Cross-country skiing in W. Germany's wonderland
Lutzel, West Germany
You can choose the red trail (some nine miles) or the blue trail (half as long). Or, if you're more adventuresome, you can strike off on side trails that follow serendipity brooks, or perhaps turn into 10-mile runs through this spread-out wood and game preserve to neighboring towns.
Whichever route you select, you will find yourself in a fairyland of snow-decked firs, their trunks wreathed in frozen fog crystals, their lace needles sparkling in the pale winter sun.
The only sound will be the swish (or, going uphill, the stamp) of your cross-country skis. The only other creatures will be fellow skiers and, perhaps, an occasional deer.
It's only 1,710 feet above sea level here, and it's within an hour's drive of West Germany's industrial heartland of the Ruhr. Yet it's high enough to get snow - lots of it - when the Rhineland gets its monotonous winter rain. And it's far enough away from the smokestacks to have pure air and towering woods.
And so, in something of a revival of the back-to-nature movement that is a recurrent feature of German society, Lutzel attracts skiers in the winter and hikers all year round. The skiers turn out in their warm-up suits. The hikers turn out in their sturdy boots and knickers, carrying ruck-sacks and walking sticks, but, in northern Germany, usually forgoing the feathered Tyrolean hats.
The cross-country skiing fad is new. Hiking is not, though it has been given new impetus by federal President Karl Carstens, who spent well-publicized weekends over the past two years hiking the length of West Germany from the Baltic Sea to the German Alps.
In medieval Germany apprentices used to have ''wander years'' - celebrated in many German lieder - before they settled down to adult responsibilities. In the Romantic era of the last century, writers traveled to broaden their own sensibilities and enlighten their readers vicariously. In the early part of this century the ''Wandervogel'' (wander bird) movement brought Germans with their ersatz lutes into the woods in droves.
Somewhere along the way mass tourism and weeks-long vacations that had previously been the prerogative of only the leisured class took over. The average West German now spends his holidays at group rates in Yugoslavia or Tunisia, and not at a family hotel in the Black Forest. For the modern German there's no exotic quality left in Goethe's ''Italian Journey,'' say. Or Heine's ''Travel Images.''
And yet for some reason the simpler (and cheaper) pleasures of exploring one's own backyard are back in vogue. It might be the recession and inflation that are making people count their pfennigs. It might be the enduring European notion that holidays are for ''cures'' and mudbaths and whipping chairbound muscles back into shape.
Then again, it might just be nostalgia for the less complex world of the past.
Whatever the causes, the results include popular Sunday afternoon strolls along macadam paths in woods to local inns for the obligatory coffee and cake. They include ''trim yourself'' jogging paths through forest and glade, with periodic glyphs recommending 10 backbends or five chinnings on convenient poles. They include lecture walks - 73,200 of them last year - on which guides explain the local flora, fauna, geology, and history. And they include ''hiking clubs'' now counting 700,000 members.
These clubs typically sponsor weekly outings for members as well as special mass hikes (or cross-country ski treks) that draw as many as 20,000 participants , all of whom receive signed, stamped certificates when they have completed the specified course. The clubs also take care of the abundant signposts on tree and stone that keep any but the most inattentive wanderer from losing his way in the German wilderness. Each club marks about nine miles of trails, making sure signs don't fade into illegibility or become overgrown with vines.
In Lutzel fees from the one downhill ski slope and T-bar lift (as well as voluntary contributions) pay for the preparation and upkeep of the main cross-country ski trails in the area. But the diamond and circle markings on tree trunks that show alternative ski routes as well as summer walking paths are the task of the local hiking club.