Germans love to celebrate, although much of it is done in private. Here are some of the more interesting annual customs which have become institutions around the country, and, in some cases, around the world. This page is intended as a compendium of recurrent celebrations and festivals worth an extra trip and typical of modern German culture, not as a community bulletin board or calendar. Please do not post minor events, local celebrations which are not of national importance or events that would be better served by posting on a local website here.

Karneval/Fasching/Fasnacht

In Brazil, they celebrate mainly in Rio; in the U.S. it's principally New Orleans. The carnival season, also known as Mardi Gras elsewhere, is celebrated nationally in Germany.  Called "Fasching" in Bavaria, "Karneval," in the Cologne area or "Fasnacht" in the SouthWest , season kicks off on November 11 at 11:11 a.m. (also called St. Martin's Day in southern Germany) and escalates on Shrove Monday  through fever pitch, reached on Shrove Tuesday, the eve of Lent in the Christian calendar. The first written record of the Köln carnival is from the year 1341, so Germans have been partying for a long time!

Major celebrations:

  • Cologne: Everything begins on  "Fasteloven "  (womens carnival), the thursday before Shrove Tuesday with a huge parade at which perfect strangers clad in elaborate costumes kiss one another. In bars, revelers sing along to songs with "deep" lyrics like "The caravan is moving on, the sultan is thirsty." It's culminating in the huge Rose Monday's parade. The city's bars make 40 percent of their annual revenue on that day alone. While the huge  Rose Monday's parade is mainly touristic, the "Schull- und Veedelszoech"  (school- and neighborhood-parades) on sunday are more originally and prefered by the residents. More information: Karneval in Köln
  • Mainz is Germany's other big carnival city. Their Rosenmontag parade featured more than 150 floats totalling 7 Kms in length with over 9000 participants. Celebrations in both Mainz and Cologne, which rival eachother fiercely for top honors, are broadcast live by German television.
  • Southern Germany, especially Swabia, refers to the time of the year as Fasnet, and keeps closer ties to ancient Alemannic customs of pre-Christian times. The Black Forest city of Villingen-Schwenningen is known for a large festival in this vein, as is Freiburg im Breisgau, one of Baden-Württemberg's prettiest cities. Worth seeing is the "Narrensprung" (jester's jump) in Rottweil.
  • Munich is also not to be outdone, although its Fasching celebrations are not equal to those of Mainz and Cologne, since (after all) it is the Oktoberfest city! Nonetheless, the Bavarian capital manages to field a lively display which culminates in February on Shrove Tuesday with the Dance of the Market Women in the city's famous Viktualienmarkt.
  • Northern and Eastern Germany also celebrates, although those visiting any of the other carnival towns will tell you their celebrations lack the "oomph" of those found farther south, usually making a crack about "Prussian orderliness: to boot.

Love Parade

How could the capital of Germany not have a huge festival all its own? Sure, Berlin celebrates Oktoberfest and Fasching and Sylvester, but most of those and almost all the other festivals in the city which are not strictly cultural events such as the Berlin Film Festival, the Berlin Jazz Days, and the like, really are all "borrowed themes" from other German cities or even other parts of the world. Enter the Love Parade!

The Love Parade, taking place this year on July 15, bills itself as the "world's largest techno music festival and free party." Beginning in 1989 as a peace demonstration shortly befall the fall of the infamous Berlin Wall, the first "love parade" attarcted a mere 150 ravers in two cars who partied to the motto "peace, happiness and pancakes." By 1998, this exhuberant festival had reached more than 1 million participants and turned into a weeklong celebration with the motto "One World, One Future." In 2004 and 2005 the Love Parade was canceled for financial and organizational reasons, but 2006 the German capital expects the celebration will draw hundreds of thousands for a weeklong free party and celebration of techno music. Besides techno music, there is also usually a lot of nudity, free spirited sexual adventures in public places and quite a bit of "general-purpose partying."

Oktoberfest

The grand daddy of the big Wedding Parties, the Oktoberfest commemorates the honor of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen in 1810. The festivities began on October 12, 1810 and ended on October 17th with a horse race. In the following years, the celebrations were repeated and, later, the festival was prolonged and moved forward into September to allow for better weather conditions. Because September nights were warmer, visitors were able to enjoy the gardens outside the tents and the stroll over the fields much longer without feeling chilly.

The festivities for 2006 are scheduled from September 16 - October 3. The giant celebration has a parade all its own, too - the Oktoberfest Costume and Riflemen’s Parade. The parade will fall on September 19th in 2006. Teh monthlong festival also includes other festivals such as the parade of the Oktoberfest Landlords and Breweries, the official Tapping of the Keg, the Oktoberfest Mass, „Böllerschießen“ (handheld canon salute) in front of the Bavaria statue.  More information all about Bavaria's biggest bash is to be found at Oktoberfest.

Christmas

Did you know that the custom of the Christmas Tree is purely German? A leftover from pagan times, Germans honored the gods of nature by bringing a tree into the home and decorating it, a custom which was readily embraced by the Catholic church in Rome, as were the old pagan rituals practiced around Easter, the Solstices and many other religious festivals.

