Black Forest Beyond Cuckoo Clocks

Dietmar Mechsner’s workshop in Bernau Hella Klauser
Dietmar Mechsner’s workshop in Bernau | Photo: Dietmar Mechsner
Photo: Michael Heinst

What would the Black Forest have to offer if we took away its clichés? You’re right: quite a lot! Wooden crafts that would startle artists from Japan, jazz guitars and philosophers on bicycles, for instance. Here’s a travel tip. By Hella Klauser

Anyone who still only associates the Black Forest with pom-pom hats, cherry cakes, lots of fresh air and perhaps Hans Thoma and Martin Heidegger needs a refresher. The turner Alexander Ortlieb, for example, made it all the way to the MoMa in New York and the innovative products by designimdorf can be found in select shops in cities worldwide.

I have to admit, I have a penchant for good craftsmanship. Perhaps it’s a remnant of my visits with artisans in Japan where things are made by hand, where the sensei, the teachers, are. So it is a huge delight to find something comparable in an old workshop in the Black Forest. Japanese wooden artists that accompanied me to the Black Forest were thrilled to meet a master there.

Off we go downhill: A Black Forest style steerable sledge Off we go downhill: A Black Forest style steerable sledge | Photo: Dietmar Mechsner The machinery dates from 1950, from his father’s shop. But today another technique is used: the large bowls are turned from the wood as thick-sided work pieces. Then the drying process begins during which the wood bends slightly. After one year, work is continued and the bowls are turned on the lathe until the sides are three or four millimetres thick and inlays become visible. I like this today in particular, when everything seems to be dissolving on the web. Information also needs to be graspable, needs to be tangible.

Like the leather jacket hanging with a large rock up on the high spruce on the mountain called Leder Tschobenstein. Now, even non-locals can understand what a “Tschoben” is: applied German lessons in the Black Forest! The bicycle-racing philosopher Peter Sloterdijk did not choose the Ledertschobenstein as the goal of his racing circuit, but the nearby Belchen with its lofty 1,700 metres altitude.

Back to the village. Under the heavy roofs of the farmhouses, jazz guitars are made . A little further down the road is the small workshop of Dietmar Mechsner. He builds steerable horned sledges. He is interested in structures, connections and minimal use of materials. In the corner is a huge cast-iron stove and materials for a workshop: make something by hand. The apprentices of a large heating and ventilation company were here. He took them hang-gliding because if they work with air, they need to know how it works! Last time, windmills were made.

“Ever since I began writing, I’ve been considering a book that shows that truth is not found in sentences, but in summer days,” writes Sloterdijk. Right, the truth is a mood. That’s the way I see a library: a mood in which new things can arise, in which an encounter is possible, in which I learn. I recommend Bernau in the Black Forest.

Hella Klauser, 55, has been the director of the Library division at the head office of the Goethe-Institut in Munich since October 2013. Whether her library work led her from Tokyo, Paris, Berlin or Munich, her path always leads back to Bernau in the Black Forest.