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During the last 10-15 years a vast network of sites for motorhomes has grown up all over Germany. This is similar to the “Aires de Service” network in France (see Peejay’s Mini Guide here), however there is an important difference: While the French system focuses primarily on providing service points for motorhomes, where you can dump waste water and top up your fresh water supply, the primary intention behind the German “Stellplatz” is to provide a sleeping spot. Nevertheless, like many Aires de Service cater for the tired; many Stellplatz sites are equipped with a service point.
Some words about the term “Stellplatz”: When you look around in German motorhome forums and magazines, you will find that this term will have many different meanings, ranging from an unofficial “Wild Camping” spot over what we are discussing here up to a place for winter storage. So there is some need for a definition, and that is what I mean with “Stellplatz” in this guide:
A Stellplatz is a place not on a camp site where you are officially allowed to spend at least one night in a motorhome.
By the way, the plural of “Stellplatz” in German is “Stellplätze”, and you may find some different terms as well (like “Reisemobil-Übernachtungsplatz”), depending on the imagination of the provider. But the motorhome icon has meanwhile become standard almost everywhere.
On most Stellplatz sites you may only stay for a limited period. This is usually indicated on local signs either by the number of nights (or days) or by number of hours. If there is no indication at all then a period of 2-3 nights can be seen as appropriate. Sometimes, as seen left, a Stellplatz may only be used on certain days of the week. Usually in such cases there is another Stellplatz serving the remaining days near by.
Like in France many sites in Germany are run by the local councils, but you also find many private sites e.g. at motorhome (accessory) dealers, wine yards, restaurants, swimming pools, marinas, adjacent to (but not on) camp sites. There are also some successful Stellplatz projects being run as a commercial private enterprise like the one in Recklinghausen at the “Arena auf Schalke”, home of the famous soccer club “Schalke 04”.
What do they provide?
You will find a wide variety of Stellplatz sites, ranging from a grubby motorhome dealer‘s backyard over secluded, almost “wild” spots up to almost campsite-like, well kept sites with dedicated pitches and all kinds of facilities. In the Stellplatz guide books and databases (see below) it is normally indicated what services they provide.
Be aware that the typical Stellplatz is designed for self-sustained motorhomes, so do not expect toilets, showers or any other facilities you would take for granted on a camp site! As a consequence the bye-laws on most Stellplatz sites allow only motorhomes with built-in waste tanks and toilets, so tuggers and some campervans have to stay out. Be also aware that you are in Germany, where public toilets (at least such in working condition…) are far less abundant than in UK!
Most sites nowadays do provide at least some kind of service point for motorhomes. And on many sites without a service point you will find at least a notice board which describes the location of the nearest service point. Most of these service points are industrial motorhome service posts similar to the ones you find in France, but usually from other manufacturers. However you will still sometimes find the “hole-in-the-ground-plus-water-tap” solution, which can even be very handy especially for large vans but bear the disadvantage of not being frost-proof.
The most frequent service post model is called “Holiday-Clean”. This has a common emptying point for grey and black water under a lid at the front base of the post. It is very handy to empty a portable toilet cassette into it, but emptying a built-in tank is impossible without a flexible hose. The sink can be flushed by pressing a button on the front of the post. While dumping and flushing is free of charge with this model the fresh water connector (usually ½-inch thread) is usually coin-operated. Sometimes there is an additional ground sink available where you can drive over. This is then normally only intended for grey water and not for toilet wastes.
Still second on the “charts” is the “Sani-Station”. Here all functions are coin-operated and timer-controlled, so you should have everything ready before you throw in your coin. After inserting the coin the green light on the control panel will light up, then you select with one of the two white buttons which function you want to use (dumping or fresh water). If dumping is selected then a shutter will now open on the side of the post giving access to a common sink for grey and black water. Again you need either a portable container or a flexible hose. Behind the shutter is also a fresh water pipe which is only meant for flushing toilet cassettes. After a certain time a beeping sound indicates that you either have to insert another coin or the shutter will close. If fresh water is selected then the water tap to the right of the coin slot will be activated for a certain period of time.
Another model which is found more and more frequently is the “ST-SAN”. This is a stainless-steel box with a ground sink in a certain distance in front of it. Here the ground sink is covered by a lid and used both for grey and black water. You can drive over the sink, but open the lid before as depending on the ground clearance of your van this may be impossible once the van is parked over it. On the front panel of the box is a knob for flushing the ground sink and on the side is a (usually coin-operated) water tap.
