Have I ever been to Detmold before? I’m actually not sure. Maybe I did go there with school. We may have taken a class excursion to the Hermann Monument. Might have. That would have been a long time ago. My anticipation is all the greater when I set out this morning for my three-day short vacation in the East Westphalian city of culture. In addition to Germany’s tallest monument, the legendary Externsteine are, of course, also on my agenda. And I want to go for a hike, naturally. After all, the Teutoburg Forest ranks among the most beautiful hiking regions in North Rhine-Westphalia, and it only gets better in autumn, when the leaves on the trees turn a reddish brown and the early morning fog slowly disappears. Indian Summer in Westphalia.
The journey already is worth the entire trip. Since I am not in any kind of a hurry, I get off the highway early to drive to Detmold across the countryside, through autumnal forests that soon grow become increasingly dense. They extend along the hills of the Teutoburg Forest on either side, concealing my destination. I am due for my first positive surprise right upon arrival. The charming Hotel Lippischer Hof, housed in what used to be a princely cavalier’s home, is located right on the edge of the pedestrian zone in the medieval town centre. It could hardly be more centrally situated. I’ll be off again right away, too, with the words of Casanova written in large letters on the wall of my room in my mind: “He who sleeps does not sin - he who sins before sleeping, sleeps better.” Shame to him who thinks evil of it...
Detmold is a cultural city looking back on a long history. The guidebook promises me more than 700 monuments to begin with. The classicist town hall and the Church of the Redeemer form the town centre, but its real jewel is hidden in the park behind it: the princely residential palace in Weser Renaissance style, still inhabited by the Princely Family zur Lippe. I am lucky to be able to spontaneously join a guided tour of the stately premises. Bernhard VIII had it built in the mid-16th century, as our small group is told while we walk through the Italian-style Red Salon, now used as the registry office, and the whitewashed Elizabeth Hall, once reserved for women alone. Eleven of the 120 rooms hidden behind the thick walls and the large round tower are open to visitors in the scope of guided tours, including the Treasury and the Great Hall of Kings, filled with tapestries to honour Alexander the Great.
Following this generous helping of history, I let myself drift a little on the way back to the hotel, strolling through narrow alleys along the Friedrichstaler Canal that reflects the weeping willows lined alongside it. Historical half-timbered houses are lined up here. Today, they house small stores, bistros, and cafes. They almost make me forget the time as dusk slowly falls. I need to get to dinner.
Strates brewery is located right at the city centre, in the city’s second oldest half-timbered house (dating to 1550). The buzz of voices spills outside and the place is crowded this evening. Locals and tourists, businesspeople and families meet in the traditional Detmold restaurant at the end of the day. The waiter immediately gives me a friendly welcome as I join them. I ask if Pickert, a kind of East Westphalian potato pancake served with liverwurst, butter, and maple syrup, is merely an appetizer. “Nah, you’ll be full after it. Trust me on that one,” the waiter promises. I am also treated to a little beer lore. One Pickert, then, please, and the place’s own Thusnelda beer. Cheers. And now, I’m wondering just who that Thusnelda was to begin with. The flyer about the Hermann Monument gives me answers: She was Hermann’s great love. I might meet them tomorrow.
I properly earn my dinner on day 2. My pedometer already reaches the proud number of 31,573 in the late afternoon. I barely manage that much in five days, usually. I decide to treat myself to something special to celebrate the day. Jan’s Restaurant is just a few steps away from my hotel, at the Detmolder Hof. This very spring, Jan Diekjobst received his first Michelin star for his culinary art. Luckily, I booked a table in time, which places me right by the “kitchen window”, where I can watch the master at work on top of trying Lippisch winter vegetables and pink roasted saddle of venison with pumpkin and tonka beans.
The 3-course menu in a stylish ambience is the perfect end to an eventful day of hiking that started in the morning fog many hours earlier. Let us rewind that for a moment. I am in good spirits when I leave in the morning and take a ride to Hermann, as they call the well-known monument here. The weather still promises to be good, and I have a backpack packed with everything I am going to need. I carry some food, plenty to drink, and, of course, my camera. I also have a raincoat and cap with me. Better safe than sorry, after all.
