travel pom poms bollenPHOTO:   Single women wear a bright red bollen.

We were up and had breakfast before the Viking Sun docked at Breisbach, Germany, and it was enjoyable up on the sun deck watching the little villages glide by, youngsters along the water front playing in the water or waving to us as we passed. It was also an area where there were dozens of mute swans, the beautiful white bird with their graceful necks and more graceful gliding through the water without a care. It was our last full day aboard the Viking Sun, and many of us wanted to exchange e-mails, take group photos, and simply talk about all the good times we had and the new friends we met. For a change, the pace was even more leisurely since there were no land tours planned for the morning, and a four hour bus tour…more of those comfortable Mercedes Benz varieties through the Black Forest in the afternoon.

The Black Forest was surprising in that it is neither black nor a forest. At one time it was both, the darkness caused by the huge mass of trees that grew there. But over the centuries, the area has been logged for shipbuilding and other uses, land has been cleared to make agricultural use of the rich fertile soil, and the result is still many tall pines, some birch, and plenty of open fields and fruit, vegetable and flower gardens.

The Black Forest covers many towns, a few cities, lots of villages, and includes many lakes and rivers, making it one of the most popular tourist areas of Germany. It seems to offer something to everyone, from boating, kayaking, swimming and fishing, to camping, hiking, cycling, upscale hotels and gorgeous scenery all around. There are few of the original Black Forest style homes remaining, but there is so much charm and beauty in other areas they are hardly missed. Some of the overlooks have vistas over lush valleys, great forests and higher mountains, some just let you enjoy the sparkling cleanliness of the small villages.

We were greeted by our guide for this tour…as in all Viking Sun tours, guides for the land excursions were always local, always knowledgeable, and always very proud of their own special part of the world. Here, the guides were dressed in the native garb, girls in flowing skirts, weskits, white blouses, and wearing the bollens that pretty well told their life history before they could talk!

As in many parts of Germany, there are legends galore, great stories of how something came about, what something means, or how it got there. Such is the case with the bollen. Not a particularly attractive headpiece, it is worn with huge pompoms on top…if the pompoms are a bright red, then girl beneath them is single. Allegedly, she trades them in for equally large, but black, pompoms after she is married.

travel outdoor coo coo clock

PHOTO: Outdoor Cockoo Clock.  photos by Jane Fotton.

This is also the land of the cuckoo clock, glassmaking, and of course, the Black Forest Cake, so the tour included visits to see each of these three local wonders.

Cuckoo clocks have been around for 300 years or so, and were originally made by farmers as a means of supplementing his income and passing the time. At the clockmaker’s, we got to see a number of varieties of the clocks, all manner of figurines dancing, cavorting and marking time on every quarter hour. Outside, the huge clock on the building included four couples who came out and danced around every half hour. The clockmaker explained that it’s the size and weight of the weights that keep the clocks precise, and the larger the weight, the less frequently the clocks need to be wound. Engineering specialists that the Germans are, there were also cuckoo clocks operating with solar power, a mix of the old with the new that was fascinating.

travel clockworksBecause of potash mining in the Forest, glassmaking has also been a source of employment and income for centuries, and the trip included watching a glassmaker blowing some intricate vases and bottles.

Of course there was also a demonstration on building a black forest cake from an already made sponge cake, though chocolate cake could also be used. The recipe includes splitting the cake into three layers, saturating the bottom layer with kirsch or any cherry liquor, smearing the whole layer with cherry preserves and another inch or so of whipped cream; topping it with a second layer and more of the cream and preserves routine, followed by a top layer where halved cherries were added to the mix and the entire cake covered with more whipped cream than anyone should whip up in a day. Final touches are shredded chocolate shavings on top, a bit more whipped cream to make little mounds for more cherries to sit on, and voila! 10,000 calories in a single bite!

Back aboard the Viking Sun, we were all ready for a memorable farewell toast with the Captain and his crew, a sumptuous dinner which, if possible, was even better than the nights before, and some last drinks, music and camaraderie in the lounge before calling it a night for an early rise on the last day.