There are meanwhile numerous other models. Some of them will even talk to you, as seen on the new Stellplatz in Osnabrück! All have in common that they can be made winter proof. However not all of them are, so you might find places where the service point is turned off at times of frost.
Some of the more comfortable Stellplatz sites also provide electric hook-ups. Usually they are the blue CEE sockets known from camp sites. But, unless explicitly indicated, do not expect them to be rated to more than 4 Amps, so should you operate an electric heater you might blow the fuse. The typical fees range from 0.5 to 1 EUR per kWh or 10 hours. Sometimes their usage is included in the Stellplatz fee or they are even free of charge. In quite some cases the capacity of the Stellplatz will exceed the number of available hook-ups, and then you either have to be there early enough, or stay without hook-up, or share a connection with your fellow motorhomers.
Most Stellplatz sites do not have marked pitches. So if the site gets cramped you may have to come to terms with your neighbours and sometimes live with reduced space between the vans. That is part of the “Stellplatz Feeling”. Keep in mind that you are not on a camp site.
This also means that in many cases it is not possible to reserve or pre-book a pitch on a Stellplatz.
How to find them?
There are several Stellplatz guide books available. Usually they are on stock at motorhome dealers, camping accessory dealers, magazine shops at railway stations and at some petrol stations. Some of them can also be ordered via Internet.
The most comprehensive guide book and my personal favourite for Germany is the “Bordatlas”, issued by the publisher of one of Germany’s two most important motorhome magazines. It can be ordered via http://www.bordatlas.de/ . It is only in German, but as it is alphabetically sorted by town name and all important information is provided by pictograms you should have no problem using it. It also provides geographic coordinates to feed into your GPS if you have one.
There are also some Web pages providing Stellplatz lists, the most comprehensive I have seen so far being http://www.touring24.info/.
Once in town there are usually local signs (local means black on white in Germany) with motorhome symbols indicating the way to the Stellplatz. These signs are sometimes very small, though.
How to pay?
Well, sometimes you just don’t. Many Stellplatz sites are free of charge and you only pay for the services you use like fresh water, hook-up etc. Sometimes even these services are free! Some others are basically free, but ask for a donation. Please give generously in such occasions! Sometimes you will find a Pay & Display model, and of course there are the sites where a warden goes round and collects the fee. In the latter cases there usually is a box somewhere close to the exit where you are requested to put in your fee should you leave before the warden arrives. Please do not follow the habits of some others and drive away without paying just before the warden arrives.
If the Stellplatz is run by a restaurant, hotel, vineyard or shop, then you usually pay there. Sometimes the fee will be reimbursed if you buy something. Unfortunately especially some of the restaurant sites have been misused too often, so that the owners now only allow overnight stops for customers.
As already mentioned the service stations, hook-ups and ticket machines are usually coin-operated (Germany still is a “cash-country” where credit cards are not very common), so see that you have an ample stock of 50-cent, 1- and 2-Euro coins in your van. “Jetons” like in France are hardly ever used in Germany, its cash that counts.
In some very few cases you need to get a key (against a deposit) e.g. at the local tourist office to operate the service point and/or the hookup. I am not really fond of such solutions as you are dependent on their opening times, but if you intend to stay a little longer then you probably don’t mind.
This is a somewhat difficult chapter, as you will sometimes find (usually German!) motorhomers who don’t give a damn about such things. Nevertheless I want to encourage you to follow some basic rules when using a Stellplatz:
Be aware that quite some Stellplatz projects are disputed; there have even been cases where local camp site owners have started a lawsuit against the local council providing a Stellplatz. And certain rotten apples among our community provide ideal arguments for the Stellplatz opponents.
Of course, many Stellplatz sites have their (written) charter, which is usually on display on a notice board and which will tell you clearly what you may do and what not. Remember, you are in Germany! ;-) But if there is no such charter, then I recommend respecting the following rules:
Never dump any waste water elsewhere than into a sanitary station. Also do not dump any rubbish except into a rubbish bin. Both would be a punishable act under German law, even if you release grey water into a street drain that is not explicitly assigned for it. Only if you are using no chemicals then it seems appropriate that you dump the contents of your toilet cassette into a public toilet.
Especially if a Stellplatz is crowded: Don’t occupy more space than needed. Especially never “reserve” a pitch, unless this is in agreement with the site owner.
Don’t run a generator (or the engine for battery charge), unless all your neighbours (including those in the houses nearby) agree. Complaints about generator noise (and barbecue fumes) are the most frequent reasons for Stellplatz closures.
Finally I have put together a list of the most important (Stellplatz and motorhome-related) German expressions and their English translation: