Located in southwest Germany’s state of Baden-Württemberg, the Black Forest is a geographically blessed region with vast expanses of valleys, waterfalls, rolling hills, gently rising mountains, rivers teeming with trout and dark towering forests. Quaint towns and villages with half-timbered houses are scattered throughout the region and posh resort spa towns with pools of thermal mineral waters are just a short drive away in the foothills of the Black Forest.
The Black Forest is also a land of icons. From the red and black Pom Pom hats, to the cuckoo clocks, to hand crafted ornaments made with traditional glass-blowing techniques and to the delicious Black Forest cake, you’ll be familiar with many icons from this region. Traditions here are deeply rooted and passed down through generations of family members. Here are some ways to introduce your family to these iconic Black Forest traditions.
Cuckoo for Cuckoo Clocks
One of Germany's most iconic crafts is the hand-carved cuckoo clock. No one is certain when the first cuckoo clock was made in the Black Forest, but since the beginning of the 19th century Brothers Andreas and Christian Herr have been making cuckoo clocks in a farmhouse near the village of Triberg. Like other craftsmen, they passed their skills on to each succeeding generation. Today the Hubert Herr cuckoo clock factory is managed by the fifth generation.
Along the picturesque German Clock Route through the Black Forest every clock has a story. Visits to factories, workshops and sign painters' studios provide insight into the daily lives of clockmakers. There are numerous types of clocks manufactured here including trumpeter clocks, flute clocks, watchclocks, sundials, and pendulum clocks. You can trace the history of German clock making and the cuckoo clock at the German Clock Museum in Furtwangen. Whatever you do, don't miss the world's largest cuckoo clock in Triberg (near Schönberg), which made it into the Guinness Book of Records at more than 15 meters high – a definite photo op!
Explore the Craft of Glassblowing
For centuries glassblowing was one of the most important crafts of the Black Forest. The region’s natural resources and raw materials: beech wood for potash, quartz sand which was mixed with potash as well as spruce and fir wood for the melting process were abundant leading to the settlement of many glassworks factories. In the charming village of Wolfach, the Dorotheenhütte is still using the centuries old techniques of mouth-blown and hand cut glassmaking. Guided tours are available and you can even try your hand (or mouth) at blowing your own vase. The onsite Dorotheenhütte Glass Museum exhibits 2000 years of glassmaking history with a collection chronicling various development stages of glass history, styles of past eras, and the growth of glass artistry. The gift shop filled with delicate hand blown and painted Christmas ornaments is guaranteed to lure you in for a bit of shopping.
Travel through Time at Vogtsbaurernhof
Explore many of the Black Forest traditions and customs at Freilichtmuseum Vogtsbaurernhof. Situated on 12 scenic acres in the village of Gutach, this open-air museum chronicles 400 years of Black Forest history through an extensive collection of cultural assets and has daily activities to introduce kids to these traditions.
A collection of Black Forest farm houses built from the 16th to 19th centuries reflect the typical architecture from their areas of origin. Furnishings, tools, and traditional costumes inside the farmhouses reveal the religious preferences, work and personalities of the families who lived there. Smoky smells etched into the walls emanate from the black kitchens, which are still used for traditional cooking demonstrations. Outbuildings formerly used as storehouses, mills, sawmills and hemp presses maintain their original character and at the Falkenhoff farmstead even the animals in the stalls are old breeds of cattle and pigs.
Meet the Broom-maker
On the grounds of the museum, area craftsmen demonstrate traditional crafts. Depending on the day you can meet a spinner, weaver, wood-carver, straw-shoemaker or Hans Heinzmann, the broom-maker. The craft of broom making began with the chimneysweepers. If you have a chimney to sweep, you need a broom and the best way to get the perfect broom is to make it from the twigs you find in the forest. These skills have been passed down through generations. Mr. Heinzmann learned his craft as a child and still heads into the forest to hand pick the twigs for his broom-making demonstrations. Dressed in green corduroys, plaid shirt, and a straw hat he effortlessly assembles the brooms of varying sizes in minutes. He’ll be happy show you and your family how to make your own broom. Upon seeing all the brooms one observant little guy asked, "Does a witch live here?"
About those Pom Pom Huts
If you have ever seen photos of young ladies from the Black Forest, you’ve surely noticed their large hats covered in red pompoms - the bollenhut. Gutach is the home of the bollenhut and also where one of the last remaining bollenhut makers continues her craft. The traditional hat and the original Black Forest costumes are still worn today by the young ladies in the village for cultural events, weddings and religious holidays. The red pom poms are reserved for the single ladies. The married women wear hats with black pom poms.
And of Course that Delicious Black Forest Cake
Perhaps the most delicious tradition from the Black Forest is the Black Forest cake or Schwarzwälder kirschtorte. Named for the Schwarzwalder kirschwasser – a clear brandy distilled from sour cherries grown in the Black Forest region – the Black Forest cake consists of layers of chocolate sponge cake, whipped cream and cherries. Coincidentally, the Black Forest cake looks an awful lot like the traditional dress of the young ladies from the Black Forest. Could the dark chocolate cake, whipped cream and cherries represent the black dress, the white shirt with puffy sleeves, and the red pom poms? It’s possible.
What are some of your favorite Black Forest traditions?
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