15+ German Traditions and Things to do in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
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In the Black Forest in Germany, you can discover unique German traditions and customs. From culinary specialties to arts, crafts and living traditions. Time to explore them!

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When you think of German traditions, what comes to mind? Perhaps the yearly Oktoberfest, or the wide range of Bratwurst you can eat? Absolutely! But there is so much more to discover in this country and one of the best places to dive into the rich culture and history of Germany is the Black Forest in the Baden-Württemberg region.

Baden how much? Baden-Württemberg. Two words, two t’s and two dots on the u. Because they could.

If you don’t know this region yet: Baden-Württemberg can be found in the Southwest of Germany, locked in by France in the west and Switzerland in the south. While Stuttgart is the capital of the region, the unofficial capital of the Black Forest is Freiburg. Both are a great place to start discovering the rest of the region.

Baden-Württemberg is the birthplace of the car. It is the birthplace of the cuckoo clock. And it is the birthplace of the *angels start singing* Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte, a.k.a. the best cake ever.

One of the top reasons people decide to visit Germany is to learn more about its traditions and history, so it’s a great match for The Travel Tester. I believe strongly that cultural understanding and preserving heritage is important for people living now, but also to keep alive for future generations.

I already visited the Black Forest when I was a child (in the Netherlands, we call this the “Zwarte Woud”, in German the region is know as the “Schwarzwald”) and returned in recent years for a promotional campaign with the German Tourist Board.

Today, I’m closing in on three of the most interesting elements of a trip to the Black Forest: Culinary Specialties, Arts & Crafts and Living Traditions and show you some of my favourite places to visit.

 

 

GERMAN TRADITIONS IN THE BLACK FOREST

 

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester

 

Brief History of the Black Forest

 

The Black Forest was virtually impenetrable in Roman times, and the tribes that lived behind the forest regularly attacked the borders of the Romans. Halfway through the Middle Ages, the wild forest was colonized little by little and grew into a region with farmers and foresters, who developed their own culture and identity.

In the centuries that followed, the military importance of the Black Forest grew and various defenses were constructed. In the late 19th century, much of the area was more or less deforested, but fortunately a lot of new plantings have been done recently and nature is flourishing again.

There are several traditions that have stood the test of time: from traditional costumes to regional dishes and farms with a special architecture, a visit to the beautiful Black Forest really brings history to life!

 

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
One of the best places to learn more about the Black Forest: the Vogtsbauernhof open-air museum

 

1. Visit the Home of the Cuckoo’s Clock

The cuckoo clocks from the Black Forest have, over the years, really become a global brand and they are strongly associated with this region. I visited the largest cuckoo’s clock in the entire Black Forest Highlands, and inside I found a massive shop and workplace with even more handcrafted clocks inside.

They are not cheap, but if you look at the skills needed to craft one, you can understand why. And from super tacky to really quite modern, there is one clock for every taste. I even saw one with a miniature waterwheel with actual water running through it!

 

WHAT? The Cuckoo’s Nest at Hofgut Sternen

WHERE? Höllsteig 76, 79874 Breitnau/Hinterzarten, Germany

MORE INFO? www.hofgut-sternen.de

 

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
The ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ of Hofgut Sternen in Hinterzarten
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester

 

2. Dig into the Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cherry Cake)

If one thing is a symbol of the kitchen in the Black Forest, it’s definitely the Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte, or the Black Forest Gateau. Imagine Layers of chocolate cake, spread with with whipped cream and cherries between each layer, then decorated with more whipped cream (because you can never have enough, really), maraschino cherries, and chocolate shavings.

What I didn’t know about this cake was its secret ingredient: Kirch. Or better known as “a-clear-liquor-that -makes-you-unfit-to-drive-after-eating-just-one-slice-of-this-cake”. Because yes, the people of the Black Forest love their cakes drowned in this liquor!

 

WHAT? The Famous Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte

WHERE? In most places, but I had a very, very good slice of the cake (read: very, very full of liquor) at the Dorotheenhütte in Wolfach. But hey, I made this cake myself, so I might be a little biased.

Dorotheenhütte Wolfach, Glashüttenweg 4, 77709 Wolfach, Germany.

