German Traditions and Culture

German Traditions and Culture

Germany has several traditions that have been a part of its culture for hundreds of years. There a number of festivities that are celebrated every year and remains an important part of the country’s traditions. While staying in Germany you will have an opportunity to experience and be a part of these traditions yourself.

Easter in Germany:

Easter is a celebration that spans over one whole week. The preparations start with “Palm Sunday” which is the Sunday before Easter Sunday and marks the beginning of the Holy Week. Several places in the country hold processions in celebration of this day. The name is derived from the tradition where people, typically the elders, take palm leaves or pussy willow branches to the church to have it blessed. After the celebration of Palm Sunday comes Maundy Thursday, the day of the Last Supper. Maundy Thursday is known as “Green Thursday” in Germany. This day is a significant part of the Easter celebration. To commemorate the death of Jesus, the church bells stay silent from the night of Maundy Thursday to Good Friday and will only return on the day of Easter Sunday.

The most important day of the Easter week is Easter Sunday. Easter Sunday is calculated as the first Sunday after the full moon in Spring. Lent, which is a period of fasting that begins 40 days before Easter to fasting Jesus undertook in the desert, finishes on the day of Easter Sunday. In many places, particularly in Northern Germany, Easter fires are held on the evening before Easter Sunday. The day after Easter Sunday is Easter Monday which is a religious holiday in Germany.

The Anniversary of Hamburg’s Port:

The Port of Hamburg, located on the river Elbe in Hamburg, is the largest seaport and is known as the country’s “Gateway to the World”. It is the 3rd busiest port in Europe and the 15th largest in the world. The Port of Hamburg used to be an important center for trade between Russia and Flanders and played an important role in protecting the important trade routes of Elbe by obtaining the lands along the river’s branches. The St. Pauli Piers, known as “St. Pauli Landungsbrücken” is the largest landing place in the Port of Hamburg and is one of Hamburg’s major tourist attractions. The entire port can be viewed and admired by the Landungsbrücken. The port has always played an important part in Hamburg’s economy and was officially founded in 1189. Hamburg has remained a member of the Hanseatic League, a confederation of trading towns, since the 14th century, and traces of the old Hanseatic and commercial town can still be seen throughout the city.

The first Anniversary of the Port of Hamburg was celebrated in 1977 and every year since then has been carried forward as a three-day celebration held at the beginning of May. The celebrations usually last a whole weekend, beginning on either a Thursday or Friday with the “Grand Arrival Parade”. On this day, several ships arrive and call in at the port and are welcomed by visitors at the Landungsbrücken. The whole ordeal is followed by broadcasted parades where the national anthem of each ship’s country of origin is played. The harbors are opened to visitors and are lined by stalls and shops selling local food from Hamburg and all around Germany. You can also find several funfair games and bands playing on large and small stages. Well-known international songs and typical old Northern German sea shanties are sung in celebration.

The famous tugboat ballet, which is the highlight of every Hamburg Port anniversary, is a unique and impressive show and cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. It is traditionally held on a Saturday afternoon. Finally, the festivities end with the “Grand Departure Parade” which usually takes place on a Sunday. During this parade, the ships that visited the port for the anniversary celebrations take their leave and sail back to their home ports.

The Dom in Hamburg:

Nearly every major German city has its own festival such as the Carnival in Cologne, Oktoberfest in Munich, Stuttgart in Cannstatter Volksfest, and Dom in Hamburg.

The Hamburger Dom is a big festival that is held at the Heiligengeistfeld fairground located in central Hamburg, right next to the St. Pauli Stadium. While the Carnival in Cologne takes place once a year, Dom is celebrated three times a year – in the summer, winter, and spring. Each time it is celebrated throughout the month making it the biggest and longest fair throughout Germany, attracting around 10 million visitors to the festival per year. It is sometimes referred to as Volksfest of Hamburg. The Hamburger Dom is a huge fairground which will be filled with countless stalls and booths for the festival. There are several rides ranging from children’s carousels to rollercoasters.

During the Dom, extensive firework displays are put on at the Heiligengeistfeld every Friday that can be seen across most parts of the city. Besides the exciting rides and attractions, you can find a wide array of delicious food ranging from traditional snacks and sweets to hearty multi-course meals.

Munich’s Oktoberfest:

The Oktoberfest, the world’s largest fair and Volksfest, is held annually in Munich, Bavaria. It is a folk festival held at the “Theresienwiese” fairground every year mid-September to early October bringing in millions of people from all over the world. It is locally known as d’Wiesn after the colloquial name for the fairgrounds. The Oktoberfest has been held annually since 1810 and is an important part of Bavarian history and culture. The event sees the consumption of large quantities of beer. In the year 2013 alone, 7.7 million liters of beer is estimated to have been served. The festival offers numerous attractions, such as amusement rides, side stalls, games, and traditional food to its visitors.

Oktoberfest is celebrated in memory of the marriage of the crown prince of Bavaria, who later became King Louis I, to the princess Therese con Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The wedding celebrations lasted five days and ended with a horse race that was held in an open area that later came to be called Theresienwiese. The following year the race was combined with the state agricultural fair, and booths serving food and drink were introduced in 1818. By the late 20th century, the booths were developed into large beer halls. During the Oktoberfest, temporary structures are erected by the brewers which can seat up to 6,000 people. Traditionally, the mayor of Munich taps the first keg to mark the beginning of the festival. Parades are held that feature beer wagons representing the breweries and floats carrying people in folk costumes. Other entertainment includes games, amusement rides, music, and dancing.

