Monday, April 23, 2012

Rennsteig

At Blankenstein several long-distance hiking trails meet: Frankenweg, Fraenkischer Gebirgsweg, Rennsteig and Kammweg. Here I changed from the Kammweg to the Rennsteig. I changed trails, but the weather stayed the same: cold, cold, cold. Even the snow remained in the higher regions. I was starting to wonder whether we would ever have something like spring this year. I had hiked the Rennsteig before which is the oldest and one of the most famous hiking trails in Germany. Back in the 19th century it connected several little kingdoms, dukedoms and what not. This is the main reason why mark stones abound along the Rennsteig. They are everywhere and date from all centuries. To my big surprise some had little metal signposts next to them with a telephone number. Call the number with your mobile and get a guided tour. I like interactive sightseeing, but cell phone guided tours on hiking trails is a bit too much for my taste. But at least there was cell phone reception.

Mark the "R" for Rennsteig
The Rennsteig is a very popular trail. I had hardly met any other hikers on the Kammweg, but here on the Rennsteig I saw 30 and more hikers every day – and this was not even high season. The advantage of this popularity is that there are fantastic and huge shelters all along the Rennsteig. I loved them for cooking, but did not dare to camp in them. It is incredibly well marked with an “R” for Rennsteig. There are “R”s on almost every other tree! The disadvantage of this popularity is the amount of toilet paper along the trail. German forest can hardly be called pristine, but I have never seen so much toilet paper in the woods. In one shelter someone had even taken a poo inside the shelter and just covered the mess with toilet paper – how disgusting.

Again, everything above 800 m was still snow covered. Sometimes it was amazing to see that the forest floor was completely snow free, but the trail still had 20 cm and more of ice and snow on it. Most of the hiking trails double as cross country skiing trails in winter and because the snow gets compacted by skiing it takes longer to melt. Through bad planning I tended to always end up in the highest and most snow covered areas for camping.

The container
On the Rennsteig I also had the scariest experience in a German forest. Again one night I ended up at high altitude at the Inselsberg. As usual it was cold, damp and foggy when I came down the mountain and started to look for a decent snow free stealth camp site. To my big surprise I saw a huge white cubical container right in the middle of the forest! It was almost all glass and had tables and chairs in it. What could that be? I was more curious than anything else and inspected it when to my big surprise I found the door unlocked. It turned out that this container had been used by referees for ski races – therefore the tables and chairs. It was very clean and much warmer than outside….and I started to wonder whether I could sleep in here. The big disadvantage was that the whole front side was glass and you could easily look inside. But as it was quickly getting dark I decided to risk it and spread out my sleeping bag. At 10 pm I was almost asleep when I saw someone with a flashlight passing the container. I was a bit worried but I thought it must have been just a late hiker. But half an hour later two flashlights were coming the other way going back into the forest. I was getting more and more worried but still tried to explain this with people on a night hike. But nobody had discovered me and eventually I fell asleep.

At midnight I was awoken again. A car came down the forest trail with its front lights seemingly pointing straight at me! My heart nearly stopped beating as the car stopped only 50 m away from my container and several people came out of the car. Torches were shining everywhere and car doors were slammed. I did not dare to move – and apparently nobody seemed to realize that I was there. I could hear muffled voices but could not understand what they were talking about. After 10 minutes the car left – going back into the forest. What was all this about? I wondered whether I should stay or go, but eventually fell asleep again. The same thing happened again at 2 am. By now I was pretty sure that something illegal was going on. Cars are forbidden on forest roads and I could not come up with any decent reason why someone would be driving around on steep snow and ice covered forest roads at 2 am. When the car had left again I decided to check it out. I inspected the area where the car had parked but could not find anything suspicious liked corpses (or more likely illegal garbage dumps). I was still outside when I heard the car coming back. I wondered whether I should hide in the forest, go back into my container and/or call the police. I went back into the container and lay flat on the floor. Again the car stopped, lights flashed….and finally the car left towards the main road. Nobody had discovered me and the car was now probably gone for good at 3 am. I could still only sleep fitfully and left early in the morning.

GDR memorial
Even in broad daylight I could not make out what mysterious car driver had done here at night. Only a couple of days later a friend came up with a possible explanation: Geocaching! Apparently there are specific night geo caches that are marked with fluorescent signs that can only be seen at night with special torches. And probably the cache hunters had not wanted to walk, but driven a car. I still don’t know whether this is the right explanation, but it is the only one that seems to make sense. But I will never camp again in see-through containers!

Shelter on the Rennsteig
Generally the Rennsteig is a pleasant trail to hike: Very well marked, great shelter and fantastic infrastructure. Lots of interesting mark stones and some very nice and untouched nature stuff due to the location on or near the former German border. But on the flop side there are a lot of hikers (this must be hell in summer!) and long stretches along busy roads! There is very little actual road walking, but there is a whole day of walking next to busy roads in the middle of the trail. If it was not for that stretch I would really recommend that Rennsteig, but as it is I think there are nicer trails in Germany.

5 comments:

Brenda said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this story before. Stealth camping is always interesting.
D

Anonymous said...

the area aroundthe container was was checked by secutity company several times per night...

BD

German Tourist said...

Great idea....

Anonymous said...

Hey Christine, thank you for all of your interesting travel stories! I plan on hiking the rennsteig myself next week and i wondered how much food and or water i should take with me. Do you walk near a store now and then? And is there water available near the track or maybe in the shelters?
Kind regards,

Dries