black forest beauties

Titisee, Black Forest, Germany

A few weeks after my husband and I arrived in Freiburg, Germany, where we’re trying out living for a year, we went on a day trip a little ways into the Black Forest, not far from where we live.

We took a red train through Himmelreich (Heaven Empire) and up into Höllental (Hell Valley) winding through the steep hills (they call them mountains here, but I’ve lived in British Columbia for the past ten years and say “Pffft,” with a dismissive wave), past the statue of a big buck goat you can see atop a pointy crag just before a tunnel, if you know where to look. After a 30-minute neck-craning, finger-pointing workout, we arrived at Titisee.

I know, I know. A town named Titisee challenges us English speakers to maintain composure. Every time I go to Titisee, I imagine a busload of American high school boys — maybe a football team — piling off the bus with whoops and hollers. And the eventual eye-rolling exasperation of their handlers after the third straight hour of titty-seeing jokes.

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Translating Titisee into German gives us no stunning insights. It means Lake Titi. That the German word See, which sounds like sea, means lake is just wrong. And Titi is only a name in German. It doesn’t mean titty. (No, but the word for nipple in German — Brustwarze — translates back into English literally as breast wart, so I rest my case. I’m not sure exactly what my case is, but that seems conclusive. My case could be German frankness regarding the body and its functions. If so, I submit as Exhibit A this sign, which I saw in the Titisee train station bathroom.)

Back to my story. After lunch and before our hike to the next village, we ambled through town along the lake. My husband was the first to see the photo booth, complete with real Black Forest traditional costumes and a professional photographer. He pushed me with his shoulder and said, “Hey, I think you need to have your photo taken. I’ll give it to you for your birthday.” What a cop-out, I thought. Who wants a super goofy photo of themselves, along with the certain public humiliation, as a gift? I started to offer to do it if he paid me, but then I had a better idea.

As we walked closer, it became obvious that the booth wasn’t stocked only with women’s costumes, as we’d first thought. I turned to hubby with an evil gleam in my eye, which he correctly interpreted, causing him to reverse engines. “No way,” he said, holding out stop-sign hands for emphasis. At which point, his obvious willingness to publicly humiliate me, but not himself, made me snort derisively in a manner he also correctly interpreted (we’ve known each other a long time). The photo you see here is the result (click it to see it a bit bigger). The caption means, basically, “Howdy from the Black Forest.”

Let me point out a few things. Apparently, being a traditional Black Forest maiden gives one superhuman strength. Note my enormous bicep. Okay, it’s really my long-sleeved t-shirt hastily and inexpertly pushed up, as our overriding attitude while we put on our costumes was “Let’s get this over with as quickly as possible, before that mob of grinning, better-you-than-me onlookers blocks traffic.”

Also, my husband has the biggest head on two continents, so their biggest hat only perches there inadequately, in an Oliver Hardy manner not befitting his gargantuan brain. So much the better, I say.

We were positioned in the contrived stance you see here by the photographer, bless him, who knew exactly what to do to hide my husband’s shorts.

And finally, the big red bobbles on my hat. Let me show you another, more intimate view of such hats. Red bobbles are for unmarried women, black bobbles are for married women — so my hat in our photo is technically amiss. I remain uperturbed.

We paid for the photo package that included postcards and digital files (resisting the with-photo snow globe and clock options), so we could share the foolishness with friends and family and now, officially, the general public.

As a bonus (and to finally draw your attention away from that now-public photo of me), I’ll tell you a little about the Bavarians. They’re in southeastern Germany, beyond the Black Forest and into the Alps. Through my many years of taking trips to Germany to visit my husband’s family in Berlin and to cavort in southern Germany, where things are a bit more relaxed and sunny, I’ve grown fond of the Bavarians for the ways they embrace their traditional culture in modern times, where it is most definitely and fervently alive and well.

As evidence, I present to you their garb (see this website and this one; for delving further, note that Damen = Women, Herren = Men, and Lederhosen = funky leather pants), their Oktoberfest, and, particularly, their mind-bendingly dorky (to my foreign sensibilities) TV variety shows about all things Bavarian. In rural settings. With singing. Very earnest singing (at least check out the hat, starting at 2:20 minutes).

Note that none of the above makes me want to leave Germany anytime soon. So draw your own conclusions about my capacity for embracing the very things I’ve been making fun of. And remember to cut me a little slack, since I’m actually living here among the Teutonic Dorks (right where I belong, I’m beginning to suspect) — and you’re probably not.

dork — Someone who has odd interests, and is often silly at times. A dork is also someone who can be themselves and not care what anyone thinks.”

Are there any dorks where you live that you’re pleased to be in the midst of?

11 comments to black forest beauties

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  • Jan White

    Nov.6. Grace, I am just now getting around to reading all of this story. I love your use of words! I’m with Chery.It makes me nostalgic for other parts of Germany. Somewhere there exists a picture of me in the dirndl mentioned by Chery. Keep writing. And tell T. that he shoud write about that American wife of his and his take on her reactions. Oooodles of love, Aunt Janie.

  • Hilma

    So enjoyed your story. I’m glad you are enjoying Germany.

  • David Lawrence

    Fantastic. Of course. My big sister, the world traveler and expert wordsmith. Thanks for taking me out of Atlanta and dropping me straight into that gorgeous Black Forest area of Germany, with your quirky observations about the nature and people and language that you and T. are immersed in. And making me laugh out loud as well.


    • Yay! I love to think of you laughing out loud, Dave. I wish I could take you and yours to that booth so we could have a silly photo of the three of you. When you come for a visit, we’ll do that.

      Love back,

  • Andreas Kahre

    Oh, the bobbles! oh… thank you for making my day.


  • Jim Hicks

    I have looked the US over for Titisee. Looks like a trip to there is in order. LOL Send more photos would love to see Germany for myself someday.

  • OH MY,
    It makes me almost want to go to Germany,
    Loving you

  • You paint such vivid portraits with your words. I see it as if it were yesterday.
    I wax nostalgic as I think of my college years in Kleiningersheim – and yes, I own a dirndl.
    Altho it was technically my Mother’s, but she handed it on to me to wear.
    As if…

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