Eisenach – Hiking like a local

Thought for the day; surely Michael Jackson should have been the last person singing “It don’t matter if you’re black or white”. I mean, it must have mattered to him, right?

So recently I got delightfully stranded in the German town of Eisenach for the afternoon and I thought that, now that Dr Suess is out of my head again, I would use this opportunity to not only detail a couple of pleasant walks you can do and things you can see, but also to be a raging racist in an attempt to talk about culture. Before I begin, I think you should all know that I am inhaling a pot of Skyr like it is oxygen and I have no regrets. If you don’t know what Skyr is, it’s kinda like flavoured quark. If you don’t know what quark is, ask a German, the response is always hilariously ambiguous.

Eisenach is a cute little town in Thuringia, kind of in the middle of Germany (actually underneath where they usually write the word “Germany” on a world map), and while this part of Germany doesn’t seem to attract too much tourism, there are several legitimate reasons to visit it, first and foremost to get away from those bloody tourists. There are a couple of landmark buildings that are relatively famous. Most importantly, for me at least, is the house of Bach, the baroque composer whose fugue in F minor I could probably recite chord for chord off the top of my head due to some rather tedious music lessons in school. There’s a really really really really tiny house that some of the locals refer to as “The Towel” which makes an excellent Instagram photo, but not much else. There’s also the Wartburg, but more on that a little later.

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The town is also popular for hiking as there are a number of gentle (or moderate, depending on your daily cake intake (should be extreme for me considering my occupation)) walks through the forests surrounding the town. You can very easily spend an afternoon ambling through the enchanting forests via the Wartburg Castle and onwards to the Drachenschlucht and beyond, but there’s a proper way to do this if you want to act like a local. Unfortunately, this was not actually my experience.

While you can go for a walk on any day of the week, the proper day for hiking is on Sunday, but you don’t just strap on your walking boots and set forth on an adventure, oh no, first you have to eat. To be truly Thüringen, you have to find yourself a traditional lunch at around 12.30 in town, basically anything with meat and Klöße, which is kind of like Knödel but it’s not, but it is, but it’s not, or Dumplings for all you westerners, but they’re not dumplings, and they’re not Knödel because they’re Klöße. The trick here is to really over-eat, and to realise this halfway through your meal and to attempt to wash it down with a couple of local beers (might I recommend the Eisenacher Wartburg Pilsner?) which, we all know is a dumb idea, because beer is liquid bread and actually fills you up even more. A local here told me the German way of saying “Food Baby” is “Schnitzel Coma” or “Soup Depression”, but I’m not sure how true that is. He is the sort of person that likes to mess with me after all.

The first part of the hike is a waddle South along Highway 19. There are probably alternative routes which are far more beautiful, but I’ve only done this once. If you stay on the right-hand side of the road you will reach a turning with a little signpost pointing to a hiking trail that takes you up to the Wartburg Castle and into the forest. Take that path, it’s a good path, and stay left as you do. Maybe, by now, you will feel like you have begun to “walk down your lunch”, which is the proper way to discuss your return to conscious life from your schnitzel coma. The key to hiking like a German is to maintain these peanut butter vibes and to continuously manage the flow of two substances through your body; Bier and Bratwurst.

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As you reach the top of the hill, you will most likely be a little short of breath and a little bit sweaty, which sucks because there’s usually a load of bloody tourists who opted to take the bus up instead, staring at you like you’re some sort of wild pig with rabies, but it’s best to ignore them and to look at all the pretty old stuff, because Europe is full of pretty old stuff. The Wartburg is a rather impressive castle on top of a hill, constructed in the Middle Ages, if Wikipedia is anything to go by. Walk to the lookout on your left, take the photos of the castle, and then waddle down the little staircase on your right for your first Bratwurst, and a bloody good one at that; locally sourced and roasted by a guy dressed up in funny clothes.

There are a few different options with your Bratwurst. Firstly, if you enjoy consuming your sausage naked (by which I mean the sausage is without a condiment (pun intended), not that you’re rocking your birthday suit, not that I would judge you for that if that’s what you’re into) then put that warm wiener betwixt your lips and let it slip down with slick satisfaction. A proper German will always have it with Senf (mustard) as when you have it with Ketchup, you’re just wrong and probably a foreigner, although I feel the most German way to consume a sausage is with Ketchup, but only because you hate the taste of mustard and do not wish to confirm to German stereotyping, ironically. When I was there they worryingly didn’t have any beer, but I soon discovered that just inside the castle complex that beer was available.

