Wanna go for a walk?

August 3, 2010

By Major Steve Lamb, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs

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“Getting away from it all” in Germany can be easy, inexpensive and, if you work at it, a great way to improve family communication.  I have no idea when volksmarching (German for “peoples’ march”) started but having experienced my first one this weekend I think it is a great idea and I would recommend it to everyone.

This social event is simple; a non-competitive, outdoor event where participants walk several kilometers down paths etc. for the award of a patch or medal or some other memento.  They usually end at a small fest where there is food, beer, music etc.  The real reward is fresh air and the chance to really talk with whomever you are walking with.  I would say there is a health benefit to this exercise but that is entirely dependent on how many bratwursts and hefeweizen (heavy German wheat beer) you consume at the fest after the walk!

My wife and I took our six children, one young guest, our Chocolate Lab and a friend’s Japanese Shiba Inu to the Stuttgart German – American Wandering Club’s 35th Annual Volksmarch which was conducted just southeast of Stuttgart, Germany, 31 Aug. 2010.    In a previous life my wife was assigned in Germany and had done a small volksmarch as part of her German Head Start class, but for the kids and myself this was a first.

The cost was really inexpensive, 1.50 Euro to participate and get the Internationaler Volkssportverband (International Volkssport Federation) Stamp or 2.50 Euro to get the stamp and a memento.   Dogs are free but you need to clean up after them.  Regular participants have books that they get stamped to have a historical record of their conquests but I just wanted to have the kids get the medal to say they had at least done one of these while we are here in Germany.  I had grown up with the stories my parents told of when they were assigned here in the Army 38 years ago.  Money was short for non-commissioned officers so inexpensive sightseeing was one of the best forms of entertainment they had.

For our volksmarch we got to choose between three different trails: 7, 12 or 22 kilometers in length.  We were not really sure what we were getting into, so we chose to do the seven kilometer trail and in the end that seemed about perfect considering my youngest daughters’ physical capabilities.

The self-paced trail initially led us through some small neighborhood alleys and roads flanked by beautiful gardens and fruit trees.  Traditional German homes intermingled with newer contemporary ones gave my older son, an engineering student, plenty to see and appreciate while the gardens and other flora were my wife’s favorite sites.

Eventually the trail, marked by colored tape guides, led into the woods.  Here we were shaded by huge trees as we strolled down manicured trails free from the trash etc. that most Americans would expect.  Germans take a lot of pride in their landscape and littering is just not acceptable. 

Half way through the walk there is a rest area where they stamp validate your participation ticket and provide free water or tea.  You can also buy beer, which I have gathered over the last nine months is a essential element of any successful German activity.

I am thankful for digital cameras because were it not for huge storage capacities we would likely have had to carry 40 or 50 rolls of film to cover all that pictures my wife and my middle daughter took of everything from plants to vistas to bugs and wildlife.  These photographic records of our outings will be of great value to our children some day when they are sharing with our future grandchildren!

Part of the trail led through some farmland and orchards, down winding paths and eventually up a huge hill (not my favorite part) and back to the start point. 

All along the hour and a half walk we spoke to the kids and each other on all sorts of topics.  We didn’t bring cell phones or iPods; my wife and I decided that no electronics of any kind were permitted so they wouldn’t interfere with our communication with the kids and our enjoyment of nature and culture.  Even better than that relative silence, we had to opportunity to see all sorts of wildlife and flora in its natural environment while really talking to the kids.  We feel communication, open and inviting, is the best possible way to stay synchronized with our children as they are growing and learning and events like these are incredible opportunities for opening up those doors.

Seven kilometers is just over four miles.  All the kids, ranging in age from 11 year old twins to my 18 year old son, handled the length just fine but I wouldn’t recommend longer distances unless a family were to build up to it first.  The dogs were fine too; they slept really well the rest of the afternoon.

My wife and I fully believe we are “building memories” with the children in each of our family activities.  While some of the kids may not have enjoyed spending a morning walking “with no purpose” we can’t say we haven’t created the opportunity to share Europe with them and to experience a truly European tradition.

Volksmarching is a great family activity and I would recommend it to everyone.


One Response to “Wanna go for a walk?”

  1. family activities are very nice to have, it also strengthens the bond among family members -*,

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