We take the plunge and explores Bad Orb – the longest barefoot trail in Germany – and finds the rejuvenation in getting dirty.
Ever since reading about barefoot parks and trails in Germany, I wanted to check out the one in our state of Hessen. At 4.5 km, the Barfuβpfad in Bad Orb is the longest barefoot trail in Germany.
These parks have various materials and natural landscapes that you walk through on the path. Sometimes you’re walking over mulch, wading through a creek or trudging through mud. Bad Orb certainly has mud – but I’ll get to that.
When we arrived in Bad Orb, we parked next to the main town park Kurpark. Kur means ‘cure’ in German and this certainly intends to be a healing park – unless you don’t like pools of feet, mud and water that might momentarily look dirty, or, in the case of the Barfuβpfad, the occasional naked child.
We immediately noticed this huge wooden structure with water dripping down the sides and people walking through it, and of course we followed. Towns with Bad in the name are Bad-ass spa towns (Bad = spa/bath). This spa town sits on salt springs, which spas take advantage of for healing purposes. This beautiful structure was the Gradierwerk, which brings salt water from the ground and allows it to trickle down over blackthorn twigs, creating a saltwater mist that cools and soothes you as you walk through, breathing in what feels like open sea air. Not bad for the middle of Germany, and such a relief on a hot day.
We walked through the length of the Kurpark to arrive at the Barfuβpfad, took off our shoes and immediately found ourselves laughing in the face of years of safety training by walking through a pit of glass. Kids, don’t try this at home (a sign which Germany does not feel the need to put up).
Soon we followed the path through sand and mulch and pebbles, onto balancing on wooden obstacles. And then the real fun began: water.
And mud. And more mud.
A muddy experience
There was some serious mud. This is not a place for you to dress in your Sunday best. There was soft mud and squishy mud and watery mud and hard mud. Some felt like pudding, some like chocolate syrup and some like cookie batter. Also, some like dog poop.
During the track you emerge from mud, enter a creek, get cleaned off and find yourself in mud again. One pool of mud was above my knees and there was a skinny mud trench you had to squeeze through one leg at a time, so they make sure the mud is thoroughly caked up to your thighs.
Many people skipped the mud or dropped out after one or two mud obstacles. There was a bench at the end of one of the mud trails where people sat and enjoyed the sight of people climbing out of the mud. One couple immensely enjoyed watching me come out of one mud pit, relieved, only to find that I’d be plunging right back into another one.
At maybe halfway through, there is a sign to clean off in the creek. Then you emerge from the woods to find people lounging in a clearing, having picnics, drinking beer and walking counter-clockwise in a round wading pool as if they know what to do. We saw an unclothed toddler running around about to get into the pool.
Every time I see an unclothed kid near a pool I think of my friend writing to her housing association when she saw someone changing a diaper near the neighbourhood pool. My friend would poop her Stepford bikini if she visited a German pool.
The hiking path
The second half of the trail leaves the clearing and climbs uphill over a regular hiking trail, which was less pleasant (and you are barefoot). But once we came to the forest path, it was softer ground covered in pine needles. There are not nearly as many different materials or activities to experience during the trek back. But it is a hiking path through the beautiful countryside, with gorgeous views of Bad Orb.
Once we finished the trail, we headed back to the salt water Gradierwerk for another pass. We noticed people walking in circles in troughs of salt water; it looked like they were marching through two log flume rides, and we of course followed. It was a refreshing dip for the feet and calves.
We grabbed a bite to eat at a local Greek restaurant, Akropolis, where I enjoyed one of my best-tasting meals in Germany to date, pork medallions in mushroom sauce. As any good German in our own town would do, we followed it up with a mountain of ice cream (at Café Sprudel). Yum.
Bad Orb is definitely a tourist town but with a German/European/international spa town feel. In fact, while our ice cream waitress spoke English, I did not hear English spoken around us – only German. It was not overrun with Americans, and that’s not surprising. After all, there were naked kids and feet.