During the festival, women can be found wearing a traditional item of clothing known as the “Dirndl” that was worn in the late 19th century by people from the city when they visited the countryside on holiday. Another attraction related to the Oktoberfest is the “Oide Wiesn” or Old Oktoberfest.  This is a separate festival that emphasizes the traditional character of Oktoberfest with traditional fairground rides, historic attractions, and nostalgic stalls. Visitors can climb the swing boat that is around one hundred years old or stop at the traditional theatre “Auf Geht’s Beim Schichtl” which has been part of the Oktoberfest since 1869. The Oide Wiesn is paused every four years to make room for the central agricultural fair.

The German Maifest:

Maifest is celebrated throughout Germany to mark the arrival of Spring. It has its roots in ancient pagan traditions with Christian religious aspects that later came to be a part of it. It has since then evolved to become one of the most colorful and joyous parts of European history and culture.

The Maifest includes distinct traditions like the dancing around the “Maibaum” or the Maypole. During the festival, cities, and villages are decorated with colorful flowers and drapery. In some regions, people light bonfires, while other regions open the carnival fair season and elect May queens and kings. A tradition that is common to most regions is the erection of the Maypole that remain erected throughout the month of May, or even longer. The dance around the Maypole is a singular symbol of the reawakening of fruitfulness that comes with the Spring.

The Maifest celebrations include a variety of traditional food and drinks that are specific to the festival. “Maibowle” or May punch is a very popular drink made from a mixture of white wine, champagne, and woodruff. This drink used to be considered an aphrodisiac in the Middle Ages and used to be consumed in celebration of fertility and the spirits of the forest. Another prime drink of choice during the Maifest is the “Maibock”, which is a German beer brewed only in Spring. There is also “Maiwein” which is a white wine flavored with fresh “Waldmeister” or sweet woodruff.

The Cannstatter Volksfest:

This is the second biggest beer festival in Europe after the Oktoberfest of Munich. This festival is famous for its numerous festival tents, the entrance to which comes with two huge steins of beer as well as various forms of live entertainment.  It is an annual festival that lasts for three-weeks in Stuttgart, Germany. It is therefore also known as the Stuttgart Beer Festival and is traditionally more of an autumnal fair. This festival is held at the Cannstatter Wasen located in the Stuttgart city district of Bad Cannstatt, from late September to early October. A smaller variant of the Stuttgart festival, the Stuttgart Spring Festival, is also held every year in Wasen. The Volksfest begins one week before the Oktoberfest and is estimated to have around 4.2 million visitors in just 2006.

The “Fruchtsäule” stands as the symbol of the Cannstatter Volksfest. The fruchtsäule is a wooden pillar decorated with fruit, standing as high as 26 m in length. It has remained a part of the tradition since the first Volksfest in 1818 and represents the agricultural festival which was one of the origins of the Volksfest. The first fruit column was commissioned and funded by King Wilhelm I and was designed and built by the architect to the royal court.

At present, seven large beer tents are present at the Cannstatter Wasen, each having their own name or representing the name of the brewery that supplies the beer. Traditionally a parade is also held at the Wasen, usually on the first Sunday of the Volksfest.

The Karneval of Cologne:

The Karneval is the European equivalent of Mardi Gras and it dates back to the Middle Ages. This festival is celebrated by eating, drinking, and being merry before the fasting season of Lent. This colorful festival takes place 52 days before Easter and ends before Ash Wednesday. Karneval is celebrated in several different ways in several different regions of Germany. The three most popularly known versions are the Karneval celebrated in the Rhineland region, Fasching in Southern Germany, and Fastnacht in Baden Würrtemberg. All different versions of the carnival have different historic roots and traditions.

The Carnival season begins at 11:11 am on November 11th where people celebrate the beginning of what is commonly referred to as the “fifth” season. The weeks that follow will be filled with upcoming performances, costumes, and parades. Cologne is undisputedly known as the Carnival capital of Germany. In most cities, the carnival begins on a Thursday with a Women’s Carnival known as “Weiberfastnacht”. This day sees women dressed up in different costumes and taking control of the day. A popular tradition is to cut off the men’s ties leaving behind only the short stump followed by a peck on the cheek.

The Monday that comes after the Women’s Carnival is known as “Rosenmontag” or Rose Monday and marks the peak of the Carnival season. Most popular parades start at 11.11 am. Active members of the local Karneval clubs march in the 4-mile parade which lasts for around 5 hours. People can be seen dressed up as clowns, witches, wizards, or military officials from the time of Napoleon. This is a tribute to the first parade that was held in Cologne in 1823 after the defeat of Napoleon and the withdrawal of the French troops. The various floats present at the parade are works of art and generally portray a specific theme. The celebrations are continued after the parade by free-roaming marchers dressed in costumes. Bars, streets, and public squares remain open for celebration through the early hours of the morning.

The next day marks the final day of the carnival season and is known as “Karnevalsdienstag” or Shrove Tuesday. This day is observed with smaller parades and parties throughout Germany.

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