Sunday, February 17, 2008

15 October: My Own Personal Pilgrimage to Burg Hohenzollern

I got up this morning thinking that the days are getting shorter, the clock is ticking away towards December, and I’ve only got so many more opportunities to take the SLK for a drive, so why not return to Hohenzollern today and take a walk on that trail that looked so enticing? Armed with my camera, Baden-Württemberg atlas, some cookies, and a bottle of Gatorade, I set out after lunch, this time taking a slightly more direct route to the castle than we had yesterday.

I approached Hohenzollern from the south on the B-27 and, as the fortress came into view to the right of the highway, I decided to get off one exit earlier, at the tiny town of Wessingen, to see if I might get a good view of the castle’s south-facing flank. I made my way through the village, keeping one eye on the castle as it loomed high on the hill to my left, but there was no good place to stop, so I headed out of town, across an expanse of rolling green fields. I pulled off the road at a trailhead on the outskirts of the village of Thanheim and used my car as a tripod to get some very nice shots of the castle, framed by fall foliage. I then headed back the way I had come and decided to take a side street up into a neighborhood above Wessingen, on the off chance that I might be able to stop somewhere for a picture. I found myself, surprisingly enough, in a new residential development hugging the steep slopes directly below the castle. The street meandered up the hill and I wound up at a dead-end, with a new house going up at the end of the road. Some men were working on the house and looked at my car as I drove up, but I turned around and stopped far enough away that they would have no reason to bother me. I got out of the car and took some pictures looking up at the castle. I wondered what it would be like to live in the shadow of such a landmark; just think, every day as you drive home from work you look up at this magnificent fortress, surrounded by the gorgeous scenery of the Schwäbische
Alb. Not a bad life, if you ask me.

I got back on the highway and off again at the next exit. This time I drove part-way up the main road to the castle and stopped to take a few more pictures, not far from several older couples who were picnicking by the side of the road. The light wasn’t great because the south face of the castle was now in shadow, so I went back down the road and retraced our steps from yesterday, heading up towards the chapel in the woods. I stopped at a little pull-off surrounded by apple and pear trees laden with fruit, just to soak up the magnificent views of the countryside. Then I headed up the road to the chapel parking lot, but instead of hiking up the steep trail to the church, I took a lower trail that cut through the woods in the direction I wanted to go.

I arrived at the trail crossroads and decided to head away from the castle – if I got any closer, I figured the view would continue to be blocked by trees. I reached a point where the main trail diverged into two, but neither seemed to be heading much in the way of up, which was the direction I desired. I decided to take the slightly higher trail, but paused to turn around first and was greeted by a magnificent view of the castle peeking out between some bare tree limbs. I was lucky that fall had arrived so early in Hohenzollernland, because only with the leaves gone would the castle be completely visible from this vantage point. I quickly changed lenses and snapped away. I walked a short ways further up the trail, but this only took me further into the woods. The path here was shaded by several huge beech trees, their foliage just beginning to turn a lemony yellow, but the trail beneath my feet was already scattered with crumbling orange leaves. I turned around and headed back downhill again, then noticed a narrow footpath leading off to the right. Since it was headed in a generally upward direction, I decided to pursue it. The trail led along the side of a steep hill but didn’t make much vertical headway. It petered out in a small clearing marked by a rickety old hunter’s seat. What remained of the trail made a hairpin turn here and continued upwards, so I followed it, but it soon turned into not much more than a deer path.

I hadn’t seen anyone since the crossroads, and I didn’t especially want to get lost in the woods late on a weekday afternoon, so I decided this was a good place to stop. I could see the castle through the trees, tantalizingly majestic; if only I could just get further up – like in the treetops themselves! I actually scrabbled my way up the hillside for a short ways, grabbing at bushes and roots for purchase in the slippery grass, but after a few minutes of this I realized that my view simply wasn’t going to get any better. It was a bit harder coming down again; this would not be a good time to fall and twist an ankle. I decided that I should be quite satisfied with the pictures I had gotten today and enjoyed the rest of my stroll through the woods back to my car.

It was getting late in the afternoon and I knew that I should really be heading home (it was so late, in fact, that it had grown quite cool and I wasn’t even going to be able to drive home with the top down), but there was one more thing I wanted to do. I had, on a whim, brought my laptop along with the latest version of my novel. When I got back to my car I pulled it up the hill to the overlook where John and I had taken our self-portrait yesterday. A picnic table sits here, in the shade of a large tree, from which one can take in the fabulous view of Burg Hohenzollern and the surrounding country. I opened up my laptop and, for a half hour or so, worked on my novel within view of one of the places that has inspired my book.

Around 5:30 I called the house, hoping that John would be home from work already. He was, and I told him what I was doing. I promised that I would leave soon, but I had to ask him to walk Cody for me because I would barely make it home before dark. Perhaps he knew that this was a special moment and a special place for me to be, because he accepted my request without much complaint.

A few minutes later I reluctantly packed up my things and said my final farewell to Burg Hohenzollern. I am lucky to have toured the castle on three occasions, driven by it more times than I can count, and now photographed it from just about every imaginable angle, but I couldn’t help feeling sad as I drove away for the last time. Of course there might be a next time, but it won’t be the same as living an hour’s drive from this stunning location.

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