A Black Forest trek to German philosopher Heidegger's writing hut

Stuck behind the wheel of a cramped rental car during a six-hour drive from Paris the previous day, it would take more than the threat of morning showers to keep me from stretching my legs on a Black Forest walking trail. That, after all, was why I was here, in the southwestern corner of Germany: to walk in woods once so dense and dark (before logging) that they were named "black." 

And this would not be mere aimless rambling; I had a clear destination in mind. I wanted to stand in the spot where Martin Heidegger, perhaps the 20th century's most influential philosopher, did his thinking and writing. "Heidegger's Hut," it's called. (In German, "Hütte.") To see what he saw, to be inspired by the same pastoral landscape that inspired him, that's what I wanted.  

Not that his dense, sometimes mind-numbing prose had ever inspired me. That he became a Nazi in 1933 didn't help. But his ideas -- especially as interpreted by others, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Hannah Arendt -- had, over a lifetime, made an impression. To hell with navel-gazing metaphysics, he seemed to say, when life is about inescapable engagement in a world of here and now.  

Dasein. That was the defining word, in one of his signature neologisms, meaning: "Being there in the world." And the world in which Heidegger wrote -- during the tumultuous 1930s -- seems ever more relevant to our own.  

So it was that I found myself in the village of Todtnauberg (population 700), about a 40-minute drive from Freiburg, where Heidegger worked as university professor and, briefly, rector. This southernmost area of the Black Forest claims its highest elevations (almost 5,000 feet) -- and so is known as the Hochshwarzwald ("High Black Forest"). That morning, from my hotel perch, as mist rose from the valley below, I imagined wisps of smoke from countless campfires of invisible forest fairies.  

For my first hike in Heidegger country, I followed the sound of a stream rushing down the high valley through the village. Soon, I spotted trail signs with the term Wasserfallsteig -- a typically compound German word, in this case meaning "waterfall climb." The trail was certainly steep, so, yes, it would be a climb on my return. But when all about me birds were singing in fields of purple lupine, I shared their unconcern about the future.  

Then came a clap of thunder. As it echoed off the surrounding hills, the drizzle began. The clouds themselves seemed to fall from the sky as a fine mist enveloped the landscape. My fisherman's hat and small travel umbrella hardly helped in the steady downpour, so I sought refuge under the dense canopy of a huge beech tree and debated whether I should keep going toward the waterfall. The answer came in the form of another solo hiker, undeterred by the rain, who greeted me with an enthusiastic "guten morgen" as he strode by. Adjusting his backpack, disappearing into the mist, he began to whistle. I could swear it was the "Happy Wanderer" melody:  

"I love to go a-wandering  

"Along the mountain track  

"And as I go, I love to sing  

"My knapsack on my back  

"Val-deri, val-dera  

"Val-deri, val-dera  

"Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha  

It was, indeed, here in the Black Forest -- along with the neighboring Alps and England's Lake Country -- that taking a countryside walk for pleasure began to be popularized two centuries ago. With Romanticism's changing attitude toward nature, walkers were no longer dismissed as poor vagrants or dangerous drifters. Catering to today's hikers, as well as trail bikers and cross-country skiers, countless well-marked, well-maintained paths crisscross the Black Forest. Most have a gravel or stone base, so they don't get muddy in the frequent rains. Wooden benches and observation platforms are strategically placed trailside.  

Long before I got to the trail's destination, I could hear water crashing over a granite massif. At more than 300 feet, this was, I learned from a trailside marker, one of the tallest natural waterfalls in Germany. Stubenbach was the stream's name, rushing down from the high valley to join with other streams, to spill into the Rhine. Somewhat analogous to America's Continental Divide, the Black Forest feeds two watersheds -- not only the Rhine but also the Danube.  

The next day, when I set out on the nearly four-mile trail called Martin Heidegger Rundweg ("loop trail"), the sun had burned off the morning mists without a hint of rain.  

High up on the hills surrounding the village came the soothing sounds of birdsong, cowbells from grazing livestock and gurgling rivulets tumbling downslope toward the Stubenbach. As for actually finding his hut itself, the signs were less auspicious. Its exact location was not marked on any map, and people whom I asked were, at best, polite -- but unhelpful. I attributed their vague responses to my rudimentary German. Since it was a Sunday, I couldn't ask at the tourism office, which was closed.  

By the second hour of the up-and-down hike (500-foot rise and descent), my steps became less brisk, more hesitant. Though this was certainly not an Everest-like assault, I still felt somehow ill-prepared -- hiking shoes and trekking poles notwithstanding. My comfy hotel base camp beckoned. A tiny chapel came into view, set on the edge of a meadow at the tree line. I watched a fellow walker enter with her dachshund and light a candle. Maybe I should do the same?  

