Everyone knows that when you are talking about festivals in Germany, you are really just talking about German beer festivals. And before we can talk about German beer festivals , we have to at least mention the Purity Law of 1516, or the “Reinheitsgebot”. Have you heard of it? You should have. 2016 marked the 500th year of its reign! This makes it the oldest consumer protection law in the world*.
The Purity Law of 1516
The Purity Law of 1516 was signed in Ingolstadt, Germany, in 1516 (I know, right!), and decreed that beer can only be made with three ingredients: barley, hops, and water. Later on, people better understood the role that yeast played in fermentation, and yeast was added to the list. So even today, German beer can only have four ingredients: barley, hops, yeast, and water. They did this for a few reasons:
- To ban the use of wheat in beer so that more bread could be made
- To keep prices low
- To stop shady brewers from adding “bad” stuff to the beer, like drugs and dirt and stuff
You would think that with only four ingredients to choose from, German beer would get a little boring. Au contraire, there are many delicious beers with distinctive flavors in this lovely country. And, fortunately-for-me but not-so-great for my boyfriend, there are virtually no German beers with an extreme amount of hops. AKA, there are zero IPAs. And I personally think that’s a win for everyone!
Now that we have the history of ‘Deutsche bier’ explained in-a-nutshell, let’s get started on some really fun festivals in Germany celebrating this beloved tradition of drinking.
Beer Festivals in Germany
For the actual good list of festivals you should check out, I’m going to focus on Bavaria. When you think of festivals in Germany, you generally picture the ladies in the dirndls and the fellas in the liederhosen. You think of the big “brezen” (pretzels) and the beer steins full of beer with a nice head of foam at the top. You are thinking of Bavaria. BUT, there are a couple of large noteworthy festivals outside of Bavaria, so I will get those out of the way first.
Not-Bavarian Beer Festivals in Germany
The year 2035 will mark the 1000th year of the Freimarkt in Bremen. One thousand years of a festival. That’s insane!!
What began as a “commodities” market became the “fair market” we all know and love today- with its rides, games, and booths- all because of the opening of the first railway lines in the middle of the 19th century. The railway brought with it all kinds of oddities and enjoyment, from exotic animals and predators to new and strange foods and goods from other lands.
Aside from beer, at Freimarkt you can find around 50 roller coasters, more than 300 “showmen” for your entertainment and amusement, plenty of games and fun, and a ferris wheel. Are you hungry? Then step on over to “Kleine Freimarkt” where you can enjoy a feast- all of the roasted nuts, steamed dumplings, fresh-cooked pretzels and sausages- AND MORE!- that you can stomach. As with most other festivals in the world, there are also plenty of booths with vendors selling their wares, so be sure to bring some extra spending money!
- When: 17 days a year, always in October (usually the last two weeks of the month)
- Where: Bremen Bürgerweide
- Visitors: ~4 million
- Find a Hotel
International Beer Festival, Berlin
The International Beer Festival, or the Biermeile (Beer-mile) is a 3-day festival each year in August. With more than 300 breweries from 80+ countries, you’re sure to find something you enjoy! Each year, the festival takes on a different theme. In 2013 the theme was Polish beers, in 2014 it was “Craft-brewed beer specialties”, and 2017 is going to be Beers from “North Rhine-Westphalia”.
But how will I sort through all of those beers?!
Easy. The festival itself is divided into sections based on the geographic origin of the beer! There will be sub-sections for German beer, obviously, because who would put Bavarian beer with beer from Thuringia?? That’s just crazy-talk. So you can find sections for Saxony all the way to Vietnam. If you’re in the mood for a particular beer beverage, you are sure to find it!
- When: 3 days and nights, the first weekend in August
- Where: The center of Berlin– Karl-Marx-Allee in the Friedrichshain district
- Visitors: ~800k
- Find a Hotel
Beer Festivals in Bavaria
Now for the good stuff.
Strong Beer Festival, Munich
Starkbierzeit, or “Strong Beer Time” is what is known as the “fifth season”. It’s a party to wish Winter a happy farewell and usher in Spring! It all started, just as the city itself did, with the monks. The monks used Starkbier to help them get through Lent- the 40 days prior to Easter when they would fast. Starkbier is dubbed as “Flüssiges Brot” (liquid bread) because of the amount of Stammwürze, or “original wort”. This is indicative of the amount of solids in the beer. A one-liter Maß has 706 calories, the equivalent of a third of a loaf of bread! That’s probably why they call it “liquid bread”.
You should probably know, at this point, that there are many different flavors and brews of Starkbier. Also, the festival doesn’t have a central location like the other festivals, but is celebrated at various beer gardens and breweries around Munich. Starkbier is also a little heavy on the alcohol percentage, with the average one coming in around 7.5%, so don’t try to drink ’em all!
- When: 2 weeks, middle of March
- Where: beer halls and breweries across the city!
- Visitors: everyone? It’s hard to say since it’s spread out
- Find a Hotel
Bergkirchweih Fair, Erlangen
The crowd, as seen from my iPhone
The Bergkirchweih (known as the “Berch” in Erlangen), was actually my introduction into German beer festivals. And it was amazing. My darling boyfriend failed to mention to me, however, that, while German beer tastes light, it is not in fact Bud Light. Most of the German beers actually have around double the alcohol content of Bud Light. I discovered that the next morning, when I couldn’t leave the bathroom or hear any noises or smell any food without the urge to puke. Thanks, honey.
