The Black Forest Mittelweg – Days 1 to 3

On arriving at the station in Pforzheim, you first need to walk around 2.5 km across the town to the inn at Kupferhammer where the Westweg, Mittelweg and Ostweg all begin. Pforzheim isn’t the prettiest town in Germany, but once you leave the rather ugly town centre, the path to the trail head leads through a beautiful park and then along the river. From Kupferhammer, the trail rises up to a road where the Westweg and Mittelweg part ways. The Mittelweg heads down to Dillweissentein where it crosses a pretty sandstone bridge. From there, it’s a long but steady climb uphill, past the often spectacular homes of Pforzheim’s elite, all the way to the viewing tower at Büchenbronner Höhe. It was nearing midday as I crossed the village of Büchenbronn on my way up and the aromas of cooking made my stomach rumble. Monday seems to be baking day in Germany and there were plenty of cakes clearly being prepared for afternoon tea. After the village, the trail passed through a small wildlife park with deer and wild boar. On reaching the viewing tower, I decided against climbing it as it looked a little too unsteady for me. I have no problem being on a mountain ridge with a 500-m drop on either side, but as soon as I have to climb anything man-made, I get terrible vertigo. All the same, the tower was a pretty spectacular construction.

The trail continued to head uphill to the village of Langenbrand which marked the day’s highest point. It wasn’t particularly warm, but at least it was dry and fairly sunny. There’s not a lot to say about the trail itself: it was mostly on unspectacular Forest tracks.

However, I did have my first eerie moment of this Black Forest hike thanks to my vivid imagination as I passed a huge building lost in the woods that looked like the hotel in The Shining. A banging shutter made me quicken my pace. I’m not sure if it was abandoned or not but it was of an impressive size for a location deep in the woods. God only knows what it was. But, in my mind, it was clearly a haunted former psychiatric institute!

All in all, this first day was pretty easy, even though I climbed 700 m altogether, when the guidebook said only 500. It was a pleasant day’s hiking in mostly sunny weather, and my only real complaint would be that noise from the road could be heard all the way along. I wouldn’t rediscover the silence of the forest until the next day.

Bad Wildbad turned out to be a quiet little place. There was hardly anyone around on the streets when I arrived. My hotel, the Eintracht, was easy to find, just next to the funicular to the top of the Sonnenberg. The lady at reception was charming but very strict about all the Covid rules. That said, better safe than sorry. The room was perfectly adequate for my needs, with a good, hot shower. After resting for a while, I went out to look for somewhere to eat, but not many places were open. The thermal spa buildings were spectacular for such a small place that must have had its heyday long ago. There was a luxury hotel on the main square but it looked pretty quiet and I couldn’t even tell if it was actually open. I ended up in an Italian restaurant near the hotel where I had an excellent dish of pasta in a rich beef sauce. After eating, I took a long stroll around the town to locate the start of the trail for the next day as I had veered off the Mittelweg on arriving to walk through the centre.

The guidebook recommended taking the funicular at the start of the second day to shorten the long, 30-km hike. I might have done that if the forecast rain had arrived, but that morning’s weather update showed that the day would only be cloudy, with a spattering of light rain around 5 pm. And so, after a reasonable breakfast, I set off to return to the Mittelweg where I had left it.

After passing under the funicular track, the trail launched into a horrifically steep, thigh- busting climb. I had a commiserating smile and a friendly “Viel Spaß” from a lady heading downhill from her home. After the initial very steep section, the trail continued to head uphill at a much more reasonable pace. Like last year, I again encountered the meteorological phenomenon that keeps this forest so green: the clouds that hit the trees and deposit all their moisture on them. It was a very misty morning and, at times, I had the impression that it was raining even though it wasn’t. Because of the mist, I only caught a brief glimpse of the suspension bridge that features among the tourist attractions at the top of the Sonnenberg.

After a brief rest at the first hut I encountered, I stopped at the Grünhütte restaurant. As the place was renowned for its pancakes, I opted for elevenses for once, especially as breakfast had been quite light. But I wasn’t expecting the monster that was placed before me by the waitress. It was delicious and I surprised myself by actually eating the whole thing.

Needless to say, after that sugar intake, the kilometres just sped by. In next to no time, I was down at Kaltenbronn where I had had lunch last year with a fellow hiker. At this point, the Mittelweg and the Westweg met up for a couple of kilometres, meaning that. I was on a familiar section of the trail. It was a steep climb to the Hohlohsee and its fabulous boardwalk. The atmosphere was particularly eerie up there and the tower that I climbed last year could barely be seen through the mist so there was no sense in going up for the view this time.

