If you stand on one of the many vantage points, mostly towers, castles or hills in bizarre sandstone landscapes, you only see forest. Soft green hills, unbroken by electricity pylons or wind turbines, by towns or cities, at most a castle protrudes from the green sea. It is a wonderful green that has appealed to our senses for millennia: because it represents life.
We're talking about the Palatinate Forest. Of course there are other stately German low mountain range forests. But this patch of land in the Palatinate is special, namely the largest contiguous forest area in Germany. Together with the northern Vosges, it forms a natural biosphere reserve that is second to none - and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This typical mixed forest of beech, oak, pine, spruce and larch is dense and closed like no other in Central Europe. Perfect for a relaxed holiday in the countryside, whether you are on one of the idyllic hiking trails and enjoying nature or trying the regional dishes and wines in the few villages.
The Palatinate Forest owes its special aura to the fact that it is sparsely populated, compared to the Odenwald or Spessart. This is due to the infertile Palatinate sandy soil, which made reclamation difficult and left the region impoverished and left behind. Today, this restraint is a plus point in densely populated and industrialized Germany: a unique cultural landscape of forests, meadows and woogen, these are small lakes created by human hands.
And then there are the impressive red sandstone formations. More than 500 castles were built in it in the Middle Ages, of which more than 80 ruins can still be seen. In the Middle Ages, the region was the center of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation - here you feel as if you have fallen out of time.
This is particularly felt in the Wasgau, the Southwest Palatinate. And here intensified in the Dahner Land, which is not only known for its imposing rock formations such as the Teufelstisch, but also for its numerous castles and fortresses.
If you wander through the Palatinate Forest, it can happen that you don't meet anyone for hours. Actually, that's what every hiker wants, because they like to believe that the terrain belongs to them and only them. And yet you can get a little queasy in the deserted wilderness. The solitude of the forest – the word was coined by the Romantics as a definition of the mythical relationship between Germans and the forest – also has a dark, threatening component.
Even more appropriate than the concept of loneliness is certainly that of secrecy in the forest. Because here there is a kind of quiet peace between the memory, the myths and legends that have shaped the landscape over the centuries, and the consciousness of modern man, who turns back to the elementary experience of the forest, which he remembers from childhood and from fairy tales somehow in the blood.
Those who hike sharpen their senses, take a closer look: at the path, which is sometimes just a path or a wider route for forestry, which partially harvests the forest. The Palatinate Forest has not been growing untouched for centuries, it is not a primeval forest, but a mixture of plantation and protective forest. Forests always belong to someone, either the state or the two million private owners in Germany. But every citizen has a free right to enter the forest. Anyone can hike in the forest, it's not a privilege, it's a democratic matter.
There they are again, your own steps, the rustling of the leaves, the crunching of the little stones under your feet. Anyone who hikes not only feels the ground and senses the complex root system of the trees underneath, but also looks up at the treetops and crowns.
In the village of Fischbach near Dahn you can even walk in the treetops. The treetop path there makes it possible. Being at the top is like flying like a drone. The whole majesty of large trees unfolds in a special way.
As a person you can be both here: on the ground and in the air, just like the forest. The time span of the trees is a different category than a human life. Perhaps that is where the reverence for the forest comes from. An oak can be 1000 years old, 100 years is a piece of cake for a tree.
Anyone who walks one of the many six to ten-kilometer-long circular routes in the Dahner Felsenland, dozens of which are well marked, at a leisurely pace with enough provisions and water in their luggage, will be enchanted by the lightness of the beech trees, the darkness of the spruce trees, the resinous spice the pines. Impressed by the aesthetics of the deadwood, the shades of the moss.
Delighted by clearings and streams, by the many castle ruins and small half-timbered villages. If there is silence, you might spot a pine marten or a bat. Or at least hear a woodpecker or a tawny owl. Wild cat, wolf, lynx, they are all there. You see and hear people, even if they usually don't show up.
Those who hike will not only peek and listen differently, but also sniff. Forest air is good, it gives people pure oxygen. No scientific expertise is required for this, as every child knows.
The evolutionary biologist Josef Reichholf calls this the "welfare effect of the forest". The juices of the forest even drip onto the skin like balm without us being aware of it. In the forest you can experience a gentle continuous sprinkling through the transpiration of the leaves - a beech tree, for example, sets 500 liters of water in motion every day.
But hiking in the forest is more than just wellness, it also has to be an effort and an effort to overcome. The ups and downs of the height differences between hill and valley are part of it, because otherwise it would mean walking, in the worst case from the parking lot to the restaurant. But you don't stroll through a forest. Especially not through the Palatinate Forest, which is after all a low mountain range and reaches heights of more than 600 meters above sea level.
Hiking here means having a beginning and looking for an end. Some go on day trips on the designated hiking trails (which measure thousands of kilometers), others walk for days on the southern route of the Way of St. James, which begins in the enchanted alluvial forests of the Rhine near Speyer and ends in Weißenburg (Wissembourg) in Alsace.
The imposing Palatinate Forest Path from Kaiserslautern to the Schweigener Weintor is also popular. You should estimate nine daily stages for the 143 kilometers, and then look for shelter in the evening.
