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The 'Hunter of Kurpfalz'

Back when folk songs were common, almost everyone knew the song of the "Hunter of Kurpfalz". Today, this song is mostly sung by choral societies. Very few know that the hunter of Kurpfalz was Friedrich Wilhelm Utsch (1732-1795), from Rheinböllen, in the Hunsrück where he was born into a family of foresters. He owned the "Malteser Hospital", built in 1722 in Bad Sobernheim. His official home was the "Entenpfuhl" forester's house 10 km north of Bad Sobernheim. It is easy to reach on well-marked paths leading from the "Kurhaus am Maasberg" at the nature reserve Maasberg, through the Soon forest and over the "Zollstock". There is a memorial to him there, erected in 1913. Not far from Entenpfuhl is the village of Auen. Picturesquely set on the edge of the forest is the thousand-year old Willigis chapel, where the hunter of Kurpfalz is entombed. This chapel was ordered by the archbishop of Mainz, Willigis, who dedicated it personally to the holy Servatius. Willigis was chancellor under Emperor Otto II who, in 983, granted him substantial ownership and land rights in the Nahe valley and Hunsrück region for his services. Willigis's developmental politics in the Hunsrück were astute and goal-directed and led to an essentially improved economical integration for that time. Around 1400 the chapel was destroyed, probably by a fire, and subsequently rebuilt in gothic style. After repeated wartime destruction in the 17th century the chapel chancel was remodelled in 1912 to its current form. The chapel has been dedicated to Willigis ever since.

At the Struthhof, a few kilometres from the forester's house at Entenpfuhl, another plaque commemorates Johann Adam Melsheimerwho, before the time of Utsch, 1719-1757, was the "Riding Forester in the Lower Soonwald". Many see in him the legendary Hunter of Kurpfalz. What is certain is that both men were foresters and hunters over many years in the Soon forest. The Soonwald forest is the largest continuous forest area in Germany and even today it retains much of its untouched remoteness. It is a region where the profession of forestry has not lost its attractiveness. Although the primary importance of the forest is the economic importance of wood production it also protects our life in various ways: (1) it balances temperature extremes, (2) it weakens the effect of extreme rain falls by its ability to absorb and retain huge amounts of water, (3) it provides water all year long, (4) it protects the ground from erosion and therefore retains ground fertility, (5) it slows down wind and storms, (6) it prevents earth slides and rock falls, as well as avalanches in high mountain ranges, (7) it lowers noise levels and acts as a gas- and particle filter, (8) it produces oxygen via photosynthesis, and (9) it provides space for infinite numbers of plants and animals with high genetic diversity.

Additionally a forest is a complex, well-organised community of thousands of microorganisms, plants and animals. This community provides the best possibilities for life and growth for all involved, but it also means a constant fight for light and ground. This is why plants and animals developed special abilities to create a unique niche for themselves in the various layers of the forest. The Tree layer is defined by the leafy needle canopy of tall growing trees such as oak, beech, linden tree, maple, ash, spruce, fir, pine and larch. At this high level live birds, climbing mammals, mosses and lichen. The Krondach determines the amount and quality of light that permeates through to the underlying wood. This Unterholzschicht contains –young plants developed by natural seeding- particularly shrubs like hazel, whitethorn, blackthorn, elderflower, snowball and many more. The following layer is the Krautschicht with many grasses, ferns, clover, berries and forest flowers, which contribute to the fine distinctive taste of forest honey. The transitional ground is the moss layer. Here mosses, fungi and lichen dominate. In natural woods you also find dead wood with hundreds of species of bugs, spiders, woodlice and slugs. Finally the root layer, in which nutrients of leaves and dead wood are fed back into the earth, thanks to the continuous labour of innumerable microorganisms.

A little tip: Visit one of the numerous local pottery workshops in the Soonwald where traditional pottery of the region is produced and sold.
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