Germany offers a wide range of cultural events which happen throughout the year. To help you with the decision which ones to visit and know how they are celebrated, we made a small list to showcase the most famous ones in Germany.

Carnival in Cologne

When: 11th of November and 6 days in February

Surely, you have heard about Carnival in South America, such as the one in Brazil or Colombia. But can you believe that one of the biggest carnivals in the world takes place in Cologne and its surrounding area? It is one of the biggest events throughout Germany and is even called a fifth season (Nov.-Feb.) for local people.

Carnival originated in the medieval age when people started to celebrate it to pass the winter. The last day of Carnival is the beginning of the fasting period for Catholic people, therefore it was used as an ultimate time of excess before the Eastern fasting time.

For tourists, the 11th of November and the 6 highlight days in the middle of February are the most interesting.

On the 11th, Carnival kicks off at exactly 11:11 o’clock and throughout the whole city, there are local bands playing, people come together in big central places, and the elected “prince” of this year’s Carnival holds a speech. Alter Markt, Neumarkt and Zülpicher Straße are the most frequented places in the city to be at. To fit into Carnival, you should definitely come dressed in a costume, which can be basically everything you enjoy wearing!  After the 11th of November, Carnival happens mostly in clubs and organizations, which is only fun for the very enthusiastic fans of it.

For everybody else, Carnival returns in February for 6 days. Cologne and its surroundings are completely filled up with events and drunk, dressed-up, happy people.  The traditional kilometer long parade-like processions are very famous to this festival. The above mentioned Carnival clubs are featured in the procession as they drive through the city in custom made vehicles which can be funny or even have a political meaning. People on these vehicles traditionally throw sweets into the crowds.

Everything else during these six “crazy” days, happens in the streets, squares and pubs of the city where you can find something going on, everywhere. To get a better overview over the events happening and if you want to make it to this years or next years Carnival, the exact dates can be found on the following website:

Tips for Carnival in cologne and surroundings:

  • Come dressed with a costume
  • Bring warm clothes because Carnival happens during cold times of the year (autumn and early spring)
  • Start looking for a place to stay early enough, due to the city being booked up by people from all over the whole world

Carnival happens also in smaller places around Cologne, and also in bigger cities like Düsseldorf of Mainz.

Oktoberfest in Munich (Wies’n)

When: October

The Oktoberfest, an event that everybody around the globe associates to Germany, is the biggest public festival worldwide which lasts over two weeks. In 2017, 6.2 million people attended!

Starting in the year 1810, the Oktoberfest (Wies’n) has  since gained a lot of attention worldwide. It first began as a horse race to celebrate the marriage of Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese from Saxon – Hildburghausen; however, the participants liked it so much that they decided to celebrate it yearly. It grew in the following years as more and more people and attractions took part in the festival.

Today, you can find people from all over the world visiting Munich in October every year. It can be described as a fair, since it consists of attractions such as ferris wheels and roller-coasters, but also a party because of the multitude of  tents and parades. Local Bavarian breweries supply the Oktoberfest with a special beer, that is only brewed for the occasion and has to be made of a mix of specific herbs. Visitors typically dress up in a traditional Bavarian costume called “Tracht”, which you can buy in stores everywhere around Munich and of course online.

During the day many families visit the Oktoberfest, but at night when the tents fill up with young people, it turns into a wild party with lots of beer. If you want to learn more of the cultural aspect of this festival it’s best to visit during day, if you want to party and get drunk make sure to come at night.

In order to get inside of one of the tents, where people meet to drink beer and eat traditional Bavarian food, you have to be there either early enough or reserve a spot online beforehand. Also make sure to look for a place to stay early enough, because Munich will be full of tourists at that time of year. Overall it is a festival full of international and local people, where traditions mix with modern aspects, which makes it a hell of a blast if you’re up for it!

Tips for Oktoberfest:

  • Reservation for the party tents has to be made in advance
  • Look for a place to stay early enough

If Munich is not an option for you, make sure to check out the following website, which contains the most famous beer festivals all over Germany:

Also famous in Germany is the Wasn, which takes place in the end of September until October and is located in Stuttgart. It is culturally slightly different but with the same theme of southern German traditions, it is also a typical German beer fest like Oktoberfest.

Christmas Markets

When: End of November and December

When winter finally hits Germany in November, and the typical cold and dark winter weather is starting to weigh on you, it is time to visit one of the many Christmas markets around Germany. With its shiny and bright atmosphere, people full of Christmas cheer, and booths were you can buy anything from traditional cookies such as “Lebkuchen”, Glühwein (hot mulled wine) or small souvenirs, will leave you stunned and with a better knowledge about German Christmas traditions. Starting in the medieval age, as short time markets, this time of event gave people the chance to buy food and  stock up for winter, and it soon became a pre-Christmas tradition. Famous Christmas markets in Germany can be found in Nuremberg, Stuttgart or Frankfurt. As these famous Christmas markets tend to be full of tourists, and you may want more of a less crowded experience, just check around your neighboring cities to find where the next Christmas market will be!

Ranking of the most visited Christmas markets:

  1. Nuremberg
  2. Dresden
  3. Cologne
  4. Dusseldorf
  5. Berlin
  6. Rothenburg ob der Tauber
  7. Stuttgart
  8. Erfurt
  9. Konstanz
  10. Freiburg

Tips for Christmas markets:

  • Each market has its own special Glühwein mug. For a small fee, you can keep it, re-use it and have it as great souvenir.
  • Check out free concerts in churches and palaces: the music is usually superb.
  • Ask about seasonal specialities: Food differ from region to region and some are only sold at Christmas time.

An interesting article about German Christmas markets and which ones to go to:

Written by Andreas Benderscheid