What are some of Germany’s traditions? The country is well known around the world for Oktoberfest, its two-week festival which is visited by people from all corners of the world eager to drink local beer and get a taste of German tradition and heritage. Oktoberfest – also known as Wiesn – is the most famous German tradition, but there are several lesser-known traditional occasions that are just as interesting as well as more original. Here are 8 of our favourite authentic German traditions which native Germans hold dear.
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Authentic German Traditions
1. Schultüte on the first day of school
The Schultüte is a traditional German gift that was established during the 19th century. A Schultüte is a paper or plastic bag in the shape of a large cone. They are given by parents to their children on their very first day of school (after Kindergarten) to help them overcome the anxiety that is normally associated with this milestone. Schultüten are usually filled with various small gifts ranging from candy to items of clothing and teddy bears.
2. Fireworks on New Year’s Eve
“But there are fireworks everywhere on New Year’s Eve,” you might be thinking. However, be assured that German people take their NYE Fireworks very seriously. Come December 31 (or even a few days earlier), 90% of the German population aged 5-95 seem to have turned into experienced pyrotechnists and start setting off fireworks in every direction and at any time of the day or night. This is especially scary once the clock strikes midnight, but doesn’t seem to cause major hazards and this tradition is still going strong!
3. Watching “Dinner For One’ on New Year’s Eve
Another interesting German New Year’s Eve tradition is called Dinner For One. Ever heard of it? This 1963 English comedy sketch has been airing on TV on New Year’s Eve since the 1960s and has been shown 231 times in total. If you want to impress a German friend, just try to include the cult quote “The same procedure as last year?“ – “The same procedure as every year“ in a conversation. This sketch holds a world record for the most frequently repeated TV program in the world but it has never been aired in the UK or the US. Its success in Germany remains a mystery, but you can watch the 11-minute video here.
In Germany, celebrating birthdays is taken very seriously. A German tradition regarding this is described by the verb reinfeiern, which literally means “party into” and is used in the phrase in den Geburtstag reinfeiern. It refers to the act of celebrating one’s birthday the evening before, considering that the person’s birthday will start as soon as the clock strikes midnight. That way, the Geburtstagkind (literally ‘birthday kid’) is surrounded by his or her loved ones for the first few minutes or hours of his or her birthday.
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When hearing the word carnival, one is likely to start thinking of Rio de Janeiro and Venice first, but Germany also has a strong carnival culture! Carnival season starts in November and peaks on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) which usually falls on February or early March, two days before Ash Wednesday. Carnival is mostly celebrated in Cologne, Mainz, and Düsseldorf, but many German regions also celebrate it on and around Rosenmontag. Carnival processions are held and people celebrate on the street in costumes.
6. Tanz in den Mai
Tanz in den Mai, literally “dance into May” is the name of most parties taking place every year on April 30. This celebration originates from Walpurgisnacht (or Hexennacht, meaning Witches Night), which was the night to get rid of evil spirits and celebrate the arrival of spring. Nowadays, most clubs and bars host special parties and people also often dance around bonfires in parks. May 1 is also highly celebrated in Germany as it is Labor Day. In Berlin, for example, several demonstrations take place and the neighborhood of Kreuzberg turns into a big street festival with open-air stages hosting free concerts.
Tanzverbot means “dancing ban” and is a term that is used to describe the fact that dancing on some holidays is forbidden by state governments. Dancing bans are mostly linked to Christian holidays such as Good Friday as well as memorial days like Volkstrauertag, which commemorates those who died during armed conflicts or from oppression.
This dancing ban concerns public dancing parties but people are free to dance in their homes. In practice, this means that some places dedicated to dancing such as clubs have to stay shut during the agreed period. In Berlin for example, clubs are supposed to be closed between 4 am and 9 pm on Good Friday.
As a foreigner living in Germany, you can consider yourself truly integrated the first time a friend invites you over to watch Tatort. This crime TV series has been airing since the 1970s and is the biggest Sunday evening tradition in Germany. The show is based on stories happening to different police units in different cities (each episode takes place in one of around 20 German, Swiss and Austrian cities and revolves around a single crime). Public screenings of the show are often held in bars and people also like to gather at home to watch the weekly episode.