Hiking in Germany: Wandering as a national pastime

Early morning misty clouds wander around the steep, vineyard-covered hills of Germany’s Ahr Valley, enticing hikers to hit the trails to enjoy nature — and maybe some wine.

But it’s not just any day to tie up the boots; it’s national Day of Hiking, marking the German Hiking Association’s (DWV) foundation on May 14, 1883.

Hiking, or “Wandern” in German, is the most popular outdoor activity in the country, with 68 percent of Germans every year hitting an extensive 200,000-kilometer (125,000-mile) trail network. In all, Germans hike 370 million times per year.

Hundreds of activities are organized around themes such as hiking, trail maintenance, nature conservation, health and the promotion of families, youth and schools.

Hiking in Germany has a long tradition dating back to the journeymen and religious pilgrims of the Middle Ages — in a way early tourists and travelers.

But it wasn’t until Romanticist authors and painters in the 18th and 19th century began to popularize nature and the outdoors, turning it from something dangerous and to be feared into something to be explored, that hiking really began to take off.

By the second half of the 19th century, early hiking infrastructure was being built in parallel to the transformation of transportation that allowed previously, largely locally-confined populations to get out and explore.

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