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WINTER

The Local’s guide to skiing in Germany

There’s more to skiing in Germany than the northernmost bits of the Alps. As the new season begins, The Local introduces some alternative slopes that just might be closer than you think.

The Local's guide to skiing in Germany
Photo: DPA

Skiing in Germany is typically associated with the Alps in Bavaria. If you’re looking for the classic Alpine experience with the decadent Après ski lodge lounging culture in Germany, by all means take a trip to the Garmisch-Partenkirchen and swoosh down the famous Zugspitze. But there are also plenty of other downhill options sprinkled around the country. For something a little closer to home, take a gander at our tips for some alternative German ski destinations.

Many of these quirky ski areas don’t have the cushy high-speed lifts or opulent lodges typical to larger Alpine resorts, but this – along with cheaper tickets and smaller crowds – is part of their charm.

And those who don’t ski or snowboard can still enjoy the season. Many of these destinations offer other winter activities such as sledding, snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing or just a nice seat at the lodge to sample the local schnapps.

Click here for photos of ski areas highlighted in The Local’s ski guide!

The Rhön

You’ll find the Rhön Mountains snuggled between the states of Hesse, Bavaria and Thuringia. These low-elevation, dome-shaped mountains provide gentle slopes for beginners and not-so-extreme skiers. Dotted with imposing mediaeval structures, the scenic area was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1991 for its unique environment.

The Feuerberg area has the best-groomed pistes and claims to have the only chair lift in northern Bavaria. The area promises runs for all ability levels, as well as a ski school for beginners and several huts and lodges where ruddy-cheeked guests can warm up with typical fare like Germknödel, a doughy dumpling filled with plum jam and smothered in vanilla sauce.

Smaller resorts in the region include the Wasserkuppe, which features night skiing, a terrain park with a half-pipe for thrill-seekers, and a 600-metre, lift-served toboggan run for the little ones and the young at heart.

Other areas worth a look are the tiny Arnsberg, Bischofsheim, and Zuckerfeld resorts.

The Black Forest

Deep in southwestern Germany lies Baden’s fabled Black Forest region, which has some 200 ski lifts to deliver winter sports fans to the tops of more than 70 peaks above 1,000 metres.

The Liftverband Feldberg combines a total of 28 lifts from a network of mountains to form the region’s largest downhill resort atop Germany’s highest peak outside the Alps.

Those interested in combining a ski trip with a bit of city sightseeing should try Stollenbach, which is just a 25-minute car trip from the sunny and picturesque university town of Freiburg. The area bills itself as an affordable family resort with three lifts to serve visitors with novice to intermediate skill levels.

For those who want to venture deeper into the land where cuckoo clocks were invented, there are more than 20 other small resorts dotting the landscape. Favourites include Todtnau and Schauinslandbahn.

Go East!

Though it may come as a surprise to some, the former East German states of Saxony and Thuringia also have a handful of treats for skiers. Saxony has three areas along the Czech border, all within reasonable distance of Berlin, Dresden and Leipzig. Among the best is the 1,206-metre Fichtelberg, which was the highest peak in the now defunct communist German Democratic Republic (GDR). Part of the Ore Mountains, or Erzbegirge, the peak looms above the traditional resort town of Oberwiesenthal. The largest ski area in Saxony, it has six lifts, an aerial tram and ample accommodation.

Further south along the Czech border lie two small areas with four lifts each: Klingenthal, and Schöneck, both within the Erzgebirge/Vogtland Nature Park. Relax after a day on the slopes by checking out the museums devoted to the region’s tradition of making musical instruments and other handicrafts.

Meanwhile in the Thuringian Forest, which rests atop an ancient mountain range west of Erfurt, winter enthusiasts will find a group of diminutive slopes well-suited for beginners.

The Harz Mountains

The German state of Lower Saxony is home to the western half of the Harz Mountains, where many of the region’s ski areas are located. The highest peak in the state is the Wurmberg at 971 metres and is home to the largest ski area in the region. With three pommel lifts and a gondola the Braunlage resort has become a popular destination for northern Germans.

Northwest of there is Bocksberg-Hahnenklee with five ski runs of varying difficulty and two lifts. The resort emphasises its use of snow-making machines in the face of the warming climate, so don’t let a dry season put you off. Ski and snowboard lessons are also available for those looking to perfect their turns.

Sauerland

The hilly, wooded district of Sauerland in Germany’s western state of North Rhine-Westphalia offers a surprisingly rich selection of skiing options a mere 200 kilometres from Cologne.

With Six chairlifts and 12 pommel lifts the Winterberg is among the most popular destinations. There are 17 slopes of varying difficulty, as well as a ski school. The town is the winter sport centre of the state, featuring a one-of-a-kind combination bobsled, luge and skeleton track.

