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The Fine Art of Taking a Break

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IN the dining room of a small guest house just outside this Black Forest town, a carved wooden plaque bears a bucolic message. It translates: "In the woods and on the heath, I seek my joy and pleasure." The sentiment neatly sums up the appeal of the meadows and pine-studded hills dotting the area. It might also explain, at least in part, the serenity of the retired couple who own this guest house. With their warm smiles, unhurried manner, and simple, good-hearted hospitality, they serve as living adverti sements for the advantages of life in the slow lane. Only the song of birds and the gentle rush of a small river interrupt the stillness surrounding their property. And only the presence of railroad tracks a few hundred yards away serves as a reminder of larger towns and cities beyond their postcard-pretty village.

To a vacationing American, this pastoral setting is a long way from a mortgage in the suburbs, a paycheck in the city, and the daily commuter traffic that connects the two. It is also light years from meetings and deadlines, appointments and shopping lists. This welcome retreat, combined with the natural beauty of the area, gives the famed forest an irresistible attraction.

So irresistible, in fact, that crowds occasionally threaten the sylvan tranquility. On a sunny Sunday in June during a three-day holiday weekend, cars, campers, motorcycles, and tour buses compete for space on winding two-lane highways. During peak summer periods, traffic reportedly becomes so heavy that certain roads must be closed. So much for waldeinsamkeit, or the "forest loneliness" romanticized by poets.

Yet even the presence of thousands of other visitors lends a certain enchantment. There is something touching about the sight of parents and children pedaling along bicycle paths, and of large family groups picnicking in a clearing. Even the bands of hikers who appear along roadsides reflect a camaraderie that makes a case for regular retreats from cities and offices.

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