Kathrin Heckmann is the most famous hiking blogger in Germany. The Munich native loves long-distance walks, and her blog “Fräulein Draussen” always takes her to new places. She’s now looking to rediscover Munich’s surroundings and the Alps. We talk to her about the great outdoors, the magic of forests and her love for the northern section of the Englischer Garten.
It’s a warm day in June and I’m about to meet Kathrin Heckmann by the Isarwehr dam in the northern section of the English Garden. I’m standing on the bridge and enjoying the magnificent view of the river. A handful of people are sunbathing on the gravel bed. We set off on our bikes from here. After just a few minutes have passed, the blogger turns onto a narrow path. The beautiful landscape reminds me of Tolkien’s Shire as we cycle past uncut pastures and stop in front of a large oak tree. It’s the perfect place for a picnic in the early evening hours.
We unpack our food onto a large blanket: bread, a selection of spreads, olives, roasted courgette strips and stuffed vine leaves. As we sit down, we’re both struck by the same thought: We should do this more often.
Kathrin, you’ve chosen this place for our conversation. Why?
We’re in the northern section of the Englischer Garten. It’s a lot quieter here than in the south. Everything grows wild and untamed, and there’s a nice mix of trees and open pastures. I’ve always found it hard to believe that such a place can exist in the middle of a city. I think it’s quite unique – it only took me ten minutes to get here on my bike. That’s not something you’ll find in every city.
That’s true. The Englischer Garten is one of the largest inner-city parks in the world. But this section doesn’t feel like a park at all.
The southern part does, but this northern section is like a peaceful city forest. There are hardly any benches and a lot of beaten tracks. You can spend a long time here without feeling like you’re in a city. You only meet a few people here – even now in the summertime.
"As a student I took our family dog and went on hikes every weekend, but really unprofessional wearing cotton leggings and trainers."
Have you always liked the great outdoors?
I grew up on the outskirts of Munich. I spent all my childhood outdoors, rearing goats on the farm across the road or climbing trees with my brother. As a teenager, I became more interested in the city – until I went hiking up a local mountain with my friends from university and remembered how much I loved spending time in nature.
And how did you end up going on regular hikes and blogging about your experiences?
From that point forward, I took our family dog and went on hikes every weekend, but really unprofessional wearing cotton leggings and trainers. This was followed by my first ever travels alone – a hiking trip to Scotland. Pitching my tent on a hill in the middle of nowhere felt like a real adventure. That was great and I thought other people might be interested in that as well – that's why I started the blog.
I also want to use my blog to encourage others to take more trips to the countryside. A daily dose of nature makes a real difference, which many people aren’t aware of. That’s the problem with modern societies.
You’ve been around the world over the past few years, but now you plan to spend more time in Munich’s surroundings. Why’s that?
I just want to find out more about my home and the Alps. Lots of my blog readers often ask me for tips for in and around Munich. I really like the fact that you can just step out the door and walk straight into nature – just like we’re doing today.
What fascinates you most about your trips to the countryside?
When you visit your local forests, you often think there’s nothing left to explore. You usually only see the obvious things like the beautiful flowers along the side of the path. You only start to develop and discover even more when you take longer walks. At some point, I developed an interest in birds and started wondering about all the varieties I might have come across. The Nymphenburger Schlosspark, for example, is home to a kingfisher and tawny owls. I’ll be on the lookout for them soon!
Speaking of animals, a herd of sheep can be seen wandering through the northern section of the Englischer Garten in summer.
Yeah. I sometimes see them during my morning run. They’re the landscape gardeners round here (laughs).
"If you look closely in the forest, you see that something is happening everywhere."
Have you felt healthier since you started spending more time in the forest?
Yes. It’s a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and I find that very important, especially when you’re on holiday. When you’re in the woods, you’re much less exposed to all the artificial stimuli. Nature has a calming effect on the body and soul. For example, smelling tree essences is known to reduce blood pressure.
We’re quiet for a while. The wind rustles the leaves of the trees, and the long grass sways back and forth. The sun has now sunk so low on the horizon that its golden rays are shining through a few high bushes.
That’s just outrageously beautiful, isn’t it?
Oh yeah. If you take a closer look around, you’ll notice there’s something to see everywhere. But if you want to open your eyes to everything the forest has to offer, you have to sit down and be patient. And you have to rediscover how to be amazed.
Another hour passes by before we pack our things and head off on our bikes again. We cycle a little further north to the Aumeister (restaurant and beer garden), where we each enjoy a refreshing shandy beneath the shady trees. And then we cycle back to the Isarwehr dam, where we met just a few hours earlier.
Just before we say goodbye, we walk down to the gravel bed, take our shoes off and wade through the clear water. It’s so cold that it hurts, and that’s when I realise how far away the city really is. Like a touch of wilderness in the middle of Munich.