Wow these German breakfasts are something else! Once again, I woke up to a menu that included German salami, local cheese, fresh rolls and bread, plus milk, juice, tea, coffee, cereal and many condiments. I ate breakfast with some British and Australian travellers, who actually knew a lot about Canada (no one knows anything about Canada in Europe really). I then packed a big kaiser sandwich with salami, cheese, cucumbers and red peppers for lunch, effectively giving me three free meals at the hostel. That’s amazing!
Frankfurt is a rather industrial city, with a convenient airport but none of the historic charm I was looking for. I used it instead as a layover on my travels north. Today I took the train out of Frankfurt, heading for Treysa. Treysa and the connected neighbouring city of Schwalmstadt are famous for being the origins of the Grimm tale of Little Red Riding Hood.
The Schwalm region is an area of small half-timbered villages surrounded by forest – the perfect spot for a wolf to hide in. Thankfully for me, the only wolf I saw was being tackled by 7 goats from a Grimm fairytale. And as for Little Red Riding Hood’s namesake cape? The original German tale is called Little Red Cap, referring to the Schwälmer Tracht, the traditional costume of the Schwalm dating back to the Protestant Reformation. This costume consisted of several above the knee skirts, a blouse of hand-woven linen, a shoulder shawl, white gusseted stockings and the very distinctive “Schnatz”. This was a top knot of hair, upon which a “Betzel”, or a small cap, would rest. Married women wore a green Betzel, women aged 40-50 wore a lilac one, women over 50 or in mourning wore a black one, and unmarried women wore – you guessed it – a red one. Mix the red shoulder shawl and the red Betzel together and you have something that looks to the English rather like a little red riding hood.
This costume was highly valued by the female villagers, as it often formed most of their marriage trousseau, and many parts would have been handed down for generations. It wasn’t until shortly after World War II that the Schwälmer Tracht was put aside from daily wear, and is now only brought out for festivals and special occasions.
Right outside of the train station rests the bronze sculptures of the wolf and Red Riding Hood. It is a bit of a walk from the station to the town but there’s lots of countryside scenery to look at. The town itself is surrounded by a large moat and once you cross the river, you are suddenly taken into a new world. Or rather, a very, very old one. All of the houses are centuries old. There is a square stone tower jutting out onto the curving streets. Wooden signs hang over shops and hand lettered windows. I stepped into the town’s bakery, which prided itself in having survived both World War I and World War II. I doubtfully asked the baker in German if she spoke English. As I suspected, only German exists here. So in my non-existent German skills I stumbled my way through asking for her recommendation for something very German. She responded that everything here was very German, which I have to admit, was true. The only thing I recognised in the entire bakery was a croissant and a big pretzel. So I ordered myself a pretzel and a cake-bread-looking thing and the baker signaled with her fingers the price. When all else fails, sign language works.
I sat down in the bakery at a table across from two older gentlemen who were having a lively banter over something. The baker herself settled down when it slowed down for some lunch too. I definitely was in a everyone-knows-everyone town and stood out as a foreigner. You could almost say it the town acted as though I was a wolf!
Both items I ordered ended up being delicious! The familiar-looking pretzel was soft and slightly salty, while that unknown cake-bread was actually called an Amurena-Kirsdu Gelourzschnitte, a ginger and nut bread with cherries and a drizzle of hazelnut. Now I know why Little Red Riding Hood was always being summoned by Grandma for some German goodies – I don’t blame her! After exploring the little town, I paid a visit to the Schwalm Museum, which explains the story of the little girl known as Little Red Cap.
After the museum, I was left with an hour to explore the Altstadt (old Town) of Schwalmstadt – including the ruins of the old cathedral, the Hexenturm and some old shops. One claimed to have been in service since the 1500’s! The cobblestones streets were lined on either side with pine trees and half timbered houses. I then took an early evening train to Kassel. I didn’t want to be too close to those wolf-infested woods after dark after all! Those stories meant to warn kids about straying from the forest path may have been just that – stories – but I wasn’t taking any chances.
Kassel, unlike the previous little villages I have seen, does not have a castle to stay the night in. (Bummer, I know right?) So instead, I met up with Claudia, a local German woman who I had contacted about staying a couple of nights at her place. Claudia herself backpacks 4 months of the year, and she hosts visitors from around the world as a way to learn about new cultures when she is not exploring them herself. She has many wonderful reviews and is quite a lovely host, with decent English to boot. I had my own room that was filled with lovely German furniture mixed in with Buddhist carpets and tapestries. A cozy mix, I must say.