Wild Camping and Overnight Parking: Germany

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Author: Boff

Location: Uppsala, Sweden

PostPosted: Mon Mar 09, 2009 12:41 pm    Post subject:  Wild Camping and Overnight Parking: Germany

Wild Camping and Overnight Parking: Germany (Author = Boff)

1. Wild Camping in General:

1.a) Q: Is wild camping in Germany illegal?
A: Yes, "Wild Camping" is illegal in Germany! "Overnight Parking" however is not.

1.b) Q: By the way, what is "Wild Camping"?
A: In the English language the term "Wild Camping" usually means spending a night outside of official camp sites. However, in most European countries, like here in Germany, a clear distinction is made between "Wild Camping" and "Overnight Parking".

1.c) Q: And what is this difference?
A: As long as you simply pull up onto a car park where it is legal to park your van and spend one night there this is Overnight Parking. If you have a drink or meal before bedtime and take a shower and have breakfast before leaving next morning this is still Overnight Parking.
If you put anything outside of your van (like camping furniture), roll out an awning, run a generator, fire up a barbeque or do anything else like that then this is considered as Wild Camping. Usually it is also considered as Wild Camping if you stay on the same spot for more than 24 hours. As a rule of thumb one can say that as long as you could drive off at any time without leaving the vehicle or leaving anything behind, then you are Parking.

1.d) Q: What else should I consider?
You should always keep a low profile and avoid too large gatherings of motorhomes. The maximum number of motorhomes depends of course on the size of the car park, the proximity of inhabited houses (anyway, "Wild Camping" close to houses is a contradiction in terms, isn't it?) and the "sensitivity" of the surroundings. Especially if you are travelling in a group of motorhomes you should seriously consider to only pull up onto camp sites and official motorhome sites.

2. The Legal Situation:

2.a) Q: What is the legal situation in Germany?
A: As already said, "Wild Camping" is forbidden by law, but there is no explicit ban on "Overnight Parking". However certain local councils and the province of Schleswig-Holstein interdict what they call "usage of mobile dwellings" outside of certified camp sites. There is however a loophole. And there is the "Stellplatz" network.

2.b) Q: What is this loophole?
A: German Road Traffic Legislation requires you to pull up to a car park, take a break and sleep if you are too tired to travel on. And if you happen to be on the road with a motorhome you may of course use your bed to sleep.

2.c) Q: And what is a "Stellplatz"?
A: A Stellplatz (acronym for "Wohnmobilstellplatz" or "Reisemobilstellplatz") is a place not on a camp site where you are officially allowed to stop over with your motorhome. Many of these Stellplatz sites are equipped with motorhome facilities like sanitary stations or hookups. Some charge a fee, some others don't. Further information you will find in the "Mini Guide to Stellplatz Sites" here at MHF.

2.d) Q: Are there any restrictions depending on the weight or size of my motorhome?
A: Yes, there are! And weight restrictions are usually based on the "Maximum Technical Permissible Laden Mass" (MTPLM) which is plated under the bonnet of your van. These restrictions are:
- Motorhomes over 2.8 tons MTPLM may not park on pavements where this is allowed to ordinary cars.
- Motorhomes over 3.5 tons MTPLM are considered as lorries and have to obey all restrictions marked with the lorry symbol. Except the speed restriction! There is a new rule that motorhomes between 3.5 and 7.5 tons may go up to 100 kph (instead of 80).
- Motorhomes over 7.5 tons MTPLM may not park in Residential Areas between 22:00 and 06:00 and on Sundays and Public Holidays.

3. Motorway Service Stations and Road Lay-bys:

3.a) Q: Am I allowed to spend a night on a motorway lay-by?
A: Yes, unless overnight parking restrictions as mentioned in 4.b-c) are signposted. However keep in mind that road and especially motorway lay-bys are not always the most pleasant places to stay, because of traffic noise, exhaust fumes etc. and that there are certain security risks.

3.b) Q: What about safety and security there?
A: Some motorway lay-bys (not only) in Germany tend to attract certain unpleasant, if not illegal, nocturnal activities. That may range from (usually harmless) teen-age sexual experiences on their car's back seat up to trafficking in drugs or other illegal goods. So it is generally advised not to spend a night on a motorway lay-by!

3.c) Q: But what about the illuminated service stations where many other motorhomes and lorries stay as well. Isn't there "safety by numbers"?
A: No, simply forget about it! Almost all reported incidents of nightly motorhome burglaries in Germany have happened on motorway service stations. In fact illumination seems to help these low-lifes rather than scare them off, probably because they do not have to use torches. And the more motorhomes there are the higher is the probability that they find what they are looking for. In addition the ever-present traffic noise covers their activities, and the nearby motorway allows them a quick and easy escape. Anyway, there is (besides the Stellplatz network, of course) a better alternative, the so-called "Autohof":

3.d) Q: What is an "Autohof"?
A: Besides the "official" motorway service stations (called "Raststätte") which are directly accessible from the motorway, a network of private-run service stations called "Autohof" has developed over the last decades. They are not directly accessible from the motorway, but always very close to an exit and usually signposted already on the motorway. Originally they catered for lorries and their drivers, but meanwhile also motorhomes and passenger cars are very welcome. Most of them allow overnight stays, a growing number also offers sanitary stations for motorhomes or even electric hookup.
Other than the official service stations their parking grounds are fenced and guarded, at least a CCTV system monitors the entrance and exit. Therefore they charge a fee, but this will sometimes be refunded when buying something in their shops, restaurants or petrol stations. In most cases the offered quality (of food, toilets etc.) is also better than on the official stations, they are less noisy and fuel prices are even lower! So in case no stellplatz goes by an "Autohof" can be a very handy and relatively safe alternative to a motorway station or lay-by.

