nothing ! "
With the Burgomaster's little son for a guide, we went back a mile or two of our route to Snellert, which we had passed the night before, and after losing ourselves two or three times in the woods, arrived at last at the top of .the mountain, where the ruins of the castle stand. The walls are nearly level with the ground. The interest of a visit rests entirely on the romantic legend, and the wild view over the hills around, particularly that in front, where on the opposite mountain are the ruins of Rodenstein, to which the wild huntsman was wont to ride at midnight-where he now rides no more. The echoes of Rodenstein are no longer awakened by the sound of his bugle, and the hoofs of his demon steed clanging on the battlements. But the hills around are wild enough, ' and the roar of the pine forests deep enough to have inspired the simple peasants with the romantic tradition.
Stopping for dinner at the town of Rhein-hein, we met an old man, who, on learning we were Americans, walked with us as far as the next village. He had a daughter in America and was highly gratified to meet any one from the country of her adoption. He made me promise to visit her, if I ever should go to St. Louis, and say that 1 had walked with her father from Rheinheim to Zwangenburg. To satisfy his fears that I might forget it, - I took down his name: and that of his daughter. He shook me warmly by the hand at parting, and was evidently made happier for that day.
We reached Darmstadt just in time to take a seat in the omnibus for Frankfort. Among the passengers were a Bavarian family, on their way to Bremen, to ship from thence to Texas. I endeavored to discourage the man from choosing such a country as his home, by telling him of its heats and pestilences, but he was too full of hope to be shaken in his purpose. I would have added that it was a slave-land, but I thought on our own country's curse, and was silent. The wife was not so sanguine; she seemed to mourn in secret at leaving her beautiful fatherland. It was saddening to think how lonely they would feel in that far home, and how they would long, with true German devotion, to look again on the green vintage-hills of their forsaken country. As night drew on, the little girl crept over to her father for his accustomed evening kiss, and then sank back to sleep in a corner of the wagon. The boy, in the art-less confidence of childhood; laid his head on my breast, weary with the day's travel, and soon slept also. Thus we drove on in the dark., till at length the lights of Frankfdrt glimmered on the breast of the rapid Main, as we passed over the bridge, and when we stopped near the Cathedral, I delivered up my little charge and sent my sympathy with the wanderers on their lonely way.