Why German tourists love the BC wilderness

The Behnckes first travelled to Canada in 1996 and have returned several times since. Jon Azpiri

HAGENSBORG — Standing outside the airport near Bella Coola, Holly Behncke knows exactly why she wanted to visit British Columbia.

“We love the mountains. We love everything to do with nature,” said Benhcke, who was travelling with her husband and son from their home outside Hamburg, Germany.

They’re hardly alone. Talk to anyone in the tourism industry in B.C. and they’ll tell you that Germans are passionate about exploring every corner of the province.

According to Destination BC numbers from 2013-14, Germany is the province’s sixth largest international tourist market. In 2014, approximately 82,000 German travellers visited B.C., generating over $120 million in revenue.

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The Behnckes’ love of the Canadian outdoors runs deep. They first visited Canada back in 1996 and have returned several times. Their daughter Sina loved the country so much she moved to B.C. in 2006 and settled in the town of Hagensborg, about 16 kilometres east of Bella Coola.

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Local tourism officials say Germans are drawn to B.C. because of its lush natural landscapes. However, there can be a dark side to Germany’s love affair with the B.C. wilderness. Maclean’s Magazine highlighted several instances of German tourists disappearing into the wild.

The most recent death of a German national came in 2012 when the body of an exchange student was found on a North Vancouver trail. Last December, a German tourist was rescued after being injured on Dog Mountain.

Germans are also drawn to the area to explore First Nations cultures.

German interest in First Nations can be traced back to Karl May, a 19th-century writer who is considered the most popular German-language author ever, having sold an estimated 200 million books worldwide. Many of his novels were set in the North American wilderness and featured Indigenous peoples.

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Modern readers would find May’s portrayal of First Nations superficial and anachronistic to say the least, but his work has inspired many Germans to seek a deeper understanding of First Nations culture.

“A lot of the interest came from a writer years ago who wrote a series on North American First Nations,” said Brenda Baptiste of Aboriginal Tourism BC. “It captured the imagination of the population. We’ve always enjoyed a great deal of interest from the German people around First Nations. We certainly have seen it in the numbers and they are one of our most enthusiastic groups of visitors.”

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Behncke says it’s a little bit harder for Germans to visit Canada since they, like many international travellers, now have to fill out a electronic travel authorization (eTA) form before entering the country.

That’s certainly not enough to deter her family. They talk of one day moving here.

“Canada always represented an adventure for us in every way,” Behncke said. “It’s always been our wish to be here.”

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