Visit this attraction for FREE with the Black Forest Card! >>

MORE INFO? www.dorotheenhuette.info

 

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
The Cake Tester at work
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester

 

3. Take a Glassblowing Workshop

The region’s abundance in natural resources and raw materials such as quartz sand and spruce and fir wood led to the settlement of many glass works in the Black Forest. Over centuries glassblowing was one of the most important crafts here and you can still visit many glass works throughout the region.

At the glassblower’s workplace in Hinterzarten, you can participate in a glassblowing workshop and get many locally made souvenirs from the shop. They also offer a large selection of glass articles and glass jewelry from nationally and internationally renowned manufacturers.

 

WHAT? Glassblower’s Shop at Hofgut Sternen

WHERE? Höllsteig 76, 79874 Breitnau/Hinterzarten, Germany

MORE INFO? www.hofgut-sternen.de

 

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester

 

The Dorotheenhütte in Wolfach is the place to visit if you’re interested to learn how glass is blown and even have a go at making your own vase as well! It is also the only glass works in the Black Forest where you can see how lead crystal is mouth-blown and hand-cut.

Glass is one of the oldest materials and at the Dorotheenhütte, you can walk through 2000 years of glass making history. See the various development stages of the glass history, the different styles of past eras as well as glass blowing tools. Of course they also have a fantastic show with not just kitchenware, but also a whole section on mouth-blown glass Christmas ornaments, running 365 days a year. Amazing!

 

WHAT? Dorotheenhütte

WHERE? Glashüttenweg 4, 77709 Wolfach, Germany

Visit this attraction for FREE with the Black Forest Card! >>

MORE INFO? www.dorotheenhuette.info

 

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester

 

4. Find Traditional Design at Zeller Keramik

The ‘Cocks & Hens’-design that you will spot in many of the local restaurants and hotels in the Black Forest is the original and best-loved design from world famous pottery manufacturer Zeller Keramik.

Even after 200 years of existing, they still cast it by hand and then paint it! It comes in literally every piece of kitchenware you can think of.

At the glassblowing factory Dorotheenhütte in Wolfach, you have a selection of Cocks & Hens on display and once a week there is a lady from Zeller Keramik showing her skills in painting the cups and bowls, so great to check it out!

 

WHAT? Zeller Keramik Manufaktur

WHERE? Hauptstraße 2, D-77736 Zell am Harmersbach, Germany

Visit this attraction for FREE with the Black Forest Card! >>

MORE INFO? www.zeller-keramik.de

 

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
Zeller Keramik at the Vogtsbauernhof Open Air Museum

 

5. See The Bollenhut Up Close

The ‘Bollenhut’ hat is a well-known accessory for ladies in the Black Forest. They come with big red (single woman) or black (married woman) pompoms and are traditionally only worn in three communities in the Black Forest: Gutach, Wolfach-Kirnbach and Hornberg-Reichenbach.

The hat is a very valuable item and is made by an ever-decreasing number of skilled seamstresses and milliners. These days, they are only worn on special occasions, of course in combination with a beautiful dress in local patterns and colours.

You can see women wear the hat at the Schwarzwaelder Trachtenmuseum (Black Forest Folk Costume Museum), or at the open-air museum Vogtsbauernhof.

 

WHAT? Schwarzwaelder Trachtenmuseum (Black Forest Folk Costume Museum)

WHERE? Klosterstrasse 1, Im Alten Kapuzinerkloster, 77716 Haslach, Germany

Visit this attraction for FREE with the Black Forest Card! >>

MORE INFO? www.schwarzwald-tourismus.info

 

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
Dolls in Hinterzarten
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
Bollenhut in the streets of Freiburg

 

6. Peek Inside Traditional Farmhouses at Open-Air Museum Vogtsbauernhof

Every time I visit an open air museum I feel a true happiness inside. I’ve loved them since I was a child. Walking between the old buildings and meeting people dressed in traditional clothing. Seeing how people lived ages before me, how they worked and what they did in their free time…

If you would like a good feel of what Germany’s historical traditions and customs look like, I can recommend paying a visit the Black Forest Open Air museum in Gutach.

The museum is centred around the Vogtsbauernhof farmhouse dating from 1612, which was built on this site. The rest of the buildings on site range from family houses to (saw)mills, a chapel various hay lofts and have been brought in and you can have a look in all of them.

