Germany's Black Forest: Not your mama's cake
Mention “Black Forest,” and what may come to mind is a chocolate cherry cake; specifically, a decadent, dark chocolate sponge cake layered with Schnapps-soaked cherries, freshly whipped cream and shaved chocolate. Mom made her own Bundt cake version sans Schnapps from a vintage cookbook when I was a kid. I loved the contrast of the tart cherries, chocolate and cream, but the name “Black Forest” confounded me. I saw no connection, whatsoever.
Fast forward a few decades and now my husband and I are stationed at Ramstein Air Base near Kaiserslautern, Germany. Our host country is rich in history, culture and beautiful scenery, and we love to hop onto the autobahn for weekend daytrips or overnighters. Short, inexpensive jaunts away from the installation help rejuvenate us both after a stressful work week.
Not long ago we made such a trip, heading eastbound on A6 and then south on A5. Two hours away, along the Rhine River and both French and Swiss borders, is the Black Forest, or Schwarzwäld, in Baden-Wurttemberg. Once there I quickly connected the name with the cake of my childhood.
Also known as Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, the Black Forest Cherry Cake is a popular entry on menus at most restaurants and bäckereien throughout the Black Forest. The cake dates back to 1915 when a German confectioner, Josef Keller, created and served the dessert at his café Agner in his hometown of Bad Godesberg. However, we soon realized that what attracts those to the Black Forest is more than its delicious cake. This beautiful mountain region and its dark, dense forest just north of the Alps offers 3,600 square miles of exciting activities for the entire family.
With 14,000 miles of trails for hiking, cross-country skiing and biking, there is an endless supply of outdoor adventure. Climb the scenic stairs to the top of Triberg’s beautiful Wasserfälle Gutach, the country’s tallest waterfall, covering 160 meters (525 ft.) in a series of tiers. Hike the Feldberg, Black Forest’s tallest summit. With one of the most extensive panoramic views in Germany, you’ll see the Schluchsee, Germany’s highest reservoir at a half mile above sea level. It is also the region’s largest and one of the cleanest lakes in the country. Formally a glacial lake, the clear water attracts people for an assortment of year-round lake activities and site seeing.
Both thrill-seekers and families should venture over to Rust for the 160-acre Europa Park. Kids of all ages and adults alike will enjoy the dozens of rollercoasters, rides and shows, including a real Spanish jousting match.
For some adult R&R, the opulent spa town Baden Baden is your destination, home to Germany’s oldest casino, opened in 1855. Designed by French interior decorators, its luxurious furnishings, stunning crystal chandeliers and frescos helped aristocrats and dignitaries feel at home. When you go, take a jacket and ditch the running shoes, as the casino still requires a dress code. Then, after a day of gaming, take a night stroll through the gardens of Lichtentaler Allee, and later, unwind at one of Baden Baden’s famous bathhouse spas.
Before heading home on the autobahn, wind your way through the scenic Schwarzwäldhochstraße. Stop and snap photos of the giant, functioning cuckoo clock near Hornberg that comes to life every half hour, and visit a clock shop along the way. Invented in the Black Forest town of Schönwald in 1737, these intricately carved clocks are perfect examples of Germany’s world-renown artistry in woodwork.
One more thing -- don’t forget what started us on the Black Forest journey -- the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. Make your last stop at a local bäckerei for a slice. It’s not your mama’s chocolate cherry cake, but you’ll feel closer to home than you might think.