My wife and I live in a rural area of Colorado known as the Black Forest. The high density of Ponderosa Pines in our small geography gives us our name. Remarkably, there’s only one other notable place on the planet named “Black Forest”: the region near Bavaria in southwest Germany. As it turns out, I have personal ties to both places, though I’ve never been to the south of Germany. Follow along as I connect the Forests.
Fill in the blank, “Best Childhood Movie: ________”. Most of you would respond with an offering from Disney. Including “Snow White…”, “Mary Poppins”, and “The Little Mermaid”, you’ve already covered sixty years of film-making, with countless other Disney classics in between. I don’t think I missed a single Disney growing up in the sixties and seventies, yet – go figure – my favorite childhood movie doesn’t come from the Mouse. It doesn’t even come from my home country. My childhood choice? The UK’s “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, based on the 1964 novel by Ian Fleming.
“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” – the captivating musical about the inventor and his kids who lived in a windmill cottage; about those wonderful-though-not-always-perfect inventions (my favorite: the eggs-toast-sausage breakfast machine); about the candy-maker and the toy-maker and the captivating castle world of Vulgaria; and most importantly about the magical flying motorcar itself – created figments of my imagination like no other movie. The lyrics to the title song (“…Bang Bang Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, our fine four-fendered friend…”) were burned into my brain. Someday I vowed to visit the lands of Caractacus Potts and Baron Bomburst.
As it turns out, the Potts’ windmill cottage really does exist (and not on a movie set) – as the “Cobstone Windmill” in Buckinghamshire, England. The mansion where “Truly Scrumptious” lived is in the same area of the country. And the Scrumptious Sweets Company was a working factory in Middlesex (today a steam-engine museum). But it was the castle and village in Vulgaria I really wanted to see. Not long after seeing the movie of course, I learned “Vulgaria” was a fictitious country. Baron Bomburst didn’t actually lord over the land, nor did he ever keep all those children as slaves beneath his castle. But the castle and the village are based on actual places. The village is Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Bavaria. The castle is Castle Neuschwanstein, also in Bavaria. And how ironic; both locations were inspirations for Disney as well: Rothenburg for the village in “Pinocchio”, and Neuschwanstein for the Cinderella castles in the theme parks.
To bring my journey full-circle, Rothenburg, Castle Neuschwanstein, and Bavaria sit in southwest Germany, adjacent to… the Black Forest. Germany’s version of the Forest is a mountainous land of picturesque villages, castles, vineyards and spas. This is the region that brought the world Black Forest Ham and “truly scrumptious” Black Forest Cake. This is the land of glass-making and cuckoo clocks. From the photos above, it looks every bit as charming as “Vulgaria”.
Colorado’s Black Forest barely amounts to a dot on Google Maps. Within our pines, the “town” is a hodge-podge of nondescript businesses clustered around a couple of traffic signals, with nothing more alluring than a Subway, a post office, and a couple of coffee shops. The terrain is fairly flat, with no windmill cottages or mountaintop castles or cuckoo clocks. But it’s a great place to live, with its own unique charm. And every now and then, when I’m deep in the pines, I’ll start humming that forever-familiar Chitty-Chitty tune, as I gaze up to the skies in search of a flying motorcar.