A massive portion of Europe’s landmass is covered in forests, whether spanning square kilometres of ecosystem or cordoned off patches between towns that look small on a map but can still make the wanderer feel entangled in the scenic woodland. Western Germany was where Teresa and I got our first taste of the woods, in a 110 square kilometre land straddling the border of Germany and Belgium.
We only had three nights after leaving Belgium to return our reliable Suzuki Swift back to Amsterdam Centraal Station. The first two of those evenings would be spent in a township not far from Düren, a city of close to one hundred thousand and relatively proximate to the more sprawling and populated Cologne.
From here we would drive about thirty five kilometres south to a little village called Heimbach after packing a lunch of fruit, sandwiches, and some pastries we bought at a German bakery called Bäkerie Schneider across from our B&B.
Heimbach is the jumping off point for entering Eifel National Park from the German side. Here, we found a tourist office wedged between the main train station and a roundabout off of An der Laag. A French lady named Bridgette was extremely friendly and helpful in giving us information and her opinion on what some of the more scenic hiking trails in the area are. She suggested a nice combination of lake/riverside views as well as elevated forest trails that would give us the best of both worlds of land and water. We only had to drive about five to ten minutes further, making a right at the roundabout and crossing the Rur River on Hasenfelder Strauße (Strausse).
After driving through some nice forestry and crossing a massive dam called Staudamm Schwammenauel, we parked at a lot called Büdenbach. By now, it was close to 10 AM and we were more than ready to begin a trek that would last late into the afternoon.
The trails were very easy, save for some of the more inclined planes we trudged up. Nevertheless, we never had to over exert ourselves (definitely much easier than our treks through Southeast Asian jungles and the Peruvian Amazon!).
We sought out as many elevated points as possible in order to treat ourselves to the best of views. Unfortunately, I feel like we came to Europe just a few weeks too early; the leaves hadn’t really bloomed on any of the trees yet and while the barebones look of the forests let us see much deeper into the woods than we’d normally be able to, a little more colour what have certainly pleased the eye. Either way, though, Teresa and I were more than happy with where our hikes took us.
From our trajectory, we got to take in some nice rural scenery like above the towns of Wildenhof and Woffelsbach. We noticed a trend of mobile homes serving as either year-round houses or summer destinations. Above the valleys lay plots of dark green agriculture very similar looking to what we observed in Belgium.
It took us about six hours, breaks included, to walk close to twenty five kilometres. Several of the trails were labelled with indications as to the distance. Despite numerous opportunities to head back to our starting point, we would always sneak in an extra two or three kilometres somewhere else, dying to see what lay around each and every corner.
We came to a junction overlooking some beautiful landscape and a restaurant down below. An older German man tried to tell us something about a point of interest far off in the distance. Unfortunately he didn’t speak any English, but did mention Adolf Hitler a couple of times. Now, I’m looking at a map we brought with us to try and figure out what he was talking about. According to the map, the direction he was pointing in was towards Vogelsang, one of several places where Hitler ordered new schools be built with a focus on creating and nurturing the next generation of National Socialist leaders. Perhaps that is what the man was referring to.
Overall, this day of hiking was incredible and the only full day Teresa and I got to spend in Germany. It also showed us how much we were actually hiking in a given day and opened up our minds to the possibilities that lay before us in terms of trekking and, one day soon, camping along the way.
Eifel National Park was our introductory course to European forest hiking. We had no idea just yet that it was only just the tip of the iceberg and an activity that we would quickly fall in love with.