Rüdenau, a tiny German town surrounded by nothing but forest
It definitely does not classify as a city. The collection of houses I stayed in for six months this year. With not even 800 inhabitants it can be seen as a village. One that reminds you of fairytales and a place where time stands still.
Rüdenau is located in the middle of Germany in a region called Odenwald. “Wald” in German means forest and describes the surrounding of this magical place within one word. Trees are to be seen from every corner.
Until I received this job offer last year I haven’t heard about the place or paid any attention to it. Desiring either the ocean or alpine mountains I would always travel south ignoring every part of Germany more north than Stuttgart, the place I grew up in.
The village sits at the end of a side valley elevated from the main one. One road leading into the town. Not having a through street leading out of it on the other side the village is spared from motorists racing through any other town offering winding roads.
Love at first sight
Driving the first time up here to check out the company, my colleagues, and the work I would be doing I fell in love while driving its winding roads through the forest for 45 minutes after leaving the highway.
Tiny villages are located in between hills covered in trees and rivers flowing through valleys. It’s like a fairytale land. Literally.
When jumping out of the plane above this town I was blown away. Distracted by so much green I had to focus on doing my job in the air.
My new home
After accepting the job offer I was looking for a place to stay and found this tiny flat in the village just down the mountain from the airfield I would be working at.
When stepping down the stairs to reach the new home I said yes to the place before seeing the interior of the flat. The view was enough to convince me. The terrace I would spend most of my days on was overwhelming.
Cycling to work
Working in tourism which is heavily affected by the pandemic I did not know how my new job would take on and for how long I would have an income. Buying a car wasn’t an option for me, therefore.
Cycling was going to be my new mode of transport. Going to work every day I would either drive down the valley to get to the office in town passing farms and fields covered in flowers or cycling up the mountain reaching the airfield located on top.
Besides keeping in shape this new form of transport brought me a new level of connection to nature. I experienced three seasons living in this place. From spring’s powerful flowers over summer’s heat to autumn’s colorful festival, I experienced it all.
Exploring the forest
Being surrounded by nothing but the forest you become one with it. You learn to see it as a whole. A diversity of trees, bushes, and animals creating an environment that calms your soul.
Every walk in nature makes you aware of how small you are and how great nature is. You learn to appreciate small things in life. You start to feel the landscape. Seeing dry grass you hope for rain to make your home strong again.
Seeing the forest develop and change over the seasons was the most beautiful thing about living in this place. From light green leaves and lush green fields in spring to a festival of colors in late autumn. They aren’t competing against but rather complete each other.
Going on hikes
Living life in this village we went on hikes every other day. Exploring the fascinating woods surrounding our home we followed gravel roads and animal trails across the hills.
Rarely ever meeting other people we were left alone with nature. Leaving our phones and any other digital devices behind we embraced those 2-3 hours cut off from the world.
Without worrying about time and not having GPS devices we were forced to listen to our senses. Connecting with mother earth on its basic levels. Smelling blossoms, listening to birds singing their most various melodies and feeling the sun on our skin. Tasting diverse berries and spotting wildlife were our highlights on those excursions.
Wildlife in the forest
During my drives to work and our extended hikes through the forest, I can call myself lucky for spotting lots of wildlife over several months. Most of the time I didn’t have the chance to capture it, yet saved it in my memories.
From a herd of wild boar, over lone foxes and hare jumping across the trail I witnessed squirrels chasing each other and countless dear exploring their home.
A variety of life made me believe there is still hope for us. Preserving those forests and natural environments is more crucial than ever. Yet I won’t be able to go without listening to birds singing, insects buzzing and seeing butterflies posing on lovely flowers.
My walks usually lead me away from the village yet its image was always in my head. Driving to work, walking to the only bus station in town, or coming back from a walk that made us come out of the forest on the other side of town we got to see the small things this place has to offer as well.
Old bicycles painted and decorated with plants and herbs of the season, window boxes filled with colorful flowers, and trees hanging full of juicy apples are part of this town’s appearance.
There isn’t much shopping you can do here except for visiting the village’s only butchery or buying whiskey in the distillery located at the entrance of Rüdenau.
One restaurant with a beer garden is right next to the church. The two places that are most sacred for Germans. The church is telling its people every 15 minutes what time it is. Ringing for several minutes at 6 am waking everyone up, at noon to let them know it’s time for lunch and at 6 pm sending the people home from work. That’s village life.
One bus station around the corner and a playground next to the old schoolhouse are part of it all. There is no more teaching happening in the village due to a lack of children.
Herds of sheep and goats are grazing on the grasslands surrounding the village. Chicken are to be heard every morning living in one or the other backyard.
Summer means for me making food on the fire, drinking a beer after work, and sitting on the terrace watching the sunset behind the woods. Time is slowing down living in a place like this.
There is no busy city hustle, running from store to store or bumping into people on public transport. None of that is part of life over here. Once a week I would go to the supermarket in the neighboring town loading the luggage carrier of my bicycle with the week’s groceries.
Weeks of heat and blue skies were part of the summer in this region. Occasional clouds passing by didn’t do much to the land apart from painting it in the most beautiful colors towards the end of the day.
A time I embrace the most. The sun is closing the day and approaching the horizon I slow down at work. Knowing the day is over I collect my last reserves before cycling through the forest towards the setting sun.
During September rainfall came to set in staying some weeks for several days. Bringing the valley the desperately needed water I didn’t complain but rather lived the weather with the plants.
Looking at the last picture from the sunsets you can see rain is adding a little bit of extra to the picture. Raindrops shining in the last rays of sunshine creating a unique picture.
With the passing of summer and the end of cloudless skies, the mist came to set in. More and more mornings were shaped by thick fog hanging above the treetops.
Some days the fog was so thick I couldn’t see my neighbor’s roof. Creating a gloomy atmosphere I got to experience a different characteristic of this place. Experiencing the whole variety of weather features made me understand the region better and better.
Flowers and the beauty in life
Looking for beauty in life taught me how to appreciate the little things in life. Finding joy in spotting a butterfly, a rose in front of the door or a simple ride to work made me understand what life is about.
Flowers were often in the focus of my camera, especially during the summer months. Covering fields with colorful blossoms these plants were heaven for me as a hobby photographer.
Developing further in nature writing I learned a lot living in this fairytale place.
One last sunrise
As the season was coming to an end and my working contract expired the hard time became real. Saying goodbye to this place I called home for half a year wasn’t easy.
Trying to help myself cope with leaving I signed a contract to move back into this flat next spring. One last sunrise was how this place said goodbye to me.
A selection of articles on Medium is my treasure of having stayed in this lovely village. Memories that nobody can take from me. Photographs that will remain for eternity.
And the excitement that grows thinking about the upcoming season.
If you are reading this sentence I am thanking you for staying with me on this long journey through the village, the life I lived there, and the nature that is part of it.
“I’ve learned that home is not a place, it’s a feeling.” — Cecelia Ahern