O'zapft is! Germany's most popular funfairs

Young woman in dirndl at a German folk festival. She holds a pretzel in her hand, in the background you can see a Ferris wheel.
© Getty Images/kotijelly

People in Germany enjoy social gatherings, not just at . They like to sit down together to eat and drink, and this is often done outdoors. It is an opportunity to forget about everyday worries for a few hours. The old and the young and people from a wide range of professions get together. This is why funfairs that are called ‘Kirmes’ or ‘Rummel’ in German, are so popular. There are around 9750 in total, and depending on the weather, they attract some 190 million people every year. In addition, around 3000 Christmas markets of all sizes take place in winter, like the .

Oktoberfest in Munich

The Oktoberfest in Munich is the biggest and likely the most famous German funfair. It starts in mid-September with a set ritual: the hosts of the beer tents arrive in magnificent horse-drawn carriages. At twelve o’clock sharp, the head mayor taps the first beer barrel and presents the first beer to the state premier. Only then is everyone else allowed to clink glasses in the 17 large and 21 small beer tents and to sing at the top of their voices: ‘Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit’ (‘Cheers to cosiness’). Wearing a traditional Dirndl dress or Lederhosen is not mandatory, however, ‘fesche’ attire is expected. In Bavaria this means stylish yet casual clothing.

There are countless imitations of the Oktoberfest around the world, but the original one can only be found in Munich. It goes back to a horse race on the occasion of the wedding between Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen back in 1810. The name of the location, Theresienwiese, is a homage to the bride. To this day, the site that is 42 hectares in size is kept free for the Oktoberfest.

Munich’s citizens call the site ‘Wiesn’ and it is inseparably linked to Bavaria’s state capital, much like salt is to a pretzel. The locals are happy to share their traditions with visitors from Germany and abroad. The more the merrier! Some six million people attend the festival every year, drinking the same number of litres of Oktoberfest beer. It is specially brewed for the occasion and served in mugs called ‘Maßkrug’. One Maß equals one litre of beer. While beer is undeniably a key component, the Oktoberfest is also a family event with stalls and rides. For two weeks, the city is shrouded in the typical fragrance of roasted almonds, candy floss – and beer. The nostalgia felt by many locals at the end of the festival is known as ‘Wiesn-Blues’. However, they can be sure that the Oktoberfest will be back next year.

Rheinkirmes in Düsseldorf

The big funfair 'Rheinkirmes’ in Düsseldorf also takes place every year. Rides, stalls and tents are put up along the bank of the river. Around four million people visit the fair in the ten days starting in mid-July. The ferris wheel ‘Bellevue’ is the fair’s landmark and a popular meeting point. Highlights include the traditional fireworks display between the bridges Rheinkniebrücke and Oberkasseler Brücke and ‘Pink Monday’, where the queer community has been gathering for over 40 years. The Rheinkirmes is organised by the Sankt Sebastianus rifle club.

The popular festival in North Rhine-Westphalia is held to mark two occasions: the day of the city’s patron saint St. Apollinaris of Ravenna on 23 July, and the consecration of the catholic St. Lambertus Basilica in Düsseldorf’s historic centre. The fair’s history goes back to a bird shooting competition in 1435. This evolved into a festival which is even believed to have attracted the matchmakers of the English King Henry VIII in the 16th century, who spotted his future wife Anne of Cleves. The number of visitors and the importance of the Rheinkirmes increased after it had been relocated to the festival field in Düsseldorf-Oberkassel in 1901.

Cannstatter Wasen in Stuttgart

Another very big funfair is the ‘Cannstatter Wasen’ in Stuttgart. The fair traditionally starts in the last week of September, just before the birthday of the former King of Württemberg Wilhelm I on 27 September. The symbol of the fair is the 26 metre tall fruit column that is topped with a bowl that weighs 600 kilogrammes. As a symbol of fertility and a rich harvest, the column was erected in the centre of the grounds of the first Kannstatt agricultural festival back in 1818. It was designed by Nikolaus Friedrich von Thouret, the official architect of the royal court of Württemberg. At the time, the column was still highly visible.

Nowadays, the landmark is obstructed by roller coasters and other tall thrill rides. The funfair traditionally includes a market with a wide range of small everyday goods, such as pots and pans, textile items and spices. Since 2007, there have been cabins in the style of a mountain village in which specialities from various regions are served.

Dhruv Rathee Visits Munich's Famous Oktoberfest

Dhruv Rathee Visits Munich's Famous Oktoberfest
Dhruv Rathee Visits Munich's Famous Oktoberfest ©

Cranger Kirmes in Herne

The Cranger Kirmes is based on the traditions of mine workers. It is held on the former site of shaft 5 of the ‘Unser Fritz’ mine, right next to the Rhine-Herne Canal. A horse show is held on the day before the funfair starts, because horses used to be vital for the work down in the mines. A miners’ band plays at the official opening ceremony on the afternoon of the first Friday in August. There are documents that suggest that the funfair’s history goes back all the way to the year 1500. Everything that is typical of a funfair can be found at the Cranger Kirmes: numerous rides, fireworks, a parade and lots of food stalls. Visitors can pay using the funfair’s own currency ‘Crange Taler’, as well as with euros. The mine horse Fritz is the mascot of the event. Just like the Fritz pin that is much sought after by collectors, the mascot was designed by the artist Dietmar Kremer in 1996. Depending on the weather, around four million visitors are counted during the eleven days of the fair.

Freimarkt in the Hanseatic City of Bremen

The biggest funfair in Northern Germany is the Freimarkt in Bremen. It starts in mid-October and locals think of it as the fifth season. At the start of the fair, the heart-shaped Freimarkt pendant with the official slogan in Low German is placed around the neck of the Roland statue outside the city hall that symbolises civic liberty and freedom. It reads: ‘Ischa Freimaak’. For the next two weeks, this motto that means ‘it’s Freimarkt’ is used as a popular excuse for any grievances. Visitors to the funfair eat lots of fried fish, countless shrimp rolls and plenty of ice cream with chocolate sprinkles. The latter does not seem to be a very good match for beer, which is also available, of course. The tradition of the event began when Emperor Conrad II granted the right to hold a market back in 1035. In the beginning, farmers came to the market to sell their produce and share the latest gossip.

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