One thing that has taken some getting used to since moving to Germany is that everything shuts down on Sundays here. All shops and malls, including grocery stores and little corner shops that sell essentials, close their doors for the day. (I had a panicky moment the other week where I was terrified we would run out of toilet paper on Sunday and not be able to buy more– if nothing else, it’s a lesson in planning ahead!) Literally everything but the occasional bakery or restaurant is closed, leaving the question: what do we do with ourselves?
Yesterday my husband and I decided to get outdoors for a bit. One thing I really like about Germany is how easy it is to get some fresh air; there are walking and biking paths everywhere, through neighborhoods and random fields and alongside every major road. Where we live is also surrounded by forests, so we did some Googling and headed out to Odenwald, found a random parking lot beside a twisty mountain road, and set off.
(This is where I feel like I have to mention that “wald” means forest in German, so saying Odenwald Forest is a bit redundant, like saying PIN number. But, sometimes clarification is nice.)
The parking lot had five different trails branching off from it. We didn’t have a map– and there were none around that we could see– and four of the trails went pretty steeply downhill over wet rocks; at six months pregnant, I decided I’d rather go for the fifth path that was wide, flat, and gently sloped uphill.
The scenery was stunning. When we first started walking, the weather was a bit wet and misty but the path was clear, with fog hanging out in the trees on each side, and the woods were quiet. The trees were so dense and dark that we both wondered out loud if we were in the Black Forest. We looked it up when we got home and we weren’t, but the Black Forest is very close by, and I can see where the name most likely comes from.
While walking, we passed many other people of all ages out doing the same thing, as well as many mountain bikers and– wait for it– mountain unicyclers. Yes, you read that right. We saw multiple people riding unicycles through the woods. I can’t remember the last time I was that simultaneously amused and impressed, and all of my hobbies suddenly seem incredibly boring in comparison.
Also, we discovered that Germans are bit more interactive in the woods than in regular life. The lack of eye contact/interaction with strangers is something that both of us are adjusting to, but towards the beginning of the hike, we passed a group of twentysomething guys on mountain bikes waiting beside the path, and they smiled and said hello to us. This kind of thing never happens normally– when I use the walking paths in my neighborhood, the people who pass each other literally pretend the other one doesn’t exist– so we thought, “Huh, maybe this is a thing when hiking.” I know in the US that it’s customary to greet other hikers in the woods, so we decided to at least make eye contact and nod or smile for the rest of the hike, and there was about a 75% success rate of people nodding or saying hello back. Not too bad!
As mentioned, we didn’t have a map on us and didn’t know where the path led, so we walked uphill for maybe a mile before turning back. The higher in elevation we got, the denser the fog became until it eventually shrouded the path.
At that elevation, dew was sticking to everything; even my husband’s mustache and beard suddenly had visible drops of condensation on them. The occasional wind gusts that came through the treetops sounded like cars on a highway. It truly felt like we were in another world.
We weren’t out for that long but it was a nice first foray into a local forest, and we will definitely go back. In some ways, everything being closed on Sundays is nice because it forces you to take a breather and make some time for yourself, and hiking is a really nice way to do that. It’s hard to beat the combination of fresh air and endorphins.
All in all, a really great Sunday, and I’m looking forward to the next one, hopefully this time with a map.