Another German Wall

As world attention focuses on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall today, another German wall comes to my mind.

A few years ago, while honeymooning in Deutschland, my wife and I swung through the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a walled medieval city in northern Bavaria. It’s a tourist trap, for sure, but pretty cool — Fachwerk houses, marktplatz, historic Rathaus, soaring towers, crazy legend from the Thirty Years War, Kriminalmuseum, churches, burggarten, the whole nine meters.

Early that day we walked the mile-long Stadtmauer, or city wall, which protected Rothenburg during the Middle Ages, and at one point, I looked over and was surprised to see the space above someone’s garage door filled with deer antlers.

Waidmann’s heil!

For a brief moment, it was like we were back in Winthrop or Twisp, Wash., somewhere hunters are proud to display their game publicly.

Of course, the racks weren’t very large — stags, these weren’t. Rather, they were from the great Dane-sized roe deer that roam the countryside.

I snapped a picture and Amy and I moved on around the wall.

Last week, there was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about deer elsewhere in Germany, and of a much larger size.

In the Bayernwald, fences, border guards and more kept the red deer from migrating between the forests and mountains of Bavaria and the Czech Republic, between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, between West and East for 30 years.

Even two decades after the staredown ended, the animals haven’t really resumed going back and forth across the formerly militarized zone.

Instead, they “mysteriously turn around when they approach” the former border,” WSJ reports.

“In the past, the deer didn’t go to the Czech side because of the fence,” biologist Marco Heurich told reporter Cecile Rohwedder. “Now the fence is gone but they still stop at the border.”

Well, most do anyway. A single stag from either side (a German named Florian, a Czech named Izabel) have braved the border and stayed on the other side. Intrigued researchers have slapped radio collars on the deer to study their movements.

But if they’re anything like the mountain goats of Oregon’s Elkhorn Mountains, more and more stags will begin to cross the line to seek out new territory and mates.

That may improve the hunting for Germans. Believe it or not, the very densely populated country has a very rich and socially accepted hunting tradition that continues to this day.

James Hagengruber did an excellent piece on it in Montana Outdoors several years ago.

While getting a hunting license can take up to a year of study — “and half fail on their first try” — Hagengruber writes, “Because they maintain the health of the land and wildlife populations and have a strict code of ethics and honor, hunters continue to occupy a place of respect in most communities.”

He reports that hunters, not the state, manage the game, which also includes wild boar, and that they must file management plans for their leased areas (hunting apparently isn’t allowed often on public land). They can also sell their kill at markets and to restaurants.

I didn’t know this when I ordered the Wildschwein, or wild boar, last Christmas in Dinkelsb├╝hl, another Bavarian walled city (Amy’s from Cologne; we were traveling with her family). Unfortunately, no Jagermeisters had bagged any in recent days, so I got the Hirsch, or deer, instead. Pretty good.

Germany is twice the size of Washington but has a population of 81 million or so, so how’s there any room for hunting?!?

If you drive along the Autobahn, or almost any other Bundestrasse in Germany, you’ll see numerous hunters’ huts in the fields, on the edges of woodlots, at the edges of town — even hard up against the highway itself.

The huts come in a variety of forms, but are generally boxy things. Supported by stilts, they sit about 10 feet off the ground. A ladder leads up inside, and they have windows that allows the hunter inside to see in three directions.

I’ve seen some roe deer in the countryside, but only in the Austrian Alps, at a farm high on a ridge, have I seen red deer. They look similar to our elk, though their butts aren’t white or tan like ours.

And while some Bavarian big game appear to stop short at the border, other animals aren’t. Apparently, moose and wolves are making their way into the former East Germany from Poland, especially outside Berlin, which brings this post back full circle. (Interestingly, the comments from Deutsch hunters and farmers sound quite familiar to those you hear here as wolves expand into the Northwest.)

All right, just now John, our production guy here at Northwest Sportsman, brought me more December issue pages to proof, so I had best pinch off this rumination and get back to work.