Ralf Laubscher / translated by Dorothée LanghoffRalf Laubscher & Ziplinepark Elmstein UG

Zip zip hooray!

Taking a hike through the forest is pretty—but a flight through it is great! And very different. You really see the forest for the trees, when you spend a day at Ziplinepark Elmstein.

 

All right then, just one more step forward now… Lukas expected this to be easier. Now he gasps and looks like he wants to hug a tree instead. His girlfriend, a small splash of colour 25 metres underneath, encourages him for the third time: “Jump, darling!” Lukas jumps. A quick flight through the air and suddenly you stand alone on a platform just as wide as a foot high up in the treetop of a gigantic beech.

Operations manager Karl Haag (right) and Ziplinepark employee Nora.

What a view! Forest as far as the eye can see. The forests of the Palatinate Forest–North Vosges Biosphere Reserve look like a sea of green—looked at from above. But there is no time to get lost in forest romanticism: Karl Haag, the manager of Ziplinepark Elmstein, flies over from the neighbouring giant spruce. He hangs easily on the steel cable, lands precisely on the platform with a smile and exudes something that is urgently needed by the others: safety and confidence. Now it’s the turn of the next member of today’s group. The manager checks everything—are the harness and the two karabiner clips fastened correctly, does the pulley go smoothly and is everything else as it should be? Of course! Just this step into the Palatinate woods’ empty air is not quite smooth. The undergrowth comes hurtling towards the brave jumper, whose circulation is flushed with a rush of adrenaline—until the nosedive is turned into gentle floating by the automatic pulley. Lukas stands on the ground laughing. This was it? No matter, indeed!

The next tree is not always more demanding. However, there are 18 cable sections and four secured jumps to be experienced in the Ziplinepark. After the second ride at the latest, tension turns into curiosity, then into confidence and finally courage. Peter comes from Ludwigshafen to the Elmstein valley to do ziplining. “You lose if you brake,” he shouts out and lets himself fall into the harness on the steel wire. The pulley hums and takes him into the air. The wind hisses and the heart races with joy. Treetops slip by to the right and the left, flashing quickly. A target platform appears in a distance and you start to guess how a bird that heads for its nest must feel.

“The next section is the longest and quickest,” Karl warns the group, “120 metres long—you must slightly brake at the end unless you want to kiss the tree.” Most of today’s participants would be willing to do so—everybody enjoys the rides and there are no blocks. “Some people’s hearts sink into their boots at a height of 20 metres,” says Karl, who has been guiding numerous groups through the park since its opening without an accident. “No problem—we rope them down when that happens.”

“We don’t need to grow up if we don’t want to.”

However, Kerstin rather doesn’t even want to get in this situation, she accompanies her husband. “I am afraid of heights,” the passionate hiker explains. She prefers to follow the zipline routes on the safe ground below. There is fun there as well—flying people between the trees look quite funny from below. No surprise that the park attracts more and more hikers, who watch full amazement and awe the ups and downs along the ropes.

“We have won the locals’ respect,” says Rene Verdaasdonk. The native Dutchman sits smiling on the sunny terrace of ‘Sportverein Iggelbach’ sports club and enjoys his apple juice with sparkling water, the typical ‘Apfelschorle’ drink. He fell in love with the Palatinate some 20 years ago and moved to Elmstein. “I like the mentality and also the unique landscape. We live virtually in the woods and profit from the excellent infrastructure around the towns of Neustadt and Kaiserslautern at the same time.” He is the managing director of a special fertilizer company and was elected mayor of Elmstein municipality in June. And ‘apropos of nothing’ he manages the first zipline park of Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Region. “I wanted to do something new and came up with ziplining rather by accident,” he says. A few years ago, he inspected a zipline park at the Ochsenkopf in Franconia together with his team and was thrilled. In cooperation with local manager Christof Mahler he decided to export the idea to the Palatinate. The Elmstein communication designer Bernd Fink joined them and thus the trio turned the vision into reality.

Two years’ work was required, however, to open the park. Planning permissions were not a problem because of the park’s association with Iggelbach sports club. But a little mistake in the planning set the cat among the pigeons. The vast 179,000-hectare Palatinate Forest Nature Park is divided into different protection zones with core areas that have the highest protection level. “The Ziplinepark is located in a so-called ‘Entwicklungszone’ (developmental zone), which has the lowest requirements,” Rene explains. “But a small part of the routes touches a silence zone. Although there are no conservation requirements for this zone, it is reserved for recreation in silence.”

So we adapted the routes and contributed a lot to nature conservation: “Not a single tree was hewed for the park,” the trained arborist Karl points out. We have implemented a drilling method for the platforms that is unproblematic for the vitality of the trees. Furthermore, we created compensation areas and the vast forest offers sufficient space for the game.”

People like Karl, who were born in Elmstein, feel a strong connection with the forest. It is only 100 years ago that nearly the entire municipality lived on forestry. Today, the big sawmills are closed and nature and the valley’s history with its tourist attractions, such as the Kuckucksbähnel (Cuckoo Railway) or the Elmsteiner Schmiede (Elmstein smithy), become increasingly important. Zipping the lines in the Elmstein part of town Iggelbach has become a popular activity not only on weekends and holidays. The team that counts at least 16 members, has lots of work during the week as well. Youngsters from 12 years on and adults can make single or group tours here. The equipment is for rent and nothing else than explorer’s spirit is required—a zip of courage for the two to three-hour route does no harm.

The terrace of the sports club is base camp of the zipline park and it is harmonically busy on fine-weather days. Tourists, locals, footballers, tennis players, zipliners and hikers sit together cheerfully and celebrate life in the Palatinate Forest with Wurstsalat (sausage salad), Bratkartoffeln (fried potatoes) and a good Palatinate quarter-litre.

When you leave the place to head homewards you pass a quote by Pippi Longstocking, written on a poster at the gate: “We don’t need to grow up if we don’t want to.” There’s no better description of what it’s like to fly through the forest.”


www.zipline-elmstein.de