Halloween in Germany: Traditions, customs & events
It might be dismissed by some as an imported, commercialised tradition, but many people in Germany embrace Halloween as eagerly as the Americans! Here’s what you need to know about the history of this autumn holiday, and how it’s celebrated in Germany.
A brief history of Halloween in Germany
Halloween is a tradition that dates back to the Celtic pagan festival of Samhain, which was held to mark the beginning of winter. On the night between October 31 and November 1, the veil between the lands of the living and the dead was said to be at its thinnest, allowing supernatural beings and the souls of the dead to enter our world.
But the real history of the holiday in Germany begins in 1991, when carnival season was cancelled in response to the outbreak of the Gulf War - at least, if you believe the word of a man called Dieter Tschorn, a former public relations consultant for the German Toy Industry, who claims to be the “Father of German Halloween”.
According to Tschorn’s story, after carnival was cancelled many toy and costume retailers in Germany were left with a massive hole in their finances, and so looked around for a way to recoup some of their lost revenue. Their solution was to bring Halloween to Germany.
At the time, the holiday was a largely alien tradition in the federal republic, bringing next to no value to the economy, despite being hugely popular in the US. Tschorn sent out his first press release to the German media on September 4, 1994, announcing the start of Halloween in Germany, and by the end of the 1990s, the holiday had already taken off. Today it creates a turnover of around 320 million euros per year.
Halloween date: Is it a public holiday (Feiertag)?
These commercial roots mean that - like Valentine’s Day - Halloween is dismissed by some in Germany as a mere exercise in consumerism. This bone of contention is rubbed even rawer by the fact that it stands on the coattails of several other public holidays in Germany.
For starters, October 31 is already a holiday in parts of Germany, with very different roots: Reformation Day. On this day in 1517, Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, sparking the Protestant Reformation. The holiday is marked in Protestant regions of Germany, including Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia.
The day after Halloween, November 1, is also a holiday. All Saints’ Day is observed in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland.
Other people argue that Halloween is straying onto the turf of Saint Martin’s Day, a traditional German holiday that follows just under two weeks after Halloween on November 11. On this day, children parade the streets with homemade paper lanterns, and sometimes even call into people’s houses to sing songs in exchange for sweets.
So - as you can probably imagine - some people see no need to have yet another holiday over this period.
How to celebrate Halloween in Germany
However, despite Germany’s rather ambivalent attitude towards Halloween, the growing number of themed events and parties that pop up all over the country every year suggests that this commercial holiday is here to stay. Indeed, Germany has even developed its own customs and traditions for marking Halloween. Here’s how to celebrate it, German-style.
The Halloween pumpkin (Halloween Kürbis)
Like many other countries around the world, Germany too has embraced the pumpkin (Kürbis) Halloween tradition and in some neighbourhoods you might see a variety of carved pumpkin (Jack-O’-Lantern) decorations gracing the pavements on October 31.
You’ll certainly see pumpkins and other squashes popping up in German supermarkets from the beginning of autumn, but most of these will be intended for eating and likely too small for carving!
The Halloween look: Costumes, outfits & makeup (Halloween Kostüme & Schminke)
If you’ve ever been to carnival in Germany, you'll know that the Germans are not adverse to getting dressed up. However, the Halloween look in Germany might be slightly different to what you’re used to back home.
In the US, for example, there’s virtually no limits on what can be called a Halloween costume - princesses, dragons, clowns, cowboys - you name it. In Germany, however, those kind of cutesy costumes are best left for the “Silly Season” of Carnival. Instead, people’s Halloween outfits and makeup tend to trend towards the scarier side of things.
And, unlike in the US, it’s not very common for German people to wear costumes to work on Halloween. Primary and secondary schools may hold events for the children to dress up, play games, and eat snacks, but most companies will probably not observe the holiday. So, if you want to dress up, you should probably save your costume for an evening event!
Trick or treating
Trick or treating (or um die Häuser ziehen - going around the houses), is not as common in Germany as in the US, but you may find that some children do wander from house-to-house in your neighbourhood, begging for sweets or playing pranks.
The German version of the classic Halloween phrase “Trick or treat?” is “Süßes oder Saures” (“sweet or sour”) or the slightly more ominous “Süßes sonst gibt’s Saures” (“Sweets or there will be sour things”).
If houses are covered in Halloween decorations or displaying a pumpkin outside, this is usually a good indication that they will be giving out sweets. If you don’t want to be bothered by people ringing your doorbell, it’s a good idea to turn out the lights.
Halloween buffet: Snacks, fingerfood, cupcakes & pizza
While trick or treating isn’t super common in Germany, Halloween-themed parties are. Indeed, grab any popular German family magazine in the run-up to the holiday and you’re bound to come across ideas for how to throw a great party for the kids, complete with a spooky Halloween buffet of themed snacks, cupcakes, and even pizza!
Drinks often served on Halloween include hot apple punch (or Glühwein for the grown-ups) and cold “blood bunch” made from grape juice, blackcurrant juice and blood oranges. Germany also has its own popular Halloween snacks and dishes, including spicy devilled eggs and - of course - pumpkin soup.
Halloween events in Germany
If having a party at home doesn’t quite do it for you, there are also lots of events taking place across Germany in the run-up to the spooky season. Here are some of the most popular:
Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival
Granted, this festival isn’t directly tied to Halloween - it’s more about celebrating autumn - but if you’re after giant winter squashes and all kinds of pumpkin-related activities, then Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival is where you’ll find them. Located near Stuttgart, this is the world’s largest exhibition of pumpkins, featuring magical displays, pumpkin carving, and seasonal food from late August to the beginning of December.
Halloween in Berlin
Germany’s capital city also offers no shortage of spooky experiences and costumed parties in the run-up to October 31. If you’re looking to celebrate Halloween in Berlin, you should check out the horror event at Berlin Dungeon. A number of locations, including the Kulturbrauerei, Ava Club, Bebo Bar, Haus Ungarn and Club Ost also regularly host Halloween parties.
If you’re not in the capital this Halloween, you won’t miss out! Europapark, the biggest amusement park in Germany, also puts on some special Halloween events from October to November, decorating the park with eerie scenery and setting vampires and goblins loose!
Halloween at Burg Frankenstein
For a bigger scare factor, you could head to one of the oldest and most famous Halloween events in Germany - the house of fright at Burg Frankenstein, near Darmstadt. Wander the ruins while actors dressed as ghouls, zombies, monsters and other creepy creatures try to scare you out of your wits!
Halloween Horror Festival at Movie Park Germany
Movie Park Germany also puts on its own devilishly frightening Halloween Horror Festival. On special evenings in October and November, the park is transformed into a terrifying setting, populated with 250 zombies, ghouls and beasts. You can try your hand at outrunning these nightmarish characters in the special horror mazes, or take a turn on the specially-decorated rides.
Halloween at Legoland
If you’ve got little ones in tow, you’ll find spooky thrills suitable for the whole family at Halloween at Legoland. The park gives its attractions a thrilling twist, with thousands of pumpkin decorations and funny-scare activities and treasure hunts.
The spookiest holiday of the year
Whether you’re staying at home with a scary movie, heading out for a spot of trick or treating, dancing it up at a club, or hosting your very own Halloween party, we hope you find a way to enjoy the spooky season in Germany. Happy Halloween!
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