3.e) Q: And what lay-bys on other roads?
A: Depending on the proximity to urban agglomerations and the importance of the road the same problems as with motorway lay-bys could occur, but usually to a lesser degree. However in certain areas motorhome-based prostitution is quite common. So if you find a motorhome already parking on your desired lay-by, better check for conspicuous red lights etc. before you settle down. Though there is normally no direct risk related to this kind of activity, there will be "customers" coming and going all night and maybe even knocking on the wrong door, yours! Not exactly a guarantee for a quiet night...
On the other hand there are numerous lay-bys and hiker's car parks which are absolutely quiet at night. Nevertheless, unless you are already familiar with the surroundings you should at least arrive before dusk and check the area for the typical traces of any annoying activities.

4. Public and Private Car Parks:

4.a) Q: What about Car Parks in general?
A: Car parks in Germany are usually marked with the well-known symbol (white P on blue background). They may be restricted to certain periods or types of vehicles by additional signs (usually black on white). If there is no additional sign then this is a general car park where all kinds of vehicles may park. But see 2.d) regarding weight restrictions! Some frequently found restrictions are discussed now:

4.b) Q: A symbol of an ordinary passenger car or a bus, what does that mean?
A: Only this kind of vehicle which is displayed on the sign may park here. So no motorhomes!

4.c) Q: A lorry?
A: One of the real blunders of German bureaucracy: All vehicles over 3.5 tons MTPLM may park here, all vehicles up to 3.5 tons may not! So with a really big motorhome you may park there, with a small one not. Stupid but true.

4.d) Q: A motorhome?
A: That's your place to go! This is an official "Stellplatz".

4.d) Q: A time definition (e.g: 22:00-06:00)?
A: The car park may only be used during the specified time.

4.e) Q: A time definition together with the word "Nicht"?
A: The car park may not be used during the specified time.

4.f) Q: "Nur mit Parkschein"?
A: Pay & Display. The time interval where P&D applies as well as the maximum duration can be found on the parking ticket machine.

4.g) Q: "Behinderte"?
A: Same as the Wheelchair icon: Only for handicapped people.

4.h) Q: "Nur für Kunden"?
A: Only for customers. Indicates that this is a private car park of a shop or restaurant etc. Of course, if you are a customer and ask the owner for permission, then you may stay.

4.i) Q: "Privat" (also in combination with any of the above):
A: This is private ground, so you should not park there even at daylight, unless you have the owner's permission.

5. In Towns and Cities:

5.a) Q: I want to spend a night in a town or city. Where can I do that?
A: An ever-increasing number of German towns and cities meanwhile provides dedicated motorhome stopover sites called "Stellplatz". See 2.c).
If there is no official Stellplatz you could check at local sports grounds or swimming pools.

5.b) Q: What about car parks at churches or graveyards?
A: In contrast to some other countries is also quite common among German motorhomers to stay on car parks at graveyards. There are even towns where such graveyard car parks are explicitly marked as Stellplatz (e.g. Isselburg).

5.c) Q: And what about museums, restaurants, marinas etc?
A: No problem, as long as you have the owner's permission. Some places, especially marinas, meanwhile provide dedicated motorhome stopover sites, but then usually charge a fee.

5.d) Q: May I simply stay in a residential area?
A: It is not illegal, but may be considered as rude by your involuntary neighbors. However, if you keep a low profile, do not obstruct any exits or roads and just stay for the night then in most cases nobody will bother about it.

5.e) Q: And in an industrial area?
A: Again this is not illegal, but even in densely-populated Germany you will find most probably more attractive locations.

6. Rubbish, Fresh and Waste Water:

6.a) Q: When I am not going on camp sites, where can I dump my waste water?
A: You will find dedicated motorhome sanitary stations all over Germany at most of the Stellplatz sites, at many "Autohof" service stations, also sometimes at motorhome dealers or petrol stations. In addition especially some of the Volkswagen "Nutzfahrzeug" (=utility vehicle) dealers have sanitary stations on their premises because they also sell motorhomes. The "Bordatlas", the German motorhomer's "bible", lists all these sanitary stations under "Entsorgungsstationen".
Do not dump any waste water into the normal road drainage sinks! This is illegal in Germany.

6.b) Q: Where do I get fresh water?
A: Also at these service stations. Or ask at petrol stations.

6.c) Q: And where do I get rid of my garbage?
A: This can be a bit of a problem in Germany. While almost all stellplatz sites provide dust bins, you might have difficulties if you really stay "in the wild" because not all car parks have dust bins. And it may be considered as rude if you throw your garbage into any domestic bins, because in some areas the garbage collection charges by weight.
For certain drink cans and bottles refund systems are in operation, but this has meanwhile grown quite complicated. Some shops only accept bottles/cans of the same brands (and size) they are selling, some brands are only available in certain areas etc.

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