The Art of Wandern: Following the Crowd


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My discovery of a mist-shrouded fort was so exciting that I had to go back–and possibly share it with others.  I was especially interested in seeing the location again with a little less mist concealing everything.   At the PH where I was studying, a group of international students wanted to go on a hike, but didn’t have much direction about what to do.  I eagerly suggested the “castle ruins” that I had found, and in my attempt to convince them, I over-emphasized how cool the ruins were.  Our hike took longer than I expected, mainly because we paused often for pictures and for people to catch their breath.



But finally, after a few uncertain intersections, we came out on the bench-bordered path I’d seen before.  We climbed a few stairs and took pictures, but this “castle” was hardly the capstone to the hike that I’d promised.  Certainly, there were rock walls that rose nearly nine feet, but most of the structure was enveloped by mounds of grass.  “It’s okay,” one of the other students said to her friend, “We’ll find a real castle to explore sometime soon.”

Dang it.

Embarrassed, I followed everyone else’s lead.  Some of the group noticed other hikers walking the opposite direction, so we decided to find out what was so popular.

Lovely place to stroll

Lovely place to stroll

We came across an observation tower.  I remembered seeing it from below in the city of Freiburg.  About fifty people were here, climbing up to the very top to take pictures, climbing down again, resting on small boulders. We decided to climb the tower, though one of our party had to stop halfway there because of vertigo.  When we made it to the top, the tower’s swaying was far too noticeable.  I couldn’t decide if the movement came from the wind or the pedestrian traffic, and I had trouble being near the outside railing at first.

I don’t have a strict phobia of heights, but the fear of falling has always been a big problem for me.  Because of that fear, I’ve never climbed a tree, attempted a cartwheel, or ice-skated.  It’s very hard for me to jump into a pool or to climb more than three ladder rungs off the ground. Climbing stairs is usually much easier for me, however, because they’re wider and solid.  These stairs, unfortunately, were a metal mesh, which meant that I could see the ground as we went up.  But I didn’t feel scared until we were at the top, where the wind might blow you over.  Even then, we could climb just a little higher on a smaller platform that was big enough for two people.  I decided to not let my fear prevent me from experiencing this tower, and I paused briefly to get a picture at the very top.

That's the cathedral spire in the background.

That’s the cathedral spire in the background.


Later on in the hike, we came across another tower, this one mainly ignored and inaccessible.  Our group decided the actual warning sign in front of the dilapidated bridge was overreacting and crossed it anyway.  I hung back until I was the last one.  I hated the idea of falling, but the bridge had supported the others, so I went for it. On the other side, we found carvings and graffiti.  Take a look for yourself! We also found a small cave that looked like it provided a little shelter for someone who was homeless.

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The Art of Wandern: A Foggy Evening Discovery


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I learned on my previous hike to trust in the beaten path, but my next hike taught me to take a few risks once in a while.  I was still new to Freiburg, though I had already walked around the city a few times.  After a full day of orientation in classes, I was tired but also feeling cooped up.

I wasn't the only restless student!

A rather accurate sketch of our professor: I wasn’t the only restless student!

The entire day had been foggy.  Even though–or perhaps because–I live in sunny Florida, rainy days are my favorite days.  Here I was, spending the day watching clouds drape the hills.  It was moody, and it was perfect.

Can I please hike now?

Can I please hike now?

Everything I’d learned about hiking–don’t hike too close to dusk, don’t hike alone, etc.–told me that hiking was a bad idea.  But here was a chance to walk inside clouds in the Black Forest.  I mean, who could pass that up?  After a little debating, I grabbed a quick meal just before 6 o’clock and headed for the hills.  The only problem was that I wasn’t familiar with the area surrounding my dorm; I had no idea how to even find the hiking trails in the first place without trespassing on someone’s property.

I decided to just wing it.  No planning, no Googling for internet hints.  Just explore.  I walked along the Dreisam river until I found a bridge, and then I kept walking straight toward the hill.  The paved road turned to dirt, isolated houses nestled at the edge of the forest, and suddenly I was on a trail.  It was steep and a little muddy, but I loved it.

Thankfully this road went past the house and into the hills.  Otherwise, I might have been intruding!

Thankfully this road went past this (gorgeous) house and into the hills. Otherwise, I might have been intruding!

I found an overlook from which I could see my dorm (the tall and narrow white building).

A view of my dorm

A view of my dorm

Since I was new to the area and had learned my lesson from previous hikes, I took paths that others seemed to be walking onA trail that lead up. A strange clearing with benches.  More people walked here.  A sign described the area as “Fort Freiburg Castle Hill Historical loop” in German.  Later I would learn that this area was the site of a count’s castle, which had been destroyed in the Middle Ages in a dispute between the count and the townspeople.

The history behind the ruins.  Makes sense, right?

The history behind the ruins. Makes sense, right?

I was so thrilled to walk among ancient ruins, and the fog made it all the more exciting.  I could only see a little bit in front of me, so stone walls and other hikers would appear and disappear.  I resolved to return on a clear day, so that I could have a better idea of the area. Here are a few more foggy photos I took:

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The Art of Wandern: In the Footsteps of Strangers


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My experience helped me realize that sometimes experimentation can go wrong.  Yes, of course it is good to try new ideas, but it is also important to look at what people have done before you.  Sometimes, the well-worn path really is the better option.

I already knew that, of course.  I was homeschooled until high school, and I interacted a lot with adults as a child.  Because I enjoy being with people, I didn’t mind listening to the stories that elderly folks wanted to tell me, and they were happy to share wisdom with a younger person.  I usually internalized their lessons and think about them even today.  Despite my independent streak, I value the experience of those who have already gone ahead.

A view of Oberau (a section of Freiburg)

A view of Oberau (a section of Freiburg)

But my “failed” climb helped drive all that home in a very concrete way.  Sometimes self-made paths end up being dead-ends.  Sometimes the cost of picking up the pieces afterwards just isn’t worth the thrill of “my way.”  I felt a little stupid.

But as I continued walking along the more defined path, I resolved that my hikes didn’t always have to end with some sort of amazing find or epiphany.  My climb wasn’t a failure: I still learned something, and I still had time to hike a bit more.

I eventually found a plaque.  I took a picture and resolved to look it up later. 

Dr. Hoffmann's plaque

Dr. Hoffmann’s plaque

After nearly two years, I finally did so last week.  At first, Dr. Christian August Hoffmann was not easy to find.  The only Google result that seemed to match was a Christian August Siegfried Hoffmann who lived about a generation prior to my commemorated friend.

But finally, I found an article in the local newspaper about the man, the journalist’s attempt to track him down, and her eventual contact with his descendants in America.  I shortly also found his descendants’ account of the interaction, which verified the journalist’s story.  In the descendants’ detailed description of Dr. Hoffmann, I noticed pictures of two buildings connected to him.  I actually recognized them!  I was astounded.  Even though I had had no idea who he was, I had come across his plaque and walked past his granddaughter’s house.  Because this realization encompassed my present time learning about all of this history, my past time in Germany, and the first half of the 19th century, I was somewhat overwhelmed.  I had partially walked in the footsteps of this stranger and his family who lived two centuries ago.  The story that is Me is so very small, a thread in the larger quilt.  And as humbling as that realization is, it’s also comforting.  It’s nice knowing that others have gone before you, leaving behind their words of wisdom to guide your way.

A shy red squirrel

A shy red squirrel


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