Top German festivals

Top festivals in Germany 2016

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O’zapft is! With more than 10,000 German festivals, Germany offers riches of entertainment and marvel to everyone from book lovers to beer drinkers.

“Life is a festival only to the wise,” Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote.

With over 10,000 German festivals, including some of the world’s biggest and strangest, Germany is certainly a place sagacious souls can appreciate. From the raucous parties of Karneval to the acclaimed Berlinale film festival to the famously merry Christmas markets, there’s something in Germany’s festival calendar to suit everyone’s tastes.

Some of the traditional German celebrations include Bayreuth’s Richard Wagner Festival, Munich’s restrained commemoration of beer, Oktoberfest, the world’s largest trade fair for books in Frankfurt and the Munich Opera Festival.

Since the mid-1980s, however, there has been a rapid expansion of new, more niche-market festivals in Germany. Night owls and museum geeks can revel together during Berlin’s Long Night of the Museums, an evening when the city’s museums and cultural institutions stay open into the wee hours. Fans of avant-garde film can fill their heads with new, esoteric anecdotes at Videonale, Bonn’s festival for art and experimental videos. Even secret Dungeons and Dragons lovers can find a home at Bavaria’s medieval re-enactment festival Festival-Medieval.

Whether you’re just visiting Germany or have lived here for a while, attending a festival can be an easy and exciting way to discover German culture. To help get you started, here are some of the most important and interesting German festivals, carnivals, music, film, art and cultural events in Germany in 2016. 

Festivals in Germany 2016

February: Berlin International film festival
The world’s second largest film festival after Cannes, the Berlinale draws together more than 19,000 film professionals from 115 countries. The festival showcases a wide variety of films, including big international movies, independent and art house productions, movies aimed at younger audiences, German productions and more experimental films. The 66th festival runs from 11 to 21 February 2016.

Top festivals in Germany: Berlinale

Mid-February to April: Bonn Videonale festival 
One of the world’s oldest video art festivals, both stars and up-and-coming young artists of the international video-art scene can be found there. Launched in 1984, the biennial Videonale today counts as one of the oldest and most renowned festivals of video art in the world. Check for 2016 dates.

Mid-February: Karneval
The 40-day period before Ash Wednesday when Lent begins is also Karneval season in Germany. It’s a time when the typically orderly Germans let loose and party. Parades, costume balls and other such festivities take place throughout the country, often varying widely according to local traditions.

Top festivals in Germany: Carnival

Mid-March: Leipzig Book Fair
The Leipzig fair is Europe’s biggest festival of literature and features more than 2,600 events held at 350 difference venues. An ideal communication platform, the Leipzig Book Fair provides extensive information about new publications as well as current and future trends in the German speaking and European markets. The next Leipzig Bookfair is 17 to 20 March 2016.

Top festivals in Germany: Leipzig Book Fair

Early April: Munich ballet week
Perhaps the most exciting time of the year for the Bavarian State Ballet is Munich Ballet Week (Bayerische Staatsballett), when they and other international companies put on a week's worth of performances that always succeed in enchanting audiences. Over the last few decades this event has become one of the most prestigious of its kind, drawing visitors from across Europe and beyond. This year's ballet week will take place from 3 to 19 April 2016.

April to May: Thuringia Bach festival
The Thuringia Bach festival (Thueringer Bachwochen) specialises in Baroque music and performing the works of Johann Sebastian Bach in authentic sites. The festival appeals to music lovers and tourists alike. This year's festival will take place from 18 March to 10 April 2016.

May: Wave-Gothic Festival, Leipzig
Goths, Cyber Goths, Steampunks and anyone else into the 'dark' arts may want to head for the Wave-Gotik-Treffen, to enjoy the best of dark music and culture, with bands, fairs and events with medieval and gothic themes. The event, now one of the world's largest of its type, was considered so subversive in the days of the German Democratic Republic that it was banned. The Wave-Gotik-Treffen will run from 13 to 16 May 2016.

Top festivals in Germany:  Wave-Gothic Festival

Mid-May: International Dixieland Festival Dresden
Many a saintly visitor goes marching into Dresden in early May to check out the city's festival of Dixieland and early jazz music. Known particularly for its open-air events on the Elbe River, the festival boasts over 350 artists every year; this year is its 46th. Don't forget to drop by the Dixie parade and to catch a show by one of the city’s many street performers. This years festival will take place from 15 to 22 May 2016.

May–September: Rhein in Flammen
Rhein in Flammen (Rhine in Flames) is a series of spectacular firework displays lighting up the castles and vineyards on the banks of Germany's famous river in different locations in Bonn and St Goar. In 2016 these will take place as follows: Bonn 7 May and St Goar 17 September. You can view the shows from illuminated boats on the Rhine; ashore there are concerts, fairgrounds, food, drink and many other entertainments.

Top German festivals: Rhine fireworks

May–October: Oberammergau Passion Play
After escaping the bubonic plague back in 1634, the villagers of Oberammergau gave thanks to God by vowing to perform their now world-famous 'Passion Play' every 10 years. Over 400 years later, they continue to do so. Of the 5,300 or so population, around 2,000 are involved in the play which re-enacts Christ's life leading up to his crucifixion and can last up to eight hours (including a three-hour interval). The next performance will be in 2020 but the Passion Play Theatre is open for tours and other cultural performances in the meantime.

