What are scavenger hunts like in Germany? Find out in a special blog post written by Anna!
In order to write this blog post I want to clarify some terminology first: Are treasure hunts and scavenger hunts synonymous? If not, what is the difference? Turns out there is a difference (you learn something new every day). In a treasure hunt, you follow clue after clue in order to reach a certain place and (hopefully) find a treasure there. A scavenger hunt, on the other hand, means picking up a list of items, often competitively against other participants (For the most part though, they are used interchangeably, but for the purposes of talking about my experiences growing up, I will be referring to those two definitions).
Treasure hunts evoke childhood memories for me. They used to be an integral part of birthday party itineraries when I was growing up in the early 1990s. They were also a way to stay entertained during long days of summer vacation when there was nothing else to do. .
Hunt what now?!
I grew up in Germany, so the word we used for treasure hunts is “Schnitzeljagd”. You may recognize the term “Schnitzel”, which is most famously associated with the ever-popular cutlet dish from German and Austrian cuisine. No blame here, the image of a hunter stalking a breaded, golden brown fried slice of meat does not lack a certain amount of humor. In reality, the origin of the term “schnitzel” was probably a less common word for “scraps”, as in scraps of paper or wood. So what we are really hunting for in a German treasure hunt is little pieces of paper with clues (and not breaded deliciousness).
How we played
I remember following little twigs arranged in the shape of arrows to find a little piece of paper wedged between the bricks of a wall with a small riddle, which revealed the location of the next clue. My friends and I roamed the neighborhood for hours feeling like the greatest detectives. We followed the path through the parking lot, over the playground,and down the hill to the abandoned, empty plot where we searched the tall grass for a box with plastic gems. And in my glorified childhood memory, they were the most beautiful plastic gems I have ever seen, glittering in the sun of the most perfect summer day.
Another variation of treasure hunts I remember well was something like a beefed up version of “hide and seek”. One group would get a headstart of 10 to 15 minutes and leave traces and clues which lead to their hiding place.
Scavenger hunts remind me of the time when I was a member of the local scouts, going to the nearby forest and learning about different plants and trees by identifying and collecting pine cones, leaves or nuts. While camping out, we would do scavenger hunts to explore and find out about the history of the town or area we were staying in.
The way I remember scavenger hunts makes me feel a little old too. I’m reminded of how much the world has changed since smartphones started popping up almost 15 years ago. I’d like to believe that almost everybody of my generation who grew up in a somewhat rural area, and probably even many of the big city kids, grew up doing a scavenger hunt every now and then. Now I have to wonder, “Do kids even still do scavenger hunts like the way we did?” How did the dynamics change now that you have a smartphone to help you identify and find the items you need? Then, on the other hand, is a smartphone really more than a fancy classification book in that situation? So, maybe there is not such a big difference after all…
In my memory scavenger hunts have mainly been learning events in which the competitive aspect concealed the learning part, so if you want to trick your children (or friends) into learning something while being out in nature and having fun, a little scavenger hunt might be perfect for you. As humans we enjoy using our brains, after all, but it can backfire once it feels like punishment.
Benefits of scavenger hunts
Both treasure hunts and scavenger hunts are great activities for your mind that let you spend time outdoors. While treasure hunts are good at training problem solving skills, scavenger hunts are great for learning new things. They are also very flexible and adaptable, for all ages, abilities, and fields of interest.
Our line of puzzle scavenger hunt booklets, Nazotabi (formerly Hidden Secrets Journey), features interesting locations in Tokyo, and we are constantly adding new versions! Nazotabi is bilingual–English and Japanese–and suitable for players of all ages.