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The solitude of the forest, a post-pandemic renaissance in Germany

Everybody is at it in Germany. They’re doing it in the trees in the Black Forest. Out in the magical Harz Mountains. In the national parks of Bavaria when silhouetted in the moonlight. And in the city centre woodlands of Berlin and Munich. Sometimes when completely nude, too. This isn’t a story about the sex lives of Germans or any other nationality, though. Instead, it’s an exploration of the country’s little-known love affair with something else entirely: waldeinsamkeit, an archaic German term for the feeling of “forest loneliness”.
Germans have a wonderfully evocative dictionary of words with no direct English equivalent, with several descriptive if melancholic expressions all finding a home in conversation. There is wanderlust (a desire to travel), for instance. Or heimat (an emotional tie to a homeland). Another is fernweh (a longing for far-off places).
With more free time, more flexibility and more pressure at home, but also fewer alternative pastimes, Germans have sought calm, fresh air and hermit-like solitude in greater numbers than before. There is a palpable yearning – a feeling of a life being half-lived – and it has not gone unnoticed that the country’s restriction-free spruce, conifer, beech, oak and birch forests are busier than ever.

Germans have a wonderfully evocative dictionary of words with no direct English equivalent

Research published last summer by the European Forest Institute in Bonn found that visits to a monitored tract of forestry in North Rhine-Westphalia during the first and second lockdowns experienced an unprecedented explosion of visitors, with forest recreation doubling. The authors concluded that the coronavirus-induced boom revealed that Germans are once again embracing forest solitude and that forests remain a critical infrastructure for national public health and societies at large.
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