Christmas is all of Germany's biggest festive period, kicked off with the observation of Advent on the first Sunday in December. Markets spring up in every city, selling special items pertaining to Christmas, the Advent season and also presents, carvings, cultural artifacts and souvenirs of every description. The "grand-daddy of them all: is traditionally the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremburg.

Higlights of some of the morre important German Christkindl Markets:

  • Nuremberg: The city's pre-Christmas market can be traced back to 1628. Every year, as soon as the fruit and vegetable stands are dismantled and removed from the market square at the beginning of November, knocking and hammering can be heard as craftsmen erect crude brown stalls, still undecorated but a sign for every citizen of Nuremberg to prepare himself for the oncoming storm.  On the Friday before the first Sunday of Advent, Nuremberg‘s pre-Christmas spectacle, which goes by the name of the Christkindle's Market, is opened.
  • Munich: Munich’s Lord Mayor formally opens the Christmas Market at 5.00pm on the Friday before the first Advent. Thousands gather into the Marienplatz to watch the almost 30-metre-high Christmas tree sparkle for the first time in all its regal splendor as it is lit by 2,500 candles. The aroma of Gluehwein (hot spiced wine), gingerbread and roasting chestnuts reminds everyone of the magic of Christmas. Munich’s Christmas Market, originally called the Nicholas Market, is almost as old as the world-famous local breweries, dating back to the 14th century. From stable lanterns to gifts for the three wise men, the market offers everything you’ll need to recreate the perfect Nativity scene at home. The figures on display are all hand-made products of Bavaria, the Erzgebirge and South Tyrol, irresistible collections of craftwork, candles, ceramic and toys made of tin or wood. There are over 140 stands - enough to satisfy even the fussiest taste. Every evening, at 5.30pm, local groups from the Alpine foothills and the city sing and perform Christmas carols from the balcony of the Town Hall.
  • Berlin: The capital has its own Christmas Market or Weihnachtsmarkt, too, which continues past Christmas to New Year's Eve or Silvester, the most spectacular of Berlin holiday celebrations marked by huge parties, hours of fireworks, traditional pastimes such as lead-pouring, balls and dances and more. From the first days of Advent until Silvester, the city hosts a total of more than 25 individual Chirstmas Markets in various districts and suburbs ranging from neighborhood to grand affairs with differing themes.  More information can be found at Berliner Weihnachtsmarkt.
  • Hamburg's famous Circus Roncalli puts on the city's big Christmas Market: Beginning earlier than most in the last week of November, the city has huge displays of Christmas trees, handcrafts, food items, rides, and more, all centered around the city hall or Rathaus.
  • Rostock, in former East Germany, celebrates in a big way, too, as does the entire nation. Rostock's Christmas Market features a huge open air ice rink, along with the usual display of goods, rides, food and fun. More than 240 exhibitors from all parts of Germany as well as the Baltic Republics, Poland, Sweden and Finland come to Rostock to show their crafts and skills about a week before Advent at this largest open air event in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in beautiful historical surroundings.

For more information and a list of German Christmas markets, go to www.germanchristmasmarkets.org

Silvester

is what the Germans call New year's Eve.  Named after Saint Silvester, said to have been Pope from 314 until he died in Rome on December 31, 335, the party is likely another attempt by the Catholic church to combine old pagan rituals with an overshadowing Christian event, as are many other holidays and traditions such as those found at Christmas, Easter, the Solstices, etc. 

Germany's most glamorous, terrific celebration takes place - where else? - in the capital city of Berlin. In 2005, the theme was a kick-off party for the FIFA World Cup events of 2006 focusing on football (soccer to Americans).  Traditionally at midnight huge displays of fireworks light up the skies all across the largest German city, while church bells are rung. Open air parties as well as numerous private and public parties, dances, balls and celebrations take place all across the city with live television coverage and an atmosphere which easily rivals that found at New York's Times Square events, marked by a double-cheeked kiss and hearty wishes for a "Guten Rutsch!"  or :good slide" into the new year, usually accompanied by a (champagne) toast.

Among the most interesting traditions found still in practice for Silvester is the pouring of lead to predict the upcoming year. Small leaden figurines are melted in a spoon over a candle and the molten lead is then poured into a bucket of cold water. The resulting shape is then interpreted to predict what kind of a year one will have. Traditional interpretations range from an anchor (signifying help when needed) to such bizarre items as the axe (disappointment in love), a ram (expected inheritance), fish or pig (good luck), hat (good news), scissors (important decidion impending) or spider (your luck is hanging by a thread). The custom is still in use although not nearly as common as it once was. Other important traditions often found at parties and larger celebrations include the Feuerzangenbowle, a punch into which alcohol infused sugar cones drip when set ablaze; shooting handguns to scare off evil spirits (now outlawed in most cities including Berlin); throwing dice to (again) predict the upcoming year for prizes ranging from hotdogs through pretzels; and many others.