Me and the boyfriend and a friend at the Erlangen beer fest
Anywho, the Berch is actually 55 years older than it’s more famous sibling, Oktoberfest, and it’s much cozier. I don’t know how else to describe it. Just go and find out for yourself. You have all the usual food and drink as the other beer fests, but here is the only place you can find Festmärzenbier, brewed in March especially for the festival, as well as a variety of Franconian specialties and international foods. This is where I discovered the Bavarian “brezen mit schnittlauch”, which is a big pretzel with cream cheese and chives. Yum.
- When: 12 days, starting the Thursday before Pentacost
- Where: the heart of Erlangen- you can’t miss it
- Visitors: 1 million+
- Find a Hotel
Here, you have two options! There is the “Maidult” (in May) and the “Herbstdult”, in the fall. They are both known as “Volksfest”, or “People’s Festival”. Located just across the river from me, in a quick less-than-5-minute bike ride, is the Dult (name for both Spring and Fall). Regensburg is a beautiful city, and the Dult is like Regensburg’s own little Oktoberfest. This has to be my favorite beer festival, if only for the sheer convenience of having the ability to walk there. Unfortunately, this past year I was pretty sick for the Maidult, so I only attended once, for a few hours, and didn’t even drink any beer. I did, however, ride a couple of rides.
- When: Maidult is 2 weeks in the middle of May, and Herbstdult is 17 days from the last week of August through September
- Where: Dultplatz
- Visitors: Hard to say… I can’t find the info anywhere. But it’s super fun
- Find a Hotel
(If you are interested in the Dult, you can find some other cool festivals in Regensburg here. Enjoy!)
This one is pronounced something along the lines of “goy-boden-folks-fest”, but I just call it “that beer fest in Straubing”. Gäubodenvolksfest is Eastern Bavaria’s biggest and most important fair- including both an amusement park and a trade fair. But that’s standard beer-fest fare over here.
I would argue that this beer festival is the perfect one to give you the feel of Oktoberfest without all the tourists and ALL.THE.PEOPLE. Because, good grief, Oktoberfest was just a lot to take in. In Straubing you have much shorter lines for everything, and you can still find a table without a reservation. You can even have a beer, leave the table, go play games, and come back to another tent to find another table somewhere. It’s quite nice.
- When: 11 days, middle of August
- Where: next to Old Town Square, Straubing
- Visitors: >1 million
- Find a Hotel
AnnaFest, Forcheim Beer Gardens
“One of the most beautiful folk festivals in all of Franconia!” Or so their website says, translated by me. This festival has been around for more than 175 years. It hosts more than 20 beer cellars with 16 different breweries as well as the standard Franconian food-fare. There are also cool rides and music and stuff. This one is nice because the city is located in a shady oak forest. So it’s super pretty.
- When: 11 days, end of July
- Where: Heart of Forcheim
- Visitors: ~400k
- Find a Hotel
Gillamoos Fair, Abensberg
Recently (2013) celebrating its 700th anniversary, Gillamoos is the abbreviated name of a chapel, “St Gilg am Moos”, dedicated to St Giles. The chapel was desecrated at “some point”, but was supposed to be rebuilt in celebration of it’s 700th anniversary, to honor its Christian roots. Did that actually happen? I think not. But I can’t find any information either way. I’m assuming it has not been rebuilt yet because, if they did, they would’ve updated the website in the last four years.
Gillamoos began from a pilgrimage, and features a parade, “rare historical fairground attractions”, and the usual beer festival festivities, eats and drinks.
- When: 5 days, beginning of September
- Visitors: ~250k
- Find a Hotel
Special Addition: A Beautiful Bavarian Wine Festival
Another fun festival in Germany is Weindorf. If you think that Rothenburg sounds familiar, it’s because of this: close your eyes and think of famous pictures in Germany. Did one of a yellow house pointing out between two dividing roads, one going up and one going down pop into your head? That’s Rothenburg.
A great place to try all of the Franconian wine that your heart desires, Weindorf is a small, unassuming little fest in the heart of Old Town, Rothenburg. The earliest vineyards in the area date back to 912. Yes, a three-digit year number. It’s hard for me to even comprehend that. Today, the festival plays host to over 70 wines as well as perfected “small plates” of delicious finger foods and venison stew.
I was there last year while babysitting a friend’s dog, and I can attest to the fact that dogs are welcome, as long as they’re not little assholes. But that’s true of most places in Germany, just not grocery stores, most restaurants (with no patio) and all of the bigger beer festivals.
- When: 4 days, middle of August
- Where: Grüner Markt, Rothenburg ob der Tauber
- Visitors: not many- it’s a tiny festival, but totally worth it
- Find a Hotel
The number one festival (in the world) is obviously Oktoberfest. But of all the festivals in Germany that I’ve attended, which is many, I can tell you- they’re more worth it. Oktoberfest is just SO overcome with tourists (I’m not a tourist; I have a visa). It’s so crowded. If you leave your table you will never find it again. You have to make table reservations months in advance. You have to stand in line for everything. But if that’s your scene, then let’s talk about Oktoberfest.
It all began in October of 1810, when Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become King Ludwig I, married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The festivities lasted over a week. The fest has since morphed into a two and a half week event and moved itself up to September. Why did it move to September? Because it gets cold in Germany and women would cover up their beautiful bosoms. What is that point of a dirndl if you can’t see the cleavage? Right? So they did the civilized thing and moved the festival back a couple of weeks.
This guy. In his happy place
- When: 18 days, beginning in the middle of September
- Where: Munich. Obviously. But in the middle of the city. You literally can’t miss it. Follow all the ladies in dirndls and the dudes in the liederhosen.
- Visitors: 6 million+
We had to get away from the Oktoberfest crowds for a bit
*According to Wikipedia, as well as other sources I don’t feel like citing, one of which is the DBB- Deutsche Brauer Bund.