Two weekends ago we took the Deutsche Bahn to the southwestern corner of Germany, the Black Forest. Using Freiburg as our base, we spent a day in nearby Bad Krozingen and Staufen. These two small towns don’t get the same attention as does their larger neighbor and are often overlooked by visitors. But, as is often the case, it’s these smaller places that capture the real essence of a region.
Like most German towns, Bad Krozingen, population 17,000, has been around since the early 10th century. But it has only been named “Bad” Krozingen since 1933 when engineers drilling for oil accidentally discovered hot thermal springs and the town became a destination for people to soak and relax. Tanya’s primary interest in the town was that it has a small outlet center selling Birkenstocks. And, while we were unsuccessful in our quest to find the perfect pair of Birkies, we did get a chance to enjoy a sausage and to experience the family atmosphere of this pretty little town.
From Bad Krozingen, it was back on the train to the wine town of Staufen. This cute little town of 7,700 is at the center of the region’s wine district and people love their wine here. At the entrance to Staufen, vineyards cover the upside-down goblet shaped hill with the ruins of its castle at the top.
The city does have a major problem, however. In 2007, when the city hall was being renovated, workers tapped into hot underground water under building. This looked like a great idea for geothermal heating and all went well for a few weeks until people started discovering cracks in the walls of many of Staufen’s buildings, including the city hall. It seems the hot water started soaking up a layer of dry gypsum underneath the town. The gypsum started expanding and the earth has now risen between 12 – 30 centimeters (4 to 12 inches) in many sections of the town and shows no signs of stopping. This is a real problem and cracks can be seen in building walls throughout Staufen.
Maybe Staufen’s misfortunes are due, not just to the hot underground water, but to something even more exciting that happened in 1539. In the building, now home to the Gasthaus sum Löwen, an alchemist was working diligently to produce gold from various other chemical elements. Unfortunately, the chemist wasn’t too careful one day and he accidentally caused an explosion, which killed him. The alchemist’s name was Johann Georg Faust. Residents were sure that Faust must have been in league with the devil to create such misfortune. How else to explain it? In the 18th century, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe glommed on to legend of poor old Dr. Faust and created the greatest work of German literature, where Faust sells his soul to the devil.
And so, the question naturally arises: Is Staufen destined to eventually destroy itself, not just from the underground hot water but from Faust’s deal with the devil? What a perfect Halloween story.