There still isn’t much going on when the cab turns into the parking lot below the monument. The clock in the tourist information office shows that it’s almost ten here, while it is still the middle of the night in New Ulm (Minnesota). That’s a small gesture of welcome for the American guests, as the friendly lady at the counter explains to me. Hermann’s “baby brother”" the Hermann Heights Monument, has stood in that U.S. state since 1897, after all. Now I finally want to see the original. At a height of precisely 53.46 metres, it is Germany’s tallest statue and the landmark for an entire region. It took almost forty years to complete before its eventual inauguration in 1875. Since then, it has been one of the most popular destinations in the country, not only for school classes. Have I been here before after all, then? No matter.
Just a few families with children join me on the way first to the pedestal and then down the large flight of steps to see the image of the victorious hero of the Varus Battle in its full size as he proudly raises his long sword into the sky, unfortunately a bit hazy today. Of course, I still want to get to the top either way. 70 steps lead up to the dome, from where travellers can look out over the Teutoburg Forest far enough to spot Bielefeld and Herford in good weather. At least it gives me an idea of the spectacular view I could be enjoying here. I’ll just have to come back again another day.
Down below, a group of young people from England are taking selfies with Arminius, who, according to legend, brought the Romans to their knees here. I am going to see them again 9.5 kilometres and three hours later. My actual mission of the day begins after I have climbed back down, as I set out on a hike on the Hermannshöhen. It is one of Germany’s top trails. I am going to tackle a section of stage 9. Considered the most spectacular part of the total 226 kilometres of the Hermann and Egge trails, it leads across the ridge of the Teutoburg Forest past the Externsteine, the 70-million-year-old rock formations subject of myths and legends since time immemorial. That’s exactly where I want to go.
I set out, always guided by the white H on black. The trails are well maintained, at times narrow but usually of quite moderate difficulty even for inexperienced hikers like me. I barely notice that a slight drizzle has set in by now. The foliage on the tall trees is too dense and keeps off the raindrops. Maybe it’s just drops of sweat that drip down my forehead in between anyway. The climb is steeper than it initially seemed. I am fine with either option. In fact, I have rarely felt so deeply in thought as I am in this setting of peace and seclusion. I have rarely ever been as aware of nature as I am right now either, seeing toadstools in the flesh for the first time ever, or looking at my own footprints in the damp forest floor. Is that really me ...?
One could say that the journey is the destination here. It certainly rings true. When the Externsteine suddenly appear before me, however, I almost forget all about that journey. Time and time again, I had wondered if they can keep what they promise. And oh yes! They do. The sight of the million-year-old, partly bizarre sandstone rocks that rise up to 40 metres high into the sky here, is nothing short of immense. Autumn coloured trees are reflected in the pond surrounding them. I just have to get over my fear of heights and “climb” the Externsteine on their steep stairs, too, as I really don’t want to skip enjoying this view from above. Even so, I am relieved to feel “solid ground” under my feet again quickly. I take one last photo to add to the few dozen already taken on this day that is slowly nearing its end. I have yet another appointment to keep today. My dinner at Jan’s Restaurant is, as already mentioned, well deserved in the end.
I must admit that heights are not the only thing that scares me. Birds do, too. Well, maybe I should rather say that I’m wary of them. A visit to the Adlerwarte Berlebeck seems like just the thing for my last day in Detmold. Zookeeper Jonas Feist thinks so, anyway. He’s welcoming us to the big air show today and asking if anyone is afraid. I obediently raise my hand. It’s the only one up. This is going to be so much fun. In fact, the two bald eagles Donald and Lincoln fly as fast as an arrow and very close over my head later. Harris’s hawk Pinkie, “our acclimation bird”, luckily picks a different hairstyle to land on. There are great cheers among the stands, and the children are particularly delighted when a rather lazy vulture prefers to walk through the rows, while the human caretaker has plenty to tell about how those proud animals live. For one thing, female Harris’s hawks are larger and more powerful than males (tiercels). Vultures are working hard to “keep the world clean”.
As many as 180 different species of birds of prey are living in the Adlerwarte. Among them is an alpine condor, a jester, and the pensioners’ gang. The daily air shows, with falconers animating their animals to fly at top speed, are the highlight, of course. First and foremost, however, the Adlerwarte Berlebeck is a species conservation project that also cares for injured and orphaned birds of prey. By the way, I had already heard some of the aerial acrobats I am now facing here eye to eye from a distance the day before as I was hiking on the Hermann heights. That surely wasn’t my last trip there. For today, however, my little excursion into the Teutoburg Forest, which seems to be a world of its own, comes to an end.
Author: Anja Luckas – Running her own media office, Anja Luckas has been on the road a lot in DeinNRW. The journalist prefers to report on topics that combine travel and culture.