Discover Germany: The Ice Age Trail in the Swabian Alb

When one thinks of Germany, they almost never associate it with the Ice Age. I know I never thought of Germany, least of all Southern Germany, when prehistoric civilizations had come up. But did you know that there is an Ice Age Trail in the Swabian Alb, a part of Baden-Württemberg that parallels an intricate series of caves that were occupied by prehistoric civilizations? Lucky for you, I visited this trail and some of these caves for myself, and they were more than a little rich in anthropological findings and adventurous exploration- my two areas of expertise. So, without further ado, let’s talk about the various stops and historical finds we learned about in the Swabian Alb region of Germany.

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Tiefenhöhle

Historical Artifacts Found in Hohle Fels

The area known as the Swabian Alb has thousands of caves connecting underneath its mountains. Most of them are currently only open to divers and those looking to map and explore these deep and diverse cave systems. However, of these caves, twelve of them are open to visitors. We saw three of these on our adventures across Southern Germany, and the Hohle Fels is one I must mention here due to the archaeological finds on the site. The Hohle Fels is currently an active archaeological site. You can see, immediately as you enter the cave, where archaeologists are currently digging and the lines marked in the soil indicating the different time periods they are digging through. Sandbags also color the area to keep the dig spot dry.

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Hohle Fels

As you walk into the main area of the cave, everything opens up, and suddenly you’re in one of the largest and most open caves. In fact, it’s the biggest cave you can visit in this system without having to dive. The Hohle Fels is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it’s easy to see why. Archaeologists have found artifacts dating back to the Upper Paleolithic period. We were told that thousands of tools made of flint were found in this cave, dating back to 100,000 years ago. There were tens of thousands of cave bear bones found there. And most importantly, the Hohle Fels housed the oldest art statue known to date, dating back 40,000 years, the Venus of Hohle Fels.

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Hohle Fels

The Venus of Hohle Fels is a small prehistoric sculpture created during the Upper Paleolithic period. It was carved out of mammoth ivory and was unearthed in 2007. Like other pieces of art from this time, there is no face on the statue because it wasn’t meant to represent a person, rather an idea. The use of a woman’s figure (that specifically highlights the assets you would expect a woman to have) has been known as a representation of fertility throughout the dawn of civilization, so it’s fitting that this concept dates back to the oldest known sculpture we can find.

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The Venus of Hohle Fels

This cave and 5 others in this system are UNESCO World Heritage sites, as they have had documented artistic pieces and tools found within them. This one, in particular, shows the start of civilization, the beginning of art, and the earliest of societies coming to life. That’s why the Hohle Fels is quite magical to see in person.

It’s also important to note that these prehistoric civilizations didn’t just live here in these caves. They were field-dwelling nomadic people; however, the winters got much too cold in Germany, and the weather could easily flood and make the fields become unlivable. When this was the case, these prehistoric civilizations went into the caves to escape the bad weather. Because of this, we have found many artifacts left behind from them in these caves.

Most of the things left behind from these prehistoric civilizations are lost to time. They have eroded, broken down, and been buried in unknown locations. However, the caves have consistent weather and are safe from the harshest of elements, making caves perfect spots to preserve artifacts. This is why they’ve found 99% of their discoveries from these societies here in Germany in the caves.

The Blautopf in Blaubeuren

Many of these cave systems in the Swabian Alb connect together. They start at the Danube River, go down through Blaubeuren and move underneath of the Blautopf (the Blue Pot- a richly blue lake in the city of Blaubeuren), and move throughout the caves. If you’d like to see this Venus of Hohle Fels in person, it’s on display at the The Urgeschichtliches Museum Blaubeuren! We were lucky enough to see it in person on our adventure.

Prehistoric Flutes

Something else we learned at the The Urgeschichtliches Museum Blaubeuren is that the ideas of luxury and status have been important to people even since prehistoric times. Scientists found many flutes made out of swan bones. Swans were easy to find and kill, and the swan flutes supposedly only took a couple of hours to make, and they produced beautiful music. So, many swan bone flutes can be found amongst the discovered artifacts.

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Prehistoric Flutes Made Out of Swan Bones

However, they also found a flute made of mammoth ivory in Hohle Fels, too, an object that produced very similar sounds to the swan bone flutes but was much more exhausting of time and resources to make. This left anthropologists asking the question, “Why would ancient societies make flutes out of mammoth ivory when they could make them out of swan bones? One is much cheaper and easier to make, and they make the same sounds?” The answer? Luxury. Having the flute that was much harder and more resourceful to make showed everyone that you had the disposable resources and time to have that object, specifically. So, it was a sign of status. It’s the same concept as people driving luxury cars. You don’t need a luxury car, but we think it makes us look good to drive them. It’s funny that this concept goes all the way back to prehistoric times. It allows us to see how similar our mindsets are now to the prehistoric nomads of the Swabian Alb.

