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North Hills Monthly

Centuries-Old Traditions Thrive in the Black Forest Region of Germany

Nov 30, 2015 06:15PM ● By Vanessa Orr

While most people would expect to find Santa’s Workshop at the North Pole, some of his helpers can still be found deep in the Black Forest region of Germany at the Dorotheenhütte in Wolfach, the last glassworks in the area that still manufactures mouth-blown glass. From finely crafted, hand-decorated glass tree ornaments to lead crystal goblets for that perfect holiday toast, this glassblowing studio provides one-of-a-kind holiday ornamentation for homes across the world.

It’s hard to believe in this age of advanced technology that this art, which has been passed down through centuries, still survives. Stepping into the wooden-beamed building that is centered around two roaring pot furnaces is like stepping back in time. You can watch glassblowers as they craft freehand drawn pieces, like glass flowers and animals, in the smaller pot; moulded items, like vases and bowls, are created in the larger pot that heats glass at about 2,282 degrees Fahrenheit. Approximately 1,200 pounds of molten glass is produced there every day.

What’s really unique is that you can produce your own vase under the guidance of one of the company’s glassblowers. While it is exhilarating enough to be standing beside a flaming open furnace that is hotter than Hades, what’s even more exciting is trying to learn how to hand-blow a vase under the tutelage of a man yelling instructions in German. Especially when you don’t speak a word of the language.

 I’m not going to say that the vase I created was a complete success, because the lip of is it not perfectly symmetrical; however, I think that I should get points for not burning down the building during its creation. And thank goodness for that, since the Dorotheenhütte also houses a magnificent museum that displays 2,000 years of glass history, including different styles of glass through the ages, as well as a Christmas Village, where shoppers can choose from thousands of pieces in about 50 different series of mouth-blown, hand-decorated ornaments. 

You can even make a day of it by stopping in the Hüttenklause, or café, where all of the food is regional—and wonderful. This is about as authentic as it comes, and includes an exquisite cake buffet, where you can try Black Forest cherry cake in the region from which it originated. And if you get a chance, it’s worth a half-hour drive to visit the town of Triberg to see the world’s largest cuckoo clock, as well as the House of 1,000 Clocks.

One other must-see in the Black Forest region, and there are many, is the Black Forest Open Air Museum Vogtsbauernhof in Gutach, where you can learn about 400 years of the area’s history by wandering through six Black Forest farmhouses that span the 16th to 19th centuries, as well as 15 additional buildings. I really enjoyed sitting with Hans Heinzmann, who demonstrated the art of broom-making, and talking to the cooks who perform live demonstrations in the farmhouses’ smoky kitchens. Best of all was visiting with a stunning young lady in the traditional Bollenhut costume, including red pom-pom hat. The hat is part of the traditional costume worn by women in neighboring Black Forest villages, and symbolizes that a woman is unmarried. Married women wear black pom-pom hats, and even today, ladies from these villages often wear the hats to church and to special events.

What truly struck me as special about this region was that despite the communication gap, everyone truly goes out of their way to make you feel comfortable, which is perhaps why the area hosts more than 18 million overnight stays each year. This was especially notable at our bed-and-breakfast, the Hotel Gasthaus zum Hirsch, where despite my complete lack of German skills, and our hosts’ complete lack of English skills, it didn’t seem to matter. The level of hospitality, and of kindness, shined through. As our host at the Dorotheenhütte, Ralf Muller, explained, “It is the Black Forest Way that the word ‘no’ is not an option. We find a way to make it happen.”

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