Around the buildings are farm animals and a herb garden with over 130 medicinal herbs. Through demonstrations and exhibitions you can see all the crafts, tools, customs, traditions, work and lifestyle of former times come alive. You can easily spend a few hours exploring here, which is exactly what I did.

When my guide cranked up the old mill and I walked past a number of people who demonstrated their handicrafts, you could really see how self-sufficient people must have been in the old days: everything handmade, everything grown themselves. Life may not have been easy, but a great deal of knowledge about nature and craft has certainly been lost over the years, but this beautiful museum in Gutach remind us of this.

 

WHAT? Schwarzwälder Freilichtmuseum Vogtsbauernhof (Vogtsbauernhof Open Air Museum)

WHERE? Vogtsbauernhof 1, 77793 Gutach (the Schwarzwaldbahn train stops right in front), Germany

Visit this attraction for FREE with the Black Forest Card! >>

MORE INFO? www.vogtsbauernhof.de

 

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
Beautiful architecture at Vogtsbaurenhof
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
Learn about various crafts
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
Enjoy a traditional meal

 

7. Celebrate the Fastnacht (Carnival)

Carnival goes by many names in German, depending on the region and dialect. The Black Forest people seek to distinguish their own carnival traditions from the more recent Rhenish influenced carnival, so they celebrate “Fastnacht“, starting on the 6th of January.

They wear “Häs“, traditional costumes, and kick of during “Schmutziger Donnerstag” (“dirty Thursday”), followed by 6 days of crazy activity on the streets. Everything ends with ‘”Aschermittwoch” (“Ash Wednesday”), which is the first day of Lent.

There is also an entire Fastnacht Museum, which you can find in the town of Bad Dürrheim.

 

WHAT? Fastnachtsmuseum Narrenschopf

WHERE? Luisenstraße 41, 78073 Bad Dürrheim, Germany

Visit this attraction for FREE with the Black Forest Card! >>

MORE INFO? www.narrenschopf.de

 

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
Statue in Wolfach
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
Statue in Gengenbach

 

8. Take a Guided Tour With a Night Watchman

While a picture says more than a thousand words, a good story says more than a thousand pictures, I believe. Definitely after visiting Wolfach, a little town that’s fast asleep when I arrive on a Monday and doesn’t seem any more interesting apart from having some pretty houses and a big river flowing through it. But then I meet Ralf, the local “Nachtwacht” , a nightwatchman.

Fully dressed in traditional costume and carrying a candle and a massive bull’s horn, he takes me around town, stopping at all the corners to sing a traditional song.

He tells about the rafters who floated their wooden beams as far as the Netherlands, about the medieval water supply and defense wall that is still visible today and about the fastnacht, the local way of celebrating the Carnival.

He tells me the story of the people that lived and worked here long before our time, as well as his own journey, coming from another town into this new community and taking on this new role as a watchman.

When I did the tour, you didn’t have to book, just go to the town hall at 20:45 to join. Unfortunately it is not clear from the Wolfach website if the tour still runs, so maybe check this first with the tourist office if you are in Wolfach.

Ralf speaks English fairly well, but if you understand German enough like I did, I’m sure you’ll get much more detail out of his stories. I’m sure I will never forget Wolfach, a town that would have maybe otherwise been just another speck on the map…

 

WHAT? Walking Tour with Nachtwacht

WHERE? Wolfach, Germany

MORE INFO? www.wolfach.de

 

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
See the city through different eyes with a Nachtwacht tour in Wolfach!
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
The beautiful place Wolfach

 

 

9. Learn All About Timber Rafting

During my walk with the Nightwatch, my guide also explained to me the history of the “Flößereim” or the timber rafting that was a very popular way of transporting large amounts of logs through Europe back in the days.

They would tie massive logs together into rafts and drifted or pulled them across a water body or down a river. It was cheap to transport, although it could be really dangerous of course. Especially if you consider that some of them would float as far as Amsterdam! Did you know they practiced this until the late sixties? That’s incredible, right?!

 

WHAT? Flößerei- und Verkehrsmuseum (Timber Rafting and Transport Museum)

WHERE? Grünstr.1, bei der Kinzigbrücke 77723, Gengenbach, Germany

Visit this attraction for FREE with the Black Forest Card! >>

MORE INFO? www.floesserei-museum.de

 

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
The Night Watchman telling me all about the Timber Rafts
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester

 

10. See a Procession

The Black Forest is mainly rural and comprises many scattered villages and a few large towns, each with their own look, feel and of course traditions. If you visit during the German public holidays, chances are you’ll run into a local celebration with a parade or procession one way or another.