The Ice Age Trail

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The View from the Castle Ruins on the Ice Age Trail

Just outside of the village of Blaubeuren, you can hop on the Ice Age Trail and take it across that area of the Swabian Alb. It’s a clearly-labelled hiking trail that takes you through the trees up to a breathtaking view. The part of the trail we took brought us up on top of one of the large hills through castle ruins and down into the heart or Blaubeuren. Blaubeuren is known for it’s Blautopf, an extremely blue lake that is so blue it looks unreal. You truly have to see it to believe it. Why is it so blue? Scientists believe it’s because of limestone in the water along with the fact that the water is quite clear, so it much more easily reflects the sky. This blue lake also has a cave entrance within it for divers to explore part of the cave system we mentioned above. Blaubeuren is the city with the The Urgeschichtliches Museum I mentioned above that houses the Venus of the Hohle Fels. So, if you’re interested in history, be sure to take the Ice Age Trail up to the castle ruins and down into Blaubeuren to visit The Urgeschichtliches Museum.

The Lion Man

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The Lion Man Statue at the Kunsthalle Weishaupt

Finally, in the city of Ulm, the birthplace of Albert Einstein, you will find the Lion Man statue in the Museum Ulm. And while the Museum Ulm is under renovations, you can temporarily visit it at the Kunsthalle Weishaupt. The Lion Man is another famous artifact uncovered from the cave systems of the Swabian Alb. It’s a statue made of mammoth ivory. It is of particular interest because it was found in hundreds of small pieces and put back together by archaeologists. This particular statue is special because it’s much larger than all the other artifacts found from this prehistoric time and of all of them, this is the only one we have found from this time that combines the body of an animal with the body of a man. Looking at this piece up close, it’s truly magical to see the detail work done by prehistoric people. And to think that this artifact is over 40,000 years old and is still here with us is just mind-boggling.

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View from the top of the Ice Age Trail

I hope I’ve enlightened you about the Swabian Alb region of Germany and its ties to the Ice Age through its cave system and the Ice Age Trail. If you’re in Germany, I can’t recommend this area enough. As someone who is truly excited about both anthropology and exploration, it scratches that itch for both knowledge and adventure. Germany is always one of my favorite places to visit, and I hope you’ll join me on my next adventure there!

Malorie Mackey is an actress, published author, and adventurer. Malorie grew up in Richmond, Virginia where she loved sports, the outdoors, animals, and all forms of art. She took to acting at a young age, so it was no surprise when she decided to go to college for theatre. While in college, Malorie studied body movement with the DAH Theatre in Belgrade, Serbia, voice in Herefordshire, England with Frankie Armstrong, and the business of theatre in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Malorie moved from the East Coast to Los Angeles after receiving her BFA in Theatre Performance from Virginia Commonwealth University. Upon arriving in LA, Malorie participated in the Miss California USA 2011 Pageant where she won the “Friend’s Choice” Award (by popular vote) and received a beautiful award for it.

While living on the West Coast, Malorie accumulated over 40 acting credits working on a variety of television shows, web series, and indie films, such as the sci-fi movie “Dracano,” the Biography Channel show “My Haunted House,” the tv pilot “Model Citizen” with Angie Everhart, and the award-winning indie film “Amelia 2.0.”

Throughout her experiences, Malorie found a love for travel and adventure, having journeyed to over a dozen countries experiencing unique locations. From the lush jungles of the Sierra Madre mountain range to the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland, Malorie began adventuring and writing about her unique travels. These travel excerpts can be found on VIVA GLAM Magazine, in Malorie’s Adventure Blog, in Malorie’s adventure show: “Weird World Adventures” and in the works for her full-length travel book.

In 2022, Malorie was thrilled to become a member of the Explorer’s Club through her work on scientific travel. Her experiences volunteering on archaeological and anthropological expeditions as well as with animal conservation allowed her entry into the exclusive club. Since then, Malorie has focused more on scientific travel.

Malorie’s show “Weird World Adventures” releases on Amazon Prime Video in the Spring of 2024! Stay tuned as Malorie brings the strangest wonders of the world to you!

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