Diaries - Travel - Photos

Previous Diary - Next Diary


Mountain Trolls and Bunkers

March 27, 2011

Written April 3

Friends and Families ,


Sometimes we need to get away from the hustle and bustle of Pommersfelden. Then we search out even quieter places, not far but at least beyond our neighborhood. This Saturday , we chose to go north, into the famous Thuringer Mountains. At least I think they are famous.

Now, every trip needs a goal and ours was the Philipp Griebel gnome factory in Gräfenroda. I'm sure you've heard of it. The Griebels have been making pottery gnomes for four generations, modeling them after men who worked the local mines in the mid-1800's. The typical red hat was actually head protection for the miners and that's why the ceramic figures often have caps with bent tops. The roofs of the mines were pretty low, even for gnomes. Of course, the most famous of the local miners were the seven guys who went off to Hollywood to star with that famous movie star, Snow White. (She was born "Schneewitchen", but, like all Hollywood stars, found the Old World name inconvenient.)

Well, I'm not sure this goal was worth the two-hour drive. Maybe, but it turned out to be a pretty humble goal. Gräfenroda is a mining town in the old East Germany, kind of like old towns in rural Pennsylvania or West Virginia. The ones that are NOT in the state tourist brochures. At the world-famous gnome shop and museum, we had to ring a bell to get the proprietress to open up. Initially, Marianne was ready to simply leave, claiming the art work was just too kitschy to grace our Barock home in Pommersfelden. Then the darn things started looking cuter. And cuter. We escaped with only three: Maria, Heinz (with buckets) and Bert, the fat French model.

After that, we did go to the other tourist attraction in town: the Herbert Reuss Glass Studio. Here, the highlight was a cobalt-blue, hand-blown fly catcher. Mr. Reuss assured us that with the proper bait of red wine, apple cider, and sugar water, the device would attract and retain all those pesky summer bugs. We'll see. As an after thought, we asked our glassblower for a restaurant recommendation and he sent us to a small bar place, "Griebel's Restaurant". It is a small town.


From Gräfenroda we went in search of Oberhof, where we had made reservations at the quaint-sounding Berghotel. On the way, we stopped at the Burg Egloffstein castle, where we might actually stay NEXT time, if there is a next time, because of the dramatic building, courtyard and dining room. It was raining on this Saturday, but we could imagine the summer would be quite pleasant.

It took another hour of wandering around the mountain countryside, and when we reached Oberhof, we discovered that the Berghotel was not quite as small an quaint as the web-pictures showed. We were expecting a place in the woods but Oberhof is a relatively large ski resort, kind of like the DDR (East German) version of Aspen. Sort of. The Berghotel dates from the 1800's when a train line ran to Oberhof and the town became a popular tourist destination, complete with ski jumps for the foolhardy. Nowadays, the jumps have been expanded and there are, reportedly, a number of ski runs, including the only ski tunnel in the world. The facilities also include world-class luge and bobsled runs as well.

On this drizzly, between-seasons day, however, the town was close to deserted and Marianne and I resorted to our favorite sport: sipping (bad) wine and debating world events. We topped it off with a simple meal at one of the towns many restaurants and called it a day. All in all, a successful Saturday getaway.


Sunday morning, we did our standard two-hour hotel breakfast. We are not quick travelers. Besides, we were not terribly far from home. After checking out, we headed for a back road labeled the Rennsteig Weg on our map. This translates roughly as "the steep racing track" and it sounded interesting. It turned out to be a nice two-lane paved road up and down a ridge of the Thuringer mountains. By car, it was easy, but I can imagine the original skiers would have found a challenge. But, as a scenic drive, we recommend it.

Along the way, we saw a sign to "The Bunker Museum". After some hesitation, we decided to give it a try. It turned out to be the highlight of the weekend. This bunker served to monitor a major water supply for the DDR and was considered a target for chemical or biological attack from the West (that would be us.) Soldiers and command officers would go into the bunker for three or four days at a time, to wait out the attack that never came. Today, it's a museum and a destination for "war reenactments". Overnight stays are apparently possible.

Here's our pictures:

The path through the woods, past wind-damaged trees.

A model of the bunker that we would see.

The greeter inside.

Bunkerkommandant Krüger.

WC for 130 soldiers.
Soldiers' quarters

Fancy officer room.

Fancier General's suite.

Communication center.
Computer center.


Bunker "office".

Antidotes for chemical warfare.


So, that was it, from 19th Century gnomes to a 20th Century bunker. And we had had enough peace and quiet to face the traffic back in Pommersfelden. In case there ever is any.


John and Marianne



Diaries - Travel - Photos

Previous Diary - Next Diary