Germans love their sport. As in other countries, many of the top performers here are as well known as Chancellor Angela Merkel or German-born former Pope Benedict XVI. No doubt, you’re familiar with a few names already – the Formula One stars Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel, for example.
As drivers’ champions past and present, they have fans around the world. The former tennis stars Boris Becker and Steffi Graf also remain popular, if perhaps less well known than during their active careers. Football, too, remains a major part of Germany’s sporting identity. The attacking midfielder Mesut Özil, who has Turkish roots, has won the admiration of fans worldwide. That said, he has yet to achieve the fame of Franz Beckenbauer, who lifted the World Cup as captain of the winning German side in 1974. Being well over the age of 65, Beckenbauer hung up his boots some years ago, but the Germans still refer to him affectionately as the “Kaiser”. As is fitting for a Kaiser, he has a huge empire: Germany’s football association, the Deutsche Fußball-Bund, which has more than 6.8 million members, including almost 25,500 clubs and about 161,000 teams. This makes it the world’s largest sporting association.
Yet there is much more to sport in Germany than just football. With a total of 91,000 sports clubs with 27 million members, there are opportunities to get involved in a wide range of activities, including American football, basketball, baseball, handball, ice hockey, swimming, athletics, billiards, tae kwon do, kung fu, and even chess.
Apart from sports, you can also be sure of finding people who share a passion for your favourite hobby – be it playing the trumpet, singing in a choir, breeding horses, or playing online computer games. Much of this, of course, can be done on your own, without the support of a club and fellow club members.
Cycling is also highly popular in Germany. Despite their ongoing love affair with the automobile, the Germans have become passionate cyclists in recent years. For many, a bike is cool lifestyle accessory. At the same time, lots of cities and municipalities now have a large and expanding network of cycle paths. All in all, the combined length of these networks now extends to 75,000 kilometres – more than enough for longer tours and excursions. Known as Fernradwege, these cycle trails are used by an increasing number of people as a great way of enjoying the countryside.
With 60 million tourists a year, Germany is Europe’s second most popular holiday destination after Spain. There are good reasons for this. Located in the heart of Europe, Germany borders on nine countries.
Starting from the north, these are, clockwise, as follows: Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands. And depending on where you enter the country, Germany has a completely different character.
The north, for example, is bounded by the coastal region of the Baltic and the North Sea, where the intertidal zone known as the Wadden Sea is a World Heritage Site. This is the largest of Germany’s 14 national parks and boasts the richest birdlife of anywhere in Europe. The north is also home to such contrasting attractions as the Mecklenburg Lake District and St. Pauli, Hamburg’s notorious nightclub area.
Further to the east is Berlin, home to 3.5 million people. Germany’s once-divided capital attracts around 20 million visitors a year, many of whom come to enjoy not only the sights, such as the Brandenburg Gate, but also Berlin’s very reasonable prices. In fact, Berlin is substantially cheaper than many other capital cities and boasts a rich cultural programme, which makes it particularly popular among younger people.
Moving further south, between the Harz and Erzgebirge regions, we come to the Bavarian Forest, just one of Germany’s many wooded areas. Indeed, 32 percent of the total surface area in Germany is forested. In addition, there are over 100 conservation areas and a dozen or so biosphere reserves, which are committed to sustainable development and biodiversity. Further south in Bavaria lie the foothills of the Alps, which boast numerous ski resorts as well as Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze.
To the west is the Black Forest and the River Rhine, which flows northwards towards the most populous of Germany’s federal states, North Rhine-Westphalia, with its 18 million inhabitants. In the Rhine-Ruhr area, one of world’s 30 largest conurbations, the various cities more or less merge with one another. The region is also home to a variety of family-oriented amusement parks, ranging from Legoland in Oberhausen to Movie Park Germany in Bottrop and Phantasia Land in Brühl, one of the 10 most visited amusement parks in Europe.