Way down in the southern Black Forest, Waldkirch is more than pretty houses and unspoilt scenery. As well as being on the German Clock Route, the town is also known for its tradition of gemstone cutting and for building organs. Some are for churches; others for fairgrounds. Firms such as Bruder and A Ruth and Sohn even have organs in the street to entertain passers-by! Waldkirch is two hours southwest of Stuttgart in a dramatic setting – at the foot of Kandel Mountain, one of the Black Forest’s highest peaks.
Set on the River Elz, Waldkirch has long been high on the list of ‘charming places to visit’. Way back in 1663, for example, one Matthäus Merian gave it rave reviews! Today, the market square, with its fountain, cheerfully-painted houses and view of Kandel Mountain, is a delightful spot to watch the world go by. All round are small, family-run boutiques, such as Bindi's Schaulädele, a delightful children’s toy and clothes shop (14 Marktplatz).
Barrel organs and thrill rides
In the 19th century, Waldkirch was Europe’s capital of barrel organ making. The story is told in the Elztal Museum, whose collection of mechanical musical instruments ranges from the Black Forest’s very own cuckoo clocks to large, loud, fairground organs. Every three years, the town becomes one large open-air stage for the organ festival (the next one, is June, 2020). And the contribution to entertainment continues with Mack Rides. Not only do they build rides and roller-coasters for the world’s best theme parks, this Waldkirch company created its very own – Europa-Park, 30 minutes away
Waldkirch at a glance
- Where: Two hours southwest of Stuttgart; in the Black Forest, on the German Clock Route, 20 minutes from Freiburg
- Population: 21,000
- Climate: Sunny summers; snowy winters
- Landmarks: Kandel Mountain; Elztal Organ Museum; Black Forest Zoo
- Weekly market: Wednesday and Saturday mornings
Waldkirch is a member of Cittaslow, the international Slow City movement that is ‘pro’ local food and drink and ‘anti’ cultural standardisation. On menus, look for delicious local products, such as Black Forest ham, Schnapps and authentic Black Forest gateau. The Bäckerei Herr is known for its cakes and pretzels (10 Marktplatz). Nearby Lange Strasse is full of temptations: Kaffeehiesle, a café-cum-gift shop (No 70); Café Schill, run by the fifth generation of chocolate makers (No 48); Zum Storchen, where Christoph Trienen is the ambitious chef (No 24). Travel back in time at the Milchlädele in Blumenstrasse, a dairy founded by Dorothea Hinn’s great-grandfather in the 1930s. By the river is Café Mundwerk, where they roast their own coffee beans (5 Elzstrasse).
The Great Outdoors
The symbol of Waldkirch is Kastelburg, with an ancient ruined fortress. More demanding is hiking up Kandel Mountain, popular with hang gliders and paragliders in summer. In winter, the lifts carry skiers and cross country enthusiasts up to the summit (1,241 m/4,072 ft). The Elztal bike trail cuts through the middle of town; the Stadtrainsee lake has pedalos and beer gardens. Close by is a treetop walk and the Black Forest Zoo, with its petting zoo.
Always something going on
From wine festivals to Thai food festivals, expect the unexpected when it comes to special events in Waldkirch. Most photographed could be Schmutzige Dunnschdig, Dirty Thursday, when witches wear grotesque masks and carry brooms as they parade through the streets. This comes during the ‘Fifth Season’, in February, before Lent. In April, the 12.2-km/7.6-mile International Kandel Mountain Run is a tough course to the summit; classic car owners arrive in May to show off their vehicles. Music lovers flock to the International Peter Feuchtwanger Piano Masterclass (late August/early September), while the crafts market carries on a centuries-old tradition each October.