Ancient forests, crystal clear lakes, wild animals - untouched nature has become a global tourist attraction. In Germany, you can experience life's diversity in nature parks stretching from the Alps to the Wadden Sea.
In autumn, when the leaves on the trees begin to turn yellow and red, nature lovers have only one thing in mind: get the hiking boots out and go walking. They tend to seek out Europe's last areas of wilderness. These have also become rare in Germany, but there are still places where unsullied nature can be found: in national parks, huge areas where often ancient life forms are protected from human interference. Like in the Berchtesgaden National Park in Bavaria, the only such protected area in the German Alps. Either with or without a ranger guide - anyone wandering the countrysidearound the turquoise-colored "Königsee" lake will soon be enchanted by the unique Alpine landscape.
The first German national parks were created in Bavaria in the 1970s. Today, there are 16 in all of Germany. The principle here is to "leave nature to nature". Like in the largest, the Wadden Sea National Park, which stretches along the North Sea coast from Lower Saxony to Schleswig-Holstein. Those wishing to explore this area while the tide is out, will have to either join a mudflats hiking tour or make use of the horse-drawn carriages. There is much to see and discover: for instance, the 800,000 hectares of Wadden Sea provides food for migratory birds that use the area as a rest stop en route.
Germany's forests are very diverse
In the past it wasn't mudflats but rather trees that shaped landscapes. You'll find the typical mix of spruce and beech trees if you hike through the forests of the Harz National Park, located in the middle of Germany. Here you can hear woodpeckers knocking on deadwood and, with a bit of luck, you might even spy a wild cat.
Primeval beech forests, like in the Hainich National Park in Thuringia, are rare. While the tranquility here will not be disturbed by the sound of an axe, saws are very much welcomed in the UNESCO Palatinate Forest Biosphere. Forest management and viticulture here in this most south-westerly German region has created a very unique landscape. Those who wish to can hike through the Palatinate Forest to the Vosges region in France, as this is Germany's biggest cross-border forest area.
How new landscapes are created
With a total of 15 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, like the Palatinate Forest, Germany has a lot to offer - within Europe only Spain outnumbers it in terms of cultural landscapes. They were not all created by forest management and cultivation, but some by other human influences, like in the Rhön Biosphere Reserve. Hikers here are confronted by the country's more recent history, as the border between West and East Germany used to traverse what has been a biosphere reserve since 1990. The old inner-German border is now both a monument and part of a nature reserve.
The Teutoburg Forest Nature Park, on the other hand, offers a bit of a historical adventure. Some 2,000 years ago, the legendary battle of Teutoburg Forest is thought to have taken place there, close to Osnabrück. One of Rome's most renowned defeats, it was the site of a successful ambush by Germanic tribes against three Roman legions led by Publius Quinctilius Varus.
Nowadays, this area is peaceful. For visitors, the park - one of 104 nature parks in Germany - serves as an area to relax and recuperate. These parks aim to attract sustainable tourism to regions that are often remote from the big cities so popular among visitors. Germany's oldest and at the same time best known nature park is the Lüneburg Heath. The heath is currently in full bloom, which means the landscape is turned into a sea of purple.