Germany’s Black Forest… Cuckoo Clocks, Great Scenery, Weird Hats, and a Donkey

The Black Forest is legendary, a land of dark fantasy. The Brothers Grimm reportedly based their fairy tales on the region. We found beauty and humor instead.

We are wrapping up our Rhine River series today with a trip into Germany’s Black Forest. Our riverboat journey up the Rhine with Uniworld Boutique was special, no doubt about it. I’d highly recommend it to anyone. Given that we took our daughter’s family and son’s family (which included their five kids) along, Uniworld’s Generation Cruise was particularly appropriate. Riverboat trips can be expensive, however. One can also travel through the Rhine River Valley by car, bus or train. An advantage here would be having more time to stop and enjoy the scenery, towns and castles. All photos on this blog are taken by either Peggy or me unless otherwise noted.

Photo of Germany's Black Forest by photographer Curt Mekemson.
Our impression of Germany’s Black Forest was of a scenic, bucolic area.

The Black Forest is world-famous for its cuckoo clocks and our trip into the Black Forest included a visit to one of its most famous shops, The House of Clocks. There are photos, of course, bur first I have two related Black Forest cuckoo clock stories that took place decades before our riverboat trip up the Rhine. One is my son-in-law Clay’s; the other is mine.

Clay’s is the most relevant. He had actually visited the House of Clocks when he was a child in the 80s. His dad was in the army and stationed in Frankfurt, Germany. Even more to the point, his dad and grandfather bought clocks from Adolph Herr, the owner of the House of Clocks, when he brought grandfather clocks to a Christmas Market that was held on Abram’s Army Base in Frankfort. As we headed into the Black Forest, Clay was on a mission to buy his own cuckoo clock from the House of Clocks and Adolph Herr.

My cuckoo clock story goes all the way back to1951when I was in the third grade. My town was so small that the grade school only had five rooms. My introduction to it hadn’t been great. First grade took me two tries. I was kicked out the first time. My mother had altered my birth certificate to get me in early. She was eager to get me out of the house. Obviously. The teacher had been teaching for decades and knew first graders, however. She became suspicious and mailed off to Oregon for my birth certificate. I was sent home. I was happy with the reprieve. My mother— not so much. The following September I became an official first grader. It was a tough year. Mrs. Young, the teacher, had decided that Marge Mekemson’s kid was a wild child in need of taming. She was right, but I’ve never done taming well.

The second grade went much better. Second and third graders shared a room and had the same teacher for two years. I lucked out. My second grade teacher, Ruth Jones, was my godmother. She was required to like me. And did. My attitude about teachers and school took an abrupt turn. I began to enjoy school, and, I confess, even became something of a ‘teacher’s pet.’ Miss Jones was married and became Mrs. Hall the summer between my second and third grade and went on a honeymoon to Europe. On the last day of third grade, she asked me to stay after school briefly. “I have something for you, Curt, and want you to keep the fact I gave it to you to yourself.” She was careful about showing favoritism.

The gift was a cuckoo clock she had bought for me the previous summer in Germany’s Black Forest. I had it for years. Visiting the Black Forest had been on my agenda ever since.

Clay, with his family, standing in front of the Black Forest House of Clocks. From left to right, our grandsons Ethan and Cody, Clay, and our daughter Tasha. They are standing in front of a giant cuckoo clock with 21 moving figures. Some action is about to take place in the scene above them to the left…
If I were the two drunken revelers, I think I’d pay attention to the bar maid with the poised rolling pin and finger pointing “Out!”
As might be imagined, the House of Clocks is packed with cuckoo clocks, each hand crafted.
Adolph Herr, who owns and operates the Black Forest House of Clocks along with his son and grandson, represents 7 generations of clock makers dating back to the 1700s.
The Cox family can also claim a generational connection to the House of Clocks. Cody and Ethan, show here with Adolph, represent four generations of Coxes that have visited the shop including Clay’s grandfather, father, himself, and his sons.
This is one of our favorite photos of Clay. He is picking out a clock made by Adolph Herr, just as his grandfather and father did.
The clock that Clay bought.
A close up of the clock. Adolph Herr’s signature is on the back. And yes, it does make cuckoo sounds on the hour.

Grimms’ Fairy Tales are said to have been based on Germany’s Black Forest, so one way to think of the area is as a dark place filled with terrifying beasties. Well, we did run into two beasties and some of the trees were dark in appearance, but our overall impression was of a bucolic, scenic area. Our lunch stop included time to wander around in the woods for a time.

