A fest for every occasion
June 27, 2014
The 20th in the Insider's Tips for Auslaender series, which focuses on ways to make the most of your tour in Bavaria. Look for articles with this tag and if you have tips or suggestions for future articles, email email@example.com.
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- Hands down, one of the best parts of living in Bavaria is the fests.
They have food, drink, music and entertainment. Crowds of locals and tourists of all ages flock to the town festplatz, marktplatz or field to let loose.
While fests feel like one big party, they play an important role in Bavaria's cultural heritage. Dirndls and lederhosen are always appropriate.
Here are some of the most popular kinds of fests you'll find in your home-away-from-home.
Translated to mean "peoples' festival" in German, volksfests are large carnivals flowing with beer or wine. Though entrance to volksfests is free, rides, games, food and drinks cost a few euros.
The larger volksfests, like Oktoberfest or the Nuremberg Volksfest, will have heart-stopping rides or even roller coasters; smaller fests feature mostly carnival games.
The focal point of Bavarian volksfests are the beer tents. Lined with tables and benches, the tents start to fill up in the early evening and become raucous once it's dark.
Bands and DJs will play music as patrons consume masses of beer and climb up on the tables to dance.
Learn the German fest song "Ein Prosit" to sing and sway along with the rest of the crowd. Don't worry, you'll have plenty of chances to perfect it.
Bockbier, or "strong beer," fests rage through Bavaria during Lent. The hefty alcohol content of the brew sustained monks while they fasted through the holy days.
Local breweries make their own bock specifically for these fests and invite locals to don their trachten and come make merry.
But revelers beware: Bockbier does not mess around. Its alcohol content ranges from 6.3 to 12 percent compared to the relatively weak 3.5 to 4.5 percent of mass-brewed beer.
So when you're sipping your suds, remember that you're drinking the alcoholic equivalent of strong wine and pace yourself.
For the lore surrounding bockbier, check out "Bockbier: For monks, it's what's for dinner" http://www.army.mil/article/121235/.
A kirwa is distinctly Bavarian and very local. Nearly every Oberpfaelzer town or village celebrates its kirwa in spring or summer with food, drink, dancing and music.
These neighborhood fests traditionally celebrate the anniversary of the town church, but the modern celebration focuses more on the residents than religion.
The kirwa starts with a tree. Early in the weekend, a group of young men in town cut down a large tree, strip the branches and raise the tree in the center of town by hand.
To honor the fest's religious roots, Sunday begins with a church service. Afterward, the young, unmarried boys in town ride a tractor from house-to-house to pick up the local young girls.
All clad in trachten, the boys and girls divide into couples and dance the traditional kirwa dance around the tree. A kirwa king and queen are crowned from the couples.
Throughout the kirwa, beer and local food are served and the festivities last into the night.
Towns either have a kirwa or a May Day fest, but usually not both. A May Day fest, on May 1, is nearly identical to a kirwa and is more popular in southern Bavaria. To read more about the Maypole tradition, head here http://www.army.mil/article/102203/Maypoles_welcome_new_season/.
Medieval / Renaissance festivals
Through late-spring to summer, historical enthusiasts travel back in time to more feudal days as they play knights and nobles.
Though medieval fairs are rampant during the warmer months, they vary significantly in size and enthusiasm.
The larger festivals feature knights in full armor and mail who joust and sword fight in tournaments. There are fire shows, musicians, acrobats, jesters and dancers.
Smaller festivals have less entertainment, but still possess historic charm. Artisans sell their wares in stalls, some giving demonstrations on traditional craftsmanship. They hawk drinking horns, jewelry, art, weaponry and household goods.
Diehards come dressed in medieval garb and will even camp out at the fest site, living as they would in the 13th century.
Of course, no medieval fest would be complete without mead, beer, wine and food.
Stalls serve the usual bratwurst and bread, but also medieval delicacies like suckling pig, grilled fish and fire-roasted chicken.
Clothing option: Your finest jerkin, breeches, tunics, gowns or armor.
The Kaltenberg Medieval Festival is one of the largest in Bavaria: http://www.bavaria.us/kaltenberg-medieval-tournament-bavaria
More historic festivals in Bavaria: http://www.bavaria.by/historical-festivals-events-bavaria