About this post: Planning a trip to Germany? Get off the beaten path in Germany in the Hessen region to discover Heppenheim, Odenwald, Bergstrasse, the German culture and an intimate glimpse of life in Germany. Besides Hessen, also see my Southwest Germany travel guide, hacks to score a Schengen Visa and tips for planning your first trip to Germany!
Somewhere beyond the pine forests, Germany harbors a secret. A place where the morning sun glitters like gold, where half-timbered houses dot a timeless valley. A place where yellow and purple wildflowers cover rolling hills, where if the walls could talk, they would echo with the mystical wisdom of monks who learnt the secret of fine winemaking (and perhaps life itself) before anyone else.
Somewhere beyond the pine forests, sits Odenwald, a valley forgotten by time, waiting for wanderers to lose their way, so they can find a place they didn’t know they’ve been looking for.
In the wilderness of Odenwald, we cross gushing streams by tip-toeing on fallen tree trunks. Bunches of red and white grapes hang from the vines, almost ready to harvest, basking in the sunshine and the fresh mountain air for a final rush of sweetness.
The wind sniffs my temptation to pick them, and fills the narrow hiking path ahead with wild fruits; we pluck fistfuls of red and black berries, grab juicy red apples from low-hanging branches, try to crack fallen walnuts, bite into sour pears… I take a long look around me and wonder, am I in the Garden of Eden?
As I flip through the pages of my storybook, I find myself walking through the fairytale of Heppenheim. Colorful flowers adorn the window frames of colorful traditional houses, elderly women wave out from their balconies, a newly-married couple cycle along the cobbled streets.
Just when I think I’ve entered a movie set, I find out that indeed, a Bollywood movie was set in these alleyways (starring Himesh though :p); I even meet an actor from Bihar, who has lived in Germany a long time, and plays the “Indian guy” in any German movies that need one!
Also read: Longing For Somewhere Far Away
Slowly, I start to realize that Hessen, the region of Germany that encompasses Frankfurt, Odenwald, Heppenheim (part of Bergstrasse), the Rheingau (remember where I slept in a wine barrel last year?) is a region where locals take their crafts seriously. The obscure little town of Günterfürst has been a town of ivory carvers since the 1600s. But in the 1980s, when elephants came under the wildlife protection act (thank heavens), the craftsmen refused to let the craft die.
They found out that buried under the ice in the remote reaches of Siberia are ivory tusks of mammoths that were wiped out in the last ice age – and one, a 70-year-old man who I’d have the honor of meeting – travelled all the way to find them! He now carves stone age relics from mammoth ivory.
I feel like I’m slowly being drawn into the crevices of time, and indeed I am, as I walk up the spiral tower of the 16th century Auerbach castle. Up on the roof of the castle, a tree of the pine family has been growing miraculously, without soil, its roots stretched out all over the roof in search of water. No one knows how it survives, or how old it is.
Sometimes I think stories like these, that I want to hear but don’t know how to find, find me. Like when I meet a 61-year-old lady from Odenwald who has been living in a sort of self-sustainable hippie commune for 40 years. I imagine that she was the one with the long hair, who didn’t care about the rules, who believed that the world could be the utopia we’ve all dreamt of. She was the one I imagine I’d be if I lived in the 60s… too presumptuous maybe.
With a meditative sunset between us, I ask her:
How much has the world really changed since then?
“Back then, the young people had one objective: to make the world a better place. There was much more laughter, music and love,” she says.
I dwell on the laughter, music and love in my own life, as I swirl my wine glass in a magical sunset. These long summer days are unusual for September in Germany, and as I look at the vineyards through my wine, I think of this time last year, when I was at the Wine University in Giesenheim, learning about an experiment that tracks the effect of climate change on wine growing.
I guess we have more questions in our life now, more questions than music or love or laughter.
I swirl my glass again, remembering these wise words someone once said: “The answers might not lie at the bottom of a bottle of wine, but you should atleast check.”
The week I landed in Germany was the week I marked one year of being vegan. It had all begun when I met a vegan friend in Germany, who convinced me that cutting out animal products from my diet, even as I travel, is not as hard as it sounds.
With the meat and cheese out, I expected to eat only potatoes in Germany this time – and I did eat my fair share, but I was surprised time and again, with couscous salads, pretzels with beetroot and eggplant dips, and vegan chocolates, energy bars and desserts in health organic stores even in tiny German villages.
At the annual farmers market (Umstädter Bauernmarkt) in Umstädt, I joined the revelry to discover something else. The wine stalls, the flammkuchen, the beer, the breads, I expected to see. What I didn’t expect was the potato revelry. Local farmers offered us a taste of blue, red, white and yellow potatoes, and those are just 4 of the 100+ varieties in Germany – and I can tell you, each potato has its own distinct flavor.
Next year, I see myself at the annual Potato Festival, where local restos across Odenwald offer two weeks of a menu based primarily on potatoes! #NotJustPotatoes, anyone? 😉
This was my fifth trip to Germany and the third to Frankfurt; what could one find worth 3 trips in a business city like Frankfurt you ask, and I did too. Last year, I drank apple wine in a traditional wine house, and this year, I met a traditional potter – the only one in the city – who still makes traditional bembels in which apple wine has always been served. She shapes the clay on her wheel, burns it in the oven and paints nostalgic memes on it.
As I watch the sun set one last time, above the vineyards and half-timbered houses of Bergstrasse, I remind myself that this is what Germany is really about.
It has the cars and the autobahn and a sad part of history, but it also has the forests and the flowers, the sunsets and the stars. A deep sense of spirtituality that you can only find when of the pre-conceived notions you rid your mind.
In Tanya Markul’s words:
“To me, being spiritual means… whispering to trees, laughing with flowers, falling in love with sunsets, consulting water and worshipping the stars.”
Hessen, Germany: Travel tips
How to get there: Lufthansa flies direct to Frankfurt from all major Indian cities.
Where to stay:
- Frankfurt: Villa Kennedy – A charming, luxurious 100+ year old villa that has been refurbished beautifully from within. I loved the blend of modern interiors and traditional architecture.
- Heppenheim: Goldkind Feine Wohn- & Schlafstuben – A chic independent studio in the fairytale town of Heppenheim, with a sauna in the bedroom! One of the coolest apartments I’ve stayed in yet.
- Michelstadt: Die Träumerei (The Dreamery) – I didn’t stay here but totally fell in love with the concept while eating at their cafe. It’s a 17th century house turned into a unique design hotel!
- Airbnb: There are interesting new homes added all the time. Sign up with my referral to get 15$ off your first stay!
First time to Germany? All my tips here.
Have you travelled in Germany’s Hessen region? What did you love, or what would you most like to experience?
I was hosted in Hessen by Hessen Tourismus as part of the #DiscoverHessen blogging trip. As you know, opinions on this blog are always mine.