Guest Post – Can Extreme Hikers Learn To Love Germany?

View from Rheinsteig

No matter where you are in the world you’ll likely come across one common thing – us. People! We all know I like to bang the drum about the British landscape, and why not? We have some of the finest coastal scenery to be found anywhere in the world, mountainous scenery that often belies their altitude and much more.

But lets not forget about how as peoples we often share a common adoration of the great outdoors in whatever shape or form it comes in – and how we individually go about our activities to rejuvenate the soul and mind in such places.

Which leads me to the following guest post below by a fellow blogger, Michael Schuermann from Germany. A country that doesn’t immediately spring to mind large areas of wonderful hiking landscapes (though there is the Bavarian Alps and Saxon Switzerland to name two) but more of industry, well made automobiles and clinical footballers (less said about that as Englishman the better!). But what comes next does go to show how we share many things in common as outdoor lovers….

Can Extreme Hikers Learn To Love Germany?
I don’t know what “extreme hikers” think about hiking in Germany, but I would not be surprised if Germany ranked not very high on their list of possible destinations. Everything that I find attractive about hiking in Germany – the density of the transport network that allows you a quick “in and out”, the fact that you are never away from a restaurant or a hotel, the little signs of civilization by the road side such as farm buildings and village churches – is exactly what would turn most of them off.
Another view from Rheinsteig
It is true that Germany has no real equivalent to an American-style National Park. After all, there is not much in Central Europe that is similarly untouched by human hands. A small number of “national parks” do exist in Germany, but once you have accounted for the tidal flats of the North Sea coasts (which make up most of their overall surface area), national parks in Germany only cover 0.5 % of the country, less than in almost any other European state.
German forests, whether they belong to private owners (nearly 50 percent), the state (30 percent) or public corporations such as churches (most of the remaining 20 percent) are, by and large, commercially operated. Purists would argue that they are therefore, in principle, no more than “tree fields” or, even worse, “tree factories”. There is a lot to be said about that point of view, but this is neither the time nor the place to argue about this. For today, I leave you to make of it what you want.
German hiking trails come in two distinct flavours: old style and new style.
Rennsteig on the border of former East Germany
The Rennsteig in Thuringia is a perfect example for the old style trail. It has been in existence for hundreds of years and was initially used by farmers, travelling folk and itinerant traders, even by royal couriers, after it had been established that the “high road” along the ridge of the Thuringian Forest was actually the fastest connection between the towns at its northern and southern edge, much faster than the “low road” in the valley underneath.
The Rennsteig is (largely) flat, fast and a trifle uneventful – providing the starkest possible contrast to the near homonymous Rheinsteig (which tracks the Middle Rhine valley) with its constant changes of pace, gears and scenery.
The athletically challenging Rheinsteig is one of a new breed of hiking trails that were custom-made to suit the needs of the modern hiker – who is in search of entertainment rather than the shortest way from A to B.
To give you just one example: On one stretch of the Rheinsteig, you are made to perform a near 360 degree loop to return more or less, after a kilometre or so, to where you started from. The “makers” of the trail apparently thought that the view over the Rhine that you are getting during your detour would be worth the extra mile. This is a totally different logic from that of the Rennsteig.
Rheinsteig Hutte
Wild camping in most though not all of the German states is, strictly speaking, illegal (some states allow you one night). But generally it is tolerated provided you observe certain common sense rules. (No fire, no trash, no camping in protected areas nor near raised hides.)
There is, at any rate, no law against bivouacs or “hootchie” tents, tarpaulins that you just lay over a branch to give you cover for the night, which is why they have apparently become the preferred choice of German boy scouts, at least in summer.
Less romantic, but more convenient, are the forest cabins, of which there are quite a large number on most German hiking trails. Some trails have one such cabin every 2 km or so, which is a good thing on warm and dry summer week-ends when there may be considerable traffic, because this allows you to just move further on if the cabin of your choice is already occupied. (Cabins are generally quite small: how much “company” is may depend on your individual requirements for personal space, but four is definitely a crowd.)
Uphill on the trail
Do not forget that while it may be possible, under certain circumstances, to come to a sort of arrangement with the people who have arrived ahead of you, hiking etiquette would require you to move on if you get the impression that you are not welcome.
Obviously, staying overnight is for free, but just as obviously, you need to bring your own sleeping bag and sleeping pad. You are, strictly speaking, not allowed to make a fire, but this is tolerated under certain circumstances as long as you are careful. (Which should also go without saying.) You can’t lock these cabins from the inside. But then again, there are no wildlife to keep out.

Michael Schuermann currently blogs as Easy Hiker.He has lived as a journalist in London and Paris, first with the BBC World Service then as a sportscaster for a string of TV stations since the mid 1980s. More recently, he has written a book about his adopted home town (“Paris Movie Walks”) for a US publisher.

Food for thought there considering how the current British government is planning on selling off the Forestry Commission in England and Wales – not something I agree with one little bit….


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Maz says:

    I really enjoyed the Black Forest and the Eifel National Park. Both very nice but neither that great for hillwalking. That said, sometimes a forest has its own attractions.


  2. I'm used to harder hikes and scrambling in the Canadian Rockies, but I still enjoy hiking in Germany, especially in the Black Forest and am quite liking all the huts. Also, I'm surprised at the # of hikes that lead to ruins or castles, which is unique in itself. I think hiking in Germany has a lot to offer, but it definitely is different than hiking in the Rockies. I'd be interested to try the Rheinstag.


  3. terrybnd says:

    @Maz – True, walking in such forests has it's own merits. I prefer cycling in them more than walking to be honest.

    @Laurel – Interesting point and insightful along with Michael's post. Thanks for your input.


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