International partnerships, international understanding, Europe, peace.
People were walking/moving ages ago, crossing Europe from South to North, from West to East, for trade, for peace messages, for political reasons, for checking of new territories for their lifes, for war… Walking is a natural moving for the people from the immemorial age up to now. The centuries passed and the technical progress speeded the moving up – to safe time or to make the moving more comfortable. But the walking stayed in the hearths of the people as a passion and hadn’t disappear from our lifes.
The meeting on the hiking trail “Around Basel” (Rund um Basel), in which associations from Germany, France and Switzerland participated, decided to hold a conference on “continuous hiking trails” in 1969. The representatives of the associations present expressed their intention to found a European Ramblers’ Association (ERA). The meeting, which took place in the Nägelehaus of the Schwäbisch Albverein on the Raichberg, unanimously decided to found such an association. It happened on 19 October 1969. It was to become a historic day as the representatives of 8 clubs created something that was realised and accepted politically only years later. The first ERA president became Dr. Georg Fahrbach.
A path commission was appointed for the tasks that need to be realised in order to plan and implement an international trail network. The president of this commission and one of the „fathers of the idea“ was the Swiss Walter Zeugin.
The long-distance footpaths (E-paths) were the „Father and Mother“ of the new association. They were to bring the peoples to walk without frontiers. This sentence became a reality for the whole Europe with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening up of Eastern Europe twenty years later. The commission was very busy and proposed as a beginning the setting up of five European long-distance footpaths (E-paths). Already in 1972, there were 29 borders posts between Germany and Switzerland where walkers could pass freely.
The concept of frontier-less waking took hold and the number of member organsations increased year by year: in 1974 the ERA already had 27 member organisations from 13 countries.
In 1976, the Walking commission and in 1978 the European Youth Ramblers Association were founded. The Walking commission started its work in 1977 and shortly afterwards, the brochure „Walking in Europe“ was published. It offered the walking possibilities in different countries, including contact to the local organisations. The first cross-border meetings were held at that period. Basics for Walking can also be found here. Find Walking in Europe here.
In 1985, a historical event took place on the E4 between Austrian Burgenland and Hungarian province of Vas. The walkers could get visa directly at the border post. The first connection between the West and the East was opened. Walkers were clearly much quicker than the European politicians.
On November 1989 the wishes of ERA came true with the fall of the Iron Curtain and „Walking without frontiers“ was possible in the Eastern Europe too. ERA continued to grow not only in membership but also in the number of E-paths.
With the united Europe and the member organisations from different corners of Europe the ERA Constitution had to be modified in 1996. The most important aims were:
- the furthering of an environmentally responsible waking movement
- the creation and care of a frontier crossing network of footpaths (E-paths) as a symbol of the unity of the European nations
- parttaking in the protection and development of Europe’s cultural heritage
- the maintenance and the creation of access rights in the ERA member countires with regard to nature conservation
- exchange the information about walking in the member organisations of ERA
- furthering of exchanges between walkers in order to strengthen mutual understanding in Europe
But the access rights have always been a difficult subject in many European countries. Therefore ERA published a resolution under the significant title of „Access Rights for Walkers in Europe“ in 1999. It included the statement that „Every country’s traditions must be respected. The least condition that every land must observe is to make more private paths and ways accessible“. ERA supported rules for responsible walking because a good conduct should be decisive in preventing damage to the owners‘ property.
Starting the new millenium, the magazine „Rambling and Transport“ appeared reporting on the various activities and tasks of ERA, but mainly on the great cross-borders event EURORANDO. The idea of this event rose in French Federation (Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre) to show in the whole Europe, if the people are looking for the same aim, the borders and nation or religion variety are not an obstacle. More than 250.000 people took part in the various stages of a „star walk“ and more than 13.000 walkers took part in the closing walk in September 2001 through the Europe-city Strasbourg.
