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Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
Camping in Germany on 03/22/2008 06:28:32 MDT Print View

Does anyone have any experience camping in Germany? Because my investigations to date lead me to believe that real camping cannot be done in Germany.

First, it is absolutely illegal to pitch a tent almost anywhere except a designated commercial campsite. Almost all of those are geared for European-style camping, which means campers and trailers with a little patch of astroturf and a garden gnome. Also, it is generally more expensive to rent a campsite than to stay in a local hotel. And, like everywhere else in Europe, they nickle and dime you to death on top of the basic camping feel. 10 Euro fee to use the toilet since you're not paying for a camper hookup, 85 Euro burn-tax to have a campfire of any size, a fee to fill your water bladder (again, because you're not paying for a camper hookup), etc. I'm not kidding.

Then there's the whole problem of finding a campsite in the first place. There are no centrally published maps of these sites, even for a national park, like Naturpark Pfälzerwald. Instead a given campsite owner pays a guidebook to include his campsite. There are about 20 guidebooks published annually and, as I said, they are ALL geared toward crowded car-camping. Camping here is a social event, with people wandering over to their neighbors' trailers for a beer and some partying, etc.

The only option I've found is local hiking clubs. Often they will own or have a lease on a little gazebo or an acre or two in a local forest. GOD HELP YOU if you camp there without permission, but finding the local hiking club can be a hassle, because every small town has their own, pretty much, so you have to:

1: find a campsite
2: guess about which town's club controls it (and it may be some other non-hiking club)
3. find that club, possibly by asking at the town hall (if they're open)
4. pray that the club leader answers the phone
5. pray that the club leader doesn't take an instant dislike to you
6. even if he likes you, hope that he keeps the fee under 100 Euro.

Sometimes the campsites are controlled by the town itself, instead of the club, in which case change "club leader" to "town clerk." In all honesty, if you can actually find the local club leader (and he does like you) there's a good chance he might just say you can use the spot for free. You can sometimes ask to pitch a tent in a town's fest area or other public space nearby, and they may well let you do so for free, but I really don't want to camp next to a car dealership, y'know? And also, this is all totally dependent upon the good will of the people involved.

This whole deal about leasing public land is annoying, too. For instance, there is an equestrian club who leases the rights to some trails in the Pfälzerwald. No one else can use those trails. If they come across a bicyclist or hiker on THEIR trail they will verbally abuse you while they call the polizei on their cell phones. (Evidently this happens a lot, so they've lost their patience about it.)

By the way, commando camping is ruthlessly suppressed and prosecuted. Every scrap of forest in the country has a forestmeister who patrols it and evicts or tickets any campers he finds. Usually he is some pensioner who gets to sell a certain amount of lumber every year in return for managing the land, and they tend to be very suspicious people.

I don't mean to imply that I don't like Germans. Actually I'm rather fond of them, for many reasons. But they are awfully persnickety about rules in general and they can be awfully proprietary about some things, and I guess this is one of them. In the same way that you can love your wife yet be very annoyed at some little habit of hers, I'm annoyed at Germany about this.

I have the Naturpark Pfälzerwald (the largest forest in the country) literally right out my back door and for the life of me cannot think of a way to take a quick weekend camping trip without more preparation and cost than a shuttle launch. So if anyone can tell me that I've missed some resource or that I just don't understand the system, I'd be really grateful if you'd enlighten me, because I'm frustrated.

Edited by acrosome on 03/22/2008 07:35:21 MDT.

Scott Becker
(Bigfoot60) - F

Locale: Northern Germany
Wild camping in Germany on 03/22/2008 12:03:00 MDT Print View

