Earlier this year, I moved to the city Jena in Germany to complete the last stage of my Master, my internship. I had often been in Germany before. On most of these occasions however, Germany was just one of the stops towards my destination.
This time I had the perfect opportunity to finally discover Germany more thoroughly, and get to experience its culture.
Initially, I had set my mind on finding an internship somewhere in the United States. I have always wanted to go there but had never gotten around to it. Finding a truly interesting internship I would be passionate about was more difficult than I anticipated.
During my search I did got in contact with someone working at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. They proposed an internship that fitted me perfectly. Besides that, the Max Planck Insitute is one of the leading research institutes in the world and would just be perfect to put on my resume.
I had an important decision to make. Should I go to the United States just for the nature, or do I go to Germany and work on a topic that really inspires me and suits me perfectly. Germany it was.
Moving to Germany
When packing my bags to live in Germany for a little over 4 months, I was kind of excited to start working there, but was also a little down about missing out on the great nature in the United States.
So eventually, I arrived in Jena together with Marijke and Mojo, to a very very small village close to Jena where I had rented an airbnb room for the first month of my stay. The village existed of just one road with a few houses on both sides. I think it was a rough total of 20 houses altogether. We drove to the end of the road where it suddenly stopped at the edge of a beautiful forest.
When we arrived at the house, a lovely older man awaited us. He lived there all by himself and had some space left, so he had turned one story of his house into a very nice and cozy apartment for tourists. I had my own small kitchen, livingroom/bedroom, and bathroom. But the best part was, of course, that when I walked out the front door, I was standing in the forest! All we had seen so far near Jena was just amazing.
Limited amount of time
I wanted to show my best there of course, so during the week I worked quite a lot. Every day, I started around 8 in morning and left my office at around 6 or 7 in the evening. Combined with going swimming for 3 to 5 times a week and other day to day stuff, I had little time during the week to go explore.
But beforehand I had made an agreement with myself: I would free as much time as possible and go on an adventure to explore the area at least once a week. So during the week, I tried to work as much as possible, and I tried to keep the weekends for myself.
Hiking from home
The first few weeks when I still lived in the Airbnb apartment, I was very lucky to be able to just step out of the front door and walk into an awesome forest. And that is what I did.
That first weekend Marijke and Mojo were still with me, so the three of us went exploring the forest near my house called Jenaer Forst (Jena’s Forest). The owner of the house brought us a map, and showed us his favourite places to walk nearby.
Every weekend, I went on 3-4 hour hikes on my own, or with two friends I made there, often starting from a parking lot nearby. Occasionally I’d take the car and drive for an hour or so, to see a different area.
Jena is part of the state Thuringia, Thüringen in German. The south of this state is home to the Thuringian forest, a mountain range near Eisenach. The Großer Beerberg is with a height of 982m the highest mountain in the area.
The area consists of five national parks and two bio reserves, making it one of the most beautiful areas in Germany.
For one of the first hikes I did in the Thuringian Forest, I drove to a little town named Suhl. The route I walked there is called the Gipfelwanderweg. With a length of 32 kilometers, during which I had to ascend and descend 1445 meters, it was the heaviest walk I did in a long time.
The route passes over the seven highest mountain peaks in the Thuringian Forest. The highest peak is at 982 meters and is called the Großer Beerberg. I had some amazing views on top of the mountain peaks and walked through some beautiful spruce and beech forests. But sadly enough I did not have my camera with me, so I just have a picture taken on my iphone of one of the buildings on top of the Großer Finsterberg.
Two months into my internship, Marijke and Mojo came to visit me for a week. We decided to go on a trip to an area nearby called Drachenschlucht. It is an amazing forest where we walked through small gorges on a path paved with wood, with steps going up and down. Schlucht is the German word for gorge.
Beforehand, I created a hiking route of approximately 17 kilometers on my Garmin GPS. We parked our car near a nice small village named Eisenach. From here, we walked through a dark dense forest. It was a narrow path of wooden beams that went down into the gorge as we moved forth. Alongside this path, Mojo played in creeks, and we were joined by the sound of water trickling during most of our hike.
We passed by a great old castle called Wartburg. We decided to climb the old steps and enjoy the view, but little did we know that the best view of the day was yet to come. It was a beautiful old castle and we sat down to relax for a few minutes to appreciate the architecture and to take a little rest. It was very touristy through, buses with families arrived whilst we were there so we didn’t stay long.
Along the way, we stopped quite often so Marijke could take photos of Mojo in the beautiful nature. Everything was so green, old tree stumps were covered in moss, the surroundings were just so scenic and peaceful.
Although the forest itself was well worth the trip, we were rewarded with an amazing view at the top of a mountain near the end of our hike. We actually took one of our favourite pictures here, and hence it made it to the front page of this blog!
Still tired from this hike, we planned another route on our Garmin the next morning, and drove to a different part of the Thüringer Wald. The name of the signed route we walked is the Vessertal rundwanderweg, which is named after the bioreserve Vessertal which it passes through.
Although the Vessertal rundwanderweg was a signed route, we were lucky to have our GPS at hand. We were quite sure to have followed the trail properly, but we clearly went in the wrong one time, and we ended up cutting part of the route off.
Without the hiking GPS we could have continued walking for a long time without realizing we were heading the wrong way. Honestly, this gadget is one of the best investments we’ve made so far.
This area was much more open, and we passed some very small villages along the way. It was also much calmer, and much less touristy than the area we visited the previous day. During the hike we passed through some amazing spruce forests and some bogs and we eventually ended up in a valley following a little stream into a small town.
You can see a summary of this weekend in the video below.
Although I spent most of my time in the office working on my internship, I really enjoyed my four months in Germany. I went hiking once or twice a week and really saw a lot of the area. Marijke and Mojo traveled to see me a couple times, to explore the area with me, which made it even more fun.