Volksmarching: Germany's favorite sport
Since the mid-1960s, volksmarching, known as the “people’s sport,” has been one of Germany’s most popular activities. These noncompetitive walks provide participants numerous health benefits and family bonding time while exploring some of the country’s most beautiful woods and towns.
The activity originally included a competitive run but later evolved into a non-competitive, walking-based sport so that more of the community could participate. Today, more than 3,600 marches take place annually. Swimming and running volksmarching clubs are also common.
One of the best ways to become part of the volksmarching community is by joining your local club, which provide members access to new social circles, walking trails and travel opportunities.
Benefits of walking
Some people disregard walking as a choice of exercise. However, numerous studies show that daily walking can help lower body fat and decrease the risk for chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes; help
combat stress, manage emotions and promote healthy coping mechanisms; and lower the risk of falls for ages 65 and older, as walking improves balance by building both core and lower body strength.
Things to bring
Take along a water bottle and some euros. Depending on the length of the hike, there will be multiple checkpoints along the route where you can refill your bottle, record your distance, rejuvenate and have a snack. A free warm beverage is typically offered to participants, and sandwiches are normally available for purchase. Water is also available for dogs. A participation fee (2 to 4 euros) usually covers the cost of a stamp book, refreshments and prizes. If you don’t want a stamp book or prizes, you may be able to participate for free. When you approach checkpoint booths, hand your booklet to one of the stampers. For prize eligibility, participants must get their booklet stamped at each checkpoint.
Bring your camera, too. As you travel through Germany’s quaint towns and countryside, you are bound to find something you will want to capture.
Once the competitive aspect of volksmarches was eliminated, awards were no longer distributed. Today, prizes are included, but you must tell the ticket booth that you would like one. Once you decide what you’d like to receive, purchase your ticket. Prizes vary by location, but tend to be dolls, designed plates, beer steins and apparel.
Take note of the various marking systems to ensure a safe and enjoyable hike. One of the most common trail markings is colorful tape. The color varies depending on which distance you are traveling but is typically green, blue, orange and red. Tape tends to be placed on trees, branches or poles; thick, black wording on the tape provides walkers with a distance amount. Colorful chalk is also used as a common marker; arrows point to the walking path. If two or more routes merge, multiple arrows may be drawn to display the direction for each distance.
Celebrate your milestone
You have reached the finish line; now, celebrate! Once you have picked up your prize, it is time to refuel. Typically, German sandwiches, bratwurst, soups and an array of cakes are available for purchase. If you are craving a beverage, drink stations are located near the food. After grabbing a small bite, walk around the complex to view the various tables, where nearby towns display upcoming walks and information about their clubs.
Something for everyone
Whether you want to get in a little more exercise, explore the German countryside, or have a little family time, volksmarches are the place to be. As you travel through the woods, do not forget to take in all of the beautiful sites.
If you are PCSing back to the States soon, and are concerned about missing out on the opportunities volksmarching provides, do not worry. Marching is taking off stateside! Most states tend to have at least one club, but some have more than three. For more information on the volksmarching clubs at your next duty station, visit www.ava.org/locateclubs.php.