Mythology Week: The Black Forest (Cake)
(No, it’s not actually going to be about the cake, but I’ll fit it in there somehow).
Many greetings to you from (yet again) my top-secret COVID survival bunker! At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if any of my readers are wondering whether or not I even get out of the house! The short answer, of course, is no: just today, I had to lock myself in my room and do nothing but study for 8 hours straight! I would be unable to answer if someone asked me whether it was sunny or cloudy out today because the only flecks of natural light I received were from the blinds of my window, and as such, now I have a terrible splitting headache and want to die.
But! Don’t let my griping over the dreaded midterm season or my current abysmal state of living drag you down, for I do, in fact, get time out of my very secret and secure bunker now and then. In fact, I recently acquired premium membership to one of the finest amusement park establishments in the county — Busch Gardens — which specializes in making a profit off of the cultures of other countries! Naturally, any time I embark on a quest to this lovely establishment(masked with an N95, mind you, and I could go on for hours about the atrocities that most park-goers try to pass off as “masks,” but that’s for another blog) I have an ample amount of inspiration to choose from when thinking about certain cultural practices or stereotypes, at least within the European countries that this particular park specializes in. And, as I strapped myself into one of my favorite yet simultaneously nauseating attractions— Verbolten, a ride based in the German portion of the park— I began to ponder the stereotypical German culture around me and, most importantly, the star of the show on this roller coaster: the Black Forest in Baden-Württemberg, southwest Germany. Probably an odd thing to muse about while being hurled around a pitch-black roller coaster while simultaneously realizing that I am suffering from dehydration AND iron deficiency, but I digress. It’s a bit of an odd angle for me to take in my blog topic: looking at America’s interpretation of another culture’s traditions and comparing and contrasting the two. However, I dare say an open blog post is the best time to muse about things you’ve always wanted answers to but were too lazy to look up until now, so here goes!
What the Ride (AKA: Gerta) Tells Us
Now I don’t want to brag (since I doubt many of you will find my affinity for roller coasters impressive), but I’ve been visiting Busch Gardens since the ripe old age of 8 years old and have ridden this ride more times than I can count, so I’ll be recapping much of what the ride “shows” us of the Black Forest. Most of the entrance to the ride (the main building, the line waiting area, etc.) is framed as a seemingly innocent motor tours agency, inspired by the Autobahn (the German highway system). Much of the decor within the buildings and waiting area is true to this nature, depicting traditional German relics and motor-related advertising posters in a 20th-century style.
The agency shown is run by brother and sister duo Gerta and Gunter Schwartzwald, with the voice of Gerta or a prerecorded video of her playing on several televisions within the waiting area. This mysterious pair doesn’t give away much. Gunter’s workspace in the middle of the waiting area is the only indication of something being amiss, due to his collection of strange plants and previous guest’s suitcases. However, that doesn’t stop Gerta from jabbering on at you in her hefty German accent about the tour you are about to embark on, warning us only briefly that the Black Forest is verboten, or “forbidden,” to visitors (yeah, sure it is, Gerta) and to enjoy the very normal, very not hijacked tour into the Bavarian countryside. We are then loaded and carted away into a car-shaped train in the garage of the agency, with Gerta then all of a sudden deciding to tell us (AS we are leaving the garage, mind you) not to look back as we brave the Black Forest (oh you mean the Black Forest that you JUST told us not to go into, Gerta?)
The very beginning of the ride appears to be business as usual, as we trek down a winding green meadow towards what appears to be an abandoned tunnel. But now would be the best time for anyone who wants a blind experience of this ride for themselves to perhaps close the article now and save it for a later date because, to put it eloquently, sh*t gets weird pretty fast.