Shortly after, the two trails parted ways. After a short distance on a forestry trail, the Mittelweg veered off onto a much narrower hiking track lined by ferns and bilberry bushes. These plants, which continually brushed against my legs because the trail was so narrow, were heavy with droplets from the mist. In next to no time, my hiking trousers were soaked. I didn’t stop to put on my wet-weather trousers, thinking that this section would soon be over. However, it lasted for a good 5 km and by the time it was over I was drenched from the thighs down. The moisture was so heavy that the water from my soaked trousers seeped into my socks and then my shoes. Moreover, this section of trail was tough to walk as it was very narrow and full of stones and roots. On emerging from this fairly wild section at the Toter Mann (dead man) hut, I was making a squelching sound as I walked. Next time I come across a section of path like that, I’ll put my wet-weather trousers on before launching into it.

Fortunately, from that point on until the end of the day’s hike, I was on forestry trails that undulated over the terrain and which allowed me to pick up speed to make up for the time lost in the tricky, narrow section.

I finally emerged from the woods on approaching Besenfeld. It was a very strange location. The small village lies in a huge clearing in the middle of the forest. There are fields all around the village but, beyond them, nothing but trees. I imagine that centuries ago this whole area was cleared to create this farmland around what was probably a small settlement at the time.

My hotel, the Konradshof in the centre of the village, was easy to find and turned out to be a pure delight. Friendly owners and staff, a huge room with a balcony, a beautiful restaurant with great food and a terrific breakfast the next morning.

I woke on the third morning to clear blue skies. This would turn out to be a pretty easy day of hiking, yet it was also rather frustrating. After crossing the huge clearing and returning to the woods, the trail more or less followed forestry tracks for the whole day until Freudenstadt. I was fairly high up, at an altitude of around 750 m, and I was expecting some great views, especially as I could see that the mist was lingering in the valley below. However, there were no views to be had at any point because of the thick forest lining the track. In short, I spent the whole morning trudging along a trail with nothing to see but trees! And, once again, as on the first day, there was a fair bit of noise from a major road just below the track that I was following.

The guidebook described the trail as monotonous and it certainly was. Thank God it wasn’t raining! Luckily, there were plenty of friendly mountain bikers around to ease the monotony a little. Even so, it was a huge relief to emerge from the forest in the meadows above Freudenstadt and have a view at last. Shortly after emerging from the woods, I passed a little old lady with a wheeled walking frame heading uphill and clearly making the most of the sunny weather. She must have been at least 80 and gave me a very friendly greeting.

As I hadn’t had lunch, I stopped in Freudenstadt for a slice of Black Forest cake in a café on the huge and beautiful main square, apparently the biggest in Germany. On checking my phone, I saw friends in Paris complaining about the terrible weather there. Meanwhile, I was sitting in an outdoor café in Germany beneath blue skies. After my cake, I strolled around the town for a while and got talking to a guy as we were waiting for a pedestrian light to change. He asked where I was walking and seem pretty impressed when I told him how far I was going.

From Freudenstadt, it was another 6 km to my hotel in Zwieselberg. I had to veer off the Mittelweg because the section leading out the town is currently blocked by construction work so I had to follow the main road instead until hooking up with the trail again. After an easy start in a pleasant wooded area on the outskirts of the town with some amusing sculptures, the trail began to climb steeply again.

After passing a small rest hut built for the wife of a New York millionaire who used to spend her summers here, the trail became narrower and stonier. It then crossed a road and, shortly after, I found myself on a sort of construction site with diggers and a huge ditch carved out of the middle of the trail. The workers waved me through and I headed downhill to an old stone bridge that crossed over a river before the trail started climbing very steeply again. It was tough after a day of walking and I was relieved to reach the small village of Zwieselberg at last, where I found my hotel, the Hirsch, right by the side of the trail.

This hotel was a little strange. The Russian managers/owners were very dour and, apart from the one friendly guy working in the restaurant, no one seemed to know what a smile was. The restaurant was a throwback to the worst decor of the 1970s and the food on offer was pretty standard. My room was okay but very old-fashioned. When I took my shower, there was no hot water. This meant that I made the amazing discovery that a cold shower after a day’s hiking is actually a great thing. All my tiredness vanished as I shivered in the chilly flow. Weirdly, when I went to fill my water pack at the tap a few minutes later, there was nothing but hot water and no cold to be had!All in all, a strange experience and not a hotel that I would recommend. That said, there are really no other alternatives except to spend the night in Freudenstadt, which would mean beginning the next day with a tough climb. At least my room had a large balcony with a nice view of the surrounding fields.

So, the first three days are now behind me. The Mittelweg is turning out to be a very pleasant hike, not too tough so far despite the lengthy daily distances. It provides a totally different view of the Black Forest from the one I had last year on the Westweg, which was often at much higher altitudes on more open terrain. To be continued…

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