It is midsummer, and dozens of people have come to this place, known as Externsteine, to celebrate the longest day of the year. Situated in the northern forests of Germany, Externsteine is a remarkable landmark which draws many visitors year-round. It is a unique location with unusual features—qualities which make Externsteine a beautiful and spiritual place to visit any time of year. Traveling to Externsteine can be a renewing, relaxing, and empowering experience, especially for busy urbanites that might need to get away.
The sun, high in the sky, filters down through the forest canopy, warming the fertile earth and the revelers approaching the site by well-worn trails. From the parking area, the walk is on flat ground and is less than a mile. The site is a national park, and relatively easy to access in spite of being in a large wooded area. A grassy, open clearing at the end of the path is filled with people drumming and chanting, laughing and singing, setting up tents and preparing food.
A small tranquil lake is at the far side of the clearing. Children who have found the water splash playfully. Their nearby parents find cool relief from the summer sun. Although the lake is man-made, it is a reminder of the nearby springs at Bad Lippspringe, which offer healing waters rich with minerals. In the lake’s reflection, the central attraction of this place can be seen, stark and beautiful.
Near the lake, ancient stones dramatically jut up into the sky. It is a mystery how these stones appear here since the surrounding forest does not have other stones like it. Carvings in the bases of the stones offer a reminder of the many people who have come here before. A closer look at the stones reveals monastic cells, cut deep like caves, and old iron stairways built up to reach the top of the stones, where a footbridge soars between the two pinnacles. At the top of one stone, a circular hole pierces through the rock, offering a portal for the summer sun to pass through at dawn and illuminate the wall of stone opposite it.
At night, the people who have gathered to celebrate elevate poles with long ribbons, which are wrapped around the poles as people pick them up and dance in a circle around the poles. Others build fires and share food and drink, passing to each other in circles around the fires. Later, as people begin to chant and pray, fireflies light up and begin their own circular ascent into the starry sky.
Externsteine is an idyllic place, filled with mystery and wonder. One thing that is not a mystery is why people come to visit here. Visiting Externsteine on an occasion like the summer solstice offers a tranquil and elevating experience. People who have spent the bulk of the year in bustling city life may find renewal in this place. The juxtaposition of forest, stone, and lake makes a striking background for contemplation and reflection. Whether at a festive occasion like the midsummer or any other time of year, Externsteine offers a measure of peace to all comers.