Well, Dean, I think you've summed it up pretty well the way it is. If you want to stealth camp in Germany (which people do manage to do, I am told), you need to be very discreet and not be too upset when some hunter who thinks he owns the forest (well, he sort of does, at least more than a measly stealth camper, esp. if his club has leased areas of it for hunting) tells you to get lost. A bit of charm and a humble attitude don't hurt, either (as in "Oh, I'm very sorry; didn't know the rule, being a dumb American, but hope I've not disturbed anything...and by the way, I'd really like to move on and stay another night elsewhere, if you don't mind, ; after all, it's such a beautiful place, and I promise to respect it.") The whole idea of having to justify onesself for just enjoying nature up close - in a very responsible, leave-no-traces way - doesn't appeal to me at all, which is why I've only stealth camped in Germany on three occasions so far (didn't get "caught", but felt like a criminal). I just don't want to have my outdoor experience ruined by having to hide. This even makes it harder than usual to find a spot to pitch your tent - a spot that no one is likely to see, but without ending up smack dab under some sappy, dripping pine tree.
I've been living in Germany since 1982, and have learned that it's better to not ask too many questions or else you'll get all kinds of dumb answers - some justified, many not. Whether or not any given person decides that what you're doing is OK (or whether they liked the tone in your voice or not), you'll get answer A or maybe B. It's the luck of the draw. There ARE a lot of rules (including unwritten ones) in German culture, and it seems to be a sort of hobby to interpret them in one's own way, sometimes bending the law without batting an eye in your favor, but more often sticking to laws that really don't apply, or that shouldn't really apply to a zero-impact camper.
I just scanned a few German forums and found people reporting on many good and a few not-so-good experiences. The concensus seems to be that yes, you are SUPPOSED to get permission first, but this can be very difficult, since - as you point out - it's hard to figure out who's in charge of what. So it's apparently better to just try doing one's inevasive thing and bear the consequences, if any. If you can put up with the suspense, that is. It seems that things work out fine maybe 90% of the time, but I also read about a guy who was camping outside of the forest on a clearing, but in an area off the beaten path, so it was unlikely that he had been easily visible. Still, someone had seen him and gone to the trouble of alerting the police, who greeted him in morning with a couple of polite questions like "How long do you intend to stay here" (moving right on today...) and "Isn't it rather cold tenting here?", and then they left him alone. The point is this: In Germany, there are folks who will get all excited (and actually scream at you) if you are just using the bike path on the wrong side of the road (!). However, tose might well be the same law-abiding individuals that won't think twice about pushing ahead of you in the so-called "line" at the bakery. Here I get the feeling that "law is in the eyes of the beholder". Most people speed when driving, with few radar traps to stop them. It's a mentality thing. There's a famous saying: "Wo kein Kläger ist, ist auch kein Richter." This translates roughly as this: "If there's no prosecutor around, there's no need to fear the judge."
As for me, I enjoy the great outdoors in Germany a lot in day hikes, and am longing for a trip to the UK or Scandinavia to satisfy my more wild urges. Sad but true. (And now I HOPE a zillion others will post that they have had lots of great times stealth camping in Germany. Please, prove me wrong!)

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
Hiking in Europe on 03/25/2008 05:31:27 MDT Print View

Yes, I've heard that the rules are much more tolerant toward campers in most of Scandinavia, particularly Finland. (I always did like the Finns...) Someday I guess I'll have to make a trip there.

Diplomatic Mike
(MikefaeDundee)

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Camping on 03/25/2008 10:58:54 MDT Print View

Here in Scotland we have the right to camp anywhere with one or two exceptions. It was always tolerated but the right to free access became law a few years ago.

Christine Thuermer
(chgeth) - F

Locale: Germany
Camping in Germany on 05/10/2008 13:20:16 MDT Print View

Dean,
I am German and live in Germany for 40 years now - and I have been camping in Germany about 100 times without any problem.
Yes, you are right: Legally, camping is forbidden in German forests. Germany is so populated that you need rules like that or all the car campers you have described so nicely will overrun every patch of wood in Germany.
So if you want to be 100% legal, well, better forget about it.
But keep in mind why camping is forbidden: Land owners want to prevent any damage to the forest, like campers having camp fires, leaving trash and so on. If you don't do all these things, well, I don't feel too illegal while camping.
I have stealth camped all over Germany (and rest of Europe) for many years now and never had any problem. But you have to be discreet. I always take care that nobody sees me, meaning you set up camp when it gets dark and leave early. I have never seen any forest master after official daytime working hours...
But what would happen in the worst case? The worst case is that you get caught by any authority. German police does not patrol forests and even if some over zealous citizen alarms the police: How would they get into the forest? Do you really think a normal German police man would ruin his car by driving into the forest and WALK to your camp site? Chances are pretty slim for that...
The highest risk is running into a forest master. He could legally fine you, but chances are pretty low for that. He would probably deliver some sermon about camping, you play stupid American and that's it. The worst that can happen is that you get fined. And if bad comes to worst keep in mind that a forest master is not a member of law enforcement, so he cannot legally arrest you if you refuse to pay a fine - you could just walk away and hope you doesn't call the police.... But if I was found I would just pay a fine - they are not a fortune.
But let's come back to reality: I have NEVER been caught or had any other trouble while stealth camping and I don't know of anyone who has either. Just relax and do it!
Christine aka German Tourist

