Feb 17, 2012 at 1:59 pm #1285799
To my big surprise I have not found a single trip report about hiking in Germany on this forum. Although I am not very patriotic I think this is a shame: Hiking in Germany is incredibly popular and an interesting experience. Being a native German I have hiked a lot in Germany all my life and last year I have hiked 1,200 km across my home country. You will find the detailed trip report and lots of pictures here in my blog:
But because there is so little information here in this forum about Germany I thought it would be nice to give you some introduction on hiking in Germany:
Well, I would like to start with what you will not find in Germany and that is pristine wilderness. Germany like the rest of Western and Southern Europe is heavily populated compared to most areas in the US or Australia. There are only little patches of National Parks that try to re-introduce wilderness. Also, if you are looking for spectacular alpine scenery Germany is not the best country to go to. Although parts of the Alps belong to Germany, they are not as high or spectacular as in neighboring Switzerland, Austria and France.
But this was about the only negative aspect. Now let's start with the good stuff: 30% of Germany is forested and according to German law everyone is allowed to use the forest for recreational purposes like hiking. Even if the forest is private property you can go anywhere you like. In the US long-distance trails are very often routed along paved public roads, because the land around it is private property. This will not happen in Germany: If there is a path, trail or gravel road on farmland or in forest you can usually use it for hiking. This makes Germany an ideal country for creating your own routes. According to German forest law clear cuts in forests are almost completely forbidden. Almost all logging in Germany is selective logging meaning you will never hike through ugly clear cuts.
The paths, trails and forest roads you are hiking on have very often been used for centuries already and that brings me to the most interesting aspect of hiking in Germany: Germany might not have pristine wilderness, but it has a lot of interesting cultural stuff. While hiking you will constantly stumble upon some reminders of the past from old mark stones, wayside crosses, memorials, little chapels to castles of all centuries (mostly in ruins). Hiking up a hill in Southern Germany you will very often encounter old stations of the cross. Beside those little things there are also a lot of major attractions like baroque pilgrimage churches, full fledged castles, open air museums and much more. There is always something to discover and plan some time for sightseeing.
Because hiking is so popular in Germany you will find a lot of facilities for hikers like benches, picnic tables and very often shelters and observation towers. There are literally hundreds of waymarked trails in Germany that often even have a theme like beer trails or a trail following the former German/German border. Germany (which is about the size of Montana) has 125,000 miles of hiking trails! Although hiking is so popular the trails are therefore not crowded.
You can easily get around Germany by public transport and you can basically access any German trail by bus or train. There usually is bus or train service several times per day. Most trains run at least every other hour. When on a long-distance hike you have access to public transport usually at least once or twice per day, often more – making Germany an ideal country for day trips. You definitely do not need a car to access hiking trails here.
Resupply is equally easy. Usually you come through a town or village at least once per day. Germans have very different shopping habits than Americans. There are relatively few huge shopping centers in Germany as Germans prefer small to medium size shops – that you will find in almost every little town of some size. Only keep in mind that everything is closed on Sundays. But if you are on a higher budget you should definitely sample some local food on the way and try out beer gardens and country inns. If you hike in fall you can save some money by eating fruit along the way. As you will hike through land that has been cultivated for centuries there is always some apple, pear or plum tree around.
You might wonder now where you stay over night. Of course there is all sorts of accommodation along the way from cheap youth hostels, B&B to hotels – this is were almost all German hikers would stay. Free camping is more or less illegal in Germany – but still some hikers (including me) are doing it. Of course you should always respect nature protection areas. But as almost all German forest is commercially used anyways you are not doing much damage to the forest when practicing “Leave no trace”. I have camped discreetly in German forests a hundred times and have never had any problem.
You can find a lot more information about hiking in Germany on my blog and I am more than happy to answer questions as well.
Christine aka German TouristFeb 17, 2012 at 2:06 pm #1840890
@thomdarrahLocale: Southern Oregon
I really enjoyed your Narrow Boat blog.Feb 17, 2012 at 2:38 pm #1840907
Great idea to post this. Are there other similar forums in Northern Europe for long-trails and backpacking? I'm about to move to Latvia and I'm trying to figure out where my likely areas for trips are going to be (I'm thinking Finland, Sweden, Norway for starters).Feb 17, 2012 at 3:05 pm #1840921Feb 17, 2012 at 3:55 pm #1840936
You mentioned that in Germany a backpacker can cross private forest land. Do you know if this is also true in other parts of Europe, like the Baltics? Will I have problems going across forested land hiking around off trail?Feb 17, 2012 at 11:58 pm #1841089
The same applies to almost all European countries except the English speaking ones where you have a more restrictive right of way system. Especially in the Baltic States there are people all over the forest because mushroom and berry picking is so popular.
The origin of this free access policy lies in the bequeathing over centuries. Let me explain this: Over centuries agricultural land in Europe has been handed down from generation to generation. If there was more than one son, the land was usually divided between all the sons leading to an incredible patchwork of little fields that got even more patchworky when those sons married women who had other pieces of land as dowry. In order to actually get to your piece of land in this patchwork system you needed free access on all trails and roads.
Forest is usually even more accessible than agricultural land and has been used as common grounds for centuries. Of course only the land owner has the right to hunt (which is often leased out) or log, but you can almost always use the forest for recreational purposes, including hiking, mushroom and berry picking on and off trail. The only restrictions apply in nature protection areas where you have to stay on trails.
Enjoy hiking in Europe!Feb 18, 2012 at 1:13 am #1841095
@mikefaedundeeLocale: Under a bush in Scotland
German tourist said, "The same applies to almost all European countries except the English speaking ones where you have a more restrictive right of way system.!
Scotland has open access enshrined in law. You can hike and camp almost anywhere you want, with very few restrictions.Feb 18, 2012 at 4:56 am #1841115
Amazing. I don't think I'll miss the primal fear of inadvertently hiking through private land in West Virginia and being threatened with a shotgun.Feb 18, 2012 at 5:50 am #1841125
@mikefaedundeeLocale: Under a bush in Scotland
Land ownership has always been a hot topic in Scotland. Thousands of folk were thrown off tenanted land to make way for sheep during the 'Highland Clearances' from 1746 till the late 1800's. Many of the US citizens of Scots decent will have arrived during this period. Folk had their houses burned in front of them, and were physically forced off the land. Since that period, the struggle for access became a de facto 'right' that was eventually enshrined in law.
The Scottish Highland Clearances is a fascinating subject to study for anyone of Scots descent.Feb 18, 2012 at 5:53 am #1841126
I want to add to Mike's post that the so called "everyman's right" or freedom to roam allows you free access INCLUDING camping in the Nordic countries Sweden, Finland, Norway and Scotland (but it does not apply to the rest of the UK). You can find all the details in this wiki article:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_to_roamFeb 18, 2012 at 6:06 am #1841128
Yes, in Scotland you can legally 'wild' camp almost anywhere as part of your right to roam. It is sensible to be pragmatic about this on land used for grouse and deer shooting during the season.
Christine – a had a good chuckle when I read about your recent hike through Scotland. It IS different here – we don't build paths just so walkers keep their feet dry and walkers are expected to know how to navigate. The weather is "variable" too, but you have my sympathy about the midgies, they can be a pain.
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