By Heike Schneider
So, this past year has been pretty crazy to say the least, with all our plans prone to change. I have been a beachcomber since I was little. Living in the middle of Bavaria, Germany, there is no nearby coast, so I have to rely on holidays and vacations for beachcombing. Usually I visit the North Sea and had actually scheduled a trip to Seaham, England, in October 2020, but after having to cancel due to the global pandemic, I started looking for alternatives. Something different, not the beaches I would normally gravitate to. So, no Frisian islands, no Baltic Sea.
Instead, after much research, I got wind of the Steinklamm (“stone canyon”) near the municipality of Spiegelau. It is a deep valley in the Bavarian Forest near the border of the Czech Republic (also referred to as Czechia), where the river Große Ohe gushes down its rocky bed. You can hike there and the area is incredibly beautiful: a lush, green forest, rare plants and animals, many mushrooms, and clean air. Just nature at its best.
As it was my first visit there, I grabbed the official tourist brochure. It ended up not being very useful to me as it is focused on experiencing the canyon, not on finding beautiful, glittering glass pieces, which was my goal. My son — and partner-in-crime — and I selected one of the recommended hiking trails from the brochure called “Ladybug,” as it sounded like the shortest and easiest one. But, boy, did we underestimate it.
Though hiking in the canyon was a challenge, it was worth it. The path was very steep and muddy, we had to rock climb at certain points, and the rocks were extremely slippery. There's an elevation change of about 150 meters (about 500 feet) in difficult terrain. Hikers need to be careful and definitely wear proper hiking boots.
The portion of the hiking trail inside the canyon reopened in 2005, when the most dangerous parts were repaired with handrails and metal staircases. But in some places, you have to cling to roots and branches for support, slide down on your behind, or climb down backwards to keep from falling over. Fortunately, many sections of the trail require just gentle hiking. Plus, I have to admit that I'm not used to mountainous terrain and am terrible at climbing. But, as I said, the hunt was well worth it.
Spiegelau glass factory in 1911. Spiegelau snuff bottles from the 1840s. Spiegelau coat of arms.
I was not aware, but the area has a history of glass making starting as early as the 15th century. The first glassworks was documented in 1488 in nearby Klingenbrunn and since then, glassworks and glass artisans have been working there. Though many of them went out of business over time, the glass making tradition continues in the area around Spiegelau. “Spiegelau” actually means “mirror image” because until the early 2000s there were crystal mirrors manufactured there. A handheld mirror is even part of the town's coat of arms.
In the past, the abundant of wood was used for smelting, the quartz-rich soil went into glass production, and the rivers came in handy for discarding waste. I don't think the area would have been that idyllic back then, but luckily, those times are long gone.
And they left a legacy. Today you can find traces of glass making in the river, at the riverbank, and even on the slopes of the surrounding forest. It is best to look for it at the bottom of the canyon, like you would search for sea glass on the ocean shore. If the sun is right and you hit the right spot, the ground is literally glittering with pieces of beach glass, large and small.
At the time of year when I visited the river, the trees had already started losing their leaves. But as soon as I started to gently push them aside: glass. You need to move things gently as there are also brambles growing there. I checked the nooks and crannies of rocks and roots and found even more glass.
My son and partner in crime hopped across the big rocks in the shallow riverbed to look for beauties there. Neither one of us went away disappointed and empty handed. My lucky son even managed to find a piece of uranium glass.
Most of our finds were white, some aqua, some green and brown. But there were also reds and blues, and I managed to find a gorgeous pink thingie just waiting for me outside the river. Some were well-rounded, even a bit frosted, looking almost like sea glass. Others could have been raw diamonds or pieces of quartz by the look of them—faceted and sparkly. And some still showed the ash that must have dropped into the liquid glass—rounded gobs and blobs, some of them quite large. Some pieces were of very unique form and color, and all of them were so beautiful.
We had to cut our visit in Spiegelau short because lockdown started at the beginning of November, and we were no longer allowed to stay at hotels. But we will be back in the forest for more beach glass, perhaps in spring after the snow has melted away. I bet it will reveal many new goodies.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine March/April 2021 issue.