Around the globe most of the land is owned by just a few people and this affects how much access we have to it.
I’m not a believer that land is somehow French, German or English and for me talk of sacred soil is weird and somewhat nudging on nationalist fanaticism. What I believe is that I understand that people and communities have a strong affinity with areas (especially where they live) and that their ability to ‘enjoy’, including the ‘right to roam’ or work the land is subject to socio-economic circumstances.
Past generations’ mobility was often framed by how far a person could walk in a day or if they could afford a horse or even a carriage. The coming of the bicycle saw people increase their mobility footprint and additionally it played a part in women’s suffrage.
In tandem with growing economies people naturally began to explore the public realm and then go beyond it (further heightened by private car use), ‘private land’ – ‘keep out’ or ‘no trespassing’ signs etc. would mark the limit of movement. In the UK the mass trespass by walking groups in the 1950’s forced change and when mountain biking first became a thing, I and my friends would enter races, not because we were athletic rather that many events were held in areas that were then not open to us. Now UK forests are open and some have built specific cycling facilities to garner in the cycling pound (very much the case in Wales). In the UK we can ride/walk along Bridleways, walk footpaths and even drive on a BOAT (Byway open to all traffic) and combined with national or local parkland and National Forest this does offer great opportunities to roam.
The laws regarding access in England and Wales are similar whilst Scotland is more liberal but Northern Ireland in contrast seems feudal. I have travelled many a road and trail in the UK and now realise that I was pedalling along narrow corridors of public access.
But what I have noticed In Germany: the countryside seems more accessible with farm roads open, forests open and the German constitution states access is a citizen’s right – “All Germans shall have the right to move freely throughout the federal territory” (although it took the 1975 Forest Act to gain access to the forests). Of course there are caveats and access can be restricted for operational reasons (farming/forestry), and this can be annoying. What of course remains is that much land is restricted by private ownership but unlike England access is seemingly less constrained and there is a general tendency amongst German society to see it that way. People have lobbied in Germany for the protection of the environment for generations and there are similarities between British Victorians and their German counterparts e.g. the preservation of Box Hill or Epping Forest and huge reforestation projects such as was undertaken the Goettingen Wald in Germany, all three resulting in public access.
The end of the Soviet Union also saw the abandonment of the internal border that separated East and West Germany and much work has been done to make this a ‘green belt’ and push back against development upon it and enclosure. Similarly defunct NATO and Warsaw Pact military complexes have been handed over to public access such as at Kerstlingroder Feld.
The issue of open access to land in Germany remains a hot topic and for instance when a lake/river path was proposed in Berlin this was successfully opposed in the German courts which ruled that the owners of riverside houses could fence off access. These houses had been in a restricted zone in the DDR and had been occupied by Communist regime apparatchiks. There is also the amazing situation at the Hambacher Forst where a mining company wants to destroy ancient forest to expand their open cast operations. This highlights that the fight for the environment and access is not over in Germany, but as I rode my bike on Easter Saturday and I enjoyed open farm and forest roads including the wonderful ‘Kopfsteinpflaster Carousel’ I felt very grateful for what access was available and believe me it is more than I am used to.
Of course these are just the musings of a stranger in a new strange land but I think there are also less signs in Germany telling you things are ‘verboten’. Plus there seems less conflict here with other users and I get lots of smiles from other users.
See also The Harz – Spit out of Middle Germany
Please support green lobby groups and climate change activists – the ‘Bund’ is one and can be found here at https://www.bund.net/
The ride: No GPS this time but I followed this previous ride – https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/3560944904