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
Re: Camping in Germany on 05/18/2008 07:01:59 MDT Print View

Thanks, Christine.

I will neither confirm nor deny that I have commando camped on mainland Europe...

That said, part of my point was that Naturpark Pfälzerwald is public property. (Isn't it?) But somehow it gets leased to all these private interest groups. That'd be like the US NPS leasing Mammoth Falls to an equestrian club, and saying that no one else was allowed to camp there without the club's permission. There would be bloodshed! The NPS leadership might get lynched. Hell, I'd be there with my bucket of tar, too. And if it is public property, why is there no published guidebook with all the campsites listed? (Or, maybe I just can't find it, since my German sucks so badly. In my defense, I did try the Outdoor recreation office at Ramstein Airbase.) Why can't I pay a fee for a the equivalent of a back-country pass? Hell, I'd even be happy to stick to established campsites. Everything else about German government is so centrallized that this little area of anarchy boggles my mind.

I could be wrong- maybe the park isn't public property. (Then why call it Naturpark Pfälzerwald?) Anytime I bring it up to a German the answer is always "Well, stay at a gasthaus." This isn't seen as a problem, here.

Or, most likely I'm simply being a typically parochial American, and not accepting that things are just different here. If that's the case then, well, that's the case.

It is nonetheless annoying, though, that this is the only significant hobby I have and I find that it is illegal here for all practical purposes. And it is harmless. I mean, what would the hypothetical Forestmeister's sermon be about? "How dare you sleep in the forest, kill no plants, burn no wood, and leave no trash! Here's a fine, you criminal!"

Dean

P.S. So, what good hikes can you tell me about around Kaiserslautern? Or anywhere else within driving distance for the weekend?

Edited by acrosome on 05/18/2008 07:10:13 MDT.

Christine Thuermer
(chgeth) - F

Locale: Germany
Camping in Germany on 05/24/2008 12:31:19 MDT Print View

Dean,
things are different over here. Always keep in mind that Germany is so much more populated than the US, so every piece of land is being used for commercial purposes.
First of all, believe it or not, Germans really don't care who posesses a piece of land.
Germans are very different from Americans in that respect. In the US you might get shot for trespassing, whereas here the whole concept of trespassing doesn't really exist to that extreme here in Germany. Land here in Germany is generally accessible by everybody: Ok, you don't walk over fields with the crop on, but all the trails and small forest roads are accessible. No one will say a word if you are walking on a trail between two fields, even if you are on private property and the owner is nearby. Try that in the US....
Have you noticed all the Germans collecting mushrooms in fall? Nobody cares whom the forest belongs to....
You should not worry about whether Pfälzerwald is state land or private land or on lease - IT DOESN'T MATTER!
If all private land owners would forbid trespassing, there would hardly be anywhere to go for recreation in this country - we have a very different tradition here than in the US.
There is a big difference between the legal situation and daily life. Of course, stealth camping is illegal here - if you are on private land you are legally trespassing and if you are on public land it is generally forbidden by law. But there is a difference between camping and making a bivaouc... and of course there is a gray zone when you are sleeping in huts (I am referring to "Schutzhütten" which were built for hikers to have a break there).
If you want to be a strict American, well, then forget about camping - you will not change our legal system, which is good in my opinion, because there are so many Germans and so few forest. But if you are a little bit more flexible in your legal mindset, well, then you can enjoy some very nice camping experiences here in Germany....
Unfortunately, I cannot give you any tips for Pfälzerwald as I live in a different corner of Germany and have only hiked there once....
And: Please don't despair with Germans...

