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Anyone who takes a seat on one of the trains of the Thuringian Mountain Railway automatically shifts down a gear: Magnificent landscapes, spectacular views and great experiences for the whole family line the routes. And even the founder of the first kindergarten, Friedrich Fröbel, also came from this wildly romantic region where the clocks still tick a little slower. So: All aboard, please!

And what better way to arrive at the deceleration in the middle of the Thuringian Forest Nature Park than by train?

Already at the arrival to Rottenbach (via Erfurt or Saalfeld by ICE/IC) you will get a taste of the natural beauty of the region on the northern edge of the Thuringian Slate Mountains. As a picturesque river valley lined with coniferous and deciduous forests with its healthy low mountain air as well as the special "summer resort architecture", the Schwarza Valley was already considered a hideaway for city dwellers seeking recreation in the mid-19th century, who enjoyed the unique charm of the fairy-tale landscape here even back then during hikes and "summer resort" pleasures.

A wonderful way to enjoy this naturally beautiful corner of the Thuringian Forest to discover is to ride the Thuringian Mountain Railway. The route network is composed of three routes:

There is first of all the 25-kilometer route built in 1900 from the spruced-up half-timbered town of Rottenbach to Katzhütte - along Germany's most gold-rich river, the Schwarza, which meanders through picturesquely narrow gorges and, among other things, flows around the hill of Schwarzburg Castle. It was here, by the way, that the then President of the German Reich, Friedrich Ebert, signed the Weimar Imperial Constitution during a summer vacation in 1919, thus laying the foundation for German democracy. You can find out all this and more in the "Fürstenkutsche" carriage, in which Princess Henriette and Prince Ludwig Friedrich take you on an exciting 300-year journey through time in large-format pictures.

The Schwarza also flows around the hill on which Schwarzburg Castle and the Princely Armory stand © Regionalverbund Thüringer Wald e.V. / Dominik Ketz

Summiting made easy

In the middle of the Schwarzatalbahn line is the Obstfelderschmiede stop, valley station of the Thuringian mountain railroad. From here, a 1.4-kilometer-long stage starts steeply uphill, which was built between 1919 and 1923 to transport the heavy products for the glass and porcelain industry - until then laboriously hauled uphill by the workers - to the towns on the plateau. Today, instead of goods, guests are transported to Lichtenhain. A special experience and great pleasure, not least because of an incline of 25 percent. In summer, a convertible car is used on the freight platform; then you can enjoy the almost 20-minute ride "topless" in fresh forest air with birdsong.

Nature at your fingertips: In the "Fröbelwald", young and old learn a lot about flora and fauna © RVTW, Steven Neukirch

Arrived at the top, a spectacular view of the Schwarza valley awaits you. But before you continue on the so-called "flat route" in the direction of Cursdorf, it is called Discover nature in the Froebel forestwhere even the grown-ups can be children again. The forest adventure trail with adventure playground is named after the educator Friedrich Froebel, who founded the first German kindergarten in Bad Blankenburg in 1840.

Tip: Technology enthusiasts get their money's worth in the Maschinarium at the top station. Here, the special features of the mountain railroad can be experienced interactively at various stations.

Herbal experience on rails: The Schwarza Valley is a hotspot for medicinal plants © RVTW, Dominik Ketz

From Lichtenhain then leads the last section with historic railcars along a two-and-a-half-kilometer flat route to Cursdorf. The highlight is the ride on the Olitätenwagen. Already at the beginning of the 17th century, natural remedies, the so-called "Olitäten" were produced here in forest laboratories and family businesses. Due to the special geological and topographical conditions, there is a great wealth of herbs in the area. "Humpback apothecaries" set out from here every spring for the wide world - with wooden backpacks full of teas, tinctures or ointments, made from the collected works of the herb women. "Herbal Experience on Rails" is the name of the program in the Olitätenwagen, which is in operation from May to October. On board: scent box, herb memory and explanations of the native plants to fiddle and test. In addition, binoculars are available to admire flora and fauna on the way out of the wagon.

Tip: Make a stop in the footsteps of the educator in his birthplace Oberweißbach. Here it is worth visiting the Fröbel House and the herbal nature trail with digital herb trail.

What's crawling and scurrying there? Binoculars are a great companion in the forest © RVTW, Barbara Neumann

Final station of the downhill and uphill is Cursdorf, the highest community in the mountain railway region at 700 meters. With its extensive forest areas, the state-recognized resort is made for hiking, especially since here is also the Panorama trail Schwarzatal passes.

Cover photo: Uphill and downhill ride through the Schwarza Valley, in summer completely relaxed in a convertible car © RVTW, Steven Neukirch

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