Dec 10, 2016

The Castle

Burg Hohenzollern is a royal castle which tops a large hill in the Swabian Alps not far from Stuttgart. It is the last major holding of the Hohenzollern family, which rose to power in the village nearby nearly 1000 years ago and produced many leaders of monarchy and power including a Holy Roman Emperor. It was also the destination for a small hiking trip we took with some of Saoris coworkers last weekend. 

Daphne and Georg invited us out and drove us up to park on a nearby peak, the idea being we hike down across a picturesque valley and back up to the castle where there was an ongoing Christmas market in the castle courtyard. At the peak, the fog had frozen to the trees, coating everything in white frost. It was really beautiful, and we hiked down and across over about an hour and a half to the castle.

The castle itself is quite dramatic, but not so old, a little over 150 years, the third or fourth castle to be built on that peak, with the chapel dating back several hundred years. It was packed with visitors and the guards yelled at us for arriving via the car road and not the pedestrian path. He was shocked, shocked, we had taken something other than the normal way there.

We got some really good oven-roasted flatbreads, drank some mead and mulled wine, and checked out the few stalls in the cramped courtyard. It was later than we anticipated when we headed out again. In this part of Germany, this time of the year, it gets starts to get dark around 5pm, and it was already late afternoon when when we started hiking back. 

Georg decided to take us a different way back from the way we came (we were navigating with phones and google maps since we all had good cell phone connections) but the problem was we lost the daylight, nobody had flashlights, and people's iPhones all started to die. Germans log their forest and parks, felling selected trees and liming others, and we were confused by the forest tracks left by the recent logging in the area. We knew where we were, but the path we thought we were on ended abruptly, and rather than try to scale a massive rock formation, we turned back and took a different route to try to get around to where we wanted to be. At this point, the path was very rough and it was fully night, and the other member of our group, Tali, grew more and more panicked. The signs warning of witches did not help. 

Tali was of the opinion that we should call the police while we still had cell phone power and await rescue. As a group, we tried to reassure her that the biggest dangers we faced in this small patch of woods was tripping over people drunk on Gluhwein from the nearby winter festivities. We convinced her that the police would simply locate us and direct us to the nearest road to meet them, which is logical considering we were seeing people's backyards and the twinkling of village lights in the distance below. The other new route we attempted also ended in a mysterious path ending, so we threw up our hands and backtracked all the way to the route we had originally taken, extending our hike by several hours. In the end, it was quite special. The castle, almost always visible in the distance, lit up the mist around the mountain with what looked like bonfires, and the sound of music could be heard. When we emerged back onto the open fields on the ridge-line, the sky was clear and full of stars, and we could see the milky way arching over us.

We had also evidently just missed some kind of party since we found and collected a dozen glow sticks which were left behind, and we took them with us to better keep track of one another. When we finally reached the car at the mountain inn, we stopped for a enervating cup of coffee and water, and drove back to Stuttgart. 

I felt kind of stupid for not bringing any kind of emergency kit for this hike, and as soon as I got home, started assembling a simple kit which will include the following:
  • compass
  • hand crank flashlight
  • power bank for recharging cell phones
  • emergency heat blanket
  • whistle
And I think we'll leave Tali at home next time.
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