Germany is a country with a diverse participation in sports. Nearly half of the German population between ages 18 and 29 have a gym membership with the most common leisure sports being running and hiking. However, actively taking part in a sport and being a fan of a sport club are two types of things. In this article, we want to give you an introduction to the sports the Germans practice, how they exercise, and tell you more about the German sports culture.

Soccer

Soccer can be seen as Germany’s national sport. Roughly 7 million Germans are active members of a soccer club, but during international tournaments such as the World Championship or the European Championship, the number of people interested in soccer seems to be a lot higher than the amount of active members.

The championships are each held every four years and iterate in a two-year interval. There is a big fan culture around “Die Mannschaft”, the German national soccer team, with millions of Germans gathering each game to cheer them on. In every city there are public screenings of the German participation in each Championship game. In smaller cities, these events are organized by local clubs or restaurants while in bigger cities, there typically are public events held. Germans somehow call these gatherings “Public Viewing” instead of the correct term: public screening. Most Germans would not understand what you’re talking about if you use the proper expression. “Public Viewing” has first gained popularity during the 2006 World Championship held in Germany and has quickly become a part of the German culture, especially among the younger generation.

Germans not only love their national team but they are also strong supporters of the local clubs that compete in one of the most lucrative national soccer leagues in the world: The Bundesliga.
The first and second Bundesliga are the two top leagues in Germany. Each league consists of 18 clubs competing against each other in a total of 34 match days during which each team competes against one another once in their home stadium and once as guests on their rival’s battleground. The match days are spread over the weekends during the months of August to May or June of the following year with a break of usually three weeks in winter.

Given the popularity of soccer in Germany, their stadiums greatly exceed those of other sports in size and stadium capacity. The three biggest soccer stadiums are the “Signal Iduna Park” of Borussia Dortmund with a total of 81,359 seats, the stadium of FC Bayern Munich offering 75,000 fans to cheer on their team in the “Allianz Arena” and the “Olympia Stadion” in Berlin, built for the Olympic Summer Games of 1936, is home to the soccer club Hertha BSC with a capacity of 74,400 people.

The Bundesliga Season 2016/2017 ended with FC Bayern Munich in first place and being awarded the “Meisterschale” for the fifth time in a row. RB Leipzig came in second, while the BVB Dortmund finished in third place.

Besides the Bundesliga, there are mainly three other tournaments of interest for German top clubs: the Champions League in which Europe’s best clubs compete against each other and the Europe league, which is for club’s that didn’t make it into the before mentioned top tournament, are both tournaments for which the clubs qualify automatically depending on their performance in the Bundesliga. And finally the third tournament, the DFB-Pokal (cup of the German Soccer Association, the “Deutscher Fußball-Bund”), is a national cup in which also amateur soccer clubs in Germany take part. In the first rounds of this cup, it is common that an international renowned top club such as Bayern Munich meets a local amateur soccer club. While the outcomes of these games oftentimes don’t surprise, the game is definitely a highlight in many local amateur clubs’ history.

Vereine (Sport clubs)

Sports in Germany are organized in local clubs called “Vereine”. Vereine mostly commit to one kind of sport but can also have teams in different sports. These clubs usually own premises where their sport can be practiced, whether it be tennis, football, or track and field. Members can use the sport facilities and equipment for a membership fee that, depending on the kind of sport, is collected yearly or monthly. Guests who are not an official part of the club pay higher prices when and if they are allowed to use the facilities in the first place.

The way one joins a club differs depending on the kind of sport, the skill level of the club’s members, and the vacant capacity for new members on the club’s premises. In most cases, clubs welcome potential new members with great enthusiasm. The majority of the clubs offer a web page with information on how to join or regularly distribute information about regular training sessions which are open for new members.

