Camping in Germany can feel a bit like a peculiar affair to an outsider. For us while we lived in the US, it involved no more planning than throwing our camping gear, kayaks, and dog into the truck and heading up into any number of mountain ranges – the Cascades, Siskiyous, Olympics, or Wallowas. For a change of scenery, we’d strike out toward the Pacific Ocean. Oregon alone has more than 50 mountain ranges.
Our ideal weekend typically involved following an old logging track into the heart of a wilderness area, scoping out the terrain for the ideal place to stake out our home for the night, and camping miles from the nearest human being. The idea of sleeping in a tent next to a cramped line of RVs is rather foreign to us. Unfortunately (for us), not only do the sheer number of people and lack of space make this ecologically impossible in Germany, but the culture of camping simply is vastly different. Except, perhaps, at Ferdinands Homestay.
Back in June, Travis gave me tickets for my birthday to a concert at Königstein Fortress, not far from Saxon Switzerland National Park. While we’d explored the national park on our way back from Prague at Easter, we hadn’t had time to visit the massive hilltop fortress towering above the Elbe River. Hoping to make a weekend of the concert, we decided to book a night at Ferdinands Homestay, a hostel perched right on the banks of the Elbe River.
Surprised to find their website in German and English, I shot off an email asking about availability. Not only did I receive a prompt reply, but the owner informed us that tent campers were welcome and that the site was rather isolated – accessible only by bike, foot, or car down a narrow, paved path. Unlike many campgrounds in Germany that are gated and locked up tight “after hours” (typically 10 pm), he assured us we were free to come and go as we pleased. Relieved since we would be returning from the concert late in the evening, I booked it!
Nearing the hostel in the early afternoon, we realized none of the directions we’d found posted on their website applied to our present location. At a deserted intersection in the neighboring town of Pirna, we sat laughing before randomly turning left, hoping Trav’s navigational instincts were correct. We had a feeling we were going to like Ferdinands Homestay just from Google’s inability to correctly map us there! For Two Small Potatoes who grew up in tiny rural communities, it wasn’t uncommon to hear similar directions from the locals:
Hang a left at the fork where Ferg’s ol’ red barn youz tuh be. Ya know thu one? It’s got uh teddy bar nayled ter thu yeller pine.
Like I said, our kinda place.
If we ended up not using the exact directions from Ferdinands Homestay though, we definitely appreciated their specific instructions to “pass by on the right side” of Prossen Castle. Had it not been for these instructions, we would have taken the wrong turn.
Even more important is their cautionary tip that bikes and cars share a narrow, paved trail – more a bike path than a road – for several miles along the Elbe River. Again had it not been for this fortuitous tip, we would have turned around as soon as our car fell in behind a trio of elder bicyclists tiring laboriously uphill on the trail. When they glanced suspiciously over their shoulders at our car as if they knew we didn’t belong there, we cheerily smiled back. Our confidence stemmed from a single source – the assurance provided by Ferdinands Homestay that we were on the right track.
Once at the hostel, we checked in and chatted with Silvio, one of the hostel owners. Friendly and helpful, he answered our every question, from where we could pitch our tent near the river to which train to catch the next day so we could kayak a stretch of the Elbe.
After we paid in advance for our stay, Silvio gave us a tour of the facilities – the main building, restrooms and showers, and outdoor picnic tables overlooking the river.
But ya wanna know the best part? Ferdinands Homestay has a huge communal firepit.
Returning late in the evening after the concert, we scavenged around a nearby wood pile for dry branches. In no time, we had the first proper campfire we’ve had in 2 years. It was beautiful and mesmerizing, the way any good campfire should be. Soon, several young German gals appeared in the darkness, asking if they could join our fire. We stayed up well past 2 am, swapping stories and enjoying each others’ company.
When we broke camp the next morning, we lounged over breakfast, enjoying the summer sun and superb views of the Elbe River. We didn’t want to leave. From the owners and staff to the guests, everyone was friendly and relaxed. Though we weren’t in the middle of the wilderness, I felt content to enjoy nature alongside such pleasant like-minded folks. We haven’t stayed in many hostels, so perhaps this atmosphere is typical among them, but we found it to be a unique experience for us camping in Germany. If you visit Ferdinands Homestay, you’ll see for yourself that much as their website states, they truly welcome absolutely everyone:
“Trampers, Cyclists, Canoe paddlers, Climbers, Campers, Inline skaters, Saxon visitors, City escapees, Outdoor freaks, Sleep-iners, Sun lovers, Tourers, Get up earliers, Fresh air fanatics, Train catchers, Mountain bikers, Musicians, Travellers, Cafe’ guests, Backpackers, Mothers, Fathers, Kids…”
- As is common at campgrounds across Germany, the 2016 season for Ferdinands Homestay ends in October. Tent camping is available until October 3rd while the hostel remains open to visitors through October 31st. Alright, who wants to spend Halloween there with us this year?!
- A communal fire pit is available for guests, and free wood is provided.
- Direct river access is available for canoers and kayakers directly from the hostel.
- Dogs on leash are welcome, so Fido can enjoy a weekend romp outdoors as well.
- Make sure to have cash on hand; credit and debit cards are not accepted.
- Official site for Ferdinands Homestay (English & German)