Public Festivals in Germany

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Volksfest Sandkerwa
Volksfest "Sandkerwa"
A known German proverb says: "Festivities have to be celebrated the time they are." An English version of that could be: "Christmas comes but once a year." Every year there are about 10,000 occasions where public festivals are celebrated, so there is always a possibility to have some fun: Whether it's a parish fair, a riflemen's meeting, a religious festivity, a pageant or some sort of jubilee - in Germany about 200 million visitors participate in these events.

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A known German proverb says: "Festivities have to be celebrated the time they are." An English version of that could be: "Christmas comes but once a year." Every year there are about 10,000 occasions where public festivals are celebrated, so there is always a possibility to have some fun: Whether it's a parish fair, a riflemen's meeting, a religious festivity, a pageant or some sort of jubilee - in Germany about 200 million visitors participate in these events.

Below we will describe an important and popular festival that is either at the top of the list of big public festivals or which shows the local culture and way of living. We laid the priority in the region of "Franken".

At the bottom of this site you can find a link list with further information in English.


Heilige Drei Könige - The Three Hallowed Kings

January is one of the months with the fewest festivities, (although carnival in Cologne, Dusseldorf, Mayence and Munich have either started on the 11th of November at 11.11am or will start the day after the "Heilige Drei Könige". ) But many have to recover from New Year's Eve parties, so they celebrate the profound festivity of the "Heilige Drei Könige" on the 6th of January.


carnival in the German language school street carnival in Bamberg carnival in the German language school

Carnival* (Fasching)

Now the "crazy days" of carnival are at the peak of interest. From Maundy Thursday until carnival's Tuesday there are many big parties throughout Germany. There are not many eyes and throats staying dry...

The historical background of carnival is as manifold as the different names for it in German. Further information are to be found here (in German),_Fastnacht_und_Fasching

Some of the highlights of carnival are the carnival pageants, which take place on carnival's Sunday, Monday or Tuesday.
For example: the Carnival Monday's Pageant in Mayence was celebrated for the first time in 1838. Nowadays there are about 600,000 visitors every year.

Whoever wants to be part of the "crazy days" should have some information sotred by main carnival cities in Germany:

* By the way: The derivation of the word "carnival" is Italian, and means "carne vale!" . It's a Good Bye to Lent. In Germany carnival ("Karneval") is also called "Fasching" or "Fastnacht".


Starkbierzeit - "Time of Strong Beer"

Two weeks after Ash Wednesday starts the "Starkbierzeit" in Bavaria, which is especially popular in Munich (German).

For centuries a very strong beer is brewed in order to endure the meager Lent (carne vale!), the so -called "Starkbier" ("Strong Beer"). It has to contain at least 16% original wort, which is equivalent to about 6.5% alcohol. The "Starkbierzeit" is sometimes called the "Fifth Season" in Bavaria.
In March people living in Munich go "on top of the hill". This doesn't mean they go to the Alps but to the Nockerberg (German) and there they enjoy a cold, dark beer, the Salvator (German). With that they eat "O'batzter" (=crushed Camembert with onion, paprika and butter), "Steckerlfisch" (a grilled fish on a stick), "Leberkäs" (a typical Bavarian meat) or "Brathendl" (broiled chicken).

There are some traditions connected to the "Starkbierzeit". For example the "Derblecken" or "Tratzen" is,when the cabaret artists make fun of politicians and prominence.
These people are often in the audience and listen humorously to the mockery and criticism. They know that the most important thing to help raise their popularity is to be a part of the official life.

March/ April


Celebration of Christ's Resurrection. For traditionnels the oldest and most important Christian festival.

Christians should go to church, the pope holds an Easter address in St. Peter's Square, children look for colorful eggs.

In western church, on the first Sunday following the firts full moon of spring. Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays.

In Central Europe the end of winter is highlighted with Easter. Exactly 46 days after Ash Wednesday, with the end of carnival, Easter Sunday is celebrated. It is the celebration of the Easter egg, paschal lamb, Easter fires, Easter well,.. . Even more terms related to Easter can be found at (English).

Besides the bunny and the lamb, the egg is especially important at Easter. No matter if it's a chocolate egg or a real one, a decoration on some boards or a colorfully painted breakfast egg - Easter without an Easter egg can't be imagined in Germany. Since pre-Christian times the egg has been used as a symbol for awakening nature and fertility. It has a great significance in many nations.

