Morbid Legends: Zweitäler-Land: The shocking side of the Black Forest

Morbid Legends: Zweitäler-Land: The shocking side of the Black Forest

Freiburg (dpa/tmn)
Black Forest, that’s cherry cake and cuckoo clocks – of course. But also mining, dance of death and witch powers. In the Zweitäler-Land you get all that, garnished with a good portion of legends and myths.

Locals describe the Suggental as Swiss cheese. Punctured by more than 90 tunnels, shafts and pits. A farmer’s wife is said to have disappeared into a hole behind the tractor while sowing seeds.

One person who knows all the stories is Andreas Mack from the Suggental Silver Mine Association. He developed the Silbersteig themed hiking trail in the Suggental. Two circular routes that can be combined, documenting the traces of mining on information boards. After all, hiking is part of a Black Forest holiday.

“The Black Forest is actually a very old mining area,” says Mack, “documented since 1024 – but certainly older.” The Suggental north-east of Freiburg is just one of many places.

Its visitor mine bears witness to the rise and fall of the mine site. In narrow, dark, sulphurous corridors, Mack tells of the hard work underground – and of a legend about the arrogance of the rich in the Suggental: “At the end of the 13th century the whole valley is said to have been flooded after a cloudburst, and all the houses were said to have been swept away. “ A sunken valley as a punishment from God. Nothing with luck. Evidence is said to be a funeral mass that was then held for 300 dead in nearby Waldkirch.

Images of death and a horror bonus

Death remains an issue: only ten kilometers further, where the Elz and Simonswald valleys – the areas of the Zweitäler Land – meet, those interested in cultural history will find a rarity: the Bleibacher Totentanz in the village of the same name is “one of the few surviving dances of death in Europe”, says artist Hans Schätzle.

The rarity is well hidden: A simple door leads from the back of the church of St. George’s Church in Gutach-Bleibach to the ossuary chapel. Whitewashed walls make the large, colorful figures appear even more haunting. There are 34 pictures in oil. Arranged according to the estate hierarchy of the time. Painted in 1723 on the wood paneled round vault.

“The pictures made people drastically clear: rich or poor, everyone is equal in death,” says Schätzle. Child, woman, man, lawyer, servant, empress, abbess or farmer’s wife – in the pictures the Grim Reaper picks them all up to die. The focus, as a horror bonus: a skeleton big band. Anyone who left the ossuary thought: “I want to improve myself,” Unkt Schätzle.

The story of the witch’s broom in the rubble

Outside, in the exuberant nature of the Kandel mountain near Waldkirch, the images of the dancing dead slowly fade – only to be replaced shortly afterwards by dancing witches. In fact, the Kandel was considered a witch mountain in the Middle Ages. Witches are said to have celebrated wild orgies on the Teufelskanzel, at the very top. It is questionable whether they did so because of the magnificent view of the Rhine plain and the Vosges.

The supposed proof of the witches’ party: 1981, on Walpurgis Night, the devil’s pulpit breaks off. Tons of rubble fall down the valley, and later a broomstick is found in the rubble.

“They flew around on their broomsticks and celebrated their super parties with the devil. And on Walpurgis Night in ’81 it was just too much of a good thing,” says Edwin Dreher, smiling and continuing: “In the village it was even claimed that it smelled of sulphur.” Dreher is a forester and chairman of the Waldkirch-Kandel Black Forest Association. You know the local stories.

“6000 tons” of debris suspected of being a mess are now supposed to sprinkle the popular climbing rock. But the Kandel is not only popular because of the legends, but also because of its originality.

The Story of the Shepherd Boys

From Kandel it is not far to Yach bei Elzach. According to the city administration, the only place in Germany that begins with Y – so also something of a rarity. How to speak that? In the dialect, the name “Eich” is pronounced.

Mysteries also await at Yach. So one wonders at the almost six and a half meter high Siebenfelsen, which giant might have stacked the seven, heavy granite blocks so neatly on top of each other. The site is said to have been a Celtic altar.

Further uphill you reach the Zweitälersteig and the Hirtenpfad. Nature guide Siegfried Wernet has his very own excerpt of the shocking reality of the Black Forest ready for the latter: He reports on the shepherd boys who “were bought from their parents as cattle herders when they were nine” and roamed the mountains alone.

“The last shepherd boy was still in action in 1951,” says Wernet, visibly touched. The children didn’t have shoes, he says. They warmed cold feet in fresh cow dung.

Devil’s ride for hedonistic farmers

As a kind of memento, Wernet often leads hiking groups barefoot around the Rohrhardsberg and the slopes of the Yachtal, which he used to roam as a child (though not as a shepherd). Pieces of forest alternate with sprawling meadows, level paths with steep slopes, when it comes to a curiosity that is easy to overlook: the white horse shrine, a narrow, stone shrine with an image of a horse.

The legend tells of a farmer who, instead of praying at the pilgrimage chapel on the Hörnleberg, stopped at the inn next door. He ate, played, and forgot the fear of God. On the way home the farmer met a pale gray horse. He rose to the ranks and experienced a vicious ride that kept him from playing cards (and horseback riding) for the rest of his life.

Incidentally, the creepy sticky was expelled with, logically, holy water. Yes, you should perhaps be a bit of a believer in God to visit the country of the two valleys – better safe than sorry.

Black Forest region of two valleys

  • Holiday destination: The hiking region of Zweitäler-Land with the Elz and Simonswald valleys is just outside the gates of Freiburg. It includes the towns of Biederbach, Elzach, Gutach im Breisgau, Gütenbach, Simonswald, Waldkirch and Winden im Elztal.
  • Getting there: Train, plane, car – the region is easy to reach thanks to its location in the border triangle with France and Switzerland. From Freiburg, the Breisgau S-Bahn runs every 30 minutes to Waldkirch and every hour to Elzach. Nearby airports are Basel Mulhouse Freiburg and Baden-Baden, both around an hour’s drive away.
  • Hike: The network of paths extends over more than 800 kilometers in the southern Black Forest. The circular route alone Zweitalersteig is 106 kilometers long with its five stages and more than 4000 meters of altitude difference.
  • Silver mine Suggental: Guided tours on request ([email protected]). Further information at
  • Gutach-Bleibach ossuary chapel: freely accessible daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the opening hours of the St. George Church.
  • Information: Elztal & Simonswäldertal Tourismus GmbH, Bahnhofstrasse 1, Gutach im Breisgau (Tel.: 07685/19433; email: [email protected])

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