A favorite summer activity for those who live in the Alpen region is to hike from hut to hut, either for a weekend, or for a longer trip during the summer holidays. It's also a great idea for a traveler who wants to veer away from the usual backpacker or tourist routes. Heading up into the mountains ensures that you will meet locals, and you'll likely have the chance to drink beer and schnapps with real* Germans (Austrians, Swiss, French...) in a rustic, mountain environment. The most luxurious huts have a full menu with local favorites such as schnitzel, potato salad, lentil soup, dumplings, etc. And I've already mentioned that mountain huts always have the best cake.
Some huts offer private rooms, but it is more common to reserve a bed in a bunk room, where several dozen hikers of all ages and both genders sleep in very basic conditions (usually there is a thin mattress, a pillow, and a scratchy wool blanket. Hikers are expected to bring their own thin cotton or silk sleep sack). There may or may not be plumbing, so showers are reserved for the larger huts, and bathrooms are likely to be outhouses. Still, it's a roof over your head, a warm dinner, a hearty breakfast, and an unending supply of booze - pretty lux for a hiking trip. You don't even have to carry a tent or a bulky sleeping bag. It also bears mentioning that tent camping in most places in the mountains in Europe is actually forbidden because of the potential negative impact on the environment and/or interference with pasture operations, so it's a hut or bust.
Hiking trips in the Alps are quite easy to organize, even for an inexperienced hiker, and someone who is not from the region. First, many trails are reachable by public transport (usually a combination of train and bus). Second, trails are very well marked with signs showing the approximate hiking time to the next hut (rarely is it more than 2 or 3 hours). Trails are also often rated with a color-code to show difficulty (like ski trails, blue = beginner, red = intermediate, and black = advanced). And you don't need any specific gear, though good hiking boots and trekking poles are recommended.
The most important tip is that you must book a bed in advance. The huts fill up, so you cannot simply show up and expect a bed to be free. And, like all things in Germany, it's smart to start planning early because certain huts get booked up months in advance (especially on popular routes during the August school holidays). The German Hiking Club (Deutscher Alpenverein) provides detailed information on hiking routes and also runs the booking system for the network of alpine huts in Germany. Equivalent clubs/associations in other countries in Europe include:
Slovenian Alpine Club: www.pzs.si
Italian Alpine Club: www.cai.it
South Tyrolean Alpine Club: www.alpenverein.it
Austrian Alpine Club: www.alpenverein.at
Liechtenstein’s Alpine Club: www.alpenverein.li
Swiss Hiking Federation: www.wandern.ch
Swiss Alpine Club: www.sac-cas.ch
French Hiking Federation: www.ffrandonnee.fr
French Alpine Club: www.ffcam.fr
Monegasque Alpine Club: www.club-alpin.asso.mc
If you plan to do a lot of hiking, it might also make sense to become a member of the Alpine Club, as you will receive discounts on your hut room and board.
* the use of "real" is meant tongue-in-cheek, much like the phrase "real men blah blah blah..." I do, however, confess that I have a small bias toward mountain men, so like all forms of humor, there could be a kernel of truth, or at least naive belief, behind my words.