Holiday Alert! It is Muttertag (Mother’s Day) this Sunday which means elegant brunches and bundles of flowers – no matter which side of the pond you are on.
Mother’s Day in Germany
But the history of the holiday in Germany, Switzerland and Austria has a unique European slant. Switzerland was one the first European countries to introduce Mother’s Day in 1917. Germany wasn’t far behind with observance beginning in 1922 and Austria in 1926.
The holiday became official in Germany in 1933 under the Nazi regime, highlighting the importance of having more Aryan soldiers. Mother’s Day still takes place on the second Sunday in May, though das Mutterkreuz – a medal given out for multiple children – has fallen out of fashion.
Father’s Day in Germany
However, Mother’s Day pales in comparison to the shenanigans that are Männertag (or Vatertag or Herrentag). Held 39 days after Easter on the day Christ is said to have risen (Ascension Day or Christi Himmelfahrt in German), there is nothing Christ-like about modern celebrations.
For Father’s Day in Germany, men return to the wild – quite literally. Hordes of men known as Herrenentagspartie make their way to the nearest park/green space/whatever loaded down with beers and paradoxically, on wheels. Whether it be bike, beer bike, rollerblades, tractors, Bollerwagen (handcart) or even horse-drawn carriages, many men take a drunken day out.
History of Father’s Day in Germany
Father’s Day became popular in Germany in the early 1900s, but its roots are much older. The tradition probably comes from Christian celebrations in the farmlands. Men would be carried by wooden cart into the central square and the father who had sired the most children would be awarded a prize, like a giant ham. How perfectly German.
The day became official in 1934, on Christ’s Ascension day (though that holiday fell in and out of favor with the rise and fall of the DDR). Herrentag, however, never lost its allure.
Eventually these celebrations became less formal, but the tradition of roving groups of men, pork, and lots of beer remained – especially the alcohol part. One of the side effects is that there is more fighting on Father’s Day than on average and up to three times the amount of traffic accidents.
In 2017, the holiday is on Thursday, May 25th and is a government holiday (another advantage it has over Mother’s Day). The fact that it always falls on a Thursday means many people choose to make it a long weekend with a Friday Brückentag (bridge day).
What to do for Father’s Day in Germany
It is hard to do Vatertag wrong, but here are some suggestions on how to pair groups of men, drinking and the outdoors – the holy trifecta of the modern holiday.
Festivals – If your group can keep it together in a crowd, a festival is an ideal way to party. They have the food and beer so you don’t even need to bring it with you. For example, in Berlin the Biesdorfer Flower Festival isn’t as girly as it sounds, and Neuköllner Maientage in Volkspark Hasenheide ends with a fireworks display at 22:00 – if you can make it that long.
Parks – Parks are a classic hang for Vatertag and whether you want to grill (see below) or just enjoy laying back with some brews, the massive grounds of Templehof mean you won’t annoy the rest of the visitors. You can even take wheels of any sort around the runways.
Grillparty – What could be more manly than men and a grill? Germans take a grill party to another level and with a group of guys, this is sure to be a sausage fest – in a good way.
Biergarten – You can never go wrong with a biergarten and the numerous options around any city mean there is always room for a group.
Fishing – Another manly endeavor lake, beware that fishing in Germany requires paperwork, but if you have the proper credentials this is an ideal way to celebrate.
DFB Cup Final – It doesn’t get more classic MAN than a football finale. Taking place at the epic Olympiastadion, you can always skip the stadium and make a viewing at the kazillion bars and restaurants that will be playing the game.
Bungee Jump – Do all these other options send too low-key? Up the adrenaline levels with a jump right off the side of the Park Inn Hotel off Alexanderplatz. But maybe leave the beer til afterward.
Everyone else? My best advice is to hide.