June: Rock am Ring and Rock im Park
These are two massive rock festivals that take place simultaneously over three days: Rock am Ring (Rock in the Ring) in Nürberg and Rock im Park (Rock in the Park) in Nuremberg. The same artists from a range of music genres appear at each venue, performing to combined crowds of around 160,000, making this one of the largest music festivals in the world. Check out the website for the line-up for the next festival which is 3 to 5 June 2016. |

June: Kieler Woche, Kiel
Kieler Woche or Kiel Week is not only the largest sailing event in the world — with over 2,000 yachts, tall ships, dinghies, and surfboards taking part — it's also a massive open air music and cultural festival with an accompanying children's cultural festival. What started life as a one-day regatta 133 years ago is now a week-long event where you can watch Olympic and international sailors race, a windjammer parade of tall ships and take your pick from some 300+ musical events. Keiler Woche runs from 18 to 26 June 2016.

July: International Africa festival
During this unique festival in Tubingen near Stuttgart, African artists and bands perform modern and traditional music and dance from their home countries. There is also a market with African crafts and works of art. In 2016, it’s on 21 to 24 July. You can also catch the Africa Festival Wurzburg which runs earlier in the year from 26 to 29 May 2016 and is one of the largest festivals in Europe for African music and culture.

Top festivals in Germany: International Africa festival

June–July: Munich Opera festival
Held every year at the Bayerische Staatsoper (the Bavarian State Opera), the Opernfestspiele consists mainly of shows staged during the past year and always concludes with a piece by Wagner. In 2016, the festival opens on 19 June and runs until the end of July.

July–August: Richard Wagner Festival (Bayreuth festival)
The month-long Bayreuther Festspiele is held annually in the Bavarian town of the same name. Wagner himself oversaw the construction of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, the theatre where concerts from the composer have been performed since 1876. The 2016 programme starts 25 July and runs until 28 August.

August: Long night of the museums
From its beginning in 1997, almost all of the city’s 180 museums and memorials have taken part in the long night. Each event offers a different combination of museums and a new programme (with ever more museums and initiatives joining in) so that visitors are guaranteed a diverse experience and new discoveries every time. In 2016, the event will take place on 27 August from 6–8pm.

Top festivals in Germany: Long night of the museums

September: Festival-Mediaval
The Festival-Mediaval is a living history and re-enactment festival in Selb. The event includes performances of medieval music, fire shows, roaming performers such as witches and beggars, theatre groups and a medieval market. If you've ever had a hankering to try your hand at archery while munching on a medieval snack, then this festival is for you. This year's festival will run from 9 to 11 September 2016.

September to early October: Oktoberfest
One of Germany’s most famous festivities and the world’s largest fair, Oktoberfest is a 15-day celebration of Bavarian beer. More than six million people come to drink beer, eat chicken legs and pork sausages and engage in general revelry. Join them from 17 September to 2 October 2016.

Top festivals in Germany: Oktoberfest

October: Frankfurt book fair
The history of world's largest trade fair for books dates all the way back to 15th century, when Johannes Gutenberg first invented movable type just a few kilometres away from Frankfurt. Soon after, local booksellers held the first book fair. The Frankfurt fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse) is now primarily for people in the industries surrounding books, although it does have some more layman-accessible events, such as its award for the oddest book title of the year. In 2016, the Frankfurt Bookfair is on from 19 to 23 October.

November 11: St Martin’s day
St Martin’s Day is the feast day of Martin of Tours, who began his life as a Roman soldier and ended up a monk. St Martin’s most famous deed is that he once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, thereby saving the beggar’s life. That night, Martin dreamed that the beggar he had helped was Jesus.

On St Martin’s Day, which is celebrated in many areas in Germany, children go from house to house with paper lanterns and candles and sing songs about St Martin in return for treats. Many places also have public festivals to celebrate the saint that include re-enactments of St Martin’s donation of his cloak and the serving of the traditional dish of roast goose, or Martinsgans.

December: Christmas Markets (Weihnachtsmarkts)
Nearly every German city and village sets up a Christmas market during the Advent season. Giving you a reason to brace the cold, visitors can ride a Ferris wheel, browse through the stands selling handicrafts, wooden toys and ceramics, sample the hot mulled wine (glühwein) and hot chestnuts or just absorb the merry atmosphere. These fairs have proven so popular that other countries have started copying the German-Austrian tradition. Notable Christmas markets are in Berlin, Munich, Nuremberg, Lubeck, Munster, Stuttgart and Heidelberg.

Top festivals in Germany: Christmas markets



Updated 2016.

Photo credits: Zeitfixierer (thumbnail, Holi party), Siebbi (Berlinale), Danny Soztny (Wave-Gothic Festival), mLu.fotos (Rhine fireworks), David R. Tribble (Africa festival), Mateusz War. (Long night), Bayreuth2009 (Oktoberfest), charley1965 (Chrictmas market).

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1 Comment To This Article

  • Kim posted:

    on 18th September 2016, 16:55:33 - Reply

    How could the Beethovenfest in Bonn have been left off of this illustrious list? That is absolutely ridiculous! From the beginning of September to the beginning of October every year, Bonn celebrates the birth of their favorite son through concerts, parades, special guest speakers, and much more. Tourists flock from all over the world to celebrate the Beethovenfest!