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Individual and Local Sports in Germany

Countless hours on a plane, living in cramped quarters out of suitcases and boxes, disrupted eating schedules and styles - these are things that quickly force expatriates to search out physical activity.

Newcomers to Germany observe Germans are very active on a daily basis, often walking or biking to a destination rather than driving. Sunday walks by extended families along forest paths are a common sight, as are parents on bicycles with small children trailing behind.

This does not mean, however, that "physical fitness" is a fundamental cornerstone of the German culture. Most Germans do not belong to a gym (although fitness centers are available) and their sports activities are likely to be as part of a club, a Verein, on a weekly or biweekly basis. In fact, according to the German Sports Federation, one in three Germans plays sports in a club.

For the expat, this turns sports into an opportunity to do something familiar but in a different setting with the prospect of meeting new people and becoming part of the community.

A place to do both is the Turnverein, literally, a tumbling or a gymnastics club, found in almost any village. For very reasonable yearly dues (approximately Euro 100), most Turnvereins offer mother/toddler tumbling classes, gymnastics for boys and girls, and various aerobics classes for women. Other options, depending on the club, are swimming, horseback riding, Kegel (9-pin bowling or skittles) and non-competitive soccer for men. The local Turnverein is often the center of village social activities, as well, and a way for expat families to help their children integrate into the community. The best source of information is your neighbors and the local Rathaus (city hall).

Running/Walking

Runners will love Germany; a pervasive system of well-marked trails and paths makes this a runner's paradise. State geological offices publish a high-quality series of topographic maps with GPS coordinates. These are available at book or stationary stores and are often coordinated with publications from the local hiking or running clubs. Running clubs exist in larger cities and some smaller towns, as well, and are often found online.

Nordic walking is becoming quite popular in Germany. Originally summer training for cross-country skiers, Nordic walking is simply an enhanced walking style with ski poles. It provides the benefits of cross-country skiing by working the upper and lower body at the same time.

Volkslauf (also referred to as Volksmarches) - long a part of the German culture - are weekend walks along forest paths that range in distances from 5-20 kilometers. German walkers are often part of a club and participate for both individual and club credit. Like Nordic walking, Volkslauf can be both individualized and communal. Walkers register at the start location and pay a minimal fee based on whether they are walking for a prize, club credit or simply for fun. Each group - or individual - walks at their own pace, stopping at designated check points to get a stamp on the card they collected at the beginning. Upon completing the trail, walkers turn in their card, collect the prize and/or credit and then most head to a nearby tent or beer garden for a beer, bratwurst and chat. An excellent web site (in English) for information about Volkslauf in Europe is the homepage of the International Federation of Popular Sports - www.IVV-web.org.

Golf

Golf in Germany has shed its reputation as a sport only for the "elite". According to the German Golf Association (Deutscher Golf Verband), in the past 15 years the number of golf courses has more than doubled to 750. The number of golfers registered with the Association has tripled to well over 550,000. This doesn't include the thousands of golfers that are not members of a Golf Club or the thousands of expats that play the courses in Germany.

One of the things that many people comment on is the fact that the Association requires golfers to take a course and pass a test to earn a golfing license (Platzreife). Proponents insist the law is in place to keep hackers from holding up the games of others. Opponents insist it is simply a method of trying to preserve golf as a bastion for the elite. Neither of these is quite true. The idea behind the Platzreife is to ensure that beginner golfers know the rules and etiquette of the game and acquire at least the basic skills required to play golf. There are also liability issues to be considered. And, once a person has a Platzreife, they automatically have a "handicap" which is normally required to play in tournaments and on many golf courses.

Typically, membership and a handicap card from a club back home usually allow an expat to play at a German club, although the final decision rests with the individual clubs.

Beginning golfers probably need to take a course to acquire the Platzreife. Courses vary in price and length. They involve a practical test as well as a written test. The best source for information on getting the Platzreife is probably the local pro at the nearest golf course. (It's interesting to note that many of the golf pros in Germany are British or American.) Many clubs offer a three- to five-day course for players who want to obtain the Platzreife. It's also possible to take the course and the test in countries outside of Germany on a Golf Vacation.

Because of the proliferation of golf courses in Germany in the last several years, it is possible to golf at many courses without being a member. They need the business. Green Fees vary widely, but are not expensive when compared to many courses in the US, Japan and the UK.

Ask questions beforehand at a club where you would like to play or check out the German language website of the German golf association at www.Golf.de.

Bicycling

Bicycling, like running, is heaven in Germany. Germans, particularly older Germans, grew up riding bicycles, and cycles are expected and respected. An excellent web site, in English, is Bicyclegermany.com, which contains regulations, tips and self-guided tours.

Swimming

Germans love to swim! Pools are everywhere in Germany - everything from your village outdoor pool, where children still walk or ride their bikes to spend every possible minute of summer break with friends, to indoor, amusement park-like pools, designed to make water not only expensive but elaborate. Many of the latter also include saunas and wellness centers.

General sporting information

An excellent source for a list of every conceivable sporting activity within a 50-kilometer radius of your new German hometown is on the www.citysports.de web site. Although the web site is in German, it is easy to follow - with the help of a small dictionary - and the links provide addresses, phone numbers and other contact information. Simply enter your postcode and it will soon become evident whether you can play American football, practice yoga, windsurf, or learn GoGo dancing somewhere near where you live.