„Wenn einer eine Reise tut… dann kann er was erleben.“ The German proverb, in old-fashioned language, simply translates to: “He who travels will live through adventures”. Adventures and experiences, much more than relaxation or tanning on the beach, are the current trend for German holiday makers – but that still leaves plenty of room for competition with British tourists over the best places on Spanish beaches.
To write about German holiday habits is a trip back memory lane. I remember family vacations on Southern European beaches, mostly staying on camping sites in a self-built tent, shared with all kind of bugs and an international mix of other holiday-makers in the tents around ours. My parents fancied a beach holiday, as long as it had a lot of culture and history around to visit and offered an FKK-area as well.
This term, well known especially in the Eastern parts of Germany, is an often underestimated trait of German vacations. FKK stands for Freikörperkultur – the culture of the free body, or in easier terms: nudism. And yes, that is quite a thing, and it can be a little bizarre at times. Whole beaches and camping sites are reserved for nude people only.
Looking at the bigger picture, this is just a small share of beach- and camping holidays, and the self-built tent is also not the most common sort of accommodation anymore. Caravans and motor homes have taken over the place of these humble living quarters. Germans still like independent vacations, though, and this applies especially for staycations within the country, a whooping 50+ per cent of German holidays every year.
Mountain or beach: The duality of German vacations
Two main regions within Germany are attracting the majority of tourists: The seaside resorts on the Northern or the Baltic sea, and the mountainous areas of the Alps in the South of Germany. There are various beautiful but somewhat overlooked destinations between these two locations. A shame– if you consider having a trip to Germany yourself, check places like the Taunus, the Sauerland or the “Saxon Switzerland”, a lovely natural area with impressive rock formations in the East of Germany. Also don’t miss the Rhine Valley between Mainz and Koblenz, a mystical place full of medieval castles, some of them in amazing shape, given that Germany didn’t have a monarchy to keep them up for pretty exactly one century now.
Talking about beaches and mountains, one specific sort of German holiday shouldn’t be forgotten, although it is not really a vacation at all: The “Kur”. Looking for an English term the only thing that springs to mind is “treatment at a health resort” or maybe a “spa visit”, but Germans are much more sophisticated about these trips. Health resorts are known in England as well, of course, but who would have heard of huge health clinics in these places, funded by the tax payer and the health system, with people being entitled to spend weeks and weeks there under medical supervision to treat chronical illnesses or other ailments? Not a holiday, of course, but taking place in the nicest of holiday resorts nevertheless.
Organized travel, city trips and cultural tourism
Not unlike the British, Germans like to travel by coach. National coach lines connecting cities are rather new, though – most coach trips are still organized tours to places of interest. That can be city trips to Rome, Venice or Gdansk (for example), often frequented by pensioners who want to see the world in nice company without spending a fortune for it, but also pilgrimages to sacred sites. Pilgrimages have been getting a boost in the last years as a means of finding yourself in a spiritual way, made popular in a bestselling book by Hape Kerkeling, a famous comedian, who walked the Way of St James, a catholic pilgrimage, without caring much for the religious parts of the journey.
Trailer to "I'm off then - Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago",
based on the book by Hape Kerkeling
Language and cultural travel, summed up as “Bildungsreisen” make up a small, but important share of German tourism. Many specialized agencies create packaged offers to see Europe, Russia, the US or China among many other offers.
Beach holidays and family vacations
Germans, just like Britons, love a beach holiday in one of the easy-going, sun-blessed resorts of Spain, Turkey or Greece. That applies for young people, and of course for families. German families enjoy a (more or less) reasonable travel schedule, because the 16 German states stagger their holiday times throughout the year.This way traveling remains fairly cheap, rather than sending all 82 million German residents on holiday in the same 6-weeks-window.
The Strandkorb: Iconic symbol for German holidays.
No article about German holidays can be complete without mentioning the most iconic German beach item of all: The roofed wicker beach chair. Providing shelter for couples or families from wind and rain, it adds to the beach experience even in winter or cold weather.
The North German beaches are riddled with what Germans simply call a “beach basket”, a Strandkorb. Although there are attempts to bring the idea to Britain, it never caught up with the British public, while many Germans love to have them even in their gardens.
Want to try one? You can, in Liverpool: www.strandkorb.co.uk.