When driving from Freiburg to Hinterzarten through the Black Forest, I ran into this procession in a small town on the way.

A little research told me this is probably ‘Corpus Christi‘ (Body of Christ), a feast of the Christian Church commemorating the institution of the Eucharist (Communion). At the end of a Holy Mass, there is often a procession of the Blessed Sacrament.

 

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester

 

11. Summer & Winter Fun at Feldberg

With 1493 meters, Feldberg is the highest point in the entire Black Forest. Climbing the Feldbergturm (tower), I was lucky to have a clear sky, so I was able to quite far in the distance, it’s gorgeous here!

Fun fact: Scientists say that the rain from the top of the mountain is the real source of the Donau river.

Everything was green when I visited (summer is the perfect time to go hiking here), but in winter, this area is covered in snow and full of people enjoying winter sports. In fact, this is the second largest ski area in Germany! There are about 50 kilometers of runs, so good luck getting bored here.

 

WHAT? Feldberg

WHERE? In the southwest of the region

Many benefits in this location with the Black Forest Card! >>

MORE INFO? www.schwarzwald-tourismus.info

 

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
Great views from the FeldbergTurm (Tower)
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
In winter, this is a perfect spot to ski!

 

12. Taste the Famous Schwarzwalder Schinken

This famous export product from the Black Forest is so tasty! The ham is matured for a long time (about 3 months), then cured in salt for 2 weeks and another 2 weeks cured dry. Finally, it’s cold-smoked for several weeks, during which it becomes almost black on the outside!

You can find the ham everywhere in the Black Forest, but if you want to know a bit more about it, visit the cute little museum in the tower on top of the Feldberg. Not quite sure why they put it there, but hey, why not?

 

WHAT? Schwarzwälder Schinkenmuseum

WHERE? Feldbergturm, 79868 Feldberg, Germany

Visit this attraction for FREE with Black Forest Card! >>

MORE INFO? www.hochschwarzwald.de

 

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
Guten Apetit!

 

13. Learn About the Southern Black Forest at the House of Nature in Feldberg

Under one roof, located at 1280 meters height at the Feldberg mountain in the Black Forest, you can find two nature education centers where you can learn all about the typical biodiversity of this region.

The “Naturschutzzentrum Südschwarzwald” (Conservation center Southern Black Forest) offers guided tours through the Feldberg nature reserve, tours with rangers or foresters and in winter also guided snowshoe hikes. The interactive exhibition in the “House of Nature” (Haus der Natur) is fun for the whole family.

The Naturpark Südschwarzwald (Nature park Southern Black Forest), offers information on hiking, cycling, cross-country skiing etc. in the Southern Black Forest Nature Park.

 

WHAT? Haus der Natur

WHERE? Dr.-Pilet-Spur 4, 79868 Feldberg, Germany

Visit this attraction for FREE with Black Forest Card! >>

MORE INFO? www.haus-der-natur-feldberg.de

 

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
Me having fun with the digital hot air balloon :-)

 

14. Relax at Titisee (or not)

Scattered throughout the Black Forest you can find large and small lakes everywhere. One of the most famous of these has got to be “Titisee” (located in the Titisee-Neustadt municipality).

Here you can walk (all around the lake, if you feel like it), but you can also take a relaxing boat trip or go shopping or sit on one of the many terraces with a cold drink.

If you feel really active, you can also do various water sports… but I’m sure you can guess what I did.

 

WHAT? Titisee

WHERE? Titisee-Neustadt

MORE INFO? www.schwarzwald-tourismus.info

 

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester

 

15. Hike Through Ravennaschlucht (Ravenna Gorge)

The Ravenna Gorge is a narrow and steep side valley of the Höllental , through which the wild Ravenna stream cuts its way over many cascades and waterfalls. The two largest are the large Ravenna fall with 16 and the small Ravenna fall with 6 meters drop.

I did a very easy “hike” (if you can even call it that, I don’t think I did the full trail) across the “Hochschwarzwald” path. Along the way, I passed old saws and mills, and got to walk under the impressive 37-meter high “Ravennabrücke” bridge, the viaduct of the Höllentalbahn.

