Going on a Wanderung in Franconian Switzerland
When my husband told me we were going on a “Wanderung” with a group of friends I said, “Uh oh. A Wander-what?” I knew by now, after living in Germany for over a year and and mastering the art of interpretation, that anything ending in “-ung” means it’s going to be serious.
“Yeah, for Carston’s birthday party. It’s kind of like an afternoon stroll… but longer.” And the fated following sentence I knew was coming… “Bring your waterproof hiking shoes!”
Ok. Well, a hike I believe. But a 4-hour odyssey through the mossy forests of Franconian Switzerland in dead of winter with 45 Germans thinly guised as "an afternoon stroll".. hmmm.
Nevertheless, we set out on a moody Saturday afternoon for Franconian Switzerland, about an hour outside of Nuremberg, where we live. Franconian Switzerland was given its name by Romantic artists and poets in the 19th century who compared its landscape to Switzerland. Supposedly it was the first real tourist destination in Germany, along the “Burgenstraße” or “Castle Road” which connects something like 70 castles, palaces and fortresses between Mannheim and Prague. It’s a world-class rock climbing area and is also home to the highest concentration of breweries in the world. Yes I just said that.
We arrived at the Berg Gaillenreuth (a 12th century castle-turned-restaurant/hotel) to the tune of curious animals looking on, selbst gemacht wood carvings and other signs of age-old human industriousness, with at least 45 people milling about ready to get their wander on.
I was starving and asked an overwhelmed and unamused waiter if I could order anything schnell so I could pump up my strength before the Wanderung. His eyes glazed over, but he threw a sausage and two pieces of black bread in my hand, scalped my Euro.50 and went hastily on his way.
We headed out for the long walk, people wearing street clothes while I had naively worn my dorky hiking gear. "Michael, I thought this was going to be a Wanderung, like a crazy hike. Everyone's in Ugg boots and cute jackets." "Sam, this is a Wanderung. Just be cool."
The concept of wandern, otherwise known as "hiking," actually got it's start over here in the Middle Ages, eventually becoming a symbol of enlightened emancipation by members of the bourgeoisie and nobility who could simply "walk without purpose." They would 'wandern' and note down their findings objectively, exploring the landscape of Europe.
With German Romanticism in the 1800s the image of hiking had shifted to one of more personal inspiration, escape and finding solace in the solitude of nature. This concept affected and shaped art during the Romantic period in Europe as it emphasized landscape and natural settings, and became engrained in the spiritual philosophy of German life. And of course, the loan word we love to use in English as "Wanderlust" is simply an extension of this concept to travel and explore the world.
A few of these people may or may not have also gone on a Nachtwanderung. This translates directly to "Naked Hike." I'm not sure if was in winter or summer, but either way, that is incredibly badass.Naked Hiking is pretty popular over here, especially in the Swiss-German Alps. Let's just say I had my fair share of visual surprises last summer around some of the lakes in the area.
It seems kind of clandestine, because Germans don't make a big deal of things that are obviously totally cool. It's part of what I appreciate most of the German culture, along with the traveling, the Lebensqualität, the general appreciation for life and living. This low-key approach to "coming forth into the light of things, and letting nature be your teacher" certainly resonates with me as a seeker, a wanderer myself. And when you make 45 new friends in the process? Well, I'm not sure it can get any better than that.