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The German Camping Club (1953)

The economic upswing in West Germany in the 1950s enabled the return of tourism, which had largely ground to a halt during the final years of the war and the postwar period. With a growing number of Germans motorized, the popular new forms of tourism included “camping” in the pleasant countryside.

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The letter carrier brings mountains of new membership forms, circulars are duplicated and sent out, triptiques and carnets are compiled, preorders are taken for the promptly sold-out bumper stickers, pennants, and camping guides, member and newspaper files are completed, and thousands of inquiries are answered. More and more sporting goods stores are applying to become authorized consultants. The shelves are heaped with campground registers from all over Europe, guidelines for developing campgrounds, and a model of campground rules. Two dozen binders can barely contain the correspondence from the first four months of this year. The two large rooms and a staff of seven have long since ceased to be sufficient. This, then, is the office of the German Camping Club in Munich, Ainmillerstraße 25. The German camping movement is gathering around its green-black flag with a tent in the large “C.” Close collaboration with the automobile clubs goes without saying. The expansion of the organization in local clubs is making daily progress.

The whole thing is run with a sure hand by Dr. Eckart, chairman of the club and one of the oldest and most experienced pioneers of the German camping movement (how he does this on the side, being a businessman, is his secret). It all came about like this: the year was 1947, when two American officers he did not know and an English civilian contacted him. What was the matter with German camping? Something had to be done, and quickly, and no one was better suited than Eckart. After a few detours, this became the new start. Only a year later the club was founded, and shortly thereafter, when other German sports were still living in involuntary obscurity, it had already been accepted into the International Camping Association Paris, which today comprised 27 national clubs.

The German club had barely been born when the entire world starting writing to it with an average “daily output” of fifty letters. First question: “Where in Germany can one camp?” Unfortunately one could not, at least not at the sort of campgrounds that foreign fans of camping were used to. Eckart immediately began, systematically but without funds, to create campgrounds in the face of the usual foot-dragging and ignorance. Letters were sent to 2,200 West German communities. A questionnaire was included. “Inquiry sheet for campgrounds” it was called, and there was nothing it did not ask about. Five hundred communities answered back, with the Black Forest responding in a particularly friendly and receptive manner. In early 1953, the Club issued the Camping Guide with information about nearly 200 recognized sites. By now there are about a hundred more. Incidentally, it should be noted that France has around 3,000 sites, among them a great many superb private sites. It should further be noted as an aside that contrary to a widely held view, it is not America that is the home of the camping movement, but England. Germany, thrown out of the development by the war and by a period in which people were not particularly enamored of individual hiking, is now connecting up again. But the individuals with the urge to separate themselves are now invariably bunching together into new masses on the campgrounds. At least they are masses of like-minded people, which plays a certain role.

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