Let's be honest. This spring has been fairly miserable as far as weather goes. Snow at Easter? Hail the size of ice cubes every other week? It's enough to make you want a drink.
Fortunately, the temperatures are on the rise and there's a perfect place to enjoy both nature and some booze: the Baumblütenfest, or Tree Blossom Festival, in Werder (Havel) in Brandenburg.
The festival takes place from April 26 to May 4 this year and it's only a short train ride away from Berlin. The event has no pretensions – it's exactly what its name suggests; a celebration of spring, the blossoming of fruit trees, and local fruit wine, which is the star of the show. Time honoured tradition dictates that anyone attending should get completely sloshed. After all, it is a German festival.
The area around Werder is known for its fruit orchards that cover the hills surrounding the village and during the festival family run stalls line the streets offering their homemade blends. Almost every local family with an orchard has its own brand of hooch.
If you don't happen to be a connoisseur of fruit wines the extensive range can be mind-blowing. Varieties include strawberry, raspberry, plum, blackberry, plus loads others you might never have thought possible. But don't be afraid you might go blind drinking them – all are extremely palatable. You could easily spend your entire time at the festival sipping on these exotic delights, but I wouldn't recommend it. Think nasty fruit wine hangover.
The festival began in 1879 and Werder council says its 129th year could be possibly the biggest ever. It started when an old farmer named Wilhelm Wils hit upon the idea of hosting a fruit wine festival. He convinced the other fruit growers to join in and the festival quickly grew in size and popularity. Only during East Germany's four-decade existence did its popularity lapse, apparently since consuming excess amounts of alcohol was frowned upon by the dour communist government.
But these days, the festival is said to be the second biggest such event in Germany, eclipsed only by Munich's mighty Oktoberfest. Last year over 800,000 people attended the Baumblütenfest, but it's not the size that makes the festival special. It's the beauty of walking down streets lined with cherry blossom trees, as the pungent smells of fresh and fermented fruit waft up your nose. It's enough to make our lousy spring this year just a hazy memory.
While plenty of opportunities to sample fruit wine exist, picking ripe fruit is another popular activity. Walking through the gardens is a great way to spend the afternoon and there's a great view of the whole town from up on the hill. For those seeking speedier entertainment, in the town square there's a rollercoaster, a Ferris wheel, and other rides you'll find at your average German fair. But my past experience says don't try these after too much wine.
The opening ceremony will be held on April 26, which contains the kitschy and thoroughly stimulating event of the crowning of the Blossom Festival Queen. This nubile young flower is carefully plucked by group of local old ladies, who then push her onto stage into the awaiting hands of a town council official.
There will then be ten days of music performances and other entertainment. Check out Werder's website for the full programme of events. On the last night of the festival there's a firework show – and if you're lucky, you might even get to meet the Blossom Queen.
It's advisable to take the train to Werder, which is around 35 kilometres southwest of Berlin. Driving isn't recommended as most people will be having a few drinks and a lot of the town roads are blocked off and checked by police. You should also buy a return train ticket for your journey, since Werder (Havel) only has one ticket machine at its dinky train station.
If you're visiting Berlin at this time, the festival makes an excellent day trip – the wines are too good to miss. From Berlin catch the RE1 (Regional Express) in the direction of Magdeberg to Werder (Havel). The trip takes about half an hour.
More info: www.werder-havel.de