Monday, May 30, 2011

A hike through Germany: Conclusion

The answer to my typical question at the end of a hike is easy this time. Would I recommend this hike to a friend? Yes, definitely and without any reservations. This has been a fantastic hike. The only negative aspects have been ticks and the resulting health problems. But other than that this has been the perfect hike for Germany - and it has helped of course that the weather has cooperated. In 5 weeks it has only rained twice and the temperature has been very warm, almost hot for German standards.

Hollow way
But especially for non-European readers I want to elaborate a bit more about trail conditions. When hiking in Germany you will not find any pristine wilderness. If this is what you are after, don't come to Germany or any other Central / Western European country. This is a very populated region and almost every piece of land is commercially used in some sense. But whereas 25% of Germany consists of built up areas, 31% of the surface of Germany is forested! (By the way: that makes wild or stealth camping in Germany relatively easy..... ). But almost all of these forested areas are commercially used. And as a farmer and forest owner told me: "A forest is useless without forest roads." Therefore German forest is crisscrossed by a multitude of forest roads - and this is what you will mostly be hiking on.

Wood storage along the trail
Almost none of these forest roads are paved and only a small part are wide "forest highways". You will not very often see a car driving on these roads. If you see a vehicle it will either be a farmer on a tractor "making wood" or a hunter or forrester. Logging mostly takes place in winter and in spring time farmers are collecting and storing the harvested wood. Unfortunately these activities can lead the horrible trail conditions, especially in rainy weather. Keep in mind that there is very little purpose built single-file hiking trails in Germany. The percentage of trail surface on my hike has probably been about 15% - 20% pavement, 15% - 20% single file trail and the rest is forest or farm road of some kind which can vary from wide forest highway to very old, overgrown and abandoned logging track or tracks along meadows and fields used by tractors. The good news is that if there is a trail / track / road you can almost always use it. It is not like in the US where many trails are fenced off and entry is prohibited because they are on private property. Therefore you have almost endless hiking possibilities in Germany.

Hiking along fields
Reading trailjournals of Americans hiking in Europe I realised that most of them are very reluctant to wild camp. Most end up in hotels/hostels/B&B or commercial campgrounds. I guess the reason is that they are afraid because they do not know or understand the legal situation. In Germany the legal situation for wild camping varies from state to state and the kind of property you are on. But generally you can assume that in strict legal terms wild camping would be prohibited in most cases. And the average German hiker on a 2 week holiday will not wild camp. But on the other hand "resting" is always allowed.... Wild camping is a huge topic in all European outdoor forums and bottom line is that most dedicated hikers practice it. And you will most probably not run into any problems as long as you practice some basic rules like not building a fire, not leaving trash, not camping in protected areas like nature reserves and generally being very discreet and staying out of sight. Obeying these rules you will probably even get away when caught by the land owner or forrester.

Chapel in the Black Forest
But you might wonder why you should hike in a country like Germany that has so little pristine nature attractions. Well, there are a lot of cultural attractions. The trails you are hiking on have generally already been used for a long time. And these centuries have left their traces. You will see all sorts of memorials, chapels, stations of the cross, mark stones, statues, cemeteries and so on along the trail... Hiking in Germany is always a walk through history, too and I find that extremely fascinating. Plus you have the opportunity to do a lot of sightseeing on the side as you come across some medieval castle (in ruins or intact), pilgrimage church or open air museum almost every day. On each hike I learn something new.

I really enjoyed this hike and I am looking forward to do some more hiking in Europe. But I also do not want to miss the wildernesses of the US or the different ecosystems of Australia. Each continent is different - and I love hiking in all of them!!!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hiking in Germany sounds good. I could only dream about it as we sped thru by train recently.