A day out in Little Switzerland

Uploaded by rewboss on 28.04.2010

There was a fashion in the 19th century to give the name “Switzerland” to any area with hills and cliffs,
and so what was once called the “Muggendorf Hills”
is now better known as “Little Switzerland”, or the “Franconian Switzerland”.
It lies in northern Bavaria, not far from the Czech border,
offering stunning views, rock-climbing and some serious walks.
One of the better-known places here is the town of Pottenstein.
From at least some angles, it looks like a fairly ordinary German town,
but the air is clean enough for it to qualify as a climatic spa.
As is the tradition in parts of Germany, the well is richly decorated for Easter.
This tradition almost died out when more modern water supplies were put in place,
but was revived after the last war.
But what you can’t get away from here is the big rocks everywhere.
Pottenstein is surrounded by them: mountainous piles of limestone and dolomite,
the perfect place for a castle.
It’s something in the order of 1,000 years old, this castle,
and from here you can fully appreciate the landscape.
The rocky, steep-sided valleys are typical of what geologists call a “karst”.
They also offer plenty of opportunities to impress people:
let’s hope that “A” and “M” are still together, otherwise this is going to be embarrassing.
Just down the road is the village of Tüchersfeld, our next stop.
It boasts some altogether more startling sights.
You have to hope that nothing is going to break off.
A karst begins as a raised limestone or dolomite plateau.
These minerals are harder than most sedimentary rocks, but slowly dissolve in rainwater.
When the rainwater gets into cracks, it widens them over time,
creating underground caves and deep fissures.
The fissures widen even more, eventually leaving these pillars.
We left the tourist trail at this point, and cut across to the tiny village of Oberailsfeld.
Farming has to be difficult here,
and before tourism and modern roads, it must have been a challenging place to live.
And, in the winter, bitter:
the area is sometimes called “Franconian Siberia”, and not without justification.
Away from the valleys, a karst landscape tends to be fairly flat.
But just as difficult to farm:
Because water quickly disappears into sinkholes, the land is dry.
No wonder they take such pride in decorating their wells here.
On the other hand, it offers plenty of opportunities to establish defensive positions,
like Rabeneck, perched on the edge of the plateau, 400m (1200ft) above the Wiesent Valley floor.
That didn’t, unfortunately, prevent it from being taken in 1525 during the Peasants’ Revolt.
These days, it costs just a few euros to get in,
or a few more euros to spend the night there.
“Little Switzerland” properly refers to the area drained by the Wiesent and its tributaries,
and it was along the Wiesent Valley that we continued:
a fairly steep drop down to the bottom, and then a gentle, if somewhat winding, drive to a veritable anglers’ paradise.
Unfortunately, not a paradise for canoeists any more: that sport has been all but banned.
The town of Waischenfeld lies on the Wiesent,
and its claim to fame is that former chess champion Bobby Fisher once allegedly stayed here incognito,
playing chess with various people.
Later, another chess champion, Mikhail Botvinnik, stayed here,
and since then the town has proudly hosted high-ranking chess tournaments.
It might not be the greatest claim to fame ever, but what Little Switzerland usually attracks is amateur rock-climbers.
The great thing about chess players is, they don’t usually break their legs and have to be rescued.