Hiking, Cycling and Running

Besides the common sports organized in clubs such as soccer, tennis or gymnastics, many Germans pursue other sports as hobbies in their free time. The most common ones are hiking, running and cycling. Hiking is especially popular with the older generation as it isn’t too stressful on the body, not performance-driven and thus allows for conversation. Germany offers nation-wide (around 200,000 km) hiking routes that vary in intensity and length. There are numerous hiking routes that lead near and toward sights, restaurants and cafés.

The website Wanderkompass.de gives you an overview about the hiking routes in Germany.

A very handy mobile app for planning your hiking and biking trips is https://www.komoot.com/. Komoot works similar to Google Maps, but is optimized for hiking and trail routes. With the offline feature, you can download your routes to your mobile device and be completely independent from mobile coverage. The prices for this app range start at €3.99 for hiking in one region only and up to €29.99 for multiple, enabling you to quench your cravings for serious cases of wanderlust anywhere you go.

Other good options to plan your next cycling route can be done with these great websites (unfortunately only available in German): Radroutenplaner.de and Radkompass.de.

Running is arguably the most-practiced individual sport there is in Germany. In recent years, many people have picked up chasing kilometers as their hobby to relax after work, alone, with partners, or training for organized runs.
During spring and autumn, there are runs in every major city which you can take part in. The race distances range from 5 km to marathon length. While most runners take part in “fun runs” in these events, there are also serious runners that strive for a medal. Oftentimes, these two groups start separately in order not to interfere with each other.

If you want to take part in regular training sessions, you might consider joining a running group, oftentimes called “Läufertreff” or “Laufgruppe”. These groups exist mostly in bigger cities and differ in the nature of their organization. Most groups meet once a week at a set time and go on a run in a group.

Some running groups are privately organized by amateur runners, and others are coordinated by the “Vereine” (local sport clubs). Stemming from the diversity in the origin of these groups, you might have to search in different places in order to find a “Laufgruppe” in your area that best suits to your fitness level. Searching for corresponding Facebook groups via the Facebook search function or having a look at websites such as meetup.com will surely give you an idea about what is going on in your region. If you are in Germany for work purposes or as a student studying at a German university, you are nearly guaranteed to find a “Laufgruppe” there. At work, ask colleagues for “Laufgruppen” or look up the “Betriebssport” (company sports program). The same holds true for students, we recommend looking for “Unisport” (university sport programs) on black boards or your university websites. Upon finding official information this way, you are then directed to either the coach or a Facebook group explicitly targeting local students or your company.

In case you are not successful in finding suitable training partners, there is still a good chance you find motivated partners in the Facebook group of your city, mostly called “Schwarzes Brett [+ city name]” (Black Board). Feel free to make your own post in these groups – you will surely be successful in finding a good partner or even organizing your own “Laufgruppe”.

Gyms

There are different kind of fitness gyms in Germany.  If you want to join a gym, you may decide on a gym which is apart of a big chain. This gives you the advantage of being able to workout with your home-gym membership anywhere there is a gym of the same chain. The biggest gym chains by membership numbers are “McFit” with a total of 1.2 million, “Clever Fit” with 385,000, followed by the company “Fitness First” which provides facilities to 270,000 members.

Joining a gym oftentimes means signing a membership contract that lasts for multiple months up to two years. These contracts cannot be avoided easily and many gyms only allow you to do so if you have proof of moving to another city where there is no gym of their own you can train in.
The chains “McFit” and “Clever Fit” are so-called discount gyms with prices between 20€ and 30€ per month, depending on the location of your home-gym and the additional services which may offered. You will find “McFit” in nearly every city in Germany while “Clever Fit” focuses on the small and mid-sized cities.

Privately owned gyms are owner-operated companies that are usually present in one city, and often with only one location. These gyms tend to be smaller and less crowded than the chain gyms. Although private gyms are mostly situated above the quality level of the discount gyms and  may have a higher monthly price, the contracts you here tend to be more flexible in terms of lengths due to it being privately owned.

