Last week, I joined a group for a hiking weekend in the Sauerland. We stayed at the Waldhaus (g) hotel in Föckinghausen, which is perched on the top of a hill and surrounded by verdant pastures filled with satisfied-looking cows. The rooms were well-appointed and freshly renovated, and the hotel serves good old-fashioned Sauerland fare, along with some more worldly dishes. The hotel is run by the Knippschild family, a fact which elicits murmurs of satisfaction from most Germans, who love family-run businesses. The only drawback was the omnipresence of deceased animals nailed to the wall. Above the fireplace in one of the dining rooms were the skulls of four juvenile deer, sliced horizontally straight through the eye orbit, mounted in a chevron formation. They all appeared to have been killed at the same time, perhaps with a machine gun, or poison gas. Most unsettling. On the plus side were the trash cans in all the rooms, which featured hunting scenes of courtly gallantry (see below).
The hiking is pleasant and low-impact. There are mild hills all about, but the hiking paths are smooth and well-marked. That part of the Sauerland is dominated by pine forests which don't offer all the variety of a typical German Mischwald. Many of these forests were ripped apart by Orkan (European windstorm) Kyrill in 2007, and the effort to haul away the dead wood is still visible everywhere. Nevertheless, the hike still offered some soothing panoramas, especially from the top of the Lörmecke Tower (g), a beautiful, brand-new observation tower built at one of the highest peaks in the Arnsberger Wald nature park.
Also on the agenda was a trip to the Warsteiner beer brewery. If you're imagining donning a hard hat and wandering amid clouds of malt-steam, you'll be disappointed. The tour begins in the brand-new, clinically clean, EPCOT-like "Welcome Center", and starts off with a corporate propaganda film broadcast in the so-called Rotarium, a rotating film theatre (!). The Story of Beer is framed by an exasperatingly lame story involving a chipper brewerette named Vera who takes two loutish male friends on a real tour of the actual brewery and floors them with her comphrenensive knowledge of how modern beer is brewed. Gurrrlz understand beer 2! Wha-aa?!? Whodathunkit?!?
To be fair, the movie does give you a teutonically thorough overview of the beer brewing process. One of the interesting facts is that the much-ballyhooed German Beer Purity Law of 1516, which specified that all beer sold in German may be made only from water, hops, and malted barley, is being constantly violated by German beer makers. Why? Because yeast is essential to the creation of beer, a fact which wasn't known until the late 19th century. Of course, that's rather a pettifogging distinction. The Reinheitsgebot (the informal name for the purity law) is still in force, and means that German beer is (1) all natural; and (2) made under clean-room conditions, since no artificial preservatives or chemical additives are permitted.
After the film, everyone's herded into a PeopleMover style enclosed bus, which slowly traverses the entire (gigantic) Warsteiner brewery. We made the trip on a Saturday. I found it unsettling that there wasn't a single human being in the entire brewery. Not even a security guard. Not one person. I couldn't help wondering occasionally whether it was a real brewery we were seeing beyond the windows of the visitors' tram, or whether it was some elaborate model, built to conceal the fact that Warsteiner is actually being shipped in from China via an underground tunnel.
Be that as it may, the beer served at the end of the tour was crisp and fresh, and the hiking was more than acceptable. In a few hours, I'll set off to Bingen, to experience yet another mystical connection to the German Urwald.
To tide you over, here are a few pictures from the Sauerland: