One of the best ways to get to know Germany is to hike it. With a network of sign posted hiking trails of almost 200,000 kilometers it is possible to tour almost any corner of the country on foot. The length of the trails can cover everything from short walks of under an hour up to trails that keep you walking for days. Very detailed maps are available at bookshops or online for any given region and quite often tourist information centers have some less elaborate maps of the near vicinity and it’s trails for a small charge or even for free. We do much prefer taking part in a ‚Volkswandertag’ though.
Volkswandern (public hiking) or Volkssport (public sports) is quite an international affair but is heavily centered around Germany and it’s neighboring countries. The idea of associations such as the DVV (http://www.dvv-wandern.de/v_ve/1512) or independent local communities is to organize public events for people of all ages to communally do sports for fun and recreation. There’s biking, swimming and canoeing events but first and foremost hiking. Especially pristine or interesting hiking routes will be defined that would usually probably be lost to the eyes of non-locals. Sometimes the path is marked with signs or it’s paper chase style other times the hikers will need to navigate with the help of a map. Quite often a puzzle is incorporated in the hike and whoever solves it is eligible to win prizes in the end. It is very easy to get in contact with other hikers – especially during the jovial get-togethers before and after the hikes.
A negligible registration fee is usually to be paid which quite often though includes a meal and a drink or a little keepsake. Snacks and drinks are also supplied along the way. After the hike there mostly is a little festival with good old German folk music.
There will also be checkpoints along the trail which will have to be passed in order to proof the whole distance has been completed and no one was lured away by shortcuts. For regular participators an official logbook of the hiked kilometers can even be kept and after a certain cumulated distance a distinction will be awarded by the DVV. For tourists this is a nice gimmick but for Germans it has the additional benefit of those official distinctions functioning as a sort of a discount ticket for health insurance premiums as insurance companies recompense fitness efforts like this.
Our motivation for partaking in those outings is less the saving potential on health care costs though but the possibility of getting to know regions in a very unique way. We’ve grown so fond of it that we even plan our vacations according to the scheduled Volkswandertage. Dates can be found on the DVV webpage and in local newspapers.
Written by Anna-Barbara Schmidt