If you are a woman and would feel more comfortable going to a female-only gym, you can find a variety of different gyms at all quality and price levels. The biggest chain for this type of gym is called “Mrs Sporty”. Also keep an eye out for local women gyms, the majority of female-only gyms are smaller, privately-owned studios.

When deciding which gym to join, keep in mind that costs could arise in addition to the monthly payments such as a fee for your registration, a quarterly fee for trainers, or incidental costs. Also, keep your eyes open for special promotions from the big gym chains which could lead to reduced monthly prices for the first months of your contract.

General gym comparison

GymsMonthly feeRegistration feeLocationsDescriptionTraining tools byCourses and additional offers (not in all locations)
19,90€19€240Frequented mostly by young people,
biggest discount gym
Gym80• Sling Zone
• The Cage (bodyweight fitness)
• Box Workout (boxing)
• Express Workout (circuit training)
• Shape It (women-only area)

Not available in all locations, check availability at
https://www.mcfit.com/de/
19,90-29,90€39,80€321Prices can vary due to the franchise system and offerLife Fitness• Clevervibe (vibration training)
• TRX Suspension Trainer (sling training)
• iTrain App (supportive mobile app for training plans)
• Virtual Indoor Cycling Training (simulated rides through different scenarios)
• cleverFUN functional training (circuit training)
39,99€-84,99€
(Lifestyle, Women, Platinum and Black Label studios with different equipment and prices)
49€-99€ 83Higher quality than discount gymsDifferent, depending on club/price level Different courses offered at different locations, check the courses available in your gym at: https://www.fitnessfirst.de/kurse/kursplan
20€29€55Similar to McFitTechnogymCheck the courses available: https://www.fitx.de/kurse
43,99€-55,99€-415Women-only!
Completely based on circuit training

PixformanceDifferent courses offered depending on feedback by the personal trainers

Swimming

Nearly every German is member of a swimming club at least once in their lifetime. The receiving of the “Seepferdchen” certificate (Sea horse certificate) marks the end of the swimming lessons for kids aged 4 to 6 years. These swimming lessons are normally held in a local “Schwimmbad” (swimming pool).

“Schwimmbad” is the term for a swimming pool with lanes and, depending on the size of the “Schwimmbad”, additional different pools. By going to a “Schwimmbad” you can expect to exercise in a bigger hall with a roof, while a “Freibad” is an outdoor swimming pool. This kind of open air swimming pool tends to offer additional leisure activities such as volleyball or soccer fields instead of additional indoor bathing offers like in a “Schwimmbad”.

Swimming as a sport can be practiced alone in a public swimming pool or as part of a swimming “Verein”. If you exercise on your own, you can go to a “Schwimmbad” of your choice and swim in your lanes. Most “Schwimmbäder” offer entrance for amateur swimmers at discounted prices 1-2 hours before closing time. This time of the day can offer the convenience of swimming lanes with less traffic than during daytime hours.

Another great opportunity to swim are in the various “Badeseen” (bathing lakes) or “Baggerseen” (flooded gravel pits) all over Germany. While there are regions with higher and lower density of “Baggerseen”, there will be at least a couple within a distance worth a day trip for you. Most likely  there is not one single English website where you can find all exisiting “Baggerseen” in Germany,; however, try navigating your city on Google maps and search for “Baggersee” in the search bar. This way, Google will show you all near lakes in which swimming is allowed and recommended.

Not all lakes in Germany are open for public swimming, either because the gravel extraction with heavy machinery is still ongoing or due to the bad quality of the water in some lakes. If you have found a lake, still make sure to try to find information if swimming is recommended there. Generally, all “Baggerseen” are labeled and marketed as such, are open to the public and in a good condition.

“Baggerseen” differ quite a bit. At some lakes, you may find real beaches with sand and some pits have gravel beaches. A quick search on Google images for the “Baggersee” of your choice should give you a good idea of what to expect.