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.