The Black Forest and the source of the Danube

Friday 14th September 2012, Titisee, Germany
We’ve had a brilliant day and enjoyed every moment. As we’ve mentioned, we passed this way four years ago and found it beautiful, relaxing and the apogee of all things kitsch. Please read that account, linked below, because it says everything I could say about today and more.

Overnight the temperature outside dropped to 1 degree! We woke to find the wooded hillsides shrouded in a cold mist and the sky decidedly grey. After a wallow in the centrally heated shower block that is smarter than many homes, we collected our free transport passes (a gift to all visitors to this area allowing unrestricted use of the trains and buses as far as the French and Swiss borders) and set off to walk through the forest along beside the lake to the little town of Titisee. Our breath was showing white in the chilly air and we were grateful for our fleece jackets. Then, within a few seconds, the mist lifted, the sun poured down from a clear blue sky and temperature rocketed, eventually reaching 29 degrees as the day wore on!

Lake Titisee, Black Forest
Lake Titisee, Black Forest

As we walked beside the pretty lake surrounded by forested hillsides, passenger boats made their way along to the resort of Titisee at the head of the lake, leaving a clear, V-shaped wave in their wake.

By the time was came out of the forest and strolled down to the landing stages on the lake visitors had disgorged from the ferries and were sunning themselves on cafe terraces or scouring the souvenir shops for cuckoo clocks. Groups of Chinese and Japanese visitors were hiring pedalos to explore the lake and photographing anything that moved. There were even restaurant signs in Chinese! Just as happy though, were visitors from Birmingham enjoying ice creams beside the lake, and East Europeans eager to take home a gangly stuffed stork from the Black Forest.

Early morning arrivals at Lake Titisee, Black Forest
Oriental visitors are well catered for at Lake Titisee, Black Forest
Restaurant sign, Lake Titisee, Black Forest

We were here to relax and to hell with culture. We sat in the sunshine on the smartest terrace, overlooking the lake. Our coffee cost three times what we paid in France but there was three times as much and the ambiance was beyond comparison. The tables around us were occupied by holiday makers enjoying huge dishes of ice cream, hot chocolate with big bowls of whipped cream, Black Forest cake with chocolate, cherries and cream, beer with bretzels and fried potatoes with quark and herbs. It was so relaxing we could have enjoyed the atmosphere, the sunshine and the scenery around the lake all day.

Our coffee table beside Lake Titisee, Black Forest

But we needed to check out the kitsch! Yes, it was just as tacky as we remembered. Cuckoo clocks, storks with long red legs, carved wooden saints, ugly witches on broomsticks, all these were still there, along with many new lines such as gigantic cow bells, fairies in their underwear, grotesque wizards, Christmas cribs, woodland creatures created from fir cones and wood, carved long-case clocks, plastic balls to shake - filled with a gnome or bunny in a snow storm, and so much more! Vacuum-packed Bavarian smoked ham, dried sausage, bottles of pear and cherry schnapps. The staff couldn’t sell stuff fast enough. Just think, delighted tourists are transporting dolls in dirndls and lederhosen back to the four corners of the earth! Dozens of stores along the quayside are selling identical souvenirs day after day! Just how many have been sold since we were last here, and how many have ended up in car boot sales?

Every home should have one of these! Lake Titisee, Black Forest
Or one of these! Lake Titisee, Black Forest
Or perhaps one of these! Lake Titisee, Black Forest
Don’t forget a cuckoo clock for Grandma! Lake Titisee, Black Forest
Christmas crib, Lake Titisee, Black Forest
Twee ceramic cottages, Lake Titisee, Black Forest
Creatures of the night, Lake Titisee, Black Forest
Prize winning carved wooden cuckoo clock of 2009 for sale at 2,159 euros. Lake Titisee, Black Forest
How can you resist them? Lake Titisee, Black Forest

For half the price of our morning coffee we bought a couple of hot fricadels with mustard stuffed into a white Semmel (bread roll) which we took down to the water’s edge for lunch. The ducks came to join us, pushing their heads into our laps, quacking softly and gazing at us appealingly. They don’t seem to mind mustard one bit!

Time next to try out our travel passes. We caught the bus round the lake and on up through the forest, winding our way through steep meadows, stopping at little villages to pick up and drop off hikers.

At one point near the top of a pass, we caught glimpses of the snow capped Alps over in Switzerland. After fifty minutes we reached the little town of Todtnau. It had been a spectacular ride and a treat not to have to drive. The town itself though, while pleasant, is unremarkable. Its charms, centred round the square with its twin-towered church, were quickly exhausted. The town was once a silver mining centre and a producer of brushes – particularly hair and tooth brushes. It has a chair lift which in summer carries hikers to the summit for forest walks, and in winter, skiers, intent on winter sports.

View from the bus – a valley near Todtnau, Black Forest
Church on the square at Todtnau, Black Forest
Main street and ski-lift beyond, Todtnau, Black Forest

Hurrah, I didn’t need to drive. We sat beneath a sunshade on the town square and ordered a couple of chilled beers. Next time we will order smaller ones! It was enjoyable but with the hot sunshine and beer during the afternoon I was feeling decidedly wobbly as we made our way back to the bus.

By the time we reached the campsite however, we’d found new energy and decided not to get off but continue back to Titisee for a final wander amongst the souvenir shops in case we’d missed anything and a brisk walk back through the woods along the far side of the lake.

