Camping in the Wilderness
Free translation of an article from Outdoor Magazine - 09/03 dated 14 December 2003
The residents determine the limits of freedom - the rules. And there are more than enough of them in Germany: In Germany, there are approximately 233 people per square kilometer; in Norway, there are only 13. Because of that, in Scandanavian countries, as opposed to the many laws that deal with camping, you can park your tent just about anywhere. If you want to know what is allowed and what is not allowed in Germany, you have to wade through a jungle of paragraphs in the law books.
If you call anyone in the German ministry responsible for this subject or members of the hiking and nature preservation clubs whether you are allowed to camp in the countryside, at the end of the phone line, you can expect to hear a deep sigh. Eventually, they will usually come back with the cowardly, but diplomatic phrase, “Well.... that depends!” So, we will try to explain the most important laws in the following paragraphs.
In any case, the one rule that always applies to camping legally in the countryside, is that you are allowed to enter the property where you want to camp. And in Germany, this is not regulated consistently throughout the entire country. The Federal Protection Act and the Federal Forest Act both provide a framework for the separate federal states within Germany. The laws regarding entering public lands are found in federal state nature protection laws. To make them easy to follow, there is a set of rules that you can apply to a North-South separation. So in Bavaria, Baden-Wuertemberg, Saarland, and Saxony, you are allowed to enter any property, even unpopulated private property, without the owner’s permission. The exceptions include fields that are used for farming, forestry areas, and other areas that are in use. In the northern federal states, hikers and bikers are limited generally to using trails, dirt roads, and unused land, In other words, you must stay on pathways unless otherwise posted.
The individual laws of the federal states can also be further limited by special clauses in each community, which means it is not enough to just look at the laws of the federal states. Theoretically, you have to check the laws in every courthouse in every community to be certain.
Camping in open areas, with the exception of forests, is not explicitly forbidden in any federal state. In Germany, the principle of the rights of omission applies, which means, if something is not expressly forbidden, it is allowed. This is different for camping on private land. There, the general rule applies that if you want to sleep on private property, you have to ask the permission of the owner. These are only limited by the rules about entering property mentioned above.
Camping in a tent or sleeping under the stars is nothing more than remaining for a short time on the land and, therefore, it is covered only under the laws regarding entering property. Entering property, according to the judges, means only remaining for a short time in a land area. For both expressions, it has to do with so-called undefined terms of law. The line between where remaining for a short time stops and temporarily dwelling on the land begins has to be determined in each individual case. So, ”that depends....”
Camping in the woods is another matter. The forests are included in the “out-of-doors”, but there are separate laws for the forests in each federal state. There is a clear definition for a forest: every area of land that is planted with trees, but also areas where trees have been cut down or cleared, forest trails, forest separation areas and security strips, clearings and meadows, wild animal feeding zones, log storage areas, and other areas that belong to a forest, such as moors, fields of heather, and swamps. The laws of each federal state vary, so to be certain, you need to check them all.
The same applies for the general behavior regulations. According to these regulations, anyone in a forest area must “behave in such a manner, that the inhabitants of the forest are as undisturbed as possible and the so that the economic use of the forest is not disturbed. Additionally, the “forest may not be endangered, damaged, or spoiled and the peace of others is not disturbed” as stated in the Brandenburg law text. In Baden-Wuertemburg, Berlin, Brandenburg, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, North Rhine Westfalia, Saxony, Saxony-anhalt, tenting in forests is expressly forbidden and requires special permission from the local forestry office.