So that the origin of Easter should not be forgotten: on Easter Sunday Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, with death not seen as the end, but as the beginning of a new life....(more)

Some links with information about the tradition of the decorated Easter wells in "Franconian Switzerland":

... and about Easter in Germany in general (pages in German):

At the end of April there is another event that is celebrated:


Originally the night before the 1st of May was a heathen spring celebration. Christianity later on reinterpreted it as a witch and druid-guided night. It is said that making a lot of noise such as drumming, whistling and shouting may cause the bad spirits of the dark to be driven away.
The Catholic Church consecrated this day to the sacred Walpurga, who died in 778 and made her an abbess of the monastery of Heidenheim. She was the patroness of maids and peasant women as well as the guardian of witchcraft, (which was supposed to fight the bad actions of witches.)

In many places even the Walpurgisnight on the 30th of April is something very special. The legend says, witches dance around a big fire on this night. They are welcomed with fireworks, dancing and a witchfire.


"Erlanger Bergkirchweih" is the oficial website of the Bergkirchweih. At there will be also current information during the festival.

Once a year a well - known beer-festival takes part one week before Whitsun in Erlangen, Franconia.

From 1675 on the first brewers of the twelve commercial breweries in Franconia had the idea to dig a tunnel into the sandstone of the hill under the stronghold of Erlangen. There beer would be cold even in summer. By 1770 thirteen cellars were used permanently, some were longer than 100 meters. The longest cellar, which was built by the "Reifbrauerei of Erlangen" in 1884, was 861 meters long and nearly went through the hill of the stronghold! As time went by, crossways between the cellars were built which were leased to smaller breweries or private patrons.
Today there is only one new "old" private brewery left besides the big Kitzmann-Brauerei (German): the "Steinbach" brewery in the old city. It was founded in 1995. Beer here is brewed only for the counter and the "Berg", which the "Bergkirchweih" is called as well.

Nowadays this festival is popular among young people who start dancing and singing on the tables every evening.

Whoever wants to party in such an atmosphere has the chance to do so at the Anna-Fest in Forchheim.


"Kieler Woche" - The week of Kiel (German/English)

About 3.5 million people come to Keil for the biggest sailing event in the world. Participants include more than 5,000 sailors with 2,000 boats. Besides being a sportive and cultural event, "Kieler Woche" is a grand folk-fair as well. With the command "Leinen los!" ("drop the lines") the big event is opened with great interest from the crowd and starts with the traditional "Aalregatta" (Eel-regatta) from Kiel to Eckernförde. About 200 sailors take part in this leisurely race. Another sight is the world cup of the high-seas yachts "Mumm 36".

People that are interested in sailing should not miss the Hanse Sail (English) in Rostock. It is also possible to take part in some of the popular sailing events.


"Annafest" in Forchheim (German)

Similar to the Bergkirchweih in Erlangen this traditional public fair takes place every year during the last week in July in Forchheim on the "cellar-hill" (close to Bamberg).

The origins of the fair are not clear, but three occasions were important:

  • On the 26th of July, the name-day of "holy Anna", tutelary Saint of Forchheim, the people of Forchheim went on a pilgrimage to the Anna-church in Unterweilersbach. On their way home, they had a rest at "cellar-hill" to have a cold beer.
  • From 1840 on the main-shooting of the riflemen's meeting took place on the 26th of. July, close to the "cellar-hill".
  • From the time of the Thirty Years' War on (1618-48) more and more cellars were dug into the rocks, to use the constant temperature of six to ten degrees centigrade for the storage of beer, wine and food items. From 1722 42 people owning a cellar were registered, most of them innkeepers and brewers.

Up to 500,000 visitors are attracted to the cellar-hill during the ten days of the festival. With 30,000 seats there is more space to sit there than at the festival in Erlangen, (the Bergkirchweih). It is possible to sit and eat in the middle of the forest and drink your beer. From 1p.m. to 11 p.m. bands play a variety of songs. Even more: there is a range of different show-booths and fair-attractions.

The best way to get there is by public transport. The walk from the train station takes about ten minutes.


Bamberger Sandkerwa (German)

The biggest festival in the town of Bamberg and an attraction to all guests is the so called "Sandkerwa" which takes place every year at the end of August. In the narrow streets of "Im Sand" (a district close to the river Regnitz) there is a long-lasting state of exception. Many inner courts and houses are opened on these days and many of the old romantic places are changed into wine-inns or pubs. At the public places and in the hotels there are bands playing different kinds of music: from German folkmusic to Rock and Pop to Salsa and Samba. A site with pictures of the "Sandkerwa" and the old town of Bamberg you can find here (German)!

