Europe For The Senses

Author/Photographer Vicki Liston blogs on her book and some interesting places she's traveled. "Europe for the Senses - A Photographic Journal" was published under the name 'Vicki Landes'.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Dorotheenhütte: Hidden Gem of the Black Forest

Germany’s Black Forest hides many delightful secrets amid its thick foliage. In this land of fairytales and half-timbered houses lies a little glass factory, practicing the methods of a time long past. Located in the town of Wolfach, the Dorotheenhütte Glass Museum brings the traditions of yesterday alive for today’s visitors.

Proudly known as the ‘Black Forest’s only hand-blown glass factory’, Dorotheenhütte walks its guests through 2,000 years of glass history. The museum section of the complex shows how the art of glass-making has evolved over the years as well as displays tool and mold artifacts from long ago. Masters can be observed creating and grinding delicate crystal stemware by hand - each cut a carefully calculated combination of angle and pressure.

Dorotheenhütte also gives their visitors the opportunity to try their hand at glass blowing – fascinating and fun when considering one rarely gets the invitation to ‘touch’ and ‘try it out’ when fragile objects are concerned. Standing near the 2,642 degree inferno of fire and molten glass leaves one uncomfortably warm, yet it develops a sense of awe for the master who endures this heat for his love of the art. Take a deep breath and blow with all your might as a tiny bubble forms in the glowing shapeless mass at the other end of a long metal tube. The master coaxes for more air, more pressure, more strength as your cheeks start to tingle and your face turns bright red. You get a very short break as you pick out different color chips for the blob that will eventually become a shapely vase. The master has you blow into the tube again as he twists and shapes the vase then flings it almost madly through the air as you wonder how close he’s getting to the floor and the crowd. The glass cools enough to cut it off the tube and the vase must cool longer before being handled. The glass blowing workshop is absolutely free – only pay a nominal fee if you want to take your work of art home with you (since the vase must cool first, this give you plenty of time to peruse the rest of the complex).

Dorotheenhütte’s ‘Glass Paradise’ is appropriately named as it is truly a heaven for shoppers. The room brilliantly sparkles as each overhead light, perfectly positioned, splashes bright reflections and color over everything. Shelves and display tables are stocked full of finished vases, such as those blown in the free workshop, sets of stemware of all shapes and shades, figurines, candleholders, hanging balls that shine like stained glass, and anything else imaginable for home décor. ‘Glass Paradise’ leads into ‘Christmas Village’, full of enchanting seasonal ornaments and decorations throughout the entire year. Twinkling lights border the aisles of fluffy snow and delicate items that are practically bursting with holiday spirit. Whether spending a lot or a little, Dorotheenhütte’s experienced staff gently packs each find in protective paper to cushion its journey from Wolfach. They also offer international shipping options for those who would rather have their purchases meet them at home. Finally, after a day of blowing glass and shopping, visitors can relax in Dorotheenhütte’s charming restaurant. Have a full meal of delicious German cuisine or simply a warm drink and a pastry to reenergize as you admire the traditional wood décor.

Dorotheenhütte is a one-of-a-kind experience in the Black Forest region of Germany. Although it seems to be hiding among the dark trees, it welcomes each person with its enthusiasm and talent for the beautiful art of glassmaking.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Lake Constance: Holiday on the Bodensee

August is ‘vacation month’ for many Europeans. Shops close, traffic congests at all hours of the day, and a vacant hotel room is almost impossible to find. So, where do you go if you already live in a country where international tourists flock to? Many go to the peacefully blissful shores of Lake Constance.

Image visiting three different countries in only one day! It’s possible on Lake Constance. Called ‘The Bodensee’ in German, the lake laps at the shores of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Visitors have several options when exploring this area – by scenic car ride, on a relaxing cruise via ferry boat, or to really experience the area’s personality – ride the bicycle trail, stopping at each and every charming village on the route. Whatever mode of transportation is preferred, the visitor will be enchanted by the history, the atmosphere, and the breathtaking views of the snow-capped Alps.

A visit to the Bodensee begs the question, “how much can I possibly see while I’m here?” because there are so many options. On the German side of the lake, Meersburg is charming, boasts an old and a new castle, has a bustling pedestrian zone, and enough half-timbered houses to send the tourist back in time to an era less rushed. In contract, Birnau Abbey, a Baroque pilgrimage church, seems like a humble loner from the outside – standoffish and silent above the reflecting waters. A step inside her sanctuary shows she’s anything but shy. The exquisite frescoes, towering walls, and an influx of light so brilliant that it momentarily halts her guests, as if reminding them of the greater scheme of things. The town of Langenargen boasts an unusual Moorish castle – its unexpected style feels out of place among the traditional German buildings. Yet as the sun sets over the serene lake, the castle begins to glow with a sense of belonging. Even the waters seem to agree as they reflect a mirror image of Moorish radiance.

On the Austrian side, the town of Bregenz offers tall gothic towers, onion-shaped cupolas, and castle ruins at the very top of a mountain. One wonders if the residents of this town look out of their windows and stare in awe at the sheer magnificence they live and work in each and every day. Or does the landscape become a mere backdrop – no longer overwhelming them with a deep love of the natural beauty?

On the Swiss side of the lake, Romanshorn mixes the traditional with the contemporary. It, too has adorable half-timbered houses but it also contrasts these with its modern port and many modern tourist attractions. Minigolf, swimming pools, and playgrounds give the visitor a relaxing break from the area’s history…yet still remains grounded in a time past.

There are many more little towns and larger cities along the banks of this tranquil lake, however it’s the small island of Mainau that should not be missed. No one lives on this little seven kilometer long piece of land surrounded by the waters except a count and his family, yet it feels like a secret garden of sorts. Nicknamed ‘the garden island’, Mainau bursts with almost every type of plant life imaginable. From common flowers to tropical trees, each species thrives in the unusually warm climate the island experiences. The little island is an easy ferry ride from any of the ports along the lake – a ride effortlessly enjoyed with a warm cup of cappuccino or hot chocolate.

Lake Constance can be considered ‘the’ vacation spot of the German people. Each city feels like a seaside retreat with relaxing comforts and captivating sites. While a ‘melting pot’ of three beautiful countries, the Bodensee is the perfect place to unwind – whether that involves doing absolutely nothing on a waterfront bench while eating ice cream or taking in centuries of history while shopping, playing golf, or exploring museums. ‘The Bodensee’ translates to ‘holiday’ in any language.