Back at Modestine the day had started to cool down. It’s not as cold as last night but we’ve dug out the extra blanket and heater. Tomorrow we will move on. A shame really, I could spend a week here quite happily visiting different places with the buses and trains. Basel and Freiburg are both within easy reach of here. But Romania is calling.

Saturday 15th September 2012, Sigmaringen
Today we decided we should check out the source of the Danube. We are after all heading to its delta on the Black Sea coast so it seemed appropriate that on this trip we should see both ends of this beautiful river that Modestine has crossed and recrossed so many times over the past seven years. Having found the source of the Seine a couple of weeks back, and several river sources in the Jura, it sort of continues a developing theme.

Our map indicated that whilst the Danube officially starts at Donaueschingen, where the Emperor Tiberius searched for it around 15 BC, it actually begins from two small rivers, the Breg and the Brigach some 40 kilometres away. At Donaueschingen they converge to form the start of the Danube, a river that, on its travels, passes through some of the major cities of Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Serbia. Rather like us in fact! Both we and the Danube have passed through such cities as Regensburg, Ingolstadt, Passau, Linz, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Ruse – where the river form the border between Bulgaria and Romania. The river really has become a regular companion on our travels.

It has to be said that it turned out to be a really good plan of ours and we’ve spent an excellent day. First we drove high up into the forested hills searching out the source of the Breg. We eventually located it as a tiny rivulet seeping out of the rocks at the top end of a wide bottomed valley with huge farmhouses with low, wooden-tiled roofs scattered along its length. Not only is it the starting point of one of Europe’s most important and beautiful rivers, it is also just below the watershed, up in the next field, that sends water either this way to form the start of the Danube which empties into the Black Sea, or down the other side to find its way into the Rhine and exit into the North Sea!

Source of the Danube, Breg
The river flows for 2,888 kilometres from source to delta, Source of the Danube, Breg
Watershed between the Danube and the Rhine, Breg

Near the source is the picturesque little mountain chapel of St. Martin and long distance footpaths lead off into the forests and along the ridges of the hills. There are also sources to numerous other tiny rivers. Indeed, the area could be considered the ultimate “Wellness Centre”, to misuse an expression the Germans have taken from us and misused!

St. Martin’s chapel near the source of the Danube, Breg
St. Martin’s chapel, Breg

We returned down through the pinewoods and meadows to the valley and followed the Breg down to the town of Furtwangen and on to Donaueschingen. This proved to be a very disappointing town. It suffered from a fire in the late 19th century so buildings are relatively modern and uninspiring. The town was very quiet on a Saturday lunchtime and apart from an attractive little statue/fountain outside the town hall, a couple of ornately decorated houses and a castle with its attached stables, there was little to detain us. The castle apparently has an interesting ducal art gallery but today our interest was with the Danube.

Charming fountain outside the town hall, Donaueschingen

Furstenberg Stables, Donaueschingen

The two rivers that feed the Danube’s source once flowed into a marshy area on the edge of the town. This area has now been drained and forms the castle gardens. The waters of the two rivers have been channelled underground and some of it now resurfaces in an attractive basin, the water bubbling up from under the ground to flow off to become, very quickly indeed, a reasonable sized river, ready formed. It may be more attractively presented than the source of the Breg but it isn’t the true source at all.

Source of the Donau in Donaueschingen

We spent the afternoon following the winding route of the young, ever growing Danube as it flows through the deep gorge it has gouged out for itself through the Swabian Jurassic rocks. Like the French Jura the structure is of sheer-sided limestone cliffs along either side of the river while the top of the ravine is completely flat. At times our route was cut as tunnels through walls of rock as the route hugged the base of the cliff.

Looking down on the Upper Danube valley from the top of the Knopfmacherfelsen rock, 765m
Castle in the Upper Danube Valley
Upper Danube Valley
Road through the valley of the Upper Danube

At Beuron we stopped to visit a Benedictine abbey hidden away on the valley floor. It is a popular tourist attraction. The abbey church is open to visitors though the cloisters are not. The church is ornately baroque – as are most in southern Germany – with an extravagant organ, elaborate ceiling decoration, gilded mouldings and wood carved compositions of grapes, angels and flowers. There is however, a side chapel where pilgrims travelling to Compostella are welcomed. This chapel is altogether different being entirely in a neo-Byzantine style.

Beuron Abbey
Baroque abbey church, Beuron Abbey
Byzantine chapel, Beuron Abbey

Eventually the Danube led us to the town of Sigmaringen where we have found a campsite on the river’s banks. We arrived early enough to explore the town. It has a magnificent castle, established by the Hohenzollerns, seen best from the river. Again the churches are ornate baroque and the town is generally an attractive little place currently undergoing major alterations in the centre so we are not seeing it at its best.

Hohenzollern Castle, Sigmaringen
Hohenzollern Castle, Sigmaringen
Hohenzollern Castle, Sigmaringen
Hohenzollern Castle, Sigmaringen
Town Hall, Sigmaringen

Finally today - it is the custom here to decorate the front of houses where a new baby has arrived. We saw this today high in the valley near the source of the Danube at Breg

New baby boy is brought by the stork, valley of the River Breg

Related links
Titisee and the Black Forest 2008.