Dr. Seuss’s Fever Dream Meets Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Tunnel
Now I’ll admit, nowadays I’ve been blacking out during parts of this ride (thanks to that whole low iron thing). Still, in general, the indoor experience of this roller coaster can really only be best described as the title listed above: a mix between a Dr. Seussian-themed nightmare and that one incredibly horrifying scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Strobe lights in the shapes of trees and leaves flash and glowing tree branches encircle your vehicle as you twist and turn through an otherwise pitch-black forest of pink, blue and green radiating trees. The ride from then on out has three possible endings: one, you’re stuck in a lightning storm with flashes of white light. Two, you’re pursued by the howls and red eyes of wolves (a nod to the Big Bad Wolf, another German legend and the name of the ride’s predecessor), and three (perhaps the most confusing and pertinent ending to our research), the voice of the mysterious “Spirit of the Forest,” who lures the vehicle into the end of a tunnel only to turn malicious. All three endings conclude at this endpoint, with the entire track dropping and the vehicle getting propelled over a rickety bridge and back to the beginning.
The Black Forest’s “Dark” History (Get it? Ok, I’ll shut up now).
So, how accurate is this American take on the mythological history of this German forest? How truthful are the words of Gerta and Gunter? Well, Gerta’s full of crap, and her words clearly aren’t worth as far as she can throw them, but that’s neither here nor there. Apart from the more “fantastical” bits of the interpretation (i.e., the glowing trees, leaves, and branches), there are some shreds of historical truth to components of this ride. Surprisingly, much of the German identity comes from pride in their forests; the old Celtic term for them, “Germani,” means “men of the forest” and is behind the history of their name today (Andrews, 2019).
Similarly, while the seemingly dark nature that is associated with the Black Forest’s name actually stems from the dense growth of conifer trees that block out sunlight, its appearance, as a result, has made it a mysterious and foreboding presence, with many of the Grimm fairy tales (Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel) being labeled as “Black Forest Fairy Tales” and having much darker and grimmer story plotlines than the watered-down interpretations we know today (Andrews). These tales by the Grimm brothers were more of a transcription of stories passed down over the generations, reflecting a similar theme: that the forest is a dark and foreboding place of magic and mystery (Nazis and Fairytales). So, that’s one point for the ride in terms of mythological accuracy, thanks to their Big Bad Wolf reference (and I suppose the glowing trees if you want to group that under “magical forces”).
Much of the forest today, however, is not considered quite so dangerous or “verboten” anymore and hasn’t been for a while (yeah, thanks again, Gerta), with much of it being well inhabited by the Germanic peoples over the centuries and surviving as a source of a Germanic culture untouched by industry. Today, it’s dotted by monasteries, castles, ruins, and traditional Germanic towns such as Karlsruhe and Triberg, home to their famous woodworking, cuckoo clocks, hat makers, glass blowers, and yes, black forest cake (more on that later) (Andrews, Cuckoo 2018). The antiquated perception of the forests in Germany from the Middle Ages that depicted the forest as a bleak, black space on the canvases of paintings changed radically in the 19th-century romanticism of the forest after it was demolished by logging. Writers such as the Grimm brothers were encouraged to record its history to popularize traditional life and fairytales (Nazis and Fairytales). Therefore, while it was clearly a formidable force of fear and superstition in Germany’s history (as most European forests were), it likely hasn’t been this ominous source of fear for a very long time, at least not in the way that the ride depicts it.
While I was a tad disappointed by the forest’s less elusive nature in the modern day (I was hoping to find at least one gory murder story), I still hoped to learn more about the elusive spirit of the forest and whether or not her presence on the ride was rooted in any historical or mythological truth. Believe it or not, the mythological concept of beautiful nymphs luring travelers to their death is prevalent in Germanic folklore. Lorelei of the Rhine, for instance, was a nymph of the Rhine river with a wreath of stars in her hair who would sing a song so haunting and beautiful that no one could resist it, quite similar to the haunting voice of the spirit on our ride luring passengers in (King, 2017). In regards to our own Black Forest, it has its own legendary bodies of water that house malicious spirits as well, such as the Mummelsee (a glacial lake), whose name originates from the mermaids (Mümmel) that supposedly live there and are capable of luring any man down to the bottom of the lake (Lake Mummelsee in the Black Forest). Yet another point for the historical accuracy of Verbolten!
Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting Busch Gardens to come out of this looking very good! It’s not often when you see an American theme park pay that much respect to other people's cultural myths and legends, especially at such great detail. However, it’s clear to me that there was at least some degree of research done and consideration made in the construction of this ride and its story. Attention to detail and respect for the origins of one’s cultural appreciation is always admirable in my eyes, and, hopefully, something I hope to see more of in my studies of intersecting cultures in America in the future. It certainly made the ride itself a much more enjoyable and thought-provoking experience.
And yes, black forest cake (I’ll try to make up an excuse why it’s relevant later).
Well, I couldn’t finish off this blog post without a fun little food fact, could I? Not when I’m talking about an amusement park, that’s for sure! (which, in my opinion, has some of the best junk food out there). While I can’t completely rationalize my deviation from the main topic with this one — Busch Gardens does serve a mean chocolate cake in the Germany section, but it’s not quite the same as black forest cake — I felt the name alone was a good enough reason. There are many explanations as to how this delectable cake got its name. Most argue that the black, white, and red of the cake reflects traditional attire worn by women of the Black Forest (What’s Cooking America). Its origins can be traced back to the 16th century, when Germany first incorporated chocolate into cakes and cookies. However, the most modern interpretation of the cake emerged in the early 20th century, with Josef Keller and Erwin Hildenbrand being credited for the creation at different times (What’s Cooking America). Either way, it’s a Black Forest creation, and I say we should all eat it in celebration of me completing this blog post despite a splitting migraine! I’m going to lie down and die now.
Black Forest Cake-Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte Recipe (credit: What’s Cooking America)
Prep Time: 30 mins / Cook Time: 40 mins / Total Time: 1 hr 10 mins
This is an easy-to-make version of Black Forest Cake
- 1 box dark chocolate or devil’s food cake mix (your favorite brand)
- 1 teaspoon red food coloring
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 cups heavy cream or whipping cream
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar (confectioners’)
- 1/4 cup Kirshwasser (Cherry Brandy), divided
- 1 container whipped icing (cream cheese or vanilla)
- 1 (21-ounce) can cherry pie filling, divided
- Maraschino cherries (for garnish)
- 1 to 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, shaved*
- Make chocolate cake according to package directions, adding 1 teaspoon red food coloring and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Bake cake, as directed, in two 9-inch layer cake pans. When done baking, remove from the oven and cool the cake completely on a wire rack. When the cake is cooled, wrap each layer in plastic wrap. Place layers in the refrigerator for approximately 1 hour.
2. In a large bowl of the electric mixer, whip together the heavy cream and powdered sugar. Refrigerate until ready to use.
3. Using a sharp knife, slice each cooled cake round horizontally to make four layers.
4. First Layer: Place one layer on a flat plate and brush with 2 tablespoons of cherry brandy. Fill a plastic bag with whipped vanilla or cream cheese icing (your choice) and pipe a generous ring (at least one (1) cherry high!) around the edge of the first cake layer. Fill the exposed ring of the cake with some of the cherry pie filling.
5. Second Layer: Place the second layer on top of the first layer. Repeat the first layer process with the second layer.
6. Third Layer: Place the third layer on top of the second layer. Repeat the process with the second layer.
7. Fourth Layer: Place the fourth layer on top of the third layer. Frost the entire cake with freshly whipped cream.
8. Garnish the top of the cake with (cherries picked from the pie filling) or maraschino cherries. Sprinkle the top chocolate shavings. Gently press chocolate shavings onto the sides of the cake.
Refrigerate for at least two hours before serving. Slice while well chilled for best results.
* How To Make Chocolate Shavings — For best results, the chocolate used should be cold, straight out of the refrigerator. If it is room temperature, then the slices won’t turn out paper-thin; instead, they will be thick, broken chunks. To make chocolate shavings, you first need good quality chocolate in block form. Using a vegetable or potato peeler, hold the chocolate with a paper towel and pass the vegetable peeler over the narrowest side of the chocolate block. The chocolate will curl up like wood shavings.
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