Welcome to Thuringia, my home state. You know what that meant for me as a kid? Music class taught us traditional German hiking songs, school outings meant hiking around the mountains of our town and singing the songs we learnt. This, my dear people, is horror to me. I hate singing in public and I used to abhor hiking. (Because as a kid you hate what you have to do, right?) But since I am all grown up and no one can force me to either, I do see the positive in hiking, minus the singing. And did you know in my home town you can hike a lot?
Kernberge and Mittlere Horizontale
If you are particularly ambitious, why not start with the longest hike you could get? My town Jena is situated in a valley and surrounded by mountains. (My geography teacher, however, insisted they were only hills – geographically speaking. I insist they are mountains.) You can basically hike all the way along them going as far as Dornburg (30 minute car ride) and back, which might take you a minimum of 6 hours.
Or you could just do bits and pieces of it. The tracks go in and out and you’ll be meandering back and forth towards the city or villages and then back into the forests again. The view changes but the forest doesn’t very much. So what do you see? Lots of characteristic German mixed forest with birch trees, pines and acorns which leaves turn into beautiful colours come autumn. The mountain face you’ll be walking on will either be stony tracks in the forest or dry and crumbly on the tiny paths that lead along the steep mountainside. The stones are limestone and slate.
While doing the hike you can experience the Fürstenbrunnen (lit. translation: Duke Spring), where the city gets its water supply from. You can also stop by the Fuchsturm (lit. translation: fox tower), one of our 7 Wonders as the legend goes it used to be the finger of a tyrannical giant who was tripped by a clever fox and died consequently. (jep, German legends…) Another castle to see is the Kunitzburg (lit. translation: Castle of Kunitz). There is not much left of it but the little you can see of its ruins are nice enough and the view is fantastic.
You can walk here from the southern parts of the city or do a quick drive to get to the little village of Leutra. It is a quaint place with old German houses that come with patches and gardens, with tiled roofs and occasional barns. Very rural. Add to that a bubbling stream, lots of wild flowers and paths that lead up to a nature protected area full of meadows and forests.
Why is it protected? This area hosts many rare wild orchids, which look nothing like the ones you see in tropical areas or flower shops. Those are there to attract flies and bees and grow on the ground in single stems and flowers often shaped like insects. It’s to disguise itself as a possible mating partner so the pollen gets transported better. Since this is a protected area, you are absolutely forbidden to take them with you. Or any other plant for that matter. It’s a little bit of a shame because the wild flowers and summer blooms are really a pretty sight.
But we are here to hike and not stray from the path. So into the woods without delay. Here, you can see the ground covered in brown leaves throughout the year, it is much cooler (nice on a hot summer’s day) and during orchid time, there are lime green orchids poking their heads out of the ground.
Lobdeburg and Summer Limetree
Look at that, I just need to look out of my building and see the old castle ruins! Whenever I am not a lazy bum I can walk up there, which only takes 15 to 20 minutes and rest at the restaurant at its foot or stroll around its old walls. As a kid they were completely unprotected and I sat on the window sill and gazed deep down to the bottom of the tower, imagining a banquet hall right there. Now, all that is buried under sand to protect nosy kids like I was, the walls are strengthened with metal beams and other walls have been dug up. It used to look nicer, I swear!
If you’ve got enough of the great view all over the south city and to the next castle (another 30 minute drive) in the distance, follow the trail along the cliffs and get to an area on top of the mountain covered in generous grassland. Right at the other end of it you will find a tree that is quite locally famous. For what, I really don’t know. Maybe it just marks the spot where wanderers spread out their picnic blankets and school classes gather for their meals.
Fun fact: while walking to the tree and kicking the dirt to show my disdain of forced hiking as a kid, I accidentally dug up real truffles. I never had them checked by real experts, but the internet was my best friend back then as well and so I was mighty proud to present them at home. The sad outcome of the story was that nobody dared to eat them and they became a wrinkly mess and withered away quietly. Maybe next time I’ll ask an expert.
Now over to you. Do these summer hiking pics not make you want to come over to beautiful Thuringia and explore nature? We’ve got lots of mountains and forests for you.