My base for the night was “Hofgut Sternen”, a beautiful old guesthouse in the lovely little place of Hinterzarten, which is apparently also the place where Marie Antoinette stayed in 1770 and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1779! What about that?!

Another amazing feature of the gorge is that every winter, there is a magical Christmas market under the arches of the bridge. Browse for the finest handicrafts, unusual gift ideas and regional products in one of the many wooden huts. I hope to one day come back for it!

 

WHAT? Ravennaschlucht

WHERE? Höllsteig 76 , 79874 Breitnau, Germany

MORE INFO? www.schwarzwald-tourismus.info

 

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
This is the spot where you’ll find the Christmas market in winter
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
One of the saw mills along the route
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
Being spoiled at Hofgut Sternen (I forgive them for thinking I was a whole family on my own, haha)

 

16. See Incredible Architecture in Gengenbach

From Freiburg, in about 50 minutes you can take the Intercity train to the town of Offenburg, where you change onto the local train that stops at Gengenbach. Pretty easy! I can recommend it, because this picture-perfect, 13th century town at the Western edge of the Black Forest is definitely a highlight for architecture-lovers.

Walk throught the medieval ‘Altstadt’ and enjoy the local food, or explore more of the region around Gengenbach for rolling hills and vineyards.

 

WHAT? Gengenbach

WHERE? Ortenau District

MORE INFO? www.gengenbach.info

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester
German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester

 

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Other Nice Places in the Black Forest

Although I have already given you a lot of suggestions in this article, of course there is much more to discover in the Black Forest and the rest of the state of Baden-Württemberg.

Some other places you may want to add to your road trip are:

  • Breisach [City Center Tour* & Liliental National Forest]
  • Calw [Zavelstein Castle & Waldeck Castle]
  • Donauschingen [Donauquelle]
  • Freudenstadt [EXPERIMENTA Museum* & Sankenbach Waterfalls]
  • Karlsruhe [Karlsruhe Palace]
  • Offenburg [Museum Ritterhaus*]
  • Rastatt [Rastatt Castle]
  • St.Blasien [Sankt Blasien Cathedral]
  • Baden-Baden [Spa]
  • Bad Wildbad [Spa* & Baumwipfelpfad Schwarzwald]
  • Bad Herrenalb [Spa]
  • Ulm [Ulm Munster]
  • Laufenburg [Burgruine Hauenstein]
  • Todtnau [Todtnau Waterfall]
  • Alpirsbach [Alpirsbach Cloister*]
  • Schopfheim [Erdmannshöhle Cave*]
  • Hechingen / Bisingen [Burg Hohenzollern]
  • Triberg [Schwarzwaldmuseum* & Triberger Waterfall*]
  • Gutach [Sommerrodelbahn Gutach]
  • Oberkirch [Kirsch distilleries & Wine Tasting*]
  • Rust [Europa Park*]
  • Heidelberg [Heidelberg Castle]
  • Ludwigsburg [Ludwigsburg Castle]

All activities marked with a *star are FREE with the Black Forest Card >>

 

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester

 

Great Routes through Baden-Württemberg

There are nice railway lines in the following valleys that you can follow:

  • Wutachtal [Sauschwänzlebahn]
  • Kandertal [Kandertalbahn]
  • Höllental [Höllentalbahn]

And these are a few well-known car routes:

  • Schwarzwaldhochstrasse [Freuenstadt to Baden-Baden]
  • Badische Weinstrasse [Tourist route along the vineyards]

 

German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester

 

Accommodation in the Black Forest

I stayed at the following hotels:

Park Hotel Post – Eisenbahnstraße 35/37, 79098 Freiburg

Hotel Hofgut Sternen – Höllsteig 76, 79874 Breitnau/Hinterzarten

Gasthof Hotel zum Hecht – Hauptstraße 51, 77709 Wolfach

 

More Fun Things to Do in Germany

Of course there is much more to experience in Germany besides the Black Forest. Looking for great ideas for your next trip? Then I recommend you to look at the following articles:

 

Disclaimer: This post was written in collaboration with the Dutch office of the German Tourism Authority.

 

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German Traditions in the Black Forest That Will Surprise You || The Travel Tester

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