Waldeinsamkeit: Germany’s Forest Therapy
The German language is full of words without a direct English translation, and “waldeinsamkeit” is no exception. On the surface, “waldeinsamkeit” is a compound word with “wald” meaning “forest” and “einsamkeit” meaning “loneliness.” However, this translation of “solitude in the forest” doesn’t fully encompass the enlightened, blissful feeling that comes from being alone in the woods.
It’s not hard to understand the draw of the calm solitude found in the woods during a time of heightened stress like the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, visits to woodlands in the German region of North Rhine-Westphalia have more than doubled during the global health crisis.
One-third of Germany’s land area is forest, which provides numerous opportunities to embrace “waldeinsamkeit.”
In recent studies, researchers from the European Forest Institute discovered that finding tranquility was the number one motivation for going to the forest and that Germans are rediscovering spiritual attributes of the woods that were valued by their ancestors.
Culturally, Germans have always embraced woodlands—whether in the fantasy worlds of the Brothers Grimm fairytales or Roman soldiers’ accounts documenting “horse-eating” tribes occupying the forest around 98 A.D.
Waldeinsamkeit is even the subject of poetry. In the late 1800s, poet Joseph Victor Von Scheffel wrote a collection of poems titled “Waldeinsamkeit” in which he documented the feelings associated with being alone in the woods. Over time, the love of the green, forest-laden landscape has become a symbol of German national identity.
Although the concept of waldeinsamkeit has ancient roots, the German Forest Protection Association has created a new smartphone app aimed at encouraging Germans to experience the woods for themselves. Once users download the app, they can visit nature trails designed to accompany the guided wellness experience.
Seeing the value in “waldeinsamkeit” as a form of therapy, German health insurance companies will cover individual trips into the woods. This retreat, called “kur," is a two-week-long program of rest and relaxation to combat stress.
While some solitude seekers may consider the Black Forest the ideal location to take in the awe-inspiring stillness of nature, we can all benefit from the rejuvenating properties of “waldeinsamkeit” in woodlands much closer to home.