Its many industries include fruit growing, wine and schnapps-making, tourism, wood milling and transportation along both the Rench River and a local network of canals.
It’s also not far from the River Kinzig and Kinzigtal valley, the home of medieval duchies established variously by powerful abbeys and feuding ducal families in the Middle Ages, and still boasting mansions, enchanting public squares, tall merchant houses and traditional family smallholdings.
Oberkirch is one of the larger towns and is the centre of the local Ortenau wine industry so it was a little surprising that in our three days’ stop we didn’t manage to taste a drop! We were too busy making use of our ‘guest card’ to visit the area free of charge on public transport.
The wonderful ‘konus card’ entitles you to travel on the transport network throughout the Black Forest for free, for every day that you are registered as a guest and paying tourist tax.
As our aire was €7 a night we were entitled to register at the tourist centre and collect our card. An extremely charming young German girl helped us with tips and information. She urged us to cycle to nearby Ringelbach and visit a small independent Schnapps producer.
We duly pedalled hard up the 9kms north above town and were rewarded with views of local families harvesting their acres of apple, pear, quince, apricot and plum trees. Older members were up the trees on ladders whilst younger ones lay out and held up nets to catch the falling fruits, and the very youngest collected the windfalls.
Stopping to explore an enchanting and picture-book apple orchard it seemed that each tree bore fruit perfectly alike in shape and colour. We marvelled at the sheer volume of fruit and wondered how so much of it could actually be consumed.
The answer was explained to us by the lovely schnapps seller at Franz Fies. The small business we had imagined to be a few seasonal vats-worth turned out to be a mini-industry of more than one hundred varieties of fruits schnapps, wassers and likors.
We bought two of our favourites (weaker but still strong at 22% and 40% proof) and sailed back down the valley road to shop in Oberkirch’s excellent Edeka supermarket for treats of smoked hams and cheeses, fresh salads and fresh egg ‘spätzle’ noodles.