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Batch XXXVI. Schwarzwald, Sunday February 05, 2023 NO. 47
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Tales from the Black Forest - A Sled to Help with the Heating


Anybody who sits in front of his fire these days, savoring a fine drop of Monkey 47 and gazing into the warm glow has probably had his wood delivered to the front door or bought it at the local hardware store. But more and more people are discovering the joy of procuring their own firewood. For local communities, it is an opportunity to make use of their woodlands, and the cozy atmosphere of a wood-burning stove warms not only people's homes but also their hearts. Some Black Forest residents even have their own forest and use it to warm up in three ways: through felling and transporting the firewood and by enjoying the heat it subsequently produces. In the days before tractors, transporting firewood was a particularly strenuous activity. Those who owned horses that hauled it out of the forest under the guidance of their masters were the lucky ones. Once the wood had been cut into meter-long pieces and split though, it still had to be brought back home to the farm.
An ancient and energy-sapping way for ordinary people to do this was to use a horn sled, also known as a "firewood sled." This elongated wooden sled with two long, upward-curving horns was an ideal means for getting the already shortened wood back down into the valley. At the front and back ends of the sled were vertical bars, which prevented the logs from sliding off. Once he had loaded up his logs, the firewood sled driver grabbed hold of the front horns and dragged the sled with its load through the snow. On particularly steep slopes known as "Riessen," the sled hurtled down into the valley. Along flat sections, however, the driver (or "Schlittler") had to pull the load himself. And even when he reached the farm, his work was not yet done. The wood was unloaded and stacked up, after which the huge sled had to be hauled back up to the top to make a second trip. So the driver trudged back up the mountain, dragging the vehicle on his back. Even in sub-zero conditions, this would often make him work up quite a sweat.
In the Black Forest's Münstertal region, this form of transporting wood was still practiced until only recently. The Black Forest's last firewood sled driver finally gave up this drudgery when he was already over 80 years of age. His nephew had bought a tractor and a track leading to his forest had been created, so this form of sledding was no longer necessary.
However, the sleds themselves haven't disappeared completely. Today, they are used for sport and recreation purposes. In teams of two, competitors career down the winding Black Forest tracks, cheered on by a fervent crowd. The racers' biggest problem is oversteer. If they take the corners too tightly, there's the risk of the wooden vehicle overturning. It's not dangerous though, and the thrill of it always gets the upper hand. Naturally, the awards ceremony is always followed by huge celebrations and discussions about the "good old days." But nobody misses the hard graft of firewood sledding any more. These days, it's much nicer to put your feet up in front of the fire and enjoy a delicious Black Forest gin.

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