There is a cluster of other small ski areas near Winterberg. The largest is the gondola-served Willingen, which hosts World Cup ski jumping and promises snow thanks to a fleet of snow-making machines. The resort also has night skiing on several of its 25 pistes.

Baltic Bumps

The state of Schleswig-Holstein isn’t known for lofty peaks – or even small hills. But if the snow gods are feeling generous, the private owners of the Bungsberg ski area are able to open a tow-rope lift on their lonely 168-metre bump in the landscape. On these fortuitous days visitors can get a day pass priced around just €10 for the latitudinal novelty of hitting Germany’s most northerly ski slope. Keep an eye on the northern coast’s weather report for the singular chance to see ships floating on the Baltic Sea horizon while perched on skis – followed by a very short trip to the bottom.

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BAVARIA

Bar closures and no Christmas markets: How Bavaria is tightening Covid rules

Bavaria will order the closure of all bars and clubs as part of sweeping new restrictions to try and control the Covid spread and ease overrun hospitals. Here's a look at what's planned.

Closed Christmas market stalls in Munich.
Closed Christmas market stalls in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

On Friday Bavarian state leader Markus Söder announced more tough restrictions to deal with spiralling Covid infections and packed intensive care units.

“The corona drama continues,” said Söder after the cabinet meeting, adding that 90 percent of Covid patients in state hospitals are unvaccinated. “Being unvaccinated is a real risk.”

Bavaria has a vaccination rate of 65.9 percent – lower than the nationwide rate of almost 68 percent.

READ ALSO: Bavaria cancels all Christmas markets in Covid surge

Söder said the state’s Covid package was about “blocking, braking and boosting”, adding that vaccination centres will be ramped up. 

“We must act,” he said. “Bavaria is exhausting almost all legal means until December 15th.”

Earlier this week, Bavaria introduced a state-wide 2G rule, meaning only vaccinated people (geimpft) and people who’ve recovered from Covid (genesen) can enter many public spaces. People who are eligible to get vaccinated but choose not to get it are excluded. 

Here’s an overview of the planned restrictions set to come in on Wednesday, as reported by local broadcaster BR24. 

Bars, clubs and restaurant curfew

From Wednesday, and for three weeks, all nightlife like clubs, discos, bars, pubs and brothels in Bavaria are set to close their doors. Restaurants will have to shut at 10pm. So planned Christmas nights out will likely need to be cancelled or postponed. 

Christmas markets

There will be no Christmas or Christkindl markets in Bavaria this year. In the past days, several cities had announced that they would not be holding these events this year due to the Covid situation. 

Contact restrictions on the unvaccinated

Söder announced new restrictions on the number of people those who are not inoculated can socialise with. A maximum of five unvaccinated people will be allowed to meet, from two different households. Children under 12 will not be included in the total, as well as vaccinated or people who’ve recovered from Covid.

Cultural and sporting events

All cultural and sporting events can only take place with significantly reduced spectators. At theatres, opera performances, sporting events, in leisure centres and at trade fairs, there will be a 25-percent capacity limit. The 2G plus rule also applies. This means that only vaccinated and recovered people are allowed to enter (not the unvaccinated) – and only with a negative rapid test. Masks are compulsory everywhere.

Universities, driving schools, close-body services: 2G plus

All universities, driving schools, adult education centres and music schools will only be open to those who have been vaccinated and have recovered – making it 2G. This rule also applies to body-related services, like hairdressers and beauty salons. Only medical, therapeutic and nursing services are exempt from the 2G rule. So unvaccinated people can still go to the doctor or receive a medical procedure. 

KEY POINTS: Germany finalises new Covid restrictions for winter

Shops

Shops remain exempt from 2G rules, meaning unvaccinated people can visit them. However, there is to be limits on capacity. This means that fewer customers are allowed into a shop at the same time.

Special rules for hotspots

Currently, the incidence in eight Bavarian districts is above 1,000 infections per 100,000 people in seven days. Here and in all other regions where the incidence goes above this number, public life is to be shut down as far as possible.

This means that restaurants, hotels and all sports and cultural venues will have to close. Hairdressers and other body-related service providers will also not be allowed to open for three weeks, and events will also have to be cancelled. Universities will only be allowed to offer digital teaching. Shops will remain open, but there must be 20 square metres of space per customer. This means that only half as many customers as in other regions are allowed in a shop.

If the incidence falls below 1,000 for at least five days, the rules are lifted.

Schools and daycare

Throughout Bavaria, schools and daycare centres are to remain open. However, there will be regular Covid testing. Children and young people have to continue to wear a face mask during lessons, including school sports, unless they are exercising outside. 

Bavaria is expected to approve the measures on Tuesday and they will be in force until at least December 15th. We’ll keep you updated if there are any changes. 

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