Serious. Humorless. Punctual. We’ve all heard the stereotypes that would lead us to believe that Germans are among the least fun people on this planet.
But we’re going to let you in on a little secret that more than 30 million annual international visitors already know: Germany is seriously fun.
German festivals and events are plentiful, and an amazing chance to immerse yourself in the warmest and most fun-loving parts of German culture. Here are ten festivals in Germany that you need to attend for a stereotype-defying good time, ranging from traditional to hip and posh to sloshed.
1. Oktoberfest, Munich
What started as a royal wedding celebration is now the largest folk festival in the world, drawing crowds of nearly 7 million people who consume almost 8 million liters of beer. The Bavarian capital of Munich is among Germany’s most beloved tourist destinations and is filled with castles, palaces, monuments, and gorgeous architecture. Oktoberfest is the most famous of all traditional German festivals. During the two weeks of Oktoberfest each fall, the entire city dons dirndl and lederhosen and huge crowds join in on the drinking, eating, and merriment on the Wies’n. More than just drinking (though it obviously takes center stage), the festival grounds are decked out with rides, games, shops, and food stands.
Though Munich’s Oktoberfest is the largest, many cities in Germany hold their own folk festivals at this time. Huge fairs with plentiful beer and traditional German dress can also be found at the Cannstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart or the Cranger Kirmes in Herne, both of which also draw crowds in the millions.
But Oktoberfest isn’t only about beer and getting drunk. Half of the fairgrounds include carnival rides and games, and the “Old Oktoberfest” section is less raucous and includes more traditional tents. In some years, there is a wine tent where you can try out German wines. Otherwise, if you want a break from the crowds, the smaller tents are more like restaurants, and specialize in a certain meal while serving you a liter of beer as well. Furthermore, the biergartens are attached to every big tent and offer you some fresh air and a more casual, conversational atmosphere than inside the tents.
2. DFB Pokal, Berlin
If you’ve ever believed Germans to be stoic, you’ve never seen them at a soccer game. Like most Europeans, Germans are crazy for football and often have a deep-seated loyalty for their regional team. Held annually, the DFB Pokal is a knockout tournament for 64 of Germany’s top qualified football teams. The final, which takes place in summer in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, is the German equivalent of the Superbowl. Rivalries run high. Face paints and banners as far as the eye can see. Singing, cheering, open weeping, and the occasional streaker make the DFB Pokal Final one of the wildest and most emotional annual events in Germany.
3. Karneval, Cologne
Originating in Venice, Carnival is now celebrated all over the world from New Orleans to Rio de Janeiro. Each has its own unique flavor, and the German version is something like a two-week long costume party. This is especially true in Cologne, a city famous for its Karneval celebrations.
The biggest event of the season is Rose Monday, when 74 decorated floats, 67 tractors, and 50 Ford Trucks promenade for three hours through a 6 km track of downtown Cologne. Performers in the parade toss sweets, flowers, and plush toys to the spectators, the vast majority of whom are dressed in their wackiest costume. The parade also tends to be filled with political satire, with many floats featuring caricatures of European politicians.
The whole week is, like most traditional German festivals, accompanied by heavy drinking and lots of dancing. Come for the Rosenmontag parade but stay the whole week to attend all of the amazing concerts, parties, and events that go on as part of Karneval.
4. Asparagusfest and Onionfest, Schwetzingen & Weimar
German food isn’t exactly adored world-wide. Known to consist mostly of meat and potatoes, German cuisine tends to be pretty heavy on the basics. Perhaps that is why there are several traditional festivals in Germany dedicated to the country’s staple crops.
Thanks to Germany’s long and persisting farmer culture, there are festivals throughout the country to celebrate each important harvest, with two crops in particular reigning supreme. Though German food festivals dedicated to each foodstuff can be found in most any region where the crop is grown, the Onionfest (Zwiebelnfest) in Weimar and Asparagusfest (Spargelfest) in Schwetzingen are two of the largest and most well-known harvest festivals in the country. Not only can you buy the freshest picks of the season, you can also try plenty of dishes based around the vegetable of the moment and pick up asparagus- or onion-themed costumes.
