Winter trip in the Black Forest: A surprise beginning
Ursula and Alfred
I do hate Christmas and I do hate New Year - especially the noise of fireworks that scares the shit out of me. So for many years now I have always tried to spend those days in the middle of nowhere on my own. But this year I have had a very nice invitation to spend Christmas with my old hiking friend Ursula aka Fritz in the Black Forest which I could easily combine with some winter hiking and camping. Ursula is not only the only other German female Triple Crowner, but she has done a tremendous amount of hiking, paddling and cycling. She has not only paddled the Yukon, but also the Mississippi which is another river high on my list. So I was looking forward to some fantastic Christmas food, lots of paddling advice and an interesting winter trip.
Alas, things did not start smoothly. I had booked a train ticket with efficient Deutsche Bahn to Ursula's town, a journey that would take about 7 hours. Unfortunately, it would take me more than 12 hours.... Just one hour after leaving Berlin I suddenly smelt something burnt like hot metal. I must admit that I started to worry what was going on when the train slowed down more and more and eventually came to a full stop in the middle of nowhere. As this was the main track between Berlin and Hannover it was definitely not a good place to stop: Something must be awfully wrong. Sure enough after a couple of minutes we learnt that a wheel had overheated (therefore the burnt smell) and could not be repaired: the train would have to be evacuated! This sounded easier than it was because we are not talking about a dinky little tshu-tshu train but a ultramodern high speed ICE on a busy electrified and fenced in track First .of all another train big enough for 240 passengers had to come (which took 2 hours) and stop alongside our train thus blocking the route completely. Tremendous delays for all following trains were the result. Then firemen would put ladders between the two trains on which passengers could pass from one train to another. And eventually 240 passengers including all their luggage had to get into the evacuation train on only two ladders... The whole operation took 215 minutes and of course I missed all connecting trains and arrived 5 hours late - and all this on the 24th of December! It was indeed a merry Christmas for me.... (Germans celebrate Christmas on the evening of the 24th).
The tractor and me
But as if to compensate for all that hassle the weather turned really nice once I had arrived and I experienced the first white Christmas in decades! I devoured a whole Black Forest cake and tons of fantastic Christmas biscuit. We went for short hikes with dog Leika who loved the snow but was shit scared of wind turbines... Ursula's partner Alfred collects old tractors and he insisted that I should test drive one. I was very much afraid to start with, but hey - I had just come back from the UK where I had been steering a 18 meter long narrow boat. Driving a tractor could not be much worse - and it was not. It was great fun instead and an unforgettable experience. But before I set off with Ursula on a winter hike we had some interesting sightseeing experience: Hans Grohe is a global manufacturer of designer bathroom fittings and its headquarters are in Schiltach which is smack bang on my Black Forest hiking trail. Integrated in the factory complex is the Aquademie, a water experience centre with a bathroom museum, design exhibition and a life shower experience. I had hoped it would be nice but it exceeded my expectations by far: First of all the whole thing is free. That includes free entry to a fantastic little museum with bathrooms from 5 centuries, a posh designer area, an audio guide to all that and a free drink. If you reserve ahead you can even experience the shower world where you can "test shower" HansGrohe products. Everything is supplied from towels to shower gels and body lotions. Unfortunately this was the start of my hike; elsewise this would have been the perfect opportunity for a dirty hiker to get a luxury shower. Honestly: this is a fantastic secret tip: If you hike the Mittelweg in the Black Forest, try to visit HansGrohe - it is definitely worth it.