The story of Germany’s oldest national park as it turns 50

Germany's oldest national park celebrates its 50th birthday this week. A journey through its "ancient woods" reveals a world of deadly beetles and busy beavers.

The story of Germany's oldest national park as it turns 50
The Bavarian Forest nature Reserve. Photo: DPA

The bark-gnawing beetle hadn't been seen in the Bavarian Forest for 113 years. It was considered extinct there. Then, in autumn 2019, the biologist Jörg Müller discovered a specimen of the small insect on a spruce stump. 

A real relic of pre-cultivated forests, the bark-gnawing beetle needs plenty of dead wood and tree moss if it is to survive.

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But, thanks to a philosophy of letting nature do its thing, there is enough dead wood and moss in the Bavarian Forest national park to go around.

The oldest national park in Germany, the Bavarian Forest Park was founded 50 years ago this week.

Its founding goal has been achieved, says director Franz Leibl. The reserve has increasingly developed into something akin to an ancient forest. 

Around 11,000 animal, fungal and plant species have been identified in the reserve – including 16 different species of forest beetle, which are reliant on forest structures undisturbed by humans.

Bats, red deer, lynx and beavers also feel at home in the reserve – as does the dreaded spruce bark beetle. The bark beetle species poses a particular challenge to the National Park as well as to private and commercial forest owners.

After a massive infestation of bark beetles in the 1990s, the forest has now recovered.

Photo: AFP

Luckily the destruction left by the fearsome beetle also serves a purpose – the dead trees now serve as a habitat for rare species that depend on dead wood. 

During a walk through the forest, Jörg Müller points out tree stumps where fungi have spread.

“It takes about three weeks for the bark beetle to kill a tree,” he explains. “Then the mushrooms come.”

In nature there are always winners and losers, Müller adds.

In the national park, 200 species of mushroom have benefited from deadwood. The barbastelle bat was also endangered until the bark beetle “created a great habitat for it.”

At the edges of the national park, spruces infested by the bark beetle have been removed to prevent it from spreading to adjacent forests.

The bark beetle problem is ultimately man-made, Müller says. Spruces are popular in industrial forestry. By growing spruce forests, humans built an ideal home for the insect.

READ ALSO: Germany's climate-stressed forests face 'catastrophe' as bugs attack

“The table was set, and then the big feast began,” Müller says.

The National Park can also boast a completely different kind of resettlement: the beaver has discovered the Bavarian Forest and 25 of the protected animals now live in the national park.

The corona pandemic has put 50th anniversary celebrations on hold. However, Leibl promises that this will be made up for next year. 

An expansion of the national park is under discussion as a form of birthday gift. Around 600 hectares of state forest on the border of the Czech national park Sumava could be assigned to the national park.

The expansion would create the largest forested national park in the country.

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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 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.