Metal Detecting in Germany

Detecting canal side with baby Juna in tow.

I recently spent a few weeks in Germany, and yes, I did bring a metal detector with me. I opted to bring the XP Deus, because it’s a very lightweight machine, and collapses down to about 24”.  Traveling in the US with a detector isn’t a problem—you just throw your gear in the car and go, but traveling overseas can present a challenge.

Years back, I went to Europe frequently, and learned early on to pack less than I thought I would need.  I knew that upon arrival I would have to make use of public transportation, taking a cab to the train, a train to my destination, and might even have to walk from there. I didn’t want to be encumbered by a bunch of luggage in addition to detecting gear.

I did a bit of homework ahead of time, asking friends who have been to the UK how they packed their machines, and also did some googling on traveling overseas with a detector. The best tip that I received though, was from CT Todd, and was simply “Minelab Backpack, carry it on”.  After I removed the coil, the Deus fit perfectly in that backpack, and well, it was backpack, so it was easy to manage.   Thanks Todd.

I put the charger, wires and my adapter into a girlie Caboodles brand hard case, and bought a padded makeup bag for the headphones.  I nixed the big old finds bag for a small apron pouch that already had a belt attached (less to carry), and decided to take and actually use one of those pin pointer holders that comes with a pin pointer. I removed the battery from the pin pointer, put it in its holder, and wrapped the pouch around it for padding. It all fit very nicely, and left room for cargo pants, and my beat up detecting hoodie, which I wrapped around the shaft and coil for protection.

Some other tips I found online, and used, were wrapping black electrical tape around the flashing light on the coil, so security wouldn’t question it, and putting the instruction book and a few American Digger magazines on top, to more easily explain what I was carrying, should I be questioned.

I put my Lesche and 9 volts in my checked bag, and the only thing I regret, is my last minute decision not to put the shorter T-handle shovel in my checked bag, because I really needed a shovel once I got there.

Security at the airport leaving the States was a breeze. Apparently they are used to folks traveling with metal detectors. They didn’t bat an eye upon seeing it pass through the scanner.

Security coming back was not so easy. I made it through security in Hamburg with no problem, but that was a domestic connecting flight to Frankfurt.  Frankfurt is where my actual departure to the US took place. They did a great job moving people through the lines quickly, but I had a feeling they were going to stop me, because the hobby is more of an oddity and a curiosity there.

I watched as my carry on got pulled aside, and patiently waited for security’s confrontation.  The Germans are my peeps, but even so, they can be a little scary at times.  Everything that I had packed so carefully was removed haphazardly, thrown into bins and re-scanned. Even after that, they were clueless, so I explained, in German, that I was a schatzsucher (treasure hunter) and attempted to point out the picture of the Deus on the cover of the instruction manual. I was immediately reprimanded and told not to touch anything. Scary dudes for sure.

They scanned it a third time, and seemed puzzled. But finally one of them (the one with an IQ), looked at the instruction manual, then laughed as he picked up the shaft, and was walking around with it pretending he was detecting.  They all seemed to get a good laugh over it, once they realized what it was. I laughed too, but it was a phony laugh, because I really didn’t think it was funny that they were making a joke out of my Hobby. Then I felt sorry for them, because they had no idea how awesome it is, and what they were missing out on—especially in that country.

I had also contacted Lance Goolsby a detectorist who lives and hunts in Bavaria (check out his videos here), beforehand, to see if he could offer any information or tips on German Metal detecting laws.  I didn’t just want to randomly start swinging my machine around, and get into trouble. He was very helpful, and I was glad I asked, because, like I said, there aren’t a lot of folks who detect there. My conversations with family about laws and places to detect always had the same conclusion—“Ich weiss es nicht”, i.e. “I don’t know”.

I was staying in Northern Germany, which is farm country, I’m talking farms as far as you can see.  At one time, the area was actually Denmark.  The history of the area is incredible, but my family was mortified when I told them I was going to go knock on farmer’s doors and ask permission to hunt their fields. Finding a place to hunt turned out to be way more difficult than I expected, or than I thought it should be.

On top of all this, I was in Germany to visit family, detecting was just something I wanted to do while I was there. But how could I possibly live down visiting such a historic place without at least a hunt or two?  I don’t even think I would have been able to live with myself.

Luckily I have friends there who are younger, and who do not subscribe to the old school, old world frame of mind.  They are actually knowledgeable about the legality of things. Germany is a progressive country, but some of the older generation fear breaking any rules, (whether real or imagined), because they still remember sitting on top of suitcases in the dark, listening to the radio, prepared to evacuate in the event of an air raid. It was frustrating, because sites, local knowledge, and gaining permissions is something I take for granted at home, but given what some of these folks have been through, I couldn’t blame them.

The field at dawn

My friends came through for me though.  One of them owns an old Bahnhof (train station), and gave me permission to hunt around it. It was a great permission, but the land was limited. The street and surrounding area was paved with cobblestones. I poked around a bit, and found a large field behind it that I was previously unaware of, so I checked that out too.

