Camping in Germany may not be your first thought, but you do not know what you are missing until you try it!
There are many spectacular areas to camp in, with stunning scenery, particularly in the Black Forest region. During the Beer Festival or Oktoberfest as it is known, camping out reaches a new level as other accommodation is full. If you do not want to camp with a multitude of others, avoid this, period!
The climate in Germany varies, but is relatively like the UK. Whatever the weather, there is always plenty of entertainment and glorious sites to camp on deep in the forests or by beautiful rivers or lakeshores. If you are touring around Germany with a backpack and little else, there are plenty of unspoilt camping fields and private land where it is allowed. The choice is yours.
Germany also offers quite a lot of campsites close to major towns, if you really do want to be part of civilisation and all the mod cons. The Germans themselves are quite hospitable, but when it comes to camping you must stick to the rules – if it states ‘Camping Verboten’ (forbidden), they really do mean it! Nature reserves are a strict ‘no-no’ for camping of any kind, likewise camping with motorised vehicles on the side of a road – you may get away with it for one night, but you do need to move on quickly.
Having said that, if you come across a nice spot on private land, it is likely that the owners will allow you to camp for a small fee, but you must ask permission first. After all, it is only polite to do so.
Facilities at some of the larger camping sites are quite incredible – some have full entertainment areas with swimming pools, bowling alleys, playgrounds and soft play, and even spa and beauty facilities. So if you want that kind of vacation, it is best to book on such sites, but do remember that these sites will have rules and regulations carried out in a strict and efficient manner, as the Germans do with most things!
What about wild camping?
This is such a grey area. Whilst there is a lot of bureaucracy in Germany, laws on wild camping are far from clearly outlined. The one thing that is clear is that camping on nature reserves, national parks or any areas that promote ecosystems will be forbidden, but once again, it can vary from state to state and their local laws. Some coastal areas are also a forbidden area to pitch up, and any of the areas mentioned here can cause you a heavy fine. If you have the time and inclination, you can find information on the area you plan to camp in under the Federal Conservation Act.
Wild camping can be very tricky and almost not worthwhile to be tied up in rules and regulations when all you really want to do is enjoy yourself. If you come across a delightful place in one of Germany’s many forests, you could again be in trouble under the Federal Forest Act! Whether you plan to camp in a tent or bivouac on your holiday, wild camping will be extremely difficult to feel relaxed about. Generally, stick to authorised camping sites unless you want to take the time to read up any specific area.
If you do want a little less organisation and a bit more freedom, there are some things you can do. There are a few (and we mean few) sleeping areas where tents and bivouacs are allowed – but you do have to pay for them, somewhere around 10-15 euros. Do book in advance though, as they fill up quickly as the closest thing to wild camping and particularly popular with the Scandinavian nationals.
Another little-known alternative if you are brave enough are the ‘boofens’. Mountaineers, cyclists and hikers will be more familiar with them as they involve sleeping outside in the fresh air, but usually under a rocky crag or in a cave. Most of these are found in sandstone, mountainous areas – but be careful, they could still come listed under National Parks! There are in the region of about 60 of these such areas.
Just as in most countries, Germany is particularly vehement regarding respect for their countryside areas, and fiercely adopt the ‘Leave no trace’ rule. You will not fall foul of German wrath if you appreciate this and leave an area exactly as you found it.
Is it easy to buy camping gear in Germany?
Not that easy at all, other than the main cities, particularly Berlin and Munich. Do not try buying gear in September though – most places will have sold out due to the Oktoberfest! There are some camping gear chains, such as Toom Baumarkt, SportScheck and of course, most Aldi and Lidl branches stock basic camping gear. Be warned, it is expensive out there and you may be wiser to search eBay Germany.
Some of the bigger regulated campsites have shops that stock the basic camping equipment and foodstuffs, but the sale of camping gear generally in Germany is not as prolific as the UK or other parts of Europe.
Some of the best sites
Now that you know the rules and regulations for camping (well, sort of), you may well want to stick to the regulated camping sites, where you know that you can camp trouble-free. As previously stated, it is all about the facilities you require, the location and whether you have the children in tow. There are around 800 sites in various parts of Germany to choose from.
Burgstadt Camping Site, Kastellaun
A rather glamorous site for all forms of camping which is bookable in advance. The facilities are very upmarket and near shops and restaurants. However, children under the age of 14 are not allowed on this site. Kastellaun is a medieval town within a 10-minute walk of the site, which shares its location with a hotel. Having said that, it is a pretty area to camp with plenty of walking and hiking trails to explore. Cost in the region of £20 per night (we told you Germany is not cheap!).
Camping Bleialf, Bleialf
Much smaller site that has an outdoor swimming pool open during high season. It is only a few minutes’ walk into the small but well-equipped town, but the surroundings of the site, on the edge of the Eifel National Park, brings you close to wildlife including wildcats to encounter! Child friendly, particularly the vending machines full of snacks! The beauty of this site is that it is close to the Belgian border, should you want to include another country in your travels. Cost in the region of £14 per night.
Adventure Camp Schnitzmuhle, Bavaria
This is a wonderful site, and child friendly. Located in the Bavarian Forest, it is full of hikes and walks into the stunning countryside. The site is owned by two ‘super-cool’ brothers who have transformed it into a more funky destination, proven by the appearance of the ‘Bongo Bar’, somewhat reminiscent of a Tiki Bar with tables and chairs on sand, and a straw rooftop! There is a tiny shop that sells freshly baked bread in the mornings, and plenty of essential items for camping. You can swim in the river which is part of the overall site.
If you want a lively campsite, this one is for you.
Uhlenkoper Camp, Uelzen
A small but quite idyllic site, with a car-free meadow to camp in. Children are well catered for with a playground and water slide by a pretty little stream. You can hire bicycles and boats or relax on the sunny terrace with a cup of coffee. There is a food shop selling fresh bread and other food, and a small snack bar. Primarily, this is a very friendly and clean site with good washing facilities for both personal and clothing. Plenty to do in the surrounding area. Prices in the region of £20 per night.
So enough of regulated camping sites, what about free and adventurous! As mentioned before, ‘boofen’ is camping on mountainsides under crags or in caves. The best region for this is Saxon-Switzerland National Park, on the edge of the German/Czech border – what a splendid area. No tents though, just you, a sleeping bag and the outdoors. Camp yourself for the night as high up as you can go and experience the spectacular sunrise for free. The German Tourist Board will have maps of how to arrive at your ‘boofen’, or you can buy a copy of a guide by Dr. Ing Rolf Bohm, showing every possibility.
Once you have decided where you want, go to the nearest town – frequently groups of ‘boofen’ participants gather in coffee shops in order to meet other like-minded people. It is a good idea to share your first experience with others.