Ghoulish goblins swing candy pails brimming with treats as they walk from house to house in American neighborhoods on Halloween. While this holiday dates to the 19th century in the United States, Halloween is still relatively young in Germany.
Halloween, in some shape or form, harkens back more than 2,000 years to the Celtic festival of Samhain. This celebration signaled the end of the summer harvest and the beginning of the long, cold winter. The Celts donned disguises and lit bonfires to drive away ghosts and evil spirits. This tradition has continued over centuries and evolved into the Halloween holiday that we are familiar with today.
In 1991, Fasching (carnival) celebrations were canceled across Germany due to the Gulf War. Trying to recoup financial losses, many businesses and entrepreneurs banded together and decided to re-introduce Halloween to the German population. The younger generation embraced the holiday, and Halloween has since become the third most financially successful celebration, following Christmas and Easter.
While Halloween has just caught on during the past three decades, there are two other German holidays that bear many similarities to Halloween. On April 30, be sure to put away your trashcans and secure outdoor items you have lying round. Otherwise, you may be considered fair game for the shenanigans of Walpurgisnacht, or Witches Night. Children and teenagers often play harmless pranks on their friends and neighbors when the sun goes down.
Closer to Halloween is Martinstag (St. Martin’s Day), which is celebrated on Nov. 11. The celebration of St. Martin usually includes a parade of children with brightly lit lanterns that travels from a nearby church to the center of the village. In some villages, the children go from door to door singing songs, in exchange for treats. Once the procession reaches the village center, a bonfire is lit and the community comes together for food, drinks and merriment.
A few differences
Germany has adopted many of the same Halloween customs as Americans — elaborate costumes, raucous parties and spooky haunts. However, there are a few notable differences. Trick-or-treating still hasn’t quite caught on with the same gusto as in the U.S. It is usually done in the larger cities or in areas where there are larger American populations. Since the older generation isn’t too keen on the idea of tricks when handing out candy, children instead ask, “Süsses oder Sauers,” which translates to “sweets or sours.”
The types of costumes worn are also slightly dissimilar. While there are many Americans who dress in scary or somewhat gory costumes, our local counterparts outdo us. German Halloween ensembles are usually quite scarier and more elaborate. To them, the more spine tingling and terrifying, the better. For costumes that aren’t quite as creepy, plan ahead to buy during Fasching season, when the selection is best and often on sale.
Where to go
Burg Frankenstein, Darmstadt
This 13th century castle is thought to be the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s literary masterpiece, “Frankenstein.” Located 45 minutes southeast of Wiesbaden and a little over an hour northeast of Kaiserslautern, Burg Frankenstein is the ultimate place for a good fright on Halloween. Creeping monsters, haunted dungeons and dark hallways with flickering lights add to the sinister atmosphere. On Sundays, the goblins and witches are tamer and less scary for the littles.
Movie Park Halloween Horror Fest
Zombies, monsters and all manner of ominous creatures await you at the Movie Park Halloween Horror Fest. With two scare zones, spooky mazes, Halloween shows and many action-packed rides, the festivities will be in full force. For little goblins, there is a monster-free zone that includes face painting and pumpkin carving.
From Sept. 24 to Nov. 6, Europa Park is transformed into a ghostly landscape of fun. More than 180,000 pumpkins, hay bales, shadowy trees and illuminations create a haunting atmosphere. Enjoy Halloween-themed shows, ride the Pumpkin Coaster and make your way through one of the six haunted houses, if you dare.
Halloweeks at Legoland
Halloweeks at Legoland begins on Oct. 15 with the annual Legoland Pumpkin Championship, which gives prizes for the largest pumpkins. The colossal orange gourds can be found throughout the park, along with ghouls and haunted houses. On Oct. 31, there will be magicians, a pumpkin carving contest and free admission to all children who come in scary costumes.
Mayen “Festival of Witches and Magicians”
Located in northern Rheinland-Pfalz, the village of Mayen hosts the Festival der Hexen under Magier, or Festival of Witches and Magicians. Held on the last Saturday of October (Oct. 29), the town is transformed into a vibrant, autumnal wonderland. This festival features a parade, pumpkin carving and fun activities for all.
Halloween is not everyone’s cup of tea — even for many Americans. If you’re not a big Halloween fan but still enjoy the season, visit a local Kürbisfest (pumpkin festival). These festivals celebrate all things pumpkin! From magnificent
and impressively themed pumpkin displays to exquisite cuisine, there is truly something for everyone. Enjoy one of the largest pumpkin festivals in the world in Ludwigsburg. This year, the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival runs from Sept. 2 to Nov. 16, and features a circus theme.
Although Halloween is still in its infancy in Germany, there are many ways to celebrate. From haunted amusement parks and castles to festive pumpkin festivals, there is plenty to see and do. Happy hauntings!
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