How to enjoy autumn in Germany like a local
Top autumn activities in Germany
The Germans sure like to lean into the seasonal swing of things, so if you’re looking to get into the fall mood like a true local, here are nine wholesome ways to celebrate autumn in Germany.
1. Attend a harvest festival
Holding festivals to give thanks for the autumn harvest is a tradition that dates back centuries, and is the perfect way to mark the start of the season in Germany. A common sight in smaller towns and villages across the country, the Harvest Thanksgiving (Erntedankfest) typically takes place on the first Sunday in October and includes a church service, a parade featuring the harvest queen, music and food.
Since the wine harvest also comes at this time of year, many harvest festivals in Germany are also organised in cooperation with local winegrowers, who erect stalls for wine tasting and buying - the perfect way to spend a sunny autumn afternoon.
2. Go mushroom picking
Continuing the theme of harvesting, mushroom foraging is a popular national pastime in Germany in autumn. On weekends during the wild mushroom season in September, October and November, many people wrap up warm and head to forests or other rural areas to sample some of nature’s specialities.
A word of warning, however: there are over 150 poisonous species of mushroom in Germany, and some of them are deadly, so if it’s your first foray into mushroom foraging, best to start out with a seasoned expert who can help teach you what to look for.
3. Eat some pumpkin - and some more pumpkin
Fewer things get Germans more excited than seasonal produce. Just as spring spells the arrival of Spargelzeit, autumn brings with it a wash of squashes, kohlrabi, mushrooms and cabbages, and the whole country goes mad for dishes containing pumpkin.
If you want to take the pumpkin adoration up a notch, you could always head to the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival, an annual event with a full schedule of pumpkin-themed events, from pumpkin carvings, sculptures and displays, prize-winning giant pumpkins, and even pumpkin-spiced beer.
4. Go to an autumn festival
The Germans love a folk festival, and so each season comes with its own run of events. Autumn folk festivals are embraced as the final opportunity in the year to drink German beer and be merry in the open air (at least until the Christmas markets arrive and the Glühwein starts flowing).
The most famous autumn festival in Germany is of course the mighty Oktoberfest, which runs for just over two weeks each September and October. If you want to avoid the crowds in Munich, you’ll almost certainly find that there’s a Herbstfest going on somewhere in your vicinity.
5. Collect chestnuts
As well as leaves, chestnuts litter the ground at this time of year. Going out and collecting the shiny nuts can be a great way to spend a few hours outdoors. You could always use your collected chestnuts to play a game of conkers - but you should also know that in Germany you can exchange them for something a little sweeter!
Every year since 1936, the Haribo factory in Grafschaft, North Rhine-Westphalia has been allowing adults and kids to exchange chestnuts and acorns for bags of sweets: 10 kilograms of chestnuts or 5 kilos of acorns gets you 1 kilo of Haribo. The nuts are then donated to nearby game reserves.
6. Celebrate St Martin’s Day with a paper lantern
Halloween in Germany hasn’t historically been much of a big thing. That’s because before the tradition was imported over here, the Germans already had their own autumn holiday that looked quite a lot like it: St Martin’s Day.
Celebrated on November 11 each year, primarily in Catholic federal states, Martinstag sees children dress up and parade the streets holding paper lanterns. In some regions, they go door to door asking for sweets, fruit and biscuits. So to celebrate the autumn like a true German this year, ditch the Halloween celebrations and get crafting yourself a Martinstag lantern!
7. Go fly a kite
Autumn in Germany isn’t just about pumpkins, mushrooms and chestnuts - it also means the start of kite flying season.
The German word for kite is “Drachen” - which also means dragon! So when you’re greeted with a particularly windy day, head outside with your best kite and let it take to the skies like a soaring dragon.
8. Get hiking
Germans love to be outside, and with the trees bursting into fantastic blooms of red, orange, gold and brown, there’s no better time of year to head to your local botanical garden, national park or arboretum for a good autumn hike.
The cold, wet weather might make it tempting to retreat indoors and cultivate some good old Gemütlichkeit - but as the Germans have rightly figured out, the sensation of curling up on the sofa feels all the sweeter after a long day spent outdoors in the crisp autumn air.
9. Remember departed loved ones
Autumn in Germany is not only about giving thanks and getting outside into nature - with the onset of winter and the turning of the year it’s also an opportunity to reflect and remember. No wonder the pagans believed the veil between our world and the spiritual world was at its thinnest at this time of year.
In Germany, this feeling is marked on All Saint’s Day on November 1, a public holiday in some federal states that is set aside as a time to remember loved ones who are no longer with us. You might see Germans placing candles or wreaths on graves, while churches hold services and families gather together for meals.
Embrace the autumnal feeling
So there you have it: autumn in Germany is all about embracing seasonal produce, getting yourself outside for a walk, a chestnut hunt, or a good bit of kite flying, and reflecting on the changing of the seasons. How will you mark autumn this year? Let us know in the comments below!