Bavarian Forest
National Park

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glass manufacturers (Photo: NPV)

From an archaeological perspective the inner Bavarian Forest had long been considered rather empty. However recent discoveries have led us to assume that ever since the Mesolithic period people did stay in the region, be it for hunting or en route to Bohemia.

Whilst the existence of settlements, fortifications and even places of worship from the bronze and iron ages can be evidenced in Bohemia, there are no certain proofs on the Bavarian side.

In a record of the abbey in Metten from the year 853 AD the Bavarian Forest is described as “eremus Nortwald" or “unpopulated Northern forest"

To encourage settlement the nobility gave generous areas of land to religious communities. These, such as the Benedictine monastery of Niederaltaich in the Danube valley and the Abbey of Niedernburg in Passau, became significant players in the early colonisation of the area around what is today the national park.

In medieval times the establishment of numerous glass works and the salt trade with Bohemia both acted as significant economic and cultural forces driving settlement of the region.

Alpine salt was transported to “saltless" Bohemia by Säumer (Sumpter) using their horse driven wagons – in processions known as Saumzüge - from Passau and other areas in the Danube valley. The salt was needed primarily for conserving food products. The salt trade flourished in the 16th century and led to the creation of new trade routes, to the establishment of new settlements and generated a modest livelihood for many.

Evidence indicates that first glassworks located in the region around the year 1450. Economically active members of the ruling classes attracted glass manufacturers to the Bavarian Forest with generous terms. They found a surplus of raw materials here that were already in short supply elsewhere: an endless supply of wood and rich amounts of the mineral quartz; whilst, chalk could be imported from nearby Bohemia. Over time communities settled and developed around these glassworks.

The glass making tradition continued until 2009, when the last productive glass factory in the region was closed in Riedlhütte.

In the course of the 18th century the local rulers recognised the forests’ value. They began to exploit the huge timber reserves in the often remote woodlands in order to make up for the shortage of wood in the towns.

Timber could however only be transported on water. In the 1730s the prince bishops of Passau began to make the streams and rivers in their territory “navigable" for logging. By the middle of the 18th century the channelling of the streams and rivers had been completed across the entire region. With the increasing development of other forms of transport, above all the railway and later forest roads, timber transportation on the rivers declined and was finally ended after the end of the Second World War.

With the transfer of all usage and property rights in the forests to the Bavarian state at the beginning of the 19th century the intensive use and systematic management of the forests began. In line with the then knowledge of forestry the transformation began of what were then still near natural forests in to commercial forests.

After tentative beginnings in the late 19th century tourism began to develop rapidly in the region after the end of the Second World War. Today it constitutes an important economic factor in the Bavarian Forest.

As early as the middle of the 19th century the first approaches were made to place parts of the current national part territory under protection because of their natural character. In 1969 the Bavarian parliament declared the state forests between the Rachel and Lusen summits as the first German national park. In 1997 the then 13,000 hectares of the Bavarian Forest National Park were extended to 24,000 hectares. Together with the Sumava National Park that was designated in 1991 the park forms the largest continuous forested area in central Europe.