Monday, September 8, 2008

Bad Soden, Germany 2.5.05: Thermal Springs and Mad Bikers

Awake in what is the middle of the night here (1-2 A.M.), but supper time at home. Since we haven’t begun yet to make the adjustment on this second day of our trip, we went to bed at 7, full daylight, and I’m awake and hungry. The body is a creature of habit and knows it eats now at home.

We’re in the Taunus Hills outside Frankfurt for Steve to do research on his Wolf family. After we arrived and got settled yesterday at Bad Soden, where we’re staying, we drove to the village John Wolf left for Minnesota in 1869—Oberhöchstadt in the Hochtaunuskreis.

It’s pretty countryside—wooded hills with many walking and biking paths. The villages are thickly clustered, as in the Rheingebiet, one running right into the other, teeming with life on a fine May afternoon and evening. Warmer here than at home—high 70s, where it was low 60s when we left Little Rock. I saw on the weather forecast it’s supposed to be warmer in Frankfurt today than in Rome. And I brought only long-sleeved shirts, expecting it to be cool!

The other thing I notice about these villages is that they don’t seem to have an obvious or easily discernible town center. Maybe it’s in part that so much was destroyed in the war. Much of the architecture is new, that solid bourgeois German suburban architecture, rather undistinguished, but solid, well-built, with a certain attention to details that fit it into the environment.

I saw, for instance, a fountain yesterday in someone’s garden. It seemed to have a coppery sheen about it. It was very simple, like rocks placed in an irregular T on top of one tall rock, something like this ╤. I’m not sure what the material was, really, perhaps some beaten metal. It had ripples on it like stone long washed by running water, or sand as the tide recedes.

The water ran up the vertical part, along the reset, and then cascaded down. No: that’s too dramatic of a word. It rippled gently up and down.

But my point: this simple, minimalist fountain was perfect for the garden of the house. Like many houses on the outskirts of these towns, it was set in behind a thick green hedge. And like so many others in these resort bedroom communities of Frankfurt, it was on a hillside, deeply shaded.

The situation means that dappled green light plays all day on the little openings each house represents. Whoever conceived the fountain and placed it just there, in front of the house, had a very good feel for what the light would do through much of the day. It picks up the rippling water, the cast of green canopy, and turns it into quiet beauty. The Germans have a feel for that understated way of setting a resort house in just the right spot to point out the natural beauty of its surroundings. Perhaps the Europeans in general do. Perhaps all cultivated people do.

This is a resort area, one dating at least to the period of the grand baden towns so beloved by royals and aristocrats since the 1700s. Bad Homburg, nearby, was a favorite spot of the British royals and the Tsar and his family. Bad Soden is a Kurort, and from the time we arrived, people were traipsing through the little plaza in front of the hotel, which is tucked in a side street near the railway station, to walk into the Kurpark.

As befits an area with so many thermal springs, there are lots of fountains in the towns and villages, some seeming fairly modern. Again, this brings Baden and the Rhine region to mind.

But unlike those areas, it’s definitely not a Weingebiet. We did see some old orchards as we climbed high, but they seemed atypically (for Germans) neglected and overgrown with grass. We also saw signs suggesting Apfelwein is a local speciality.

Crops seem to be wheat just coming up and rape, which, in flower, has a rank, unpleasant scent, like a dog hit by a car decaying on the roadside. We stopped to take pictures of Frankfurt in the distance, at Oberhöchstadt. It shimmers just across a valley, a fold of hills. We snapped the photos to show a rape field at the top of the hill at Oberhöchstadt.

On the whole, though, agriculture doesn’t seem to be the main industry here. I’d say it’s providing weekend getaways for Frankfurters to hike and bike.

Some big event was going on yesterday, a bike race, which made it almost impossible to return to Bad Soden. As we drove, we noticed the roadways lined with cars, especially in the wooded green hilly areas. We thought something must be going on, though it was a fine Sunday May afternoon, and people may have been just hiking and biking in German tribal droves.

But the Wurst stands, the music, police and firemen, suggested more. Sure enough, as we headed back, the road was blocked and we were sent on a detour, only to drive around and around in circles trying to find an unblocked road back. We were hungry, jet-lagged, it was both hilarious (what are the chances?) and maddening.

Back for a quick walk in Bad Soden, a beer and a meal at a Biergarten that a restaurant had set up in the Altstadt. I had an omelet and salad, Steve what was called a Pfälzer vegetable mix—brussell sprouts, carrots, potatoes in hollandaise sauce. We came home and turned on t.v. to watch an Austrian family in the Wachau area harvesting apricots and making delicious-looking Marillenknödeln sprinkled with buttered bread crumbs, cinnamon, and sugar. They also made apricot jam, schnapps, and a liqueur made by macerating the fruit in brandy.

Some interesting architecture here—heavy dark slate roots with mansard slopes and dormers and even some unfinished wood buildings. In the few old areas that have survived in towns, some nice Fachwerk.

No comments: