Physical culture and sport are an integral part of German culture. According to the German Embassy, about 27 million people (or a quarter of the population) belong to sports clubs, while another 12 million participate in sports independently. While many of these sports include such competitive sports as soccer, basketball, handball, volleyball, and ice hockey, there is another group of sports known as “Volkssports,” which are non-competitive in nature.
Volkssports, which means “People’s Sports” or “Sports for all People,” include such activities as walking, biking, swimming, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skating, or any other non-motorized outdoor sport. Walking, or “Volksmarch,” is the most popular type of Volkssport event.
“Volksmarch,” or “People’s Walk,” has its origins after the end of World War II, and has also been called “Volkswanderung”. Originally it was part of a mass culture movement and began as a timed, competitive event that was designed to help Germans keep in shape. There was a “Volkskultur” or grassroots alternative culture movement of people, however, who wanted to be able to enjoy these walks without having to compete. The culture of post World War II Germany has focused on social, cooperative, nonaggressive events such as the Volksmarch. Then, in 1968 the Internationaler Volkssportverband (IVV) or International Federation of Popular Sports was formed as a way to encourage public health by getting people to enjoy the outdoors in a non-competitive manner, as well as to contribute toward peace and understanding between people and nations by fostering friendship through Volkssports.
Volkssports became very popular with the American military that were stationed in Germany at that time. Veterans returning to the United States wanted to continue these walks and founded the American Volkssport Association in 1976. The AVA promotes regular physical fitness activity for Americans as an essential component of overall good health, and it now administers the nation’s largest noncompetitive sports program. The Germania Volksmarch Gruppe is part of the nationwide, grassroots network of about 300 active AVA clubs presenting more than 3,000 Volkssporting events each year.
A unique aspect of Volkssporting is the Achievement Awards Program whereby participants may enroll in an incentive awards program keeping records of distances walked and events completed. Record books are purchased for a nominal fee. The record books are stamped when the events are completed and after processing at the Association headquarters, achievement awards consisting of a patch, pin and certificate are returned to the participant.
The Germania Volksmarch Gruppe was formed in 2005 and sponsors two walks each year: one on the fourth Saturday of April and one on the fourth Saturday of October. Keeping with German Volksmarch tradition, both a 5k and a 10K walk are offered. Then next Volksmarch will be this spring on April 23, 2016.