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Belay differences in Germany vs. US Rock Climbing

Belay differences in Germany vs. US Rock Climbing

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Belaying has a few universal principles that transcend culture. However, as fellow expats and travelers can attest to, there are still some noticeable belay differences in Germany compared to the US.  In short, “semi automatic” tube devices are preferred and the munter hitch is very often used outdoors.

Belay Differences between Germany and the US: Death to Tubers! Long Live the Smart!

An observant foreigner may notice that German gyms have a conspicuous lack of tube style ATCs (aka “tubers” in German). This is not to say you won’t see them, but at least half of all belay devices will be assisted braking devices like the Edelrid Megajul or Mammut Smart or Austrialpin Fish. A German Alpine Club (DAV) study which is widely read and cited here in Germany strongly warns against using standard tube devices and indeed, you’ll never find them for rent at a gym and rarely even being used by

HMS forever, or Halbmastwurf

English speaking climbers all know the term HMS, usually from HMS carabiner. What they don’t know is that it stands for Halbmastwurf in German, or munter it’s known to us. The reason the carabiner is called such is because it was the style used (and most suited) for belaying with a munter or HMS. While many Americans cringe at the idea of belaying without a device, it’s something you still often see outdoors in Germany. Moreover, it is still taught and encouraged as well, and not just as a backup. Be prepared to see it used, especially outdoors for both leader and follower.

The Banshee Belay / Reihenschaltung

Reihenschaltung sicherung, which means approximately series connection/switching belay, is the German name for banshee belay. This is something that many American climbers may never have seen before. It seemingly violates the basic teachings drilled into us when starting out. Nevertheless, it’s safe, fast and very practical when used in the right context. As soon as you head outdoors in Germany, do not be alarmed =) Expect to see the locals using it liberally. So what is it? From multipitchclimbing.com:

Connecting high quality bolts in series is fast. This can be done with the rope or with a sling. Many will see this as a controversial approach as it doesn’t try to equalise, or minimise extension under partial failure. It is however common in much of Europe were new big fat bolts have been placed by trained individuals into solid rock.

Reihenschaultung sicherung is meant for use on high quality bolts only and looks like this:

Reihenschaltung Sicherung / Banshee Belay
Reihenschaltung Sicherung / Banshee Belay of leader

With solid modern bolts, building a redundant anchor with force distribution is overkill. It may take a little getting used to, but the many crags with beautiful titanium glue-ins will soon win you over. You can find some German language resources on it here and here.

Summary: American and German Belay Differences

Germans and Americans both prefer different styles of belay devices, however, the Grigri is widely loved and used in both places. With less trad climbing and far better maintained crags nationally, Germany also has the luxury of using the Banschee belay (Reihenschaltung) on bolts in good condition. This is just not possible in many places in the US, UK or Australia due to geography, culture and climbing style. Americans should refresh their knowledge of the munter hitch before coming over and not be shocked when they see people using it as a primary method outside, not a backup after having dropped your belay device on multipitch!

Schloss Lichtenstein and Triafelberg Crag

Schloss Lichtenstein and Triafelberg Crag

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This past Thursday was a holiday, one of the many Christian holidays that are also federal holidays in Germany (and would be illegal in the US). While I didn’t get to climb, I took the kids to the Swabian Alb to vistit Schloss Lichtenstein and Nebelhoehle, a castle and cave respectively. Lichtenstein is also located just across from Traifelberg, a long series of crags overlooking the village of Lichtenstein with plenty of moderate to hard routes.

Schloss Lichtenstein (castle)

Schloss Lichtenstein is not famous outside of Germany, in fact not realy outside of Baden-Wuerttemberg, but here it’s known as the “Fairy Tale Castle.” My  daughter changed that into “Fairy Castle”.| Luckily, she didn’t notice when we didn’t actually find fairies there. Despite being a castle and looking the part, it’s not actually that old, build in the gothic revival style in the mid 1800s. It is still privately owned, but open to tourists near daily. While possibly disappointing to some, for families the fact that it is actually rather small is fantastic. You can view the castle grounds for 1 EUR per child and 2 EUR for adults. The tour is a few euros more but only 30 minutes.

Compared to the Disney like lines and hordes of Neuschwanstein, Lichtenstein is fairly quiet. Located southest of Reutlingen, it’s also right across from Traifelberg, a crag full of moderate to hard climbs. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough patience left after the castle visit to convince the rugrats to hike up and check it out. We settled for pictures from across the valley.

Nebelhoehle (Fog Cave)

Just 5 km from Lichtenstein in the Swabian Jura (Schwaebische Alb) is a famous cave, featured in many local fairy tales including those associated with the castle Lichstenstein. Important to know, they take cash only and the nearest bank is nearby in a tiny village. So bring cash (I learned the hard way). In addition to the cave, they have a pleasant little restaurant, great playground and some nice hiking in the area. If you’re in the area, it’s worth spending an afternoon in the area and finishing off at the cave followed up by watching the kids play while drinking a beer or radler. Good times were had by all.

 

Schloss Lichtenstein + Traifelberg Pictures

Explained: The DAV – German Alpine Club – and its advantages for foreigners

Explained: The DAV – German Alpine Club – and its advantages for foreigners

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If you’re climbing in Germany, you’re bound to come across the Deutscher Alpenverein, or DAV. But what is it and why should you join?

In short:

  • Discounted gym membership
  • Courses and guided trips/climbs
  • Free guidebook and super cheap gear rental
  • Access to “Huetten” or mountain huts around the country
  • DAV magazine subscription
  • Rescue insurance

A brief overview of the DAV:

Deutscher Alpen Verein DAV logo

First of all, let’s translate it. The Deutscher Alpenverein, or DAV (pronounced “day ah fau”), means German Alpine Club and is one of the largest organizations in the country.  While the word “alpine” is part of the name, it is better thought of as generally rock and mountain related as they also offer information about skiing and mountain biking. However, the DAV and the bulk of its information, activities and focus are on climbing whether rock, ice, alpine or mountaineering.

The DAV was founded in 1869 in Munich with the goal of developing the German alps for tourism (history in German here).  This included building trails and mountain huts. Over time, it has expanded to include environmental work,  conservation, education and training, guided trips, insurance,  and climbing gyms. As that short and incomplete list suggests, the DAV is the club to join for climbing in Germany.

Luckily, they’ve started adding an English version of their site but it’s limited. The DAV itself is actually a national umbrella organization consisting of  hundreds of local chapters. So first off, you’ll need to find the local one where you live.

How the DAV can help you as a foreigner:dav magazine

Let’s take an example. I’m a member of the Sektion Schwaben which runs my local gym, offers numerous courses and has a library full of free book rental as well as very cheap gear rental. DAV membership means discounted entrance to the gym (and is required for yearly membership). Now, let’s say I want to climb Zugspitze. I can go rent crampons and an ice axe for just few Euros as well as borrow maps and guidebooks free! And if I somehow bungle the entire thing and need to get rescued, DAV climbing insurance has my back.

Moreover, they also offer classes throughout the year on climbing, ice climbing, alpine climbing, skiing, mountaineering and more. They are for beginner and intermediate climbers and of course taught in German. These include both instructional classes at local gyms to week long course in the Alps on alpine skills to mountaineering.

Join nohttps://climbgermany.com/wp-content/uploads/20170211_150645.jpgw!

Despite the dearth of English-language material on their website, joining the DAV  is a no-brainer for climbers. It’s far more advanced than most Anglosphere equivalents and offers everything a climber needs. The current cost (which can differ between sections) is around 65 EUR per year. If you’re German isn’t great, have no fear! Find your local chapter’s office, walk in and join. They’ll be happy to help and will almost certainly speak English.