The German rule of Kein Bier vor vier (no beer before 4,00) does not apply on Sundays. It also doesn’t apply to Bakers as time is irrelevant to us (it’s best not to ask, just accept that 7,00 in the morning CAN be an acceptable time to consume a beer under certain circumstances).

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Now I would love to sit here and tell you all about the history and culture connected with the castle, but quite frankly I didn’t want to spend any money on anything that wasn’t edible or drinkable, so instead, I just waddled around the main section and looked at the pretty stuff. For those of you wishing to save money on the beer, you can always buy a few bottles from the supermarket (Oettinger is mass produced but brewed locally in Gotha and usually costs between 25 and 30c a bottle – it’s all pretty terrible but it is possible to keep down the Helles they make without too much complaint) which you can drink during the walk to stay hydrated. I mean, one of the main ingredients of beer is water, and the rest is basically vegetables, so not only are you rehydrating, you’re replacing essential nutrients. Don’t forget to keep your bottles because LITTERING IS A DICK MOVE and because you can get some of those hard earned centies back when you return them to the supermarket, maybe even enough for another bottle of substandard Helles. This does have the disadvantage of making everybody aware of your alcohol problems as with every step you take you literally sound like Santa Claus recoverin after a bender in Vegas.

From the castle, you can follow the signs that look like an inverted Scottish flag through the forest towards the Drachenschlucht. This is very pretty, although when you see the castle on the hill it’s hard not to get Ed fucking Sheeran stuck in your fucking head which somewhat subtracts from the beauty of it all. Now, when hiking like a German, you have to dress up as if you’re climbing Everest with lots of bright and efficient outdoor clothing. You also absolutely must wear sunglasses in any weather condition. You must also have an overly efficient backpack on you for storing all your beer and additional layers when you realise that maybe you overdressed for the occasion. The last addition is nordic walking poles – these must either be strapped to your bag, obviously visible, and never actually used, or used completely incorrectly (no Hans, you don’t drag them on the ground you idiot, those curved bottoms are purely aesthetic, you must jab them downwards and waste all your energy for no particular reason). A British writer called Adam Lambert wrote about how difficult nordic walking actually is during a package holiday to Mallorca and said he would never mock it again. I, however, will still stoop to that level.

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Just before the descent to the Drachenschlucht there is a hut on the walking path that can provide you with another beer and Bratwurst. Take note, sausage enthusiasts.

The Drachenschlucht is a surreal section of metal grating placed on top of a stream that is forced between tall rocky walls on either side of you. If you have consumed too much beer at this point, which hopefully you will have, it will definitely make you require a toilet, which is problematic as, not only is there no toilet, but also no privacy. Toilets aside, it makes some awesome photos and an awesome experience as you walk amongst all the glittering droplets clinging to the moss and lose the echoes of your voice to the sound of the rushing water.

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After the Drachenschluct, you can carry on up the hill to find your next Bratwurst and beer. The best parts of the hike are over, but this is a pleasant, gentle and relaxing walk through the forest that is well worth it if you have the time. From the top, you will probably realise that you’re well over the driving limit and have to walk back. From the Drachenschlucht you can follow the road which will take you via another place for another Bratwurst and beer. There are also some paths back through the forest, but I haven’t walked them and don’t want to lead you to becoming inevitably lost in the middle of nowhere and slowly shivering to death in the night.

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While I have completed this hike in its entirety, I, disappointingly, remained sober the entire time and only swallowed one German sausage, but then again, I am only a tiny bit German. I truly believe that Germany is a very underrated holiday destination and that there is a lot to discover if you’re willing to wander off the beaten path a little. While I wouldn’t quickly send people to the depths of Thüringia before, let’s just say Bavaria, there are some rather wonderful places to visit regardless, and it just goes to show that even when you’re living in the middle of nowhere, there is always something to see.

– Tom @ indieroad

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