Last summer when I was visiting Tanglewood to play some Mahler my teachers told me that they would be on tour in Germany with the Boston Symphony in May. Randolph and I have been looking forward to that all year, so that we could both visit with our teachers! We weren’t able to go to any of their concerts, but Randolph (conveniently) had the day off of work on the BSO’s “free day” before their first concert (in Frankfurt, their closest stop to us). So we made plans to drive to Frankfurt for the day and meet up with them. There are several bassoon-y things to do in the Frankfurt area since there are 3 bassoon factories, and I suggested making a trip to one of them. I don’t play a Heckel bassoon, but I do use a Heckel bocal and I wanted to visit that factory sometime while we’re living here. And who better to visit Heckel with than my favorite BSO bassoonists?!
The Heckel factory isn’t very big, but it was bassoon nerd heaven. We were given a little tour by the former owner (she has since passed the business on to her kids, but still works once a week).
The most fascinating part to me was the trash bins, believe it or not. It was crazy to see the “not good enough” pieces of bassoons that had been discarded. I think she was baffled by our fascination over the trash can and I don’t think she liked us taking pictures of it because she asked us not to take pictures of the bocal trash bin later in the tour (too bad, cause it was pretty cool).
We got to see the bassoons in various stages of completion and had the chance to ask lots of questions. She told us that they only produce around 50 bassoons a year (!). There were at least half a dozen workers there at the time, mostly doing the detailed keywork. When you see how much love and care they put into the crafting of their bassoons, it makes a little more sense that a new Heckel costs so much.
After our tour, we tried out an assortment of bocals. I’d been thinking about getting another bocal for a while, so I went in with the possibility of buying one (if I found one I liked). Fortunately, I did! It’s going to require a little adjustment to my reeds, but I know that once I’ve got that worked out I will be extremely happy with it – the bocal really has a gorgeous sound. And, as an added bonus, the bocals are way cheaper to buy here than in the US – they haven’t been this cheap in the US in 10 years!
We delayed all celebration of Randolph’s birthday because he had his fitness test the week after his birthday. He wanted to be able to fully enjoy all of the birthday food and fun post-test.
On Friday night we had a few friends over for a little birthday party. I made a Banana Split Mousse Cake. It was a layer cake with: chocolate brownie, caramelized bananas, strawberry mousse, pineapple mousse, vanilla mousse, chocolate ganache, and rainbow sprinkles.
The next day was the 5th Annual Randolph’s Mystery Birthday Road Trip. I had grand plans that wound up being thwarted by a giant thunderstorm, but we had fun, anyway. I had known it was supposed to rain and, fortunately, we had a backup plan.
The plan was to drive to the Bodensee (aka Lake Constance) and take a boat over to the Austrian side, then take a cablecar up an Austrian mountain and have a spectacular view. We made it to Meersburg, on the German side of the Bodensee and parked there to walk around. We got to see out over the lake and saw the outside of both the old castle and newer palace. It was a very pretty little town, with lots of colorful old buildings covered in wisteria vines.
We were getting hungry so we went to a cafe for lunch, with the intention of heading off toward the boat afterward (the “mystery” of the trip had been revealed by this point). As we left the cafe it was raining and as we walked toward the car it was raining harder. By the time we made it into the car it was pouring. I checked my weather app again and it looked like we weren’t going to be able to wait it out. We decided to move to Plan B, because there was no point in taking the boat and cablecar in a thunderstorm. As we left Meersburg the storm got really bad – there was even some hail – and after it let up we saw two cars that had flipped off the autobahn. So it was probably good that we abandoned the Bodensee plan.
Instead, we drove to the Schwarzwald (Black Forest). To eat Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake), of course! The Black Forest was pretty much everything you would imagine based on Hansel and Gretel, and then some. It was gorgeous. Everything was so green! The weather there was slightly rainy, but not horrible, and there were people out hiking on trails through the forest. I would definitely like to go back at some point to do that.
We went to Triberg, which is a popular Black Forest town that’s kind of touristy, but was worth spending an afternoon in. I’m sure that it gets obnoxiously busy in the summer, but since it’s still off-season and it was rainy we got to actually enjoy its quaintness.
Cafe Schäfer is known for their Black Forest Cake, so we wanted to try it there. We’d already had Black Forest Cake once elsewhere without realizing what it was (oops!), but this was our first “real” time trying it. And eating Black Forest Cake in the Black Forest just seems like something you have to do, right? In addition to that cake, we also got one of the cafe’s other specialties, a cake that they called something like “Swiss cheese cream cake.” It was a very light, fluffy cheesecake with a hint of lemon and a slightly cinnamon-y graham cracker crust (very delicious).
After that, we walked around and went into a bunch of shops. Besides the cake, the other specialty of the Black Forest is cuckoo clocks. We have no desire to own one (it’s not our style, plus why spend that much money on a souvenir from a different part of Germany than where we live?), but we wanted to look at them. There were many shops dedicated to both cuckoo clocks and other carved wood items. They were all very detailed and impressive.
The other other specialty of the Black Forest is Black Forest Ham, which is basically the German equivalent of prosciutto (ie thinly sliced cured meat). There was a little shop that sold many varieties of pork products (as well as beer, of course). Randolph wound up with not only some Black Forest Ham, but also two varieties of cured sausages and something that looks like a hunk of unsliced bacon. It was a good day for his stomach.
As we left the Black Forest area we got to drive through a lot of cute little towns with lots of cute little woodsy houses. It is definitely an area worth spending more time in! When we wound our way toward the highway there was even a super creepy abandoned-looking circus that was totally worthy of a horror movie (no thanks!).
After a little time on the highway we started to weave on a road through the Pfälzerwald (Palatinate Forest), a large forest that is next to where we live (yet we’ve never explored it). It’s apparently a very well-protected forest (with UNESCO designation, even). I am increasingly amazed by how diverse the landscape (and industry) is in Germany, even just in our area. Right next to where we live we have: a giant forest/nature preserve, a big produce-growing area (lots of asparagus!), many wine producers (the Weinstraße and other areas), German spa towns, and I’m sure much more that we don’t even know about yet (not to mention that it’s only 40 minutes to France). Even though we’re not in a city (which I would much prefer), this is still a seriously cool area to live! And in addition to our many international travels, we definitely need to explore more within Germany!
We ended the evening with a stop at a local Döner place (doner kebab – similar to schwarma) recommended to us by a friend for some takeout dinner. Döner is very popular in Germany (there are lots of small stands that sell it, even stands in grocery store parking lots) but this was our first time having it, since we rarely eat out when we’re at home. It was tasty (even my veggie version)! It was a very satisfying end to a long, but fun, day.
Barcelona at the end of the month!