This weekend presented us with a spontaneous trip to J’s hometown of Büchenbronn. For the word-lovers amongst us, the name is said to refer to “Der Brunnen im/am Buchenwald” (the spring/well by the beech forest). The hamlet (German: Kaff) is about half an hour from the Schwäbische Alb, also known as the Swabian Alps/Jura or Schwäbleland, a 220 km long mountain range in the state of Baden-Württemberg. The word “alb” comes from “alp”, meaning “mountain pasture”. The term most probably comes from a non indo-european language meaning “high”. “Alb” also means “white” and etymologists deem it possible that the word came into being due to its reference to the snow-covered mountain peaks.
Southern Germany, including the Swabia region, once belonged to the La Tène culture which has a Celtic (Gaulish) origins. The region’s name “Suebia” derives from the “Suebi”, a group of Germanic people stemming from areas around the Elbe river region, nowaday northern and eastern Germany and the northern Czech Republic. The name “suebi” can be traced back to Proto-Germanic “swē” meaning “one’s own”. This Indo-European linguistic root is also seen in Polish “swe, swój, swoi”; in Latin “sui”; in Sanskrit “swa” and in the words “Sweden” and “Swedish”, all carrying meaning of “our own people”.
On the first day of our Swabian holiday, also a bank holiday in Germany (Ascension Day/ Christi Himmelfahrt), we spent the sunny afternoon in the garden with family.
The day after, we went on a jaunt to Donntal near Lenningen, a designated Geopoint with protected caves and archaeological sites offering a nature-filled getaway. The geology of the area is mostly mesozoic Jurassic limestone which has brought about the formation of magical landforms such as a series of mini waterfalls, limestone terraces and basins (Sinterterrassen & Becken). These are formed when a landscape underlain by limestone is eroded by rainwater. Part of the dissolved limestone then precipitates in streams and small rivers which leads to the formation of these karst shapes.
The lack of rivers and lakes on the surface of the Schwäbishce Alb plateau influenced the already poor soil quality, making the region difficult to live in. But with hardship comes creativity and in the 1880s a modern water supply system was created, innovative and outstanding for its time. This influenced the industry altogether. Instead of becoming an agricultural region, people turned towards textiles (sheep’s wool) which lead onto machine building and engineering, Benz and Bosch being two of the region’s leading companies. The region is particularly well-known for its abundance of fossils and artifacts. Findings include a mammoth, two statutes of liomen and the world’s oldest sea-lily. Flutes made of swan, griffon vulture bones and mammoth tusks have also been found here and are recorded as being the oldest musical instruments ever made.
On our amblings through the forest we came across the ruins of Sperberseck Castle. It dates back to 1090 and was built by Berthold von Sulmetingen-Böhringen-Sperberseck (great name), the Sperber being a bird common to the valley. The castle is located in the biosphere region of the Schwäbische Alb and the forest around the ruins is protected so that it may develop over the next decades into a primeval forest (Urwald von morgen).
Mr. von Sulmetingen-Böhringen-Sperberseck wasn’t the only one to build his castle in this region. Burg Hohenzollern is where the imperial Hohenzollern family once sat. The castle has been rebuilt twice after various sieges and falls into disrepair. The first castle dates back to the 11th century and survived until 1423. The second castle shone in the limelight with its strategic importance during the Thirty Years’ War, after which it became obsolete. The architecture of the castle we see today, the third one having been built in the 19th century, was based on the french Châteaux of the Loire Valley.
As we neared the forest edge, we found ourselves on several occasions on meadows (which I later researched as being calcareous grasslands). We wondered why these meadows had been left to their own devices as their biodiversity stood out against the economically valuable and used forest and fields where wood and hay are respectively harvested.
On our way back to Büchenbronn we drove past an orchard where the mushroom Laetiporus sulphureus (Chicken of the Woods) commonly grows. This mushroom is found in tree wounds and grows in an outward direction forming layers or shelves. Like with most mushroom tasting, it’s best to sample the youngest ones which are particularly yellow and orange. Older ones look almost bleached and are fuzzy/fibrous rather than soft.