Photo of Black Forest by Curt Mekemson.
Peggy on on a dirt road into the Black Forest that we explored.
Photo of Black Forest by Photographer Peggy Mekemson.
The dark trees and brooding skies gave a clue of where the name Black Forest originated. I liked the lone tree. Windmills can be seen in the distance.
Sunlit photo of Black Forest by Curt Mekemson.
Sunlight provided a brighter, more cheerful view of the Black Forest.
Photo of trail sign in Germany's Black Forest by photographer Peggy Mekemson.
A number of trails passed over the dirt road we hiked down. They demanded exploration and called to me. The one that really caught my attention, however, was the bottom one. It’s the symbol for the Camino de Santiago, the world renowned 500 mile trail that I associated mainly with Spain. What was it doing in the Black Forest? I learned that the Camino de Santiago includes a number of different pilgrimage routes that start throughout Europe and finish in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. I could have started my pilgrimage right there!
Photo of Scottish Calf in Black Forest by photographer Peggy Mekemson.
Back on the road, we ran in to some strange beasties. Now, had we been driving through Scotland, this one wouldn’t have seemed so strange…
Phot of Llama in Germany's Black Forest by Curt Mekemson.
The Grimm brothers would have fun with this creature, probably giving it long, curving fangs. To find one, however, they would have had to travel to South America and the high Andes.
These modern, attractive homes seemed to fit well with the historic church into their Black Forest setting. We were in search of an older home, however, and found one built over 400 years ago.
Photo of the Vogtsbauernhof farmhouse at the Black Forest Open Air Museum taken by Peggy Mekemson.
The Vogtsbauernhof farmhouse dating from 1612 is the central attraction of the Black Forest’s Open Air Museum.
I was also hoping to see women wearing the traditional Bollenhut hat of the Black Forest, which was promoted on the the museum’s website. The hat consists of 14 pompoms, red for unmarried women and black for married women. I took this photo of a mural in Breisach, which claims to be the gateway to the Black Forest.
Photo of VW wearing a Bollenhut  at the Open Air Museum in the Black Forest by Curt Mekemson.
It was not to be. Instead, we found a Volkswagen Beetle wearing a Bollenhut. Maybe it was waiting for a VW Van to come along and offer it a good time.
We found this cute heifer wearing a Bollenhut at The House of Clocks.
Photo of Stream flowing through the Black Forest's Open Air Museum by photographer Curt Mekemson.
So, instead of seeing women sporting traditional hats, we wandered around the Open Air Museum checking out other sites such as this peaceful stream…
A plump, sway backed horse. And my favorite…
Photo of donkey at the Open Air Museum of Germany's Black Forest taken by photographer, Curt Mekemson.
This donkey, which I will use to wrap up our trip on the Rhine River. Next Monday, it’s back to the small town of Custer, South Dakota and its fun and fascinating collection of colorful buffalo sculptures.

31 thoughts on “Germany’s Black Forest… Cuckoo Clocks, Great Scenery, Weird Hats, and a Donkey

  1. We never had a cuckoo clock at home, but my parents had one with a large pendulum which kept clanging away on metal bells every 30 minutes. My brother inherited it, but he silenced the banging!

  2. Another stunning scenery post, Curt! My husband and I would love to go on a riverboat cruise. Maybe someday. And my parents loved clocks, so they would’ve enjoyed perusing through The House of Clocks. And the clock that Clay bought is gorgeous with those owls. I love how you include not only beauty, but also humor and lots of cuteness.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks, Lauren. I’d never been a fan of cruising until we discovered riverboats. The huge size of modern cruise ship and the thousands of people were a bit much for this country boy. River boats offer the same hassle-free experience of the large ships in a much more personal setting. Peggy and I have now done a small boat trip on the Amazon and the mid-size (80-100 passenger) trips on the Rhine and Nile. Add to that an 18-day private raft trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon, and a narrow-boat tour of English canals, our river trips have been quite varied. (I also once led a canoe trek down the Sacramento River, which was a wild experience. 🙂 By all means, do a river boat trip! Grin.
      Clay was originally going to buy a clock with a huge stag on it. The quiet voice beside him (our daughter) said, “Clay, we don’t have stags in our back yard, but we do have squirrels and owls.” The squirrels and owls won.

  3. I love that you got to enjoy the history of this beautiful spot Curt. I remember the story of that wretched teacher and laughed at your mom’s antics then. I didn’t remember your godmother was your teacher in 2nd grade. Lucky you she appreciated you and your adventurous spirit. I love you and Peggy had such a good time with the kids. Great picture of Clay picking his new Clock by Adolph and how cool to have met him and had his signature on in it. I loved those clocks and have no idea now where i would put one but if I visited, I would have to have one. I have an Adolph as a long standing client, that just turned 92 and he’ll love knowing there is another one out there and his fascination with clocks. He . I’ll share this with him. Beautiful pictures of the fam and gorgeous lush area. I see you updated your profile pic! Retired the cowboy hat eh?! 💞❣️

