I recently spent some time in Strasbourg, France, in the Alsace region. Strasbourg is right on the border with Germany, and since I had never been to Germany before, the temptation to take a little day trip to check out yet another country was high. Since we had a rental car, we were pretty free to just go explore wherever we wanted. There was some debate on where we should go. Heidelberg was mentioned as an option, but was ultimately vetoed by both of us because it was late in the trip, we were exhausted, and Heidelberg was going to be a long day of driving. Other options were Baden-Baden and Freiberg, but ultimately we decided upon the small village of Gengenbach, which is quite close to Strasbourg.
Getting there was very easy with our GPS unit an the only real difference we noticed as we crossed from France was that the road signs ceased being written in French and were now written in German. When we arrived in Gengenbach, we quickly found parking with meters at a very reasonable rate (bring some change with you) and we got out to explore the town.
Gengenbach is a pretty small little village, but it’s quite charming. We had our picnic of sandwiches we had brought from Strasbourg with us (being celiac, I always bring food with me when venturing into unfamiliar territory, and I was glad of it because a lot of the food in town looked pretty heavy on the gluten…if you don’t need to eat GF though, you should be fine). We had a great time strolling through the little village and seeing the sights before stopping for an ice cream to eat in the town square.
The most startling thing, to me, after having been in France for a couple weeks already, was how much more difficult I found the German language to be. I speak a good amount of French (I’ve been studying French for over three years) so I had no trouble at all in France conversing with the locals and reading signs, menus, etc. In Germany, it wasn’t so easy. I don’t speak any German at all and neither does my husband. Many of the locals, of course, do speak English, but not all of them do. This was never so evident as it was at our hilarious ice cream shop encounter.
The stall had all sorts of beautiful ice creams and since it was an exceptionally hot day, we were quite looking forward to it. My husband, always at least attempting to speak a little of the local language, mustered up his best attempt at a little German and said, “Sprechen Sie Englisch?”. The lady behind the ice cream counter nodded knowingly and pointed to the sizes of available containers and said something in German.
He pointed at one of the containers, thinking she was just asking which size of container he would want for the ice cream and that the next question would be about which flavor he wanted. Instead, however, she turned around to a soft-serve machine and doled out some soft serve. Clearly his German was so bad that it sounded like he had ordered this particular item from their menu. She then started topping it with all sorts of things before proudly placing it before him. He decided to just go with it. I, having learned from this experience, pointed out the flavor I wanted first and foremost and ended up with a lovely melon sorbet. We laughed quite hard about the experience later as we ate our ice creams on a bench. Apparently whatever she made was delicious, by the way.
After our funny little ice cream “lost in translation” encounter, we decided to go on a little hike in the nearby Black Forest before heading back to France, so we drove a short distance, parked on the side of the road next to a trailhead our GPS had led us to, and ventured into the forest.
I can see now why the fairy tales originated from the Black Forest. It’s a magical, slightly creepy place and absolutely enchantingly beautiful. The trees are so thick and there were little carvings of various fairy-tale things everywhere, adding to the magical feeling in the air. There were little caves and areas where the mist set a creepy vibe as the craggly trail meandered on and on. We didn’t hike the whole trail, but we did stay on it for an hour or so just to get a good feel for the forest before we headed back and got in the car and ventured back over the border, back into France.
My time in Germany was short, but I had a wonderful day exploring a small bit of a new country. It was a beautiful place, and I can’t wait to go back and see more of this country again someday.