The “Gateway to the Black Forest,” Breisach was the first stop of our week-long cruise from Basel to Amsterdam. Lying near the southern end of the Rhine River, it's a popular spot on every Rhine River cruise.
Our first morning aboard ship began with a scenic excursion to the Black Forest area. That name has been around for two millenia; the Romans gave it that name back when they were conquering the world. Back then, the forest was entirely made of pine and firs. It was actually so dense that no light could penetrate the thick, needle-laden branches, so it appeared to be black. The name has stuck even though these days most of trees are deciduous. I would imagine that it must be really pretty in autumn.
St. Peter's Monastery
The first stop on our tour was the town of St. Peter in the Black Forest. That's the actual name of the town, not a description of where it is.
Knowing how frequently monks crave isolation, I'd guess that the monastery was there before the town began. In one form or another, the monastery has been standing for almost a thousand years. The earliest reference to it is from 1073 AD. I'm not sure whether its official name is the Abbey of St. Peter or St. Peter's Monastery. They just call it “The Abbey.”
Either way, it has been rebuilt a few times, thanks to a few disastrous fires. Its most distinctive feature is the onion domes atop the two towers; they were built in 1720.
The monks moved out of the abbey in the early 1800s. These days it houses the largest theological library in Germany. The library is a working library with a precious collection of books so it is not open to the public.
News to me: Germans are charged a mandatory church tax, which goes to either the Catholic or the Protestant church. Our guide claimed the Germans don’t object to the tax because the churches use donations do a lot of charitable work. Between you and me, I wonder whether regular Germans agree with that.
Black Forest Village
We left St. Peter's and drove through the rolling countryside past farmhouses and fields to Cuckoo's Clock Workshop at Blackforest Village.
This was more of a touristy souvenir shop than a workshop I guess, but it was interesting nonetheless. We had enough time to do a few things:
- watch the life-sized cuckoo clock figures strike the hour and perform an elaborate clock routine
- enjoy a glass blowing demonstration
- watch them making cuckoo clocks
- take a short walk into the Black Forest.
- eat some of the world-famous cake
Needless to say, we hurried through the first four activities in order to make sure we'd have time for the fourth.
What's real black forest cake like?
Germans call their famous cake Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, “Black Forest Cherry Torte.” Its name comes from Kirschwasser, one of its ingredients. Kirsch is a cherry liqueur produced in the region and is absolutely mandatory as an ingredient. There's actually a German law that states that it's illegal to market the cake as Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte if it isn't made with Kirsch.
Obviously, Germans take this dessert very seriously.
If you're a connoisseur of desserts and want to get technical, this is really more like a torte than a cake: kirsch-flavored whipped cream and cherries sandwiched between multiple layers of cherry kirsch–soaked chocolate sponge cake.
The entire creation gets slathered with even more of that delicious whipped cream and finally decorated with maraschino cherries and chocolate shavings.
Oh. My. Goodness. Can you say decadent?
I managed to get their cake recipe and have copied it verbatim below. Their recipe uses a few short cuts (like a packaged sponge cake), but I think you'll enjoy it anyway.
How to Make Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cherry Cake)
- 1 dark sponge cake
- 1 cup cherries
- 3 Tbsp. cherry jam
- 3 cups whipped cream
- 3 leaves plain gelatin
- 5 tsp. cherry-kirschwasser (plus extra for yourself)
- 0.25 cup chocolate shavings (peeled from a chocolate bar)
- Slice the cake sandwich-style through the middle into three even layers.
- Prepare the gelatin and add to the whipped cream.
- Spread jam onto the bottom cake layer
- Cover jam with approx. 3/4 in thick layer of whipped cream and cherries.
- Cover with the center layer of cake
- Sprinkle the cherry Kirschwasser evenly over this layer, cover with 3/4 inch of whipped cream and place the last layer on top.
- Cover the entire cake with the remaining whipped cream and decorate with chocolate bar shavings and cherries.
ADAPTED FROM ORIGINAL BLACK FOREST CAKE RECIPE FROM BREITNAU, GERMANY
‘Someday,' in the Black Forest
As Dan sat down to his plate, he picked up his fork, turned to me, and asked, “Do you know what today is? It’s Someday. When I was 14 and in German class, I promised myself that someday I’d eat Black Forest cake in the Black Forest. I’m doing it today, so today is Someday.”
This post about touring the Black Forest is one of our collection of stories about taking a Rhine River Cruise.