In the 1970s travel to Germany was expensive, but my parents still wanted that German Vacation experience. So, instead of hopping on a Condor flight overseas, they packed up the family’s green 1970 Monte Carlo with supplies and headed north to Chester, California near Lassen National Park where we would stay at a German run hotel and restaurant called The Black Forest Lodge.
It was a 10 hour drive, and dad insisted on all of us getting in to the car at 3am to get “an early start”.
My sleepy eyed sister and I were shoved in to the back seat… no leg room (the wells were filled with Dad’s beer and the extra cooler of food and drink), but we sort of stretched out on our designated half as well as we could. 10 hours later, after a million rounds of “she’s touching me” and “she’s on my side” and ” Hört ihr jetzt mal AUF!!!” (“Stop it right now!”) we’d arrive.
And we were free!
The owners and much of the staff were German. It was like stepping out of our California life, and slipping into Germany. The language changed. My parents relaxed. We had the run of the place for the next 10 days with other German Families that we knew.
The Black Forest Lodge was a fairly rustic and basic place to stay. There were cuckoo clocks on the wall, plaques with German expressions and images of stags (and for some reason, that famous dogs playing poker tapestry was hung in the bar…) There were only 9 rooms in the lodge, and there were no TVs in them. Personal computers were still years away, but there was serious fun to be had. It also meant eating German Food (lots of schnitzel and brat kartoffel). MMmmmmm.
Every morning at breakfast we kids ask the kitchen how many fish would be needed for dinner. The hotel/restaurant had stocked fish ponds in the back… and we could catch the day’s dinner quota.
Once that was done we’d build dams in the streams, push each other in to the river, and catch snakes. I once caught 20 snakes and put them in a burlap sack (these were harmless racer snakes). BOY were they mad. When it was time to cut them loose… we ran!
The 4 or 5 German families would travel together to Butt Reservoir ( a local lake) and spend the day playing in the water. The fathers would drink beer and play cards. The mothers would do needlepoint, read and talk. The language… German. Inflatable boats would be pumped up, and all of us kids would have to spend the day with swimmy rings on our arms. We’d swim and play, build forts with washed up logs, and get serious sunburns on our fair skin.
We did a lot of wandering and hiking through fields and up mountains. The air was fresh, and with nothing to do in the rooms, we were outside building up an appetite.
Ahhh…the meals were especially memorable. The owner, Walter Albert, would take us to our seats. First we would be served the soup of the day; my favorite was the Graupen Suppe (barley soup) with fresh bread. Then our meal… Schnitzel, Sauerbraten, Forelle (trout) fresh from the Teiche (maybe even the one we caught!). And always always ALWAYS there were Bratkartoffel (fried potatoes). It was a family business, and Walter’s wife Helga ran that kitchen with German precision. Their children Ada and Walter jr. worked as waitress and busboy. The food was delicious and plentiful.
After dinner, the men would head to the bar for beer and cards. Some nights we kids could sit in the bar drinking Shirley Temples. Mostly though, we headed to the rooms. Mom always packed games and we’d spend hours playing gin rummy, monopoly, quartet, and the memory game. Some nights we would have bonfires. It was always gemutlich.
A few years ago I went to Lassen County on a camping trip, and was amazed to see the Black Forest Lodge still standing. I wandered around back with the kids to show them the ponds, and there was the old owner, Walter. I introduced myself, and I was amazed to find out that he actually remembered my family and their friends. Don’t know if I should feel flattered or nervous that we were so memorable. (There were some LOUD nights). I do know that it was a special time that I will never forget. A little slice of Germany in California.
Note- For the past few years, the restaurant and hotel have been closed. Walter passed away, and his wife has a few cabins that she rents out. The Black Forest Lodge itself is still standing though, and there is always talk about reopening. In fact, while doing some research, I learned that the building and property are for sale! Who knows? Maybe another generation of German kids in America will have a chance to immerse themselves in a piece of Germany in America.
Interested in buying an old Hotel? Follow this link…Black Forest lodge
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