I didn’t have any expectations because I had never hunted in the country before. I was also limited to just my Lesche for digging, so depth was an issue, and I only had about 10 hours of experience on the Deus—major handicaps. I found some rusty relics, and cans, and for those of you who get annoyed at pull tabs, you might want to rethink hunting in Germany, The Land of Beer Bottle Caps. They were everywhere, and they always sound so darn good on that Deus.

I ended up with a few euro coins, and a cool token, not very old, but still cool.  I also found two old lead railroad seals which were kind of neat, and that was all the time I had that day.

A few days later, my friends Jörge & Kaya took me to the forest to hunt. We walked in, and immediately came upon an old burial mound/archaeological site. I was like son of a b…, but we found out, thankfully, that it was only that small area that was off limits.

I turned the Deus over to Jörge who had been wanting to give detecting a try.  I followed behind him, either helping to dig or pinpoint the signals.  At one point, he tried to give the machine back to me, but I declined.  I was happy just watching him get hooked on the hobby. Later on, I did hunt for a few minutes, and picked up a 1924 Reich Mark, which I thought was cool, and Jörge found a few two cent coins.

The time came to an end too soon, there were family obligations, and detecting would have to wait for another day.

On my last day, I got out one more time. I was going to go back to the Bahnhof , but on the way got sidetracked hunting a pathway along one of the canals.  I thought it would be an excellent area, where folks would have spent a lot of time years ago.

My suspicion was correct, and within minutes I pulled out an old musket ball.  I decided I would grid this small area (about 40 x 50 feet), and in less than an hour I came up with an old coin (date yet to be determined), some euro clad, a beautiful old broach, a flat button, a cool old  railroad seal, and more bottle caps of course.

I was really getting into it, when I was suddenly reminded it was time for coffee & cake. You’d have to study the German culture to fully understand the importance of afternoon coffee and cake, but it’s their thing, and detecting or not, this day held no exception to the coffee and cake rule.

I’ve stopped digging for many reasons or obligations in the past, but I don’t recall ever packing it in to go have coffee and cake. And as a side note, eating cake there is not like in the States, where no one wants to admit they want a big piece of cake, and say things like “Oh, no, just give me a little slice”, or “I’m trying to cut back”.  In Germany, you get a huge piece of cake put in front of you, and the larger the piece of cake, the luckier you are. No one comments on their weight or nutrition, they just say things like “delicious”, or “yummy”.  True story.

So, my trip ended with a huge slice of the local bakery’s specialty, and it truly was as “delicious & yummy” as it looked. And now that I’m back in the States, besides how to pack, I do have some additional advice/information for those who are planning on traveling to Germany, and want to go detecting there:

Metal detecting is legal in Germany.  Some Germans will tell you its illegal, but that’s not true. 

Try to find out ahead of time what the local laws are. There are different states/provinces, just like in the US.  The laws don’t vary much from area to area, and quite frankly, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone, including an official that knows anything about the laws.

There is a monument protection law, and a property law. You can’t hunt an archaeological site without both permissions, which unless perhaps you are an archaeologist, you will not get a permit for. If a site is protected, you need to stay 50 to 100 meters (yards) away from it.  If you’re not sure of its protected status or historical significance, just stay away from it.

No Trespassing signs are rare, and if the area has no signs, and is not fenced in, then I was told you can detect there. If someone asks you to leave, because maybe it’s their property, or off limits, then just leave.

There are certain areas of the country that have a lot of unexploded munitions/ordnance. And there are digging protection areas (I’ve been told that most are in the former East Germany). Ask first, and be careful!

If you can survive in the States without getting arrested for digging, you’ll do fine over there. Use common sense, and do ask permission if you can. If the language is a problem, have someone who speaks the language write you a note which you can hand to the property owner. Most Germans are friendly to Americans, and most also speak some English.

You can hunt farm fields, and forests, and you shouldn’t have a problem or need a permit. I was hunting alongside the canals in the middle of town, and no one questioned me.  If I’d had more time, I would have hit more areas, but do remember that you are a visitor in another country.  Dig carefully, seriously, use a towel, and fill in those holes. If asked to leave, don’t start trouble, just leave.

As for bringing finds home, this is a gray area. I’ve been told that no WWII items or paraphernalia can be taken out of the country, but I’ve also been told that WWII items are okay to export.  Apparently there aren’t a lot of regulations on the export of historical items, but I suggest you investigate it more fully before leaving the country with your finds. I didn’t have a problem, but the items I brought home were mostly lead seals, buttons, and coins.

Keep in mind that different countries have different cultures. All the people I came across while detecting there were curious and friendly. Hardly anyone detects there, and the country is full of cool stuff just waiting to be found. Don’t screw it up for the rest of us, and most importantly, if coffee and cake is at 2pm, be there at 2pm.  Punctuality is almost as important as coffee and cake–Happy Hunting!  More pics below.

8 thoughts on “Metal Detecting in Germany

  1. Thanks for the great account and all the good travel tips! I wish you more good finds and especially gold luck!

  2. “putting the instruction book and a few American Digger magazines on top, to more easily explain what I was carrying, should I be questioned.”
    Great idea!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.