Halloween in Germany

Halloween and Pumpkin Festivals in Germany, Austria and Switzerland

Halloween may not be a traditional German celebration, but virtually every German youngster knows about it today. For adults as well, over the past couple of decades Halloween has become increasingly popular in Europe, and particularly in Germany. It is now common to see pumpkin (Kürbis) and jack-o’-lantern decorations in Austria and Germany by mid-October. Also popular are regional “pumpkin festivals” running for a few days from September to early November, although they rarely have a direct Halloween connection.

Halloween pumpkins Bavaria

A roadside display of autumn/Halloween pumpkins in Bavaria. Customers are asked to leave payment for items they select. PHOTO © Hyde Flippo

From Ireland to America and Back to Europe
As a result of the long post-war presence of Americans in Germany, and Halloween depictions in Hollywood movies and on television, Halloween has long been known in Germany. But it was not until the 1990s that the holiday became a popular “German” celebration. It’s an American holiday imported from Ireland and now exported back to Europe. The Mardi Gras / Fasching / Karneval aspects of Halloween also have a special appeal to Europeans.

One German organization in particular takes credit for making Halloween a popular celebration in Germany. The Special Carnival Group (Fachgruppe Karneval) of the German Association for the Toy Industry (Deutscher Verband der Spielwarenindustrie, DVSI) claims the German amusement and toy industry was badly hurt in 1991 after Karneval was cancelled because of the First Gulf War. The DVSI began looking for alternatives. In 1994 they began a campaign to promote Halloween to Germans. By 2009 Germans were spending 30 million euros annually on Halloween. For Germany’s candy industry, the holiday has become the third largest after Christmas and Easter. Whether or not the DVSI should get the credit, Halloween is now a major factor in German popular culture and the German economy.

Only in certain regions or neighborhoods do German youngsters actually go trick-or-treating (“Süßes oder Saures!”). But while trick-or-treating may be rare, Halloween has become a very “cool” party theme for young and old. A web search in German turns up many German-language Halloween sites – many of them for party outfitters. More and more German department stores carry Halloween-related items in October. Hamburg’s House of Horror specialty store, which opened for business in 1996, does a brisk business around Halloween.

The October 31st Conflict
Not everyone in Germany is happy about the rise of Halloween, which happens to fall on the same date as the Reformation Day holiday. October 31 also commemorates Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation, when the Roman Catholic Church was split asunder. It is an official religious holiday in Protestant regions, creating a conflict between the Lutheran holiday and Halloween, which some view as a pagan observance. For more about this, read Unhaunted Graves: Reformation Day, the “Luther Year” and Totensonntag.

Halloween Retz

Halloween at the Retz Kürbisfest in Austria.
PHOTO: Wolfgang Zajc (kuerbisfest.at)

Pumpkin Festivals in Austria, Germany and Switzerland
Pumpkin festivals in the German-speaking countries take place from September to early November, depending on the locality. Few of them are directly tied to Halloween, but in the Austrian town of Retz and neighboring communities, not far from Vienna, you can visit the annual pumpkin festival (Kürbisfest), complete with pumpkins, parties, and a Halloween parade (Halloween-Umzug). The region around Retz has also become known for its annual pumpkin harvest. Known as Bluza in the regional dialect, the pumpkin becomes the centerpiece of ein Fest für die ganze Familie, a festival for the entire family.

Most other European pumpkin festivals take place before or after Halloween. The popular Kürbisausstellung in Ludwigsburg (near Stuttgart) takes place November 1-5 on the grounds of the local Residenzschloss palace. It claims to be the world’s largest exhibition of pumpkins, attracting about 200,000 visitors annually. Prior to that big event there is the Halloween-Kürbis-Schnitzen (pumpkin carving) contest for children and adults in late October. in fact, Ludwigsburg offers a series of pumpkin-related events beginning in September and culminating in November. For more, see the web links below and Alie’s blog post: Pumpkins are here, and not just for Halloween.

Martinstag – November 11
There is an old traditional German custom that has much in common with Halloween: Martinstag (St. Martin’s Day, Martinsmas). The Catholic Martinstag observance on November 11 includes costumes and a lantern procession for children. More: Martinstag and St. Martin.

The Candy Corn Connection
There is at least one direct German-American Halloween connection. Following the American Civil War, Gustav and Albert Goelitz traveled from Germany to Illinois to join an uncle who had emigrated in 1834. After Gustav’s death, his two eldest sons revived the candy business that he and Albert had founded. The story goes that the Goelitz Confectionery Co. invented the popular Halloween confection known as Candy Corn in the 1880s. Records indicate that Goelitz was making candy corn by 1898. That firm’s successor, today’s Herman Goelitz, Inc. of Fairfield, California, is best known as the maker of Jelly Belly jelly bean candy. For more about Goelitz, see the link to the Goelitz Company History below.

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One thought on “Halloween in Germany

  1. You correctly point out that the American style Halloween with pumpkins and costumes was introduced to Germany by Hollywood and the commercial industry in recent years. However, in Southern Germany we always had our own version (“Rübengeistern”). My grandmother in Bavaria taught me how to make jack-o’-lanterns with large beets (“Futterrüben”) in the 1950s, as she had done herself in the 1890s. There is a newspaper article published by Augsburger Allgemeine on October 28th, 2014 called “Rübengeister: Halloweens Bayerische Vorfahren” (Beets Ghosts: Halloweens Bavarian Ancestors).

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