Wandervogel: How to get back to nature and embrace the wilderness like the Germans

Ancient forests, romantic meadows, crystal-clear lakes – Germany is graced with many natural wonders. So, it’s no surprise that strolling through nature is as German as grilling sausages.

Wandervogel: How to get back to nature and embrace the wilderness like the Germans
A wanderer hiking the 118 km Schluchtensteig trail through gorges and canyons in the Black Forest. Photo: DPA

The country’s rich vocabulary of traveling and journeying has seeped into the English language. Aching to visit faraway places? You have been afflicted with what the Germans diagnose as Fernweh. Have an irresistible urge to explore the world? You must have Wanderlust.

But there is another word that can help us tap into the German psyche and learn more about Germany’s deep connection to nature, and that is Wandervogel. Translated literally as “wandering bird,” it is both a feeling and a historical movement.

In the spirit of Wandervogel, wayfaring Germans strap on their hiking boots, pack their thermoses in their trusty backpacks and lose themselves in their country’s network of mountains, gorges, and rivers. Like birds migrating in the spring, they soar from one destination to the next during their weekend backpacking trip or month-long adventure.

Even Germans who frown at the vagabond lifestyle delight in an afternoon of aimless Spazierengehen or Lustwandeln (strolling or wandering at leisure), followed by Kuchen and Kaffee in a cozy café.

Germans’ connection to nature also helps to the explain the creation of green oases in urban neighbourhoods and the national commitment to take care of the planet. More than 90 percent of Germans associate nature in the city to recovery, quality of life, and health and attach importance to public parks and urban forests, according to a study by the Federal Ministry for the Environment and Agency for Nature Conservation.

Moreover, the country’s idyllic landscape – inspiring countless storytellers, poets, and painters – has taken on a mythical status. The subject in Caspar David Friedrich’s Romantic painting Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818) stands at the edge of a cliff, wonderstruck, as he gazes into the mist-filled sky and mountains below, experiencing both mastery over his surroundings and awe at its breadth and beauty.

Likewise, the Grimm Brothers’ treasure chest of fairy tales, where menacing wolves prey on girls in red-riding hoods and sweet-toothed siblings get lost in the dark woods, has fueled Germany’s fascination with forests.

Historical movement

Monthly journal of the Wandervogel from 1910. Photo: DPA

The Wandervogel is not only a cultural phenomenon, but also a part of German history that finds its origins in a youth from Steglitz (modern day Berlin) in 1896. The children of bourgeois parents became disillusioned with industrialization. They scorned the onset of materialist, consumerist society and yearned for the pre-industrial days where people lived off the land, sang folk songs, and embraced nature.

These wandering fledglings broke away from the constraints of their social environment and banded together in youth groups, pioneering a Jugendkultur, a culture of youths led by youths. The movement spread quickly across the country.

Trekking through mountainous trails in hiking shorts, strumming their guitars by the campfire, and sleeping under the stars, they sought to become at one with nature and create a better, emancipated future for themselves.

At the outbreak of war in 1914, millions of young men swept up in a wave of patriotic enthusiasm marched to their deaths. The once apolitical youth movement subsequently splintered into rival groups, many with a strong ideological bent, including the Young Socialists, Young Democrats, and Young Conservatives.

The defeated Germany plunged into further economic chaos with the Great Crash of 1929. Young people suffered disproportionately. What had once been a lifestyle choice had become a matter of grim necessity. Half a million adolescents, homeless and unemployed, tramped around the country committing petty crimes.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, they dissolved the Wandervogel along with other youth organizations and established the more militarized and politicized Hitler Youth to replace them all.

While many Wandervogel groups rejected Nazi authoritarianism and some even evolved into counter movements like the Edelweiss Pirates, historian Walter Laqueur – who wrote a formative work on the youth group – argues that they promoted a völkisch vision of Germany that, among other factors, contributed to the rise of the Nazis.

Indeed the Hitler Youth copied many Wandervogel traditions, such as the uniforms, straight-arm salutes, and greeting “heil.”

Following the Second World War, the Wandervogel was re-established as an apolitical youth group, committed to the original ethos of freedom, exploration, and reverence for natural beauty. The movement has several thousand members today, but endures most profoundly in the German attitude towards nature.

While the sun is still shining, awaken your ancient instincts and venture into the wilderness like the Germans. The majestic Black Forest awaits you.

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‘Save the cheeky but peaceful sow’: Berliners protest culling of wild boar

Berliners are protesting - online and in person - against the possible culling of a peaceful pig dubbed Elsa who gained worldwide fame for stealing a nudist's laptop bag as a chase ensued.

'Save the cheeky but peaceful sow': Berliners protest culling of wild boar
A wild boar and its babies in Springe, Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA

Berlin, and the world, was pleasantly enlivened by social media images of a nude sunbather chasing after a wild boar who had stolen his laptop bag.

READ ALSO: Only in Germany: Wild boar steals laptop from naked Berlin sunbather

Yet the laughing mood was dampened when Berlin’s forestry service announced last week that the boar and its two youngsters could be part of an annual cull in order to keep the species’ numbers down and protect people from diseases they might carry. 

Berliners have now protested –  and on Sunday organised a “demo against the shooting of the wild boar family from the Teufelssee”.

An online petition was also set up under the title “Save the cheeky but peaceful sow from the Teufelssee,” and collected almost 10,000 signatures at the time of writing. 

About a dozen people showed up to Sunday’s protest in front of Berlin’s Forestry Office in Grunewald. 

They kept their distance, wore masks, and held up signs that read “Have a heart for this wild boar family”.

“The animals did not harm anyone and the laptop also came back to its owner,” wrote protest organisers. “There is no reason to kill the animals.”

The boar family is apparently known to bathers, and even made an appearance at the lake in Berlin's Grunewald in the week following its social media fame.

Adele Landauer, the Berlin-based life coach who originally took the pictures and shared with the man’s permission, spotted the boar family again on August 9th, and wrote that the creatures did not do any harm to those around them

“No one really cared much because they all felt comfortable with each other,” she wrote.

Wild boar babies playing around in Ravensburg, Baden-Württemberg. Photo: DPA

'Appropriate measures'

However, Berlin state forestry office spokesman Marc Franusch told AFP the boar and her babies could be culled when the hunting season begins in October.

They would not be shot immediately because it is the wrong time of year, Franusch said – but the agency will be keeping an eye on them.

“If there are special dangers for humans or animals in places such as the bathing area at Teufelssee (lake), appropriate measures must be taken to avert these dangers,” he said.

Wild boars are regularly culled by licensed hunters in Berlin and the rest of Germany to keep numbers down and to fend off diseases such as African swine fever.

Every year, 1,000 to 2,000 wild boars are shot in Berlin.

The population in Berlin alone is estimated to hover around 3,000, with sightings are becoming more common.

READ ALSO: 'No longer fearful': How wild boars are thriving in Berlin

They often venture into residential areas looking for food, as appeared to be the case during the incident last week, and have been known to attack humans.

“Many of us were scared but the wild boars seemed to be peaceful,” Landauer, the Berlin-based life coach, wrote as she shared photos of the animals on Instagram two weeks ago. 

“After they ate a pizza from a backpack of a man who was taking a swim in the lake they were looking for a dessert. They found this yellow bag and decided to take it away.”

Franusch urged people visiting the lake to avoid leaving food or rubbish behind, as this would only encourage the creatures.

With reporting from AFP.