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Why do Germans celebrate April 30th?

Julie Colthorpe · 30 Apr 2014, 16:50

Published: 30 Apr 2014 16:50 GMT+02:00

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Walpurgisnacht, the night from April 30th to May 1st takes its name from Saint Walburga, a Catholic Saint, whose feast day is celebrated on May 1st. She was was known as the protector against sorcery and witchcraft.

Traditionally, it is the night when witches would gather together on the Brocken, the highest peak of the Harz mountain range in central Germany, and celebrate the triumph of spring over winter.

The Brocken is surrounded in mystery due to the mist and clouds that shroud the peak, and according to legend, is the home of witches and the devil.

The tradition of Walpurgisnacht also features in Goethe's Faust, when Faust is taken to Brocken by Mephisto to revel with the witches on Walpurgisnacht.

Walpurgisnacht is a noisy and fun affair for the family in Germany. Children and adults dress up as witches and communal bonfires are lit.

At midnight, the official start of spring is heralded by setting off fireworks, dancing and playing loud music – all said to drive the witches and winter spirits away. But not for long, exactly six months later the spooks will return for the start of winter on All Hallow's Eve.

Nowadays Walpurgisnacht has also become an excuse for causing mayhem.

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In Bavaria, the night is known as Hexennacht (witches' night) and is filled with mischief as cars are sprayed with shaving foam, and paper streamers are hung on trees.

And in Berlin and Hamburg the celebrations are more extreme. As the cities prepare for leftist May Day riots, some already erupt on Walpurgisnacht and carry on through the night.  

SEE ALSO: Berlin's Festival of Lights in pictures 

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Julie Colthorpe (julie.colthorpe@thelocal.com)

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