Yes – you read that right. One of the little towns in Germany has an honest-to-goodness Onion Cake Fest – and with that, you can probably guess how Germans feel about their festivals. They love them and pretty much find any reason to throw one!
When I moved to Stuttgart, Oktoberfest was at the top of my European Bucket List – because why not? Munich is two hours away, and if I could attend this world-famous fest, I was absolutely going to do it. I’m glad I can say that yes, I went to Oktoberfest – but Stuttgart holds two somewhat smaller Beer Fests that are so much more fun! (And slightly more authentic – there were not nearly as many people wearing the traditional Dirdnls and Lederhosen, which is almost a sure sign of tourist!) Then of course, there are the wine tests – which are somewhat more reserved (no dirdnls or lederhosen needed), but equally entertaining. I have yet to attend the Onion Cake Fest…maybe next year, if I get really, really curious! 🙂
(As a side note – these fests are just as much for children as they are for adults. The large festivals we have gone to are held on fairgrounds with rides for people of all ages, and the tents allow children in them until 8 p.m. I keep saying that one of these times I will go and also ride some of the rides too! Think a mix between carnival and amusement park rides!)
John and I have attended so many of the fests, it’s impossible to pick a favorite, so here’s a highlight reel (in no particular order):
1. Stuttgarter Frühlingsfest (Late May – Early April) and Stuttgart’s Cannstatter Volksfest (Late September – Early October)
Fruhlingsfest was my first introduction to a German Fest – a wonderful and memorable experience. There was no way we were going to the fest without first buying the traditional German garb, a Dirndl for me and Lederhosen for John. Not wearing them takes away a bit of the overall fun. (Besides, even if you only wear it once, you still have a Halloween costume for life!)
We went with a group of my co-workers, which really adds to the experience. Always reserve a spot ahead of time – you can do this online, and the price of the ticket usually includes a half a chicken, a roll and two beers (that Chicken comes in handy after a liter of the beer!) We reserved a table for 12, and by a stroke of luck, landed a table right next to the stage. One thing I should have known but didn’t think about was how hot it would be in the tent. Now, Germans are not big into Air Conditioning, which means they are definitely NOT going to bring in external Air Conditioners to cool down the insides of these tents (oh, and another note – although called “tents” these are actually permanent buildings that stay up year round…no circus tents here!) So there were the 12 of us, with a couple of thousand of our closest friends, in a large, unventilated tent. You are sweating immediately – which would have been inevitable anyway, because you spend the rest of the night on the table benches (never the tables, they’ll yell!) dancing the night away. You forget about how you look, because no one looks good after the first five minutes! But there is beer and dancing and a German band singing Lady Gaga, so who really cares anyway? 🙂 I’m already looking forward to next year’s fest – we had so much fun at this one! Great introduction to the world of German fests!
The Cannstatter Volksfest is Stuttgart’s version of Oktoberfest, starting and ending a week later, with a much more authentic feel to it! Once again, I went with co-workers and danced on the bar stools, drank the beer (forgot the chicken…whoops) and had a generally wonderful time. While it’s cool to say we went to Oktoberfest, the Fruhlingsfest and/or the Volksfest are pretty much the exact same thing – carnival rides, beer tents, great food – for less cost and slightly less people.
2. Erdbeer (Strawberry) Fest, Ebenkoben Weinlaube, Boblingen Essen (Eat) Fest
Like I said earlier, Germany LOVES its festival – and why not? There is always good food, fun shopping and an overall great time! One part I absolutely love is that Germany made a law that no plastic wear shall be used at these fests – so you are eating off glass plates, with real silverware and drinking out of real glasses (which you pay a deposit on, so if you turn in, you get money back – if not, it’s yours to keep!) But I just love that there is always a fest happening.
– Such as the Erdbeer Fest in Esslingen during Strawberry season! Strawberry everything – including this amazing Strawberry liquour that I HAVE to find again!
– Boblingen had a great little fest in the summer highlighting all the food around town – free entrance, reasonable prices and three different stages with music throughout!
– Wine fests are big in the spring and fall – I went to two smaller ones, but discovered the Erdbeer Bowl – Prosecco with cut up strawberries at the Ebenkoben Wine Fest! Delicious!