5. Reeperbahn, Hamburg
Europe’s largest club festival and the German equivalent of SXSW, Reeperbahn is a music festival spread out the beautiful northern port city of Hamburg. Instead of being held in one dedicated location, the majority of bars, clubs, and music venues throughout the city host upwards of 800 concerts over the course of four days in September. Reeperbahn is where music labels’ newest darlings make their debuts and the next stars are discovered. Label scouts, indie hopefuls, and underground music fans turn out by the tens of thousands.
6. Berlinale, Berlin
The largest international film fest in the world, the Berlinale has been held annually since 1978. With more than 400 films screened, all competing for 20 prizes called Gold or Silver Bears, the Berlinale showcases the world’s elite cinematic talent in most every genre.
Although it is of the most hyped red-carpet events in all of Europe, Berlinale is distinct from many other film festivals in that it is accessible for people outside of the film industry. While many renowned film festivals are invite-only (Cannes) or require purchasing an access badge for thousands of dollars (Sundance, SXSW), Berlinale sells public tickets for single screenings. And, at around 12 euros a pop, it’s really not much pricier than seeing a movie in theaters.
7. Wurstmarkt, Bad Dürkheim
Drawing crowds of more than 600,000 people each September, Wurstmarkt is the world’s largest wine festival and dates back to 1417. Wurst means sausage, which is just as plentiful as the wine, making this traditional German festival a gluttonous good time. With 36 historic wineries in the region that cultivate primarily Riesling, Pinot, and Gewurztraminer, there is lots and lots of tasting to be done. Locals say that there are only two seasons in Bad Dürkheim: before and after Wurstmarkt. No one has much recollection of what happens in between.
8. Walpurgisnacht, Heidelberg
On the top of Heiligenberg Mountain in the quaint university city of Heidelberg, a massive open-air amphitheater lays in ruin. The ruins are known as the Thingstätte, and are one of the only remaining relics of architecture built by the Nazis in the area. The Thingstätte is no longer in use, and today is only visited by hikers. That is, except for on the night of April 30th each year, when tens of thousands of torch-bearing people hike up the mountain and pile inside of it.
Walpurgis Night is in honor of the 8th century abbess Walpurga, who is celebrated by German Christians as having battled disease, rabies, whooping cough, and witchcraft. But the celebrations in Heidelberg are far more tongue-in-cheek than religious. Legend has it that witches would convene atop a mountain in the Brocken region each year, which Christians would then counter by praying through St. Walpurga’s intercession. By gathering in the Thingstätte for a massive bonfire, drinking, and general merry-making, this pilgrimage is more in celebration of hocus pocus than any saint.
9. Unity Day, Berlin
October 3rd is the largest national holiday in Germany, the German equivalent of the 4th of July. It commemorates the 1989 reunification of East and West Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. While most every German city holds official celebrations on the holiday, there is no celebration quite like the one in the capital city, where the effects of the wall were most acutely felt.
Every year, Berlin celebrates this momentous occasion with a huge city-wide festival. Fair grounds are erected, open-air concerts take place at the Brandenburg Gate, a parade marches through downtown, and art and history exhibits are installed all along the remains of the Berlin Wall. In a city where the memory of the Wall and separation is still relatively fresh, the annual celebrations in Berlin take on a distinct character that are unrivaled by any other German city. Being in Berlin for German Unity Day means you’ll have no shortage of things to do and see.
10. Hafengeburtstag, Hamburg
The sparkling northern city of Hamburg has huge significance in western culture. As a major seaport founded at the end of the 12th century, Hamburg has been a historical trade hub without which the rest of the world may have never discovered The Beatles or the hamburger. To honor the port that has contributed so much to western culture, the people of Hamburg celebrate its birthday each year on the first weekend of May with a massive festival called Hafengeburtstag. More than one million people attend sprawling festival complete with boat shows, fireworks, concerts, and an open-air fair.
Fans of antiqueships will have plenty to do, with hundreds of boats with elaborate sails pouring into the harbor for water parades, races, and tours of the decks. But Hafengeburtstag isn’t just for sea vessel enthusiasts! Foodies will find plenty of delicious, freshly caught surf at the hundreds of street food stands; the city’s beer halls will be fullto the brim; those looking to party can partake in raves on boats; and rock starsas big as Rammstein have performed at the festival. The beautiful city of Hamburg is truly electric during Hafengeburtstag, offering a wide variety of programming that has something for everyone.