Get ready for Kaiserslautern's festival season

by Gail L. Winfree
Stripes Europe

Spring has sprung and fest time is upon us. The festival season offers everything from the local village "Kerwe" to regional wine fests.

Kaiserslautern's Messeplatz, a 15-acre fairgrounds located on the Barbarossaring on the east side of town, is the site for special events like circuses and flea markets and trade shows (often held in the large hall and restaurant that adjoins the grounds), as well as the city's two big carnivals held in May and October.

Promoted as "Lautrer Kerwe," both events attract thousands of visitors annually and offer big and small rides, food and refreshment booths, games, vendors selling assorted merchandise, a large fest tent with live entertainment, makeshift restaurants and stands selling just about everything.

Opening day festivities include a parade through the city to the Messeplatz. During the carnival, city buses are marked with flags and offer discount prices on tickets to and from the Messeplatz. Special events such as family day are held during the carnival with a fireworks display the last evening. 

Just around the corner is Maikerwe (May Kerwe), starting May 24 and ending on June 3. Be on the lookout for October's Kerwe coming later this year! 

The village Kerwe

In late summer, most local village squares turn into a mini-carnival complete with rides, games and food and refreshment stands. A huge, multi-colored bush made of paper is hung from a pole atop the local Gasthaus, marking the beginning of the fest. The mini-carnival is called Kerwe (sometimes called "Dorffest," village fest) and the bush is a "Kerwestrauss."

Kerwe comes from the German word "Kirchweih, church consecration. Sometimes referred to as "Kerb" or "Kirmes" in the Kaiserslautern area, Kerwe is celebrated on the weekend after the village church was originally consecrated. The festival usually runs from Saturday until Tuesday in smaller communities and all week in cities.

In former days, small communities were only allowed one or two markets a year, while cities had the right to have a market once a week. Small communities would include Kerwe festivities with their outdoor markets. Today, markets have lost their economic importance in the Kerwe festivities because of the overall availability of merchandise. However, Kerwe is still vital to village life.

Many women buy new clothes for the occasion and children are given Kerwegeld (money to spend on rides, candy, and toys). Village stores sometimes close, especially on "Kerwemontag," Kerwe Monday, and many people take leave from their jobs so they can fully partake in the festivities. Relatives often visit and local specialties are cooked.

Booths serving local Palatinate specialties called "Kerweessen," or Kerwe food, such as liver dumplings with sauerkraut and "Hausmacher," a plate with liverwurst, blood sausage, bratwurst and sauerkraut; small rides; and stands selling sweets, beer and wine fill the village square. Many times, a fest tent is erected.

The Kerwestrauss, which is made by the town's youth prior to the event, is placed on the local Gasthaus for the Kerwe's opening ceremony. After the Kerwestrauss is in place, a spokesman for the town's young men, called "Kerweburschen", stands on a ladder and gives a speech poking fun at village residents for things that happened during the year.

The village Kerwe is a good opportunity to meet people in your village, neighbors and strangers alike, for fun and camaraderie.

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