3. Bad Dürkheim Wurstmarkt and Wein Fest (Late August – Early September)
I couldn’t wait for this wine festival – it is the largest wine fest in the world, and one of the oldest at 570 years! There are more than 150 types of wine served, and the best part? You buy them in cups by the half liter! No chicken here, although being as it is also a Wurst (or sausage) Markt, you are treated to a variety of sausages! There are large wine halls, or “Schubkärchler” – small traditional wine stands with wooden tables to sit, although we did both – starting in the traditional stands before heading over to the large tents to dance (oddly, you could dance on the table tops here, something not allowed at the beer fests!)
Bad Dürkheim is one of the main towns along the German Wine Route (Deutsche Weinstrasse), which meant there weren’t a lot of hotel options. Being responsible adults, we booked a hotel in another cute town also on the wine route, and took the 7-minute train to the festival. That’s one of the other highlights in Germany…if you get a DUI, you REALLY deserved it because with the fantastic public transportation, you should never have to drive to a festival.
4. Stuttgarter Weindorf (Late August – Early September)
Stuttgart really doesn’t get enough credit – it is a beautiful town overshadowed by its “industrial” image thanks to Porsche and Mercedes being made here. But it really is a fun, pretty town with a lot to do – and it throws three of my favorite fests, including the Stuttgarter Weindorf. The main downtown platz (or squares) are transformed into a wine village with the traditional wooden “huts” all over the place.
It is here where we were introduced to the “Hugo,” a wine concoction that tastes like Sprite and goes down so easy it should be nicknamed “Dangerous!” I googled the recipe when I got home, because I don’t plan on waiting a year until I have another one! My mom was visiting during the festival, and I was glad she got to see what it was like – everyone is friendly, we met two guys after sitting at their open table (another norm – big tables mean you sit wherever and make friends. Don’t plan on sitting alone unless you have reserved the whole table!), and we genuinely had a great time.
5. Oktoberfest (Late September – Early October)
Ahhh….Oktoberfest. When it began in 1810, it was a 1-day event that was more focused around the horse races that took place than what it has evolved into now – a 16-day festival that is visited by nearly 7 million people each year. So yes, it is slightly crazy! And that is just the volume of people! Book early to get a ticket to one of the tents (we didn’t – the work around is also to get to the tents super early and snag a seat at one of the non-reserved tables!) and also to get a reasonable hotel room (we also didn’t, because I don’t think there is such a thing during Oktoberfest. Book a hotel in another city for half the cost and train it in…totally worth it!)
We spent the weekend in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a beautiful city about an 1.5 hour train ride south (it only takes that long because of the stops, it really wasn’t a bad ride), mainly to make the most of our weekend. We wanted to see and do both towns, but paying nearly $400 a night for a hotel that I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be able to sleep in anyway because of the parties in Munich made Garmisch the much smarter option!
Munich is a popular town, but not nearly as much so as during the “Wiesen” as the locals call it. We went on opening day, and missed the parade of horses which kicks off the event, joining the massive crowds in the walk from the Hauptbahnhof to the fair grounds on the streets still roped off from the parade. Here’s another nice thing – even in the large crowds, there wasn’t a lot of crazy loud or angry people shoving everywhere. Everyone is happy, talking in normal tones and just generally excited about the festival.
As I said – if you go to either of the fests in Stuttgart, then you have experienced Oktoberfest. Not to say it was disappointing, because every fest in Germany is awesome – only that yes, it is large and there are a lot of people, but the same experience could be had elsewhere. And it did have a slightly different feel, which is probably why everything I have read has said that the Stuttgart Volksfest is smaller but more authentic in terms of Germans themselves that attend. And the cost is outrageous – next year, it is rumored that the liters will be over 10E! After paying a crazy amount for hotel and transportation, add the cost of the beer and it will turn into one pricey vacation! Oh, and watch the pours. Germans are great about marking every wine and beer glass with how much should be poured, and this year, a number of tents got in trouble by not pouring the exact litre amount! Saves them millions, but costs you more! It’s those things that kind of make me glad we didn’t plan a whole vacation with just Oktoberfest as the main attraction.
The bottom line is, you really can’t go wrong with any festival here that you choose to attend. I’ve yet to be disappointed – and am already looking forward to the next one…or two…or twenty! Just maybe not the Onion Cake Fest! 🙂