    • One gets the feeling of Western history when traveling through Europe, Cindy. There is so much of it and it goes back far beyond our US history. (Recognizing that the Native Americans also have an ancient history.) And then we travelled to Egypt where written history goes back 5,000 years, making European history seem like the new kid on the block. Grin.
      Watching Clay at the House of clocks was great fun. It’s impressive that you have 92 year old clients. Clockmaker Adolph was definitely in his 70s and might very well have been in his 80s.
      Yep, I moved away from my Burning Man/Outlaw photo. I like the new logo: Don’t blame me I was left unsupervised. 🙂 Forgetting for the moment that I have worked all my life to be unsupervised. 🙂

      • So precisely true Curt, the little I’ve wandered was moving and insurmountable in depth and richness. Wow, how cool to have seen Egypt too. You’re going to need a vacation from your vacation.
        I can imagine it was quite impressive as is my 92 year old client. Apparently, I sent him a link that asked him to fill out his name so I’ll try to copy and past this one. I worked him hard today and made up for it with lots of stretching and massage. 50 min work out.. 10 min stretch.. lol. You would enjoy the history of his life. He just published a book that was written about his grandfather and Claus Spreckels, San Francisco.. cool history.
        The clocks are so impressive. Maybe he’ll take his 78 year old G.F. and visit which would be so cool. He always hated his name being born when he was.
        It’s a great new logo but love seeing it in the background. Unsupervised you are and that’s a good thing, my friend! 🥰

      • Feeling more in need of a vacation all the time Cindy, one where Peggy and I go off on our own for a couple of weeks and do nothing.
        We are in Sacramento now for a rather sad event. Peggy’s sister Jane (and my friend for 50 years) passed away unexpectedly the week after we got back from Egypt. We are here for her Celebration of Life memorial to take place a week from Sunday and to help take care of Jane’s husband, Jim. Tough. I’ve seen both my brother and sister pass on over the past three years. One of the things that goes along with our age…

  4. I remember visiting a Cuckoo clock shop in Germany, I wonder if it was the same one? Some of those clocks were incredibly elaborate. We didn’t spend a great deal of time in the Black Forest area, and much of that time was pouring down rain, so my fond memories are limited. Looks like you had a better time.

    • We couldn’t have asked for better weather, Dave. Given that the House of Clocks is one of the main and original clock makers in the area, it could very well have been the same place you visited. If it had a two story cuckoo clock next to it, you were at the same place.

  5. That photo of Clay is the best. I can’t imagine him looking happier. Love the hat, and the background, too. The next best photo is the one with your grandsons and Adolf. Did he like the fact that Clay came hunting him out specifically, because of the family story? I’m sure he did. My dad prized a cuckoo clock that looks a lot like the one Clay bought. I grew up with it and can easily recall the hourly cuckoo. Today I have no idea where that clock went. It’s a shame. Thank you for taking us to the Black Forest, Curt. It has been on my to-do destination list since I first began reading Grimm’s wicked tales as a child.

    • The look on Clay’s face was special, Crystal. Pure happiness! I think Adolph was quite pleased that Clay looked him up and brought his family with him. We were lucky that our tour included his specific shop.
      My experience with cuckoo clocks was that you had to be around them for a while, so you could tune out the distinctive ‘cuckoo’ sound. Otherwise, they can be irritating, especially at 2 or 3 in the morning. 🙂 The same with the ‘bong, bong, bong’ of grandfather clocks.
      I don’t recall that Grimms’ Fairy Tales were ever on my reading list. As a youth, it was all about Tarzan, Robison Crusoe, Treasure Island, and every dog story known to humankind, not too mention cowboy books. 🙂 Still, the Black Forest has been on to visit list forever. It is a forest, after all. Grin. Thanks for your comments, Crystal! –Curt

  6. My visit to the Black Forest came in winter. The bookkeeper at Phebe Hospital was from that area, and I was able to spend a few days with his family in a traditional home: cattle below, people above. It was one of the most glorious winters I’ve ever seen. There was a heavy snow at the time, and walking in the woods in that snowy silence was truly magical.

    Have you heard of the Bily Brothers clock museum in Iowa? It’s much closer than the Black Forest, and just as interesting. There’s a bit of information about it here. One summer, Antonín Dvořák lodged upstairs. The brothers made their clocks in winter, when there wasn’t much else for Czech farmers to do!

    • I’ve always found the concept of cattle/chickens/horses/pigs/goats, etc. living under you interesting, Linda. It would take getting used to! Sounds like you had a great time, however.
      No, I haven’t heard of the Bily Brothers Museum. Sounds like their clock building was a labor of love.

  7. Oh, the clock that Clay picked out is gorgeous. The multigenerational aspects of this post were lovely, Curt. The trip was such a wonderful gift to your family and this post sort of tied the emotional depth of the journey with a beautiful bow. The Black Forest is beautiful. I could definitely see myself visiting there in the future. Thanks to you and Peggy for the fabulous photos. 🙂

  8. I especially love the scenery and the donkey. The visit to the clock shop was interesting and meaningful, but for some reason those dark, ornate clocks kind of freak me out! 🙂

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