written on 01/10/2020
by Heidrun Strobl

O’zapft is!

These 2 words signal the start of the world famous Oktoberfest and are announced by the lord mayor of Munich after successfully hitting the tap into the first barrel of festival beer (“it’s tapped”). 

Founded in 1810 in honour of the wedding of the Bavarian heir to the throne, nowadays the ‘Wiesn’ (lawn, called such by the Munichans) has around 6 million visitors every year, or would have if not cancelled due to Corona.

But Germans do not just celebrate in Munich! No, Germany is the only country in Europe to have almost 10,000 folk festivals (‘Volksfeste') nationwide.

More or less every one of the 16 federal states has its own famous folk festival which lasts at least a week, some up to 3 or 4 weeks. Others take place several times a year.

The German folk festival culture is a reflection of Germany’s history and society from the middle ages to the present day.

The folk festival has many names. Depending on the region and the origin, you may hear them called Kirchweih, Kirmes, Wiesen, Wasen, Dom, Dult, Jahrmarkt or Schützenfest. 

But there are many more.

The folk festivals can be divided into different genres based on their origin. Festivals with sacred origin are Kirchweih, Kirmes, Kerwa.

Then you have the Schuetzenfest. 

Its idea goes back to the 12th century when different shooting guilds (which in those days took on military defense tasks) were battling in competitions against each other.

We also have court festivals dating back to the 19th century when the population was invited to celebrate outstanding events with the feudal society.

Some of the festivals have their origin in sports activities, horse auctions or other agriculturally shaped events during the season.

With the invention of the steam engine, the modern folk festival was born with travelling showmen and the chain carousel or swing ride. 

All folk festivals have these things in common: free entrance, entertainment for the people, and the stimulation of intercultural exchange.

Today we have about 5,000 different showmen families. Around 50,000 people work in this area of showbusiness. 

Here are a few more famous German folk festivals besides the Oktoberfest: the  Canstatter Wasen and the Stuttgarter Fruehlingsfest (spring festival), the biggest of its kind in Europe; the Schuetzenfest in Hannover; the Baumbluetenfest in Werder; the Kieler Woche; the Hamburger Dom; the Nuremberger Volksfest and many more.

Do not forget the Bad Duerckheimer Wurstmarkt, the biggest Wine festival worldwide.

But we also have this unbelievable high number of local festivals which are all worth a visit. It’s not always the size that is decisive when it comes to creating atmosphere!

No matter what you prefer: beer or wine,  one thing all have in common is this: ‘Schunkeln und duzen‘ ( linking arms and swaying, and being on first name terms with the people on your table) are a must.