Road to Neverland
The roads not taken
I didn’t have to go too far. The next day, as I headed deeper into the countryside and buildings gave way to trees, I found myself in Triberg. Once known for its cuckoo clocks, it found itself in the world’s spotlight in 2011 for quite a different reason. A multi-storey parking lot was built that featured two awkward spaces, positioned on a difficult angle. The mayor decided to label them as ‘men’s spaces’. The story went viral. A global outcry ensued, quickly followed by a rise in visitor numbers, proving that it’s not just the women in Germany who can manufacture clever PR stunts.
When I arrived I was less interested in parking and more enthralled by the fantastical promise made by a small road sign saying that l could stand inside the world’s largest cuckoo clock. I drove straight past the one in Eble Uhren-Park that claimed the official title from Guinness – too much of a coach party and gift shop affair – and continued instead to the very first giant cuckoo clock, built 36 years ago by local man Josef Dold Schonach.
“He wanted to build it to show people what the inside of a cuckoo clock looked like, so upscaled a normal clock to 50 times its size,” explained his daughter-in-law, who greeted me at the door. Being inside, with the workings whining and clattering above me, I felt like a little girl. I watched in wonder as she demonstrated the bellows that mimicked the sound of a bird calling, and waited around to see it strike at the turn of the hour.
From high forests to giant lakes, my road trip continued south to the shores of Bodensee (aka Lake Constance). Itching to stretch my legs, I headed to the island of Mainau. It’s a spellbinding, natural space to wile away a day. Walking through its many tiers revealed sculptures of giant flowering ducks, faces emerging from the grassy banks and winding water features to hop over – it’s like a grown-up play area. Continuing the theme, I retired that evening to Klausenhorn Campsite, on the edge of the lake, opting to sleep in a wine barrel that had been converted into a glamping pod – the perfect place to watch the sunset.
At daybreak I took Route 51 along the north side of the lake in no particular hurry. Every few kilometres I’d stop at a diversion, visiting vineyards, churches and, notably, the archaeological open-air museum at Unteruhldingen where reconstructions of Neolithic stilt houses sat above the water, as if floating on its surface. As giant Zeppelins began to appear in the air above me, I realised that I’d reached the lake’s eastern edge and as if by magic, I’d entered Bavaria.
Aside from its storybook castles, the state also has another claim to fame. It is home to the first tree-hanging tents at Waldseilgarten Höllschlucht. It sounded so deliciously childish – the idea that at the end of the day you could literally climb up to bed – that I had to give it a go.
“I suggest you go to the toilet now before you head up,” said instructor Markus Depprich as I put on my harness. I’d love to tell you I completed the ascent with the grace of Rapunzel’s prince, but as we’d feasted on a heavy meal of käsespätzle (cheese noodles with onion) before bed, mastering an ascending device to hoist myself 7.5m up a rope was less than easy. After half an hour of swearing, I finally made it to the tent and collapsed. I thought sleeping this high might be more scary than relaxing, but as my tent swung in the gentle evening breeze and the sound of actual cuckoos begin to call, I drifted off into a deep, dream-filled sleep.