"Sandkerwa" is the celebration of Consecration of the church "St.Elisabeth" and was first celebrated on 24th day of August in 1354, the day of "St.Bartholomäus". That is why this anniversary still gives the timetable for this day. The tradition of the modern "Sandkerwa" has its origins in 1951, when, after the chaos of the war, the people decided to reinstall this Consecration again.

The biggest event is the "Fischerstechen" ("Fishermen's Sticking") on Sunday. A spectacle, where two young men standing on narrow fishing boats in the middle of Regnitz, try to push each other down with stuffed lances. The pushing movement of the lance is called "Stechen" - sticking. People from other regions also come to participate in this event.

The finale is a big fireworks display on Monday evening.


Harvest festivals

September in German wine regions is the time of vintage and wine festivals No matter if it's at the Rhine, Moselle, Palatine or Main: everyone who likes wine will find something that suits their taste.

Here you can find a small amount of festivals in the Franconian region (all in German):

An overview of all Franconian wine festivals you can find here: (German); (German) or (English).



"Oktoberfest" in Munich (German/English)

In September/ October the most interesting folk festival of all takes place, the "Oktoberfest" in Munich, also called "Wiesn" (meadow). Every year more than six million people visit this festival, making it the largest folk festival in the world.

Details about the history and tradition of Oktoberfest can be found here: (English)

The name "Oktoberfest" is somewhat irritating: every year the festivities take part during the last two weeks of September and only during the first week of October. Although many people know of the festival, you can find some more information below:
o Some fun tips for your first visit to the "Oktoberfest" (English) .


Hamburg's DOM

Known as the largest funfair in Northern Germany, Hamburg's Dom exists as winter- dom (7. Nov. -7. Dec. 2003) and summer- dom (30. July- 29. Aug. 2017). It's a "classical" fun fair with show-booths, food-tents and fair-attractions.

During the weekend many families come to the join in on the festivities. In the evenings visitors from nearby "St. Pauli" come here party on.

It is standard for each visitor to receive a gingerbread-heart placed around his neck, along with a paper bag full of fried almonds and popcorn. When you start to get dizzy from the fair-attractions or become full from eating too much, it is time to go home.

A permanent variant like this folks festival exists in Austria: the Prater in Vienna. (English)


Nuremberg Christkindles Market (English). A lot of pictures you can find at: (German)

Christmas Markets, opening with the beginning of Advent, can give one some good ideas for Christmas presents. One of the most beautiful and popular Christmas Markets is in Nuremberg. It starts on the Friday before the first Advent.

This pre-Christmas market can be traced back to the middle of the 16th Century. In 1628 the market first appears in the historical record. A wooden box painted with flowers in the German National Museum bears an inscription on its base describing that the box was sent to someone during the Christkindle's Market in 1628. This box is currently regarded as the oldest piece of evidence for the Christkindle's Market. A list of notices for booth/stall holders remains from 1737. The list shows that nearly all of Nuremberg's craftsmen were represented in the "town of stalls". In those days 140 people had the right to display their wares. In 1998 there were 190 stalls on the Christkindle's Market which were maintained by 200 stallholders.
The market lost much of its importance during the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. But in 1933 a new ceremony lent an extraordinarily romantic tone to the proceedings. Here a "gold foil angel" was introduced. With it choirs of children began to sing and church bells rang. The visitors liked this so much that the market was brought back to its former popularity. The traditional offering of gingerbread, manger chests, fried sausages and glow wine along with the glittering selling-booths continues to bring a warm Christmas feeling to the visitors of this market.

Close to the marketplace there is also an international Christmas Market. Here visitors can find Christmas traditions from France, the Czech republic, Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine and Great Britain.

Common information about Christmas in Germany you can find on our Christmas page.



Definitions Public Festival
This is a festival, where at least one beer or wine tent exists as well as some booths and fair-attractions.

Parish Fair - "Kirchweih"
The consecration of a church is always celebrated on its anniversary. Originally it was only a religious festivity. Not until the beginning of the 9th century did it get a public response. Since then the consecration of a church attracts public festivals with show-booths and visitors from all over.

In Middle- or Northern Germany it is called "Kirmes" or "Kerb", in Franconia "Kerwa", in Switzerland called "Kilbe" or "Chilbi", in Austria "Kirta".

Further Links

for further information about German fairs in English have a look at

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Last update: 2024-06-03
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