This can be in one of the numerous managed huts that make the Palatinate Forest a hiking paradise throughout Germany - and the Palatinate hut culture an intangible UNESCO cultural heritage. Over 100 forest inns and hiking homes invite you to stop by, and you can also stay overnight in quite a few. No other low mountain range offers such a dense network.
In them, active volunteers do their service for the hiker, serve him hearty meals such as Schiefer Sack (a bratwurst, a liver dumpling), Handkäs, Hoorische Knepp (raw potato dumplings) or Saumagen, quench his thirst and offer him a bed. If you are looking, you will of course also find hotels and guesthouses in the villages.
But what would this varied mixed forest be without the bizarre rocks? The rock formations are 250 million years old when the Palatinate was still a desert. Today they have congealed into towers, ridges or plateaus, in their iron oxide-embossed red-yellow they shimmer wondrously against the forest and sky, and their names speak volumes: Teufelstisch, Jungfernsprung, Hexenklamm, Sallow Rocks, Bride and Groom, Schiller Wall, Roman Rocks, Büttel Rocks, Hühnerstein, Schwalbenfelsen, Lindelskopf, Reitersprung, Geiersteine, Lammerfelsen. There is a legend, a curse or a promise for almost every one.
On the Dahner Felsenpfad or the Eppenbrunner Altschlosspfad you can surrender completely to the rock. When the sun is shining, everything looks even more fabulous, like a landscape painting by Caspar David Friedrich. You might even hear a wheatear singing or see a wall lizard looking for the warmth of the stones. The Altschlossfelsen are in the borderland to France, they are the largest rock formation in the Palatinate and a true natural monument.
The Grenzgängerweg between Dahn and Nothweiler also promises adventure. You can literally jump back and forth between boundary stones on this German-French circular route, eat on one side or the other, or as the people of the Palatinate say: "riwwer un niwwer".
Conveniently, the Palatinate Forest combines forest and wine. A large part of the Palatinate Wine Route is even part of the biosphere reserve. A good 100 million vines are spread over 85 kilometers along the Wine Route, which is famous for its fertility - thanks to more than 2000 hours of sunshine a year, figs, kiwis, lemons and melons thrive here, and most of the world's Rieslings grow here. Those who return tired and hungry from the forest after a day's hike can step "out into the open" and indulge in further sensual pleasures. The Palatinate offers enough for forest and wine people.
Above all, the Haardt with its slopes between forest and plain is pure wine country because it offers a rich mixture of red sandstone, lime, clay, loess and sand. Beautiful villages are lined up here like a string of pearls between the northern and southern wine routes. Hundreds of festivals are celebrated throughout the year, which are a delight for locals and tourists alike, because people like to party together.
The Pfälzer Weinsteig stretches a total of 172 kilometers through shady forest passages and sun-drenched rows of vines. On clear days you can see from this long-distance hiking trail to the opposite mountain road, low mountain range greets low mountain range.
A word about the many castles: The Reichsburg Trifels near Annweiler, in which Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned as a political prisoner in the Middle Ages, is certainly an attraction. Just like Berwartstein Castle, a knight's castle straight out of a picture book. Both have been rebuilt, which doesn't detract from their charm at all.
The most symbolic structure is and remains the Hambach Castle near Neustadt an der Weinstraße: eternal proof of the love of freedom of the people of the Palatinate, who rebelled against the Bavarian foreign rule in 1832. Even here, in a pre-revolutionary mood, the focus was on enjoying wine and socializing, which is why it is called the "Hambach Festival". A striking number of women and girls were part of the party, as documents in the interesting castle exhibition testify - not a matter of course in a society that was strongly male-dominated at the time. Wine and free spirit simply belong together. At that time like today.
Arrival: Long-distance trains run to Kaiserslautern, regional trains, for example, to Neustadt an der Weinstraße or Annweiler am Trifels.
Accommodation: The huts of the Palatinate Forest Association (pwv.de/index.php/huetten) and Naturfreunde Pfalz (naturfreunde.de/haeuser/suche) offer simple accommodation. For example in the "Hirschberghaus" in Rodalben, from 28 euros per person when occupying a double room, from 20 euros when occupying a five- or six-bed room (pwvhilschberghaus.de). Or in the Edenkobener Hütte, 22.50 euros per person in a shared room (huettenbrunnen.net). More hiking huts at pfalz.de/de/pfalz-erleben/wandern/huetten-und-einkehr.
Hotels: The "Jugendstilhotel Trifels" in Annweiler offers a magnificent view of the Trifels, double rooms from 89 euros (jugendstilhotel-trifels.de). "Well-being hotel Alte Rebschule" in Rhodt below Rietburg with spa, view of the Rhine plain, double room from 229 euros (alte-rebschule.de). "Schlössl Oberotterbach" near the Schweigener Tor, double rooms from 140 euros (schloessl-suedpfalz.de).
Further information: pfaelzerwald.de; zentrum-pfaelzerwald.de
Hiking has been experiencing a real boom for a number of years, including among younger people. But hiking can also be dangerous, especially if you want to climb the mountains with the wrong shoes. The right preparation is everything here, too.
Source: WELT/ Peter Haentjes