During the EURORANDO week in Strasbourg, a colloquium in the European Parliament was held. In several lectures, the walking and its importance was examined from many points of view, the delegates spoke on the expectations of walkers in Europe and their effect on a unified Europe. The ERA General meeting agreed on a „Strasbourg Declaration“, it is a call for an united Europe. „Cultural Europe“ is built upon the productive diversity of regional and national traditions, languages, political cultures and artistic symbolism, and we have reason to be proud of this.
As walking is part of culture so obliously footpaths are part of Europe’s cultural heritage. In the spring 2004 the ERA hosted the 1st conference in Bechyně, CZ, to deal further with the important theme of „Waymarking and trails“. The participants agreed on the declaration, which says: „Over the course of the past hundred years, marked walking routes have become an integral and widely recognised element of the European landscape. They contribute in an important way to the protection and unterstanding of the natural environment, to our knowledge of historic places and to our joint European history and heritage in the widest possible sense.“
The walking clubs in Europe have an important social and co-operative function as, with their tens of thousand of volunteer waymarkers, they ensure that walkers find the correct routes and do not go astray. For over 100 years the walking clubs have voluntarily cared for paths, nature protection and culture.
To give all those ideas an financial security, the ERA Foundation was established in 2004.
The same year, the first „walking with neighbours“ event took place on the franco-spanish border. On the occasion of this event, the ERA emphasised again the importance of walking in European measure and brought together in the „Friendship Charter“ some major points:
- value highly peaceful living together through dialogue and listening to different peoples in Europe
- commit themselves to caring for the environment, nature and the cultural heritage of our region.
- give thanks for the personal friendships that have arisen through rambling thus increasing European Solidarity.
In 2006, EURORANDO 2006 took place from 2-10 September 2006. More then 4.000 walkers from 16 European countries gathered in Budweis (České Budějovice, CZ) for a rich programme of walks, discussions, lectures and sightseeing. At the end, the wish to hold the pan-European walking movement EURORANDO every five years.Therefore the next EURORANDOs were held in Andalusia (E) in 2011, in Skåne (S) in 2016 and despite the Covid restrictions also in Sibiu (RO) in 2021.
A wish to assure the hightest quality to walkers on trails, the European label „Leading Quality Trail – Best of Europe“ (LQT-BE) launched into its life since 2012. Today, 21 certificates all over Europe are held for trails of min. 50 km.
Two new projects LQT-BE, Day Walk and LQT-BE Region are in the pilot project’s phase. More information is available here: lqt-be.org.
In 2013, it was a time to make the Constitution more fit for purpose, some vital changes were agreed on. In particular, the Footpath and Walking Commission activity was no long useful. But the themed working groups were formated 4 years later to deal with their results to the General Meeting. It was also the intention of the presidium to include youth work and sport.
The observer status of non-government organisations (NGO’s) in the Council of Europe had been lost. But in 2021 came to the renew of the applications. Cultural routes or the European Culture Days were the point where ERA would fit to observation position of the Council of Europe.
From 2018, ERA started to cooperate with European Federation of Youth Hostel Associations (EUFED).
The „Access to the nature“ supported ERA‘s work and cooperation toward European Landscape Convention.
A new cooperation with the European Union of Mountaineering Associations (EUMA) enlarged the posibilities to get visible toward the European Union.
The project “12 E-paths 1 Europe” started in Detmold a few weeks ago. The project is also called “Europe on foot”. The vision of the project says: “Hiking means freedom. Long-distance hiking on the European long-distance hiking trails even means ‚unlimited‘ freedom. Seeing and getting to know Europe with your own eyes – that is the declared aim of the initiative. Laid out over several years, we want to tell the myths of the E-paths”. 2022 will be the year of the revival of the trails managed by ERA and, in times of war in the heart of Europe, also the year of European unity. To this end, the Deutsche Wandermagazin, together with its Austrian partner, has launched “12 Ways – 1 Europe” (or 12 E-paths 1 Europe). This is an initiative to focus on unlimited freedom in Europe, as a strong commitment to more sustainability through gentle tourism, supported by the fascination of long-distance hiking.
Read the full history of the E-paths by Rolf Ebert (in German):