Escapism: Saxon Switzerland

©Pascal Rohé

If Berlin outgrows me again, there’s only one thing that will cure my sorrows: Get out into the woods! I grab some friends (sometimes not) and hiking boots, and drive southbound on the A13 – quick stopover at the Krietzschwitzer fruit barn to shop regional goodies: apples straight from the tree, crispy bread with thick crust, hay cheese by local cows and sweet Quarkkeulchen. After about 3 hours of driving, the gate to a hikers’ paradise opens: a national park equaled by no other in Germany. The Saxon Switzerland, with its bizarre rock formations and deep canyons, reminds me of images from a Canada guide. I have to pinch myself to make sure this is real: are we still in Saxony? Yes.

The small localities of the national park include many guest rooms. We usually stay in an old cozy home in Reinhardtsdorf with 12 beds, belonging to the friendly neighbours. In the summer months, artists from “the city” bustle at the nearby quarry to pursue their crafts, cutting figures made of sandstone. Painters follow the footsteps of the old romantics, surrounded by the impressive mesas that rise majestically from the vast plains. A pure idyll!

Many artists discovered the Elbsandsteingebirge as a source of inspiration for iconic landscape paintings, in the 18th century already. On a canvas by Casper David Friedrich for instance, the imposing rock formation of Neurathener Felsentor serves as a background and draws the viewer in its spell with a mysterious, almost menacing aura. I can imagine only too well, how impressive this place must have been in former times, when people did not yet have the opportunity to board a plane and visit gigantic national parks in the US or Canada.

Germany has 14 national parks, I was in 8 of them. Each and every one of them is somehow typical of the country – if such a thing actually exists. Berchdesgaden with its lush green mountain slopes or the wide Wadden Sea and the endless lakes of Müritz. Only the Saxon Switzerland is different – exotic in a certain way, as weird as that may sound. Rugged by the Elbe and its countless tributaries, tropical looking valleys arise. Because the relief changes radically on a relatively small area, manifold differentiations in climate prevail here. One of my favorite hikes for example, leads through the Schwedenlöcher at the foot of the famous bastion (a narrow rocky ridge with remains of a castle at a dizzying height and therefore a magnet for tourists photos). The path leads through a narrow gorge, where I truly felt like in the tropics, at one certain hike in May. Humid air, rampant ferns everywhere, it is silent, only the drops of small rivulets that flow down the mossy walls ring out. I stand in the midst of the Amazon – if I concentrate, I hear monkeys shouting in the distance (which in reality are small children, who’ve just climbed a rock and proudly call their parents). Then, at the latest, I have outpaced everyday life.

I also go into raptures when visiting the Wilde Klamm in Hrensko on the Czech side of the National Park (Bohemian Switzerland – accessible by ferry) and get on the nerves of my companions, by constantly saying “Look, there!” or “Look up”. The narrow tributary of the Elbe meanders through dramatic rock formations and takes me back to “big” hiking trips at the Yosemite National Park or in Corsica. And I haven’t even begun to talk about the great views, which you will be rewarded with after climbing one of the many mesas. This natural spectacle is only a stone’s throw away from Berlin and can be easily achieved on a free weekend. A perfect hideaway for screen-stricken eyes and a bottom that’s seated in front of the laptop for far too long.

How many times I’ve been there? 4 times. How often do I still want to go? Over and over again. I’m slowly getting used to a thought I always considered petty and bourgeois:  having a destination up your sleeve, that you always want to visit again. Just like my Uncle Oscar and his wife, who have set up a caravan on a lake and have spent their vacations there for the last 20 years because they likes it so much. In fact, they have found a second home. When my second home is nature – wherever I like it best, for instance in the wild Elbsandsteingebirge – then I’ll be happily philistine and glad to come back. Over and over again.

Bilder: Julia Zierer & Pascal Rohe
Translation: Jessica Aimufua