Instead, I finished the loop, resigned to failure. Rationalizing, I reminded myself that, as Heidegger himself emphasized, the quest, not the goal, was what mattered. Truth always remained elusive. But less than a half-mile from my parked car, I caught a glimpse downslope of a gray-shingled structure with green shutters. From the Heidegger photographs I had studied, it seemed familiar. Could it be?  

In a meadow surrounded by trees, it was all but invisible. No wonder I had first missed it! Unverborgenheit, or "unconcealment," is a word Heidegger coined for the sudden discovery of truth, as if stumbling upon a clearing in a forest. I left the manicured trail for an overgrown path laced with electrified fencing (to keep cattle from wandering). On hands and knees to duck under one set of wires, I couldn't help but laugh as I thought of the celebrated Heidegger trope of the woodcutter's labors seeking to hack out a path to the clearing, to the bright "thereness of what is."  

Next to the structure was a wooden trough collecting spring water, just as described and photographed. There was no evidence of recent human activity; doors and windows were shuttered and locked. "Hut," I concluded, was an understated description; really, it was more like a cabin or a cottage. Whatever the description, I was happy it had been hard to find; unearned, it would have been no fun at all.  

The next day, I went to the tourism office to confirm my finding. There's no signage, they explained, because the house isn't open to the public -- it's still in the Heidegger family. "Oh," I said, and quickly changed the subject. I asked the tourism adviser about other trails to explore and how to access the village swimming pool, for I liked Todtnauberg so much that I had decided to extend my stay another two days.  

Soon, I found myself walking the winding, steep street to a small cafe to treat myself to the "thereness" of a cool and creamy Erdbeereisshake (strawberry ice cream shake).  


Herrihof Landhotel & Chalets 

Kurhausstrasse 21, D-79674 Todtnauberg 



Perched on a hillside overlooking the village, this charming hotel offers 17 rooms from about $68 per night, breakfast included. Also available are four chalets, with fireplaces, sleeping up to 8, from about $580 per week. Rates may increase during high season of July-August and ski season of December-March. Guests receive a "Hochshwarzwald Card" that provides complimentary access to local attractions and services, from the town's swimming pool to ski lifts. Restaurant and bar on premises. 


Schwimmbadweg 23 

79674 Todtnauberg 



Snugly situated next to the Stubenbach stream, this casual restaurant -- a Gasthaus in the German tradition -- offers both indoor and outdoor dining experiences. Their specialty is a local dish called Käsespätzle, which consists of melted Swiss cheese, fried onions and Black Forest ham. Together, with a large draft beer, it'll cost you about $23. 

Martin Heidegger Rundweg 

The well-marked trail runs along the high elevations above the village of Todtnauberg. To reach it, you can drive your car up to the parking lot at the end of Radschertstrasse. 

Here you'll also find facilities for tennis and other sport activities. For a slightly longer hike, you can park your car at the end of Hintermattweg and follow the signs for "Martin Heidegger Weg," which then dead-ends onto the loop trail. 



Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Travel

On a Colombian savanna, hawks, caimans and so many stars

The pond-side trees appeared to be turning red as flocks of scarlet ibises flew in to roost, brilliant from their bills to their toes. They dueled with egrets over the best perches, squawking raucously. A squadron of chubby capybaras — the world’s largest rodents — idled in the muddy shallows before suddenly charging off, churning...
2018’s 11 most budget-friendly beach destinations in the US

Now that summer is in full swing, soaring temps have us craving a refreshing beach with cooling breezes to beat the heat. Unfortunately, with so many Americans thinking the same thing, finding an affordable beach getaway can be difficult. So, we did a ton of research to create this list of the 11 most budget-friendly beach destinations in the U.S....
'Transformative travel' is the industry's latest twist on making vacations more meaningful

As the senior director of strategy and impact for the Adventure Travel Trade Association, Christina Beckmann was well aware of the growing demand for ever-deeper travel experiences - what some in the industry call transformational or transformative travel.  After all, she had experienced it herself - not once, but twice.   "I had...
'What a crazy country': Trump makes being a DC tour guide a tough gig

WASHINGTON - It started, as it often does, when the D.C. NationTours bus passed the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House. A many-accented murmur of curiosity was followed by a shouted question from a Peruvian visitor in the back.  "What do local people really think of him?"   "What do local...
The Shake Shack founder on memorable meals and vacations

NEW YORK — Danny Meyer, the restaurateur and chief executive of the Union Square Hospitality Group, is known for creating Shake Shack in 2004. This summer, he opened three restaurants in the city, including Tacocina, a taco stand in Domino Park in Brooklyn.  “For Tacocina, we wanted a simple menu, with basically tacos and drinks,&rdquo...
More Stories