I decide I want to go for a walk. The neighbouring village—Geisladen—is only about 4km away if you go up and over the mountain. Ping agrees to come with and we set out. Only to become immediately waylaid by a festival.
It's been only one week since the Festival of Carrots, so we both have its grandeur in our minds as we follow the signs toward the Leithin Festival. (Leithin is either a section of Heiligenstadt or a separate city which adjoins Heiligenstadt in such a way that the boundary can never be accurately determined. Regardless, I dwell in Leithin.) The festival turns out to be very kid-orientated, but Ping and I buy some wonderful coconut cake and a few meat-stuffed pastries to have later. This means that we trek back home before really heading out.
We're now leaving a little later than I wanted to, so when Ping suggests that this direction might be a potential shortcut, I'm all for trying it.
We follow a sidewalk for a long ways, out past the Best Western Hotel and Vitalpark, along the river, along the river some more, along some rail tracks, past a soccer field, past an archery range, and, finally, we find a bridge. This takes us up through an industrial park to the edge of a treeless field. Luckily, the horses are white so their albedo keeps them cool, if nothing else. We come out onto one of the main roads leading into town.
The trail up to the top of the mountain is not really close-by, so I propose to Ping that we cut through the woods, because that always saves time. Ping sportingly agrees and we cross the road and trek through the hard-baked mud of the field heading up a gentle slope that eventually meets the tree line where we find an electric fence.
It has been my experience that the Germans in this region seem to really like electric fences because they seem to be everywhere. “Traditional” fences, on the other hand, I see only rarely. I've climbed up and over barbed wire fences before and the part where you swing the first leg over is always somewhat delicate, but sneaking between the wires of the electric fence induces a whole new degree of care.
We trek up and across another field, this one grass-covered and, naturally, find an electric fence at the far side. Fortunately, a tree here as made an opening and we squeeze through… into a stand of nettles.
Some careful pushing brings us through the thicket and we begin hiking uphill through the woods. Many of the woods I've been in in Germany have been managed somehow and have had little under-growth. This woods has, by comparison, been forgotten about or not done recently because the undergrowth makes a tangled web through which we push.
We hit the first road maybe a 100m in, but I know its the wrong one. So we push forward again and come to a (thankfully) standard wire fence about five feet tall. There seems to be no way to jump over, so I disconnect the fence from its posts and we climb over. Afterwards, I am able to reconnect things so that it appears we have never passed. 30m later I repeat the process as we come onto another road and discover a trail that would have taken us around the fence. Oh well.
We plunge back into the woods and go up and up and finally come to a road somewhere near the top which I feel is right.
We follow this along the edge of the mountain with panoramic views of the landscape. Eventually, the road curves deeper into the forest. It becomes clear that this is not the trail I thought it was as we pass logging roads and stacks of downed timber. But we continue forward! Ping, seeing the cuts the thick trees, says she has seen such places in photographs, but never in person.
The road winds down into a valley where splashes of colour have already begun to illuminate some of the trees on the far side. At the bottom we come to a paved road and horse-drawn buggies. It seems somehow perfectly in place, and yet out of it—as though the Amish have suddenly appeared. I have some idea of where we are now: Thomas drove up and over the mountain to bring me home the day he lent me hiks bike and we passed through a woods like this. Geisladen, then, may still be ahead of us!
As we go, we pass a continual series of hunting stands, but never see any hunters. I don't know when the season is here, but I think I will avoid the woods at that time! Leaving the forest, our trail skirts the edge of a field. Like all fields in this part of Germany it is perfect: verdant and rolling. A sign says we can go back towards Geisdale or forwards in the direction of a mountain. We go forwards.
The trail leaves the edge of the woods and heads directly through the middle of the field towards a small building, which I recognise as being a Bonsai Church, such as I saw in Greece. As expected the door is unlocked and the inside smells of candles and incense. A memorium on the wall shows a picture of a twenty-something year old boy who died this year; they've left it here because this was his favourite place.
As we continue, both Ping and I are both beginning to wonder where there might be food and water. A scantily-clad runner girl whooshes towards and past us on the trail, which we take as a sign that civilization, absent though it may seem, cannot be too far distant.
More walking brings us back into the woods and a little downhill. We see a cabin on a branch trail and head towards it, only to discover it is a shuttered ski lodge. The signage by it turns out not to be maps showing the way to food, as we had hoped, but nature displays talking about squirrels and trees. Ping takes the opportunity to duck behind the building for a pee and, as we return to the main trail, we begin to wonder if we will ever find sustinance.
And then, a few hundred meters farther along, people suddenly appear. One or two, and then large groups. A Rapunzel-Tower is constructed here, but most everyone seems to be ignoring it and, as there is no way in or out, we pass it by and never find out what it is. There are nore and more people on bikes, running, and walking, as we come down a slope where every year for the past twenty a few hundred trees have been planted such that you can see very visibly how they grow and how they change their environment. Finally breaking out of the forest we find a paved road and, beyond it, a castle! We agree to abandon our quest for food in order to see it.
And that, of course, is when we at long last find food.
It's an excellent and filling lunch on the veranda. The castle seems to be a hotel or some such. There isn't much else for us to do there beyond eating and visiting a gift shop. Out front there is a 600 year old Linden tree, and another down the hill. A sign tells us that these trees can live for a thousand years. Looking up into the branches, I see wires holding various parts of the tree together and wonder if it will last that long. Perhaps whatever insults we've dealt it can be ameliorated with TLC.
Back at the road, Ping and I debate walking back through the forest. It's taken a while to get here and it's become rather late. I suggest we try hitchhiking and Ping looks at me incredulously. We go to the edge of the road and I explain that I don't know how the Germans flag a passing car, but that this thing you do with your thumb has always worked for me before. I demonstrate and we try it on the next car that goes by. As it approaches Ping breaks out into the laughter of someone who knows they are doing something utterly ridiculous. The car passes by. The next one yields the same result; even I can't really keep a straight face now. But we pull it together and the next car pulls over.
The drivers, two young men, explain that they can only take us a few kilometers to the next town, but that that will have a larger road. That's fine with us, so we pile in the back seat. Ping is brimming with the excitement of discovery and I'm happy to be riding. As we approach the town, our drivers—Michael and Daniel, workers in a neighbouring, slightly larger city—turn back to explain that they've “decided to be good people” and drive us all the way to Heiligenstadt. As it turns out, they bring us all the way to our door. Ping gives them both candybars and we head in. Ping's still wearing a beaming look, “I can't believe that worked!”
My brother will, I think, appreciate this: