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:
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!