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GERMANY EXPLAINED

Fronleichnam: What you should know about Germany’s regional public holiday

The day is celebrated as a public holiday in six German states (and two other regions) on Thursday. We explain its origins and how it's observed.

A music band marches in the Corpus Christi procession in Seehausen am Staffelsee, Bavaria, in 2018.
A music band marches in the Corpus Christi procession in Seehausen am Staffelsee, Bavaria, in 2018. Photo: picture alliance / Matthias Balk/dpa | Matthias Balk

Thursday June 16th 2022 marks the Catholic holiday of Fronleichnam, known sometimes as Prangertag or Blutstag. In English the simplified Latin term, Corpus Christi, or the Feast of the Body of Christ, is used. 

Where and how is it celebrated in Germany?

The day is celebrated internationally on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. 

It’s mostly celebrated where it is also a public holiday: the predominantly Catholic, southwestern states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, as well as the western states of Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland.

Basically you’ll have the day off work if you live in a part of Germany where Martin Luther didn’t have an upper hand. 

READ ALSO: How you can make the most of German public holidays in 2022

However, the holiday is also celebrated in other parts of Germany, such as in Sorbian communities. The West Slavic ethnic group lives in the eastern states of Brandenburg and Saxony, and the majority are Roman Catholics. 

Celebrations of the holiday include a Holy Mass with the Eucharist, followed by a Fronleichnamsprozession (a Fronleichnam procession) led by a local Priest, during which praying and singing takes place.

Archive photos shows the inside of a Catholic Church during a Fronleichnam Mass in Crostwitz, Saxony. The holiday is also celebrated in 26 communities in the eastern State, including in this Sorbian community. Photo: DPA

This and the following barbecue is considered the Fronleichnamsfest (which is pronounced like froon-laich-naams-fest) and it greatly varies in size from town to town. 

In Fritzlar in northern Hesse, the celebrations usually start on Wednesday night with the so-called Katzenkoppschießen. During this ceremony, the eight bells of the town cathedral are rung and a canon is fired, a ritual that is repeated three times.

In Cologne, there is usually a procession involving over 100 ships, while in Bamberg 18 men carry a huge cross through the town.

The parades are often highly decorated with ornate floral images with motives from the Bible. People who celebrate it usually decorate their houses with similarly elaborate designs and symbols, such as a Biblical fish.

What are its origins?

The word itself comes from the Middle-High German term vrône lîcham, meaning “Body of the Lord”. The term comes from the words vrôn (meaning “what concerns the Lord”) and lîcham (meaning body).

The variations of the word Fronleichnam also have their origins. Blutstag is comprised of the words “Blut” (meaning blood) and “Tag” (meaning day), so it literally means “Blood Day”. This makes sense as it celebrates the blood of Christ.

Prangertag, on the other hand, is a little more strange.

Pranger” means pillory, which is a wooden framework with holes for the head and hands, and was used to imprison offenders during Medieval times. 

However, “Pranger” in this case supposedly does not mean an ancient torture device. It is said to reference the thought that “die Natur prangert in ihrem herrlichsten Kleid” (nature denounces in her beautiful dress).

The only sense that can be made of this is that nature can be quite beautiful around this time of year.

A Fronleichnamsprozession led by a priest in Crostwitz, Saxony. Photo: DPA

But what actually is Fronleichnam?

Fronleichnam is the liturgical solemnity celebrating the presence of the blood and body of Jesus Christ in the elements of the Eucharist.

So essentially it celebrates Jesus and his role in elements of the commemoration of the Last Supper. 

Uses of Fronleichnam:

Na? Gehst du gleich zum Fronleichnamsfest?

Well? Are you going to the Corpus Christi celebration?

Pfarrer Mustermann mag Fronleichnamsprozession besonders viel, hab’ ich gehört.

