You want me to walk how far? Are you kidding? Those may very well be the first words out of someone’s mouth when the subject of volksmarching comes up. But what exactly is volksmarching, and why is it so popular with Americans living in Germany, as well as other parts of Europe?
A volksmarch is an organized and marked walk (or run, if you prefer) through the countryside and towns. This sport is a favorite among Americans because it’s not just about walking long distances -- it’s about traveling and experiencing Europe firsthand. In addition to Germany, IVV walks are held in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, England, Scotland, the The Netherlands and many other countries. Each has its own unique flair, making volksmarching an excellent way to experience these cultures. Volksmarching is all over the United States, too, you can take the sport home with you after your European experience.
For completing the walk, some clubs even offer an award or prize that you may want to add to your selection of collectibles. The award varies from club to club, but some of the more popular prizes are decorative plates, beer steins, cups and stuffed toys. Germany seems to be the country that has the best prizes. Belgium and The Netherlands usually only offer stickers as prizes. These are at an additional cost of about 50 euro cents and can be collected in a separate book from your IVV credit stamps.
At the start
So how do you get started? First, you can find a list of each week’s volksmarches and general directions at www.stripes.com in the European travel page on Thursdays. The directions will get you in the general vicinity, after which you should look for IVV (International Federation of Popular Sports) signs leading you to the START/ZIEL (start/finish). Once at the start, you must decide which distance you wish to walk and then purchase a start card for each participant.
The two most popular trail lengths are 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) and 20 kilometers (12.4 miles). Some clubs also offer 5-, 42- and 50-kilometer trails. The 5- or 10-kilometer trails are highly recommended if you have never volksmarched before.
In Germany, the price for the standard start card is 1.50 euros for the IVV credit stamp. If the club offers an award that you want, your start card will cost 3.80 euros (1.50 euros standard price plus 2.30 for the award). Fill in your name and local street address (no APO addresses) as soon as you receive it — this is especially important should you drop your completed card on the trail. Other countries have their own price guidelines, and sometimes the price is based upon the prize they are offering, but the basic walk should only be a euro or two per person.
On the trail
To help you find your way, paths normally are well marked. The most common trail markings consist of brightly colored tape wrapped around tree branches, posts, etc. Other methods include painted signs or arrows placed on the ground in sawdust. When multiple distances are offered, the club will use different colored markers to help the walker distinguish between trails.
Control points, or Kontrolle, are posted every 3 to 6 kilometers. (If you choose to walk a shorter distance, say a 5-kilometer route, there might not be a Kontrolle point.) Present your start card for a validation stamp. These Kontrolle stops serve as break areas. Usually you can find free tea or buy sandwiches, sodas or even some alcoholic beverages.
After you successfully complete the walk, present your validated start card and any IVV incentive awards program books at the Stempelstelle table. The awards program is separate from the prize found at each walk and is broken into two types of participation: events (10, 30, 50, and every additional 25 events) and distance (every 500 kilometers). Through this program you can earn awards consisting of stick pins, cloth patches and certificates indicating your level of achievement.
Once your books are marked with the official IVV stamp your start card will be returned to you if you purchased an award. Next, go the table marked Mediallenausgabe to retrieve your award.
These events usually are very festive and include inexpensive food and drink and, many times, live music at the start hall. Now that you’ve finished your walk, grab a wurst and a drink and get to know your German hosts.
Contact the volksmarching club nearest you for more information and assistance. Club members can explain the IVV incentive awards program and their individual club’s programs in more detail as well as offer many valuable walking tips.
Now that you know what volksmarching is all about, pick up your walking stick and join your fellow walkers on the trail. Experience Europe, and meet your hosts, firsthand!