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Why Germans Hike More

For six years, I lived in Munich, Germany, and for six years there is one thing I did every spring and summer without fail: I hiked. A lot. It was something I hadn’t had much experience with before moving there that quickly became a central part of my life. I did it because everyone did it, but more than that, I did it because I had such easy access to it.

Coming from Munich, you can take a train and reach the Alps in about an hour. The German railroad company, the Deutsche Bahn, has an offer called the Bayern ticket: it’s a full day pass to travel anywhere in Bavaria and parts of northwestern Austria for 25 EUR for one person, to 50 EUR for five people (that’s 10 EUR per person).

The train would typically take you to a small town situated at the base of the mountains, and you would usually hop onto a bus -- where your ticket is still valid -- to get to the trailhead. Sometimes, you could just walk straight from the train. You would hike to your chosen peak, and either hike back down the way you came, or take a different route to a different town on the other side: it didn’t matter, you could just catch a different bus or train and still get to where you’re going. You would get all that for no more than 25 EUR, and sometimes as little as 10 EUR, assuming you had four friends to share your ticket with. For this reason, even people who did have access to a car would often choose not to drive, because it is cheaper, and allows you more flexibility.

Going hiking is just that easy if you live in Munich, and the trains are efficient, clean, mostly punctual, and overall pleasant to ride, assuming they’re not too crowded. Small towns in the valleys of the Alps thrive off of outdoor tourism, with biergartens and restaurants welcoming tired, hungry hikers every weekend and offering them an experience that encourages them to come back. This is how the economies in these areas work.

Returning to Boston, I understand why so many outdoor enthusiasts here are frustrated with the lack of options in terms of getting to outdoor places. Public transportation here is a joke compared to Munich, and does not extend nearly far enough to get these people to where they want to go. On top of that, it is exorbitantly expensive: it’s $13 just to get to Walpole from Boston, which is only a half hour train ride away.

For people in Boston without a car or a friend who has a car, hiking regularly is nearly impossible. Except for Ridj-it, affordable carpooling options are scarce. Driving is also not even the most comfortable option: why be cooped up in the backseat of someone else’s car, forced to sheepishly ask for a stop should you need to pee, when you could easily stretch out in a train equipped with bathrooms in every wagon?

The situation sucks here, and I doubt the government is going to do anything to improve it any time soon. In the meantime, carpooling is the only real option. It saves money for everyone, and by carpooling we put less strain on the environment, and less strain on the parking situation that visitors to many mountains deal with.

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