Germany Top Five: Fall Wine and Beer Fests
September and October brim with wine and beer festivals, from small affairs organized by local clubs to mega-events attended by millions. Here’s the lowdown of five vast and vibrant beer and wine festivals to be experienced at least once over the course of your European adventure.
Bad Dükheimer Wuerstmarkt
Sept. 7-11 and Sept. 14-17, Bad Dürkheim
Backdrop: The Dükheimer Wurstmarkt, widely regarded as the world’s biggest wine fest, has been around for more than 600 years. Its name traces to the early 19th century, when sausages were a popular commodity traded here.
Best known for: Its perfect pairing of both Volksfest and wine festival experience. Offerings run the gamut of scary rides, gaming booths, endless food stands, oompah bands, a market and the open heart of a wine fest.
Basics: Make way to the Schubkarchstande, narrow wooden booths where strangers become friends as they sit elbow-to-elbow drinking half-liter pours of wine and sparkling water known as Schobbe in the local Pfalz dialect. These are served in a Dubbeglas, a sturdy glass with dimples that make it easy to hold and hard to break. 300 varieties of locally made red, white, rosé and sparkling wines await sampling. Fans of beer and rock and roll find their prerequisites met in one of three spacious beer tents.
Sept. 22-Oct. 7, Munich
Backdrop: When Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen in Oct. 1810, Munich’s citizens were invited to the festivities. The horse races marking the close of the event were repeated in the following years, and an agricultural show was added to the agenda. The start of festivities was gradually pushed forward to take advantage of September’s milder evening temperatures. Even over a century ago, the fun fair attractions and beer tents known and loved today made up part of the scene.
Best known for: One of the world’s best-known parties attracts an international crowd, yet remains true to its Bavarian roots. You need not drink a drop to enjoy a stroll down the midway, taking in the sight of visitors turned out in the traditional garb known as tracht (checkered shirt), woolen socks and lederhosen for the men; dirndls and aprons for the ladies.
Basics: Visitors book their places in one of the 14 beer tents months in advance. Making a reservation obligates the attendee to a minimum purchase, generally two liters of beer and a meal, paid for by means of vouchers purchased in advance. No reservations? Arrive early or make way to the outdoor seating, where it’s first come, first serve.
Sept. 28-Oct. 14, Stuttgart
Backdrop: In the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, Württemberg’s economy was in tatters. King Wilhelm I and his wife, Katharina, believed an agricultural festival with horse racing, prizes for the best livestock, and general merriment would revive spirits, and the first iteration of the event was launched in 1818. 200 years later, the volksfest carries on at the Wasen, its original site by the Neckar River.
Best known for: Revelers consider this a saner, less touristy alternative to Oktoberfest. It offers all the bells and whistles of its larger cousin, but mid-week, you’ll likely score a seat in one of the beer tents. While hotels in Stuttgart can be pricier than normal, room rates never reach Munich’s astronomical heights.
Basics: On Sept. 30, horse-drawn brewery wagons, groups in traditional costume, bands and others parade from the Cannstatter Kursaal to the Wasen. Fireworks synchronized to music close out the year on Oct. 14. On all days, nine tents serve up beers and hearty fare; Göckelesmaier’s roast chicken is the fest’s signature dish. An outdoor French/Alpine village offers wine, crepes, flammkuchen and other treats. The midway has stomach-churning rides galore. Wine drinkers flock to the Canstatter Oberamt Tent, where local vintages flow.
Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, Oct. 2-15
Backdrop: The German Wine Harvest Festival is another highlight of the Palatinate wine festival season. Festivities were first organized in 1929 at the initiative of local publisher Daniel Meininger, a marketing pioneer and proponent of local history and wines of the Pfalz.
Best known for: Two events make this a standout festival: the world’s largest vintner’s parade and the election of the Pfalz and German wine queens. More than just a pretty face, the young women selected to represent one of the country’s 13 wine growing regions over the coming year must convince members of the jury of their competence in all wine-related matters. The queens from all regions then compete for the title of German Wine Queen. The competition’s final round is broadcasted throughout the land, and she who emerges victorious spends the next year promoting German wines around the globe.
The basics: The huts of the “Haiselscher” wine village serve wine and local specialties as music plays on stage. A lively midway offers tame to hair-raising attractions. The huge wine festival parade takes place Oct. 14. Over 100,000 spectators turn out to admire the elaborate floats, marching bands and the newly crowned wine queens. On Oct. 15, musical fireworks close festivities for another year.
Oct. 6, Merzig
Backdrop: Although this festival is pint-sized in comparison, around 30,000 visitors flock to Merzig, a small city in Saarland between Saarbrücken and Trier, on fest day.
Best known for: This fest celebrates viez, a type of wine made from locally grown apples. These small, sour apples aren’t great to eat, but yield much juice. Viez can be consumed in many ways – pure, served with mineral water or soda, warmed, sweetened with honey or as the basis for a cocktail.
Basics: On the first Saturday in October, locals and visitors from the region, nearby France and Luxembourg gather to drink and enjoy regional specialties served by around 35 local clubs and organizations. The festival spills over the town’s main square into the surrounding streets. Bands play music for all tastes across four stages.
Whatever festival you choose to visit, always have a plan in place. Huge crowds and tipsy revelers tend to complicate logistics considerably. Designate a meet-up point, note the contact details of all those in your party, and consider public transportation. As the night’s last trains or buses home are often overcrowded, know when to call it a night and get home safe. You want to remember your time experiencing Germany’s top five wine and beer fests in the fall.
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