“Life is a festival only to the wise,” Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote.
With over 10,000 festivals, including some of the world’s biggest and strangest, Germany is certainly a place sagacious souls can appreciate.
From the raucous parties of Karnival 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-Mediaval.
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, we are giving you a helping hand by highlighting some of the most important and interesting festivals, carnivals, music, film, art and cultural events in Germany in 2013.
Berlin International film festival
7 February – 17 February
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.
Videonale festival for contemporary video art
15 February – 7 April
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.
11 February – 13 February
Various places throughout Germany
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.
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, such that visitors are guaranteed a diverse experience and new discoveries every time.
Leipzig Book Fair
14 March – 17 March
The Leipzig fair is Europe’s biggest festival of literature and features more than 2,6000 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. Always popular, the festival attracted 163,500 visitors in 2012.
22 March – 14 April
The Thuringia Bach festival specialises in Baroque music and performing the works of Johann Sebastian Bach in authentic sites. The festival appeals to music lovers and tourists alike.
Munich ballet week
21 April – 29 April
Perhaps the most exciting time of the year for the Bavarian State Ballet is Munich Ballet Week, when they and other international companies put on a week's worth of performances for that always succeeds 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.
International Dixieland Festival Dresden
12 May – 19 May
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 43rd. Don't forget to drop by the Dixie parade and to catch a show by one of the city’s many street performers!
International Africa festival
30 May – 02 June
Tubingen near Stuttgart
During this unique festival, 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.
Munich Opera festival
June - July
Held every year at the Bayerische Staatsoper (the Bavarian State Opera), the festival consists mainly of shows staged during the past year and always concludes with a piece by Wagner.
Richard Wagner Festival (Bayreuth festival)
25 July – 28 August
The 2013 edition of the Bayreuth Festival will see a new production of Der Ring des Nibelungen. Stage director Frank Castorf has told German press that the action of his Ring production will start right after the second World War, and that it is a travel to the gold of our age: oil.
6 September – 9 September
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!
21 September – 6 October
One of Germany’s most famous festivities and the world’s largest fair, Oktoberfest is a 15-day celebration of Bavarian beer. Over six million people come every year to drink beer, eat chicken legs and pork sausages and engage in general revelry.
Frankfurt book fair
9 October – 13 October
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 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.
St. Martin’s day
Various places throughout Germany
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.
Christmas Markets (Weihnachtsmarkts)
Various places throughout Germany
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.
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