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
Re: Camping in Germany on 05/27/2008 21:42:38 MDT Print View

Yes, I know, things are different here. I'm just frustrated. But I also know that "legal flexibility" is a very risky thing, even in Germany.

For instance the last time I was here, in the 1991, some friends and I got arrested for playing paintball. I don't know about now but at the time the paintball guns qualified as pneumatic rifles under German law, and it was a bit of a legal nightmare to play the game. We had permission from the owner to play in an unused quarrey, but some busybody had called the polizei on us and reported us as "poachers." (Which is patently ridiculous.) It took us over a year to get our stuff back after they confiscated it. The Germans who were playing with us NEVER got their stuff back.

The polizei have no sense of humor...

I know what you mean about free access. I go running on the dirt roads through some farm fields and forest near my house. Very pleasant. But that isn't absolute. I have mentioned the difficulties with the equestrian club and the trails that they lease.

And, actually, I'm willing to forgoe free-acccess back-country style camping, since I know that is pretty much impossible here. I'm just whining about how difficult it is to do ANY camping, unless you are car camping in a commercial campsite. By the way, since you brought it up, what is the difference between camping and a bivouac? Because I'm certain that it is a fine fine point that will be lost on the forest-meister or polizei. If you tell me that there is a "grey-zone" where I can probably get away with it, I believe you, but playing the "ignorant American" only gets me so far with the polizei. After that they just gey annoyed and start arresting things. And they carry automatic weapons.

I know what you mean about property rights in the United States. (Texas, in particular.) But nonetheless if you got shot for trespassing, the guy who shot you would be going to jail for an obscenely long time unless he could convince a judge that he thought that you were a threat to his life. In some states he'd go to jail even if you WERE a threat to his life and he didn't try to run away before shooting you. Some conservative states give a certain benefit of the doubt to a landowner on posted property, but he'd still better come up with a damned good story for why he didn't just call the police.

Edited by acrosome on 05/28/2008 00:07:16 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Camping in Germany on 05/27/2008 22:58:24 MDT Print View

> what is the difference between camping and a bivouac?
I don't know the rues for Germany. But I do know the rules for France. I have bivouaced all over the Pyrenees and the Massif Central and some of the Alps (and UK).

'Camping' is equated with large tents and cars and so on.
'Bivouac' is overnight with a small tent and you got there by walking.
Very often camping is illegal but bivouac is either 'tolerated' or legal. You can see the difference. And if you don't pitch the tent until evening and are away in the morning - who cares or even notices?

Cheers

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
Re: Camping vs bivouac on 05/28/2008 00:14:15 MDT Print View

Regarding the camping versus bivouac point: is this a recognized difference in Europe? For instance, if I ask permission to "camp" somewhere, will the parties involved assume that I'm planning to stay a while? Should I use the term "bivouac" instead? Most civilians in the United States would probably respond with "What the hell is a bivouac?" It's not a common word in US English.

Having spoken with other campers here, it seems that when you do get bounced by the forestmeister or polizei one thing they always ask is how long you intend to stay, so this may be an important point. I presume that this is because they are concerned that you are squatting, or something...

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Camping vs bivouac on 05/29/2008 02:35:00 MDT Print View

> Should I use the term "bivouac" instead?
Wouldn't hurt, would it? In fact, if you were to ask 'can I bivouac here just for the night?' you might get a better response again.

I think the idea is that while they don't want people spending days in one spot (damage to the grass etc), it is a bit hard to say at 6pm to someone that they can't stop walking for the night.

Diplomatic Mike
(MikefaeDundee)

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Camping in Germany on 05/29/2008 04:47:29 MDT Print View

I remember reading an article about camping in Ireland. The gist of the article was that farmers don't mind you camping on 'wild' land, but they don't want you to ask them for permission. If you ask and they give permission, then legal issues are involved concerning responsibility for injury etc, whilst on their land. They would rather not see you:)
Maybe it's similar in Germany?