4 FEB 2017
The deep, velvet-silk green of Norway spruce, Scots pine, and Douglas fir trees blend and blur as the train car speeds past them. Paired with snow-covered ground and overcast sky, I can see why this place might be called the Black Forest; the density and darkness of the trees and brush appear black against the white of winter. It is nearly hypnotic, this mix of textured green, snow white, and train ride. When I am not surrounded by the woods, I can spy the hills and mountains that I am traveling through on my way to Lake Titisee from Freiburg im Breisgau.
It only just occurs to me, though, that with it snowing so strongly and being so cold, that the lake may not be the best place to go. Of course, I had Googled images of Lake Titisee, and all of the photos looked great, nice, no-snow green and blue. Of course, those were probably not taken in winter. Oh well, I am enjoying the train ride all the same. After a quick search on Google Maps, it appears as if the train will continue on past the lake and then turn north. When the train turns south and passes around the lake, I look out over a snow-covered field to try to see the lake… only to determine/discover that the “snow-covered field” is indeed the lake, frozen.
Back to Google Maps I go to figure out where this train is heading. I realize I have no idea, and I decide to get off at the next stop, Feldberg-Bärental. It is right next to the Rotmeer Nature Preserve, but that, too, is snow-covered. The next train back to Freiburg arrives in an hour. Standing at the outdoor train station is not an option. It is snowing, freezing. I cannot help but laugh out loud a little at my misjudgement of the weather and at the unexpectedness of it all. There are a lot of other people there, much better prepared for the snow and cold as they seem to be here for skiing.
A short walk up a little hill in the mountains, and I arrive at Café Erich Bizenberger. The cafe is warm and bright. Table tops look like freshly cut wood, treated with some sort of clear overcoat to make them shiny. I can see rings of trees’ age in imperfect circles. The interior of the cafe gives the appearance of a log cabin, though it looked nothing of the sort outside. On shelves, there is a variety of tea pots with matching tea cups and saucers. On the wall, there are a few of the famed Black Forest cuckoo clocks. Behind the glass counter, there are sweets and pastries. I do not understand how everyone out here is not terribly overweight. Perhaps it is all the walking. I order a cappuccino and beignet. The coffee is nice and hot, and just the thing I needed.
An hour passes. The return train arrives. I board. Back toward Freiburg, it begins to get dark. The twilight here seems short. It feels as if I went into a short mountain tunnel during the daylight and emerged into the night. At Freiburg’s Hauptbahnhof, dinner is needed. Walking down cobblestone streets, past centuries old buildings, much like those in Strasbourg, I make my way toward the city center. Though I am looking for somewhere to eat, I cannot help be steer toward the tower I see peeking over the other buildings’ roofs. There is a skinny alleyway, about, I would say, only four or five feet wide. I go down it, and when I exit out the other side, there looms large the Freiburger Münster.
This behemoth gothic cathedral built and finished in the Middle Ages, and which survives the bombing raids of 1944, is not lit at night as Notre-Dame de Strasbourg. So here it is. In the night’s dark, the bulking forward tower reaches toward the moon and stars. The tower looks more like it should be attached to some massive castle, defending the surrounding town. The bells begin to ring, and these sound as if they both beckon and warn. They have beckoned and warned for the past 687 years. The cold from the stormfront seems to be sweeping in, snatching me back from history.
Rounding a corner, then another, I see a busy restaurant, Schlappen. Inside, it is warm and smoky. Smoking cigarettes is permitted, so the smell of good food is polluted by the reek of burning tobacco. But it isn’t so bad that I want to leave. No, I am more hungry than displeased with the stuffy atmosphere. At a table in the back, I manage to order sausage and bread. The sausage is served with a knife and fork, but for what reason, I do not know, because the sausage is impossible to cut. Turns out, it is a type of dried jerky and not what I had expected. It is easier to break apart than to cut. However it is, it is good all the same. It is quite possibly the best jerky I have ever had.
What started out as a late day, and a fun train ride through the Black Forest seems to end fittingly at a bar in Freiburg. Now all that is left is to make my way back to the château in Strasbourg. A simple, regional train ride to Offenburg, then a quick transfer to Strasbourg’s Gare Centrale should do it. When I get to Freiburg’s hauptbahnhof, I look at the train schedule. There is a train coming in just a few minutes that will take me to Offenburg. Great.
Except when this train, that I have now boarded, decides to quit running. The small, rural station at which Clarissia, Rebecca, and I are dropped off (it feels more like we were dumped here rather than “dropped off”) at is in Emmendingen. This is the type of small town that sleeps at night. So naturally, the station is not open, the lights are all off, there are hardly any streetlamps, and us three, in the late evening, standing on the platform, not able to speak any German, cold, and confused. Thankfully, Rebecca does know some German, and she is able to communicate with who seems to be the only other soul on the platform. He tells us about the bus.
We find the bus, we board, and we ride for about fifteen to twenty minutes to the next station. We exit the bus, walk up to the platform, and wait for the train. Conferring with the posted schedule again, the train should arrive in about ten minutes. When it does not come, we are once more, anxious and confused. And again, Rebecca is able to find out from the only other person there that the regional train has stopped running completely all the way to Lahr, Germany.
The bus only comes once every hour, so for nearly an hour we wait. This bus ride to Lahr, thank goodness it actually goes all the way there, lasts for about an hour on its own. It is almost 10 P.M. by the time we get to Lahr. Here, there are a few more people than just us, so, good sign… right? Turns out, none of them really knew what was going on either. Anxiety setting in, twenty more minutes passing, and finally, finally, the lights of a train come into view. This must be it. The train gets closer. It seems to be going pretty fast. I can hear it. I can feel it.
Standing at the near-edge of a platform when a bullet train barrels past me at about 160 mph is a sensation I do not wish to repeat. The air the train was pushing to the sides out of its way becomes a wind that forces me to step back a bit. Indeed, this train was never going to stop. It had no intention of stopping. This is a regional stop and the ICE bullet trains are not regional trains. Could this night go on any longer. Apparently, so. About five minutes after the ICE train, we see more train lights. Like some saving grace, we all stare right at these, almost willing the train to stop. It does, because it, finally, is a regional train.
The train from Lahr to Offenburg is only about a thirty-minute ride, but we are beginning to cut it close with what time these trains stop running for the night altogether. At Offenburg around 11 P.M., I see there is another train to Strasbourg. It comes in forty minutes. Forty minutes in the cold of a large train station is not so bad with the company I had. Thanks, Clarissia and Rebecca. We all talked like kids in the night on the tail end of a grand misadventure, hanging out in the hauptbahnhof.
“[German, German, more German, and some more German] Strasbourg hauptbahnhof [more German]” came on over the loudspeakers. Music to my ears even though I did not understand a word. This train looks less like a typical train and more like a bulky tram. Whatever it looks like, it is our ride home and we get on board. Twenty minutes later, and at midnight, the three of us are back in Strasbourg. We manage to catch the second-to-last C tram to the second-to-last E tram which takes us to the Robertsau stop.
Forty more minutes, and we are walking up the château driveway. The walkway lanterns herald our approach by brightening (the streetlamps are motion-detecting dim lights that actually get brighter as something/someone moves into their immediate area). Door-code entered, entryway cleared, stairs ascended, hallways traversed, and I am at last, after a very long, but exciting day, sitting at the table in the student kitchen, drinking my hibiscus tea. Not long after, and I will be in bed, passed out.