Germany’s “Freedom to Roam” right, or Betretungsrecht, is guaranteed by multiple federal laws. It is something that would be totally foreign to Americans. In fact, many Americans wouldn’t dream of having such a law! So what is this law, this German right, and how does it affect the lifestyle of many Germans? Let’s explore.
Hiking, Biking, and Walking Trails are All Over Germany
We moved to Germany on a cold Valentine’s Day in February. On our drive from Munich to our new home in a small village in southern Bavaria, we immediately noticed all of the people walking on trails near the A8 highway. It really surprised us as this isn’t a common sight at all in the USA. It turns out these trails often go through people’s properties and farmland, and everyone has a right to access them. This greatly affects the culture and mindset of the German people, and we have found it to be very positive.
What Does Germany’s Freedom to Roam Right Mean Exactly?
Germany protects the right to access farmland for recreational purposes, including walking and biking trails. This is known as the “right of way” or “right of access,” or Betretungsrecht in German. It ensures that the public has the right to walk or bike on designated paths through farmland, forests, and other natural areas. The Federal Nature Conservation Act (Bundeswaldgesetz), the Federal Forest Act (Bundesnaturschutzgesetz), and the Federal Water Management Act allow everyone access to the open landscapes, uncultivated land, forests, and water bodies, including cycling and horse-riding on tracks and paths. The right may be further regulated through state law.
As a result, it is quite common to see walking and biking trails all over Germany, including through farmland. Many of these trails are well-marked and maintained, and they can offer visitors a chance to explore the countryside and enjoy the natural beauty of the area. Additionally, some of these trails may offer educational opportunities, such as signs or interpretive exhibits that explain the history, ecology, or agricultural practices of the area.
Germany Isn’t the Only Country with this Right
This is actually a common right all throughout Europe, though not codified by law in each country like it is in Germany. You’ll find this right in Scotland, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Austria, Czech Republic, and Switzerland. This goes back to ancient times when nomads would roam the countryside and have access to camping, fishing, hunting, foraging, and more.
Today, each country regulates these activities differently. For instance, here in Germany, Germans only have the right to walk/hike/bike/run the trails but can’t camp or start fires. In Nordic countries such as Estonia, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland, the laws allow for more activities, as it was in ancient times. They have the opportunity to hike across or camp on another’s land (e.g., in Sweden for one or two nights), boat on someone else’s waters, and pick wildflowers, mushrooms, and berries. However, with these rights come responsibilities; that is, an obligation neither to harm, disturb, litter nor to damage wildlife or crops (see source).
How does Germany’s Right to Roam Affect the Lifestyle?
We have really enjoyed and have often used our right to roam. It gives us access to beautiful walks and hikes and encourages us all to get outside more often. So much so that we did a video on how Germany encourages everyone to get outside and move! See it here.
It’s no coincidence that Germans are healthier, stronger, and fitter than Americans! We are outside hiking, biking, and walking WAY more than we ever were in the USA. We notice that it’s not as necessary to own land or have a yard (garden) in Germany as it was for us in the USA due to this right. This community-focused mindset is something we love about German culture, and find it benefits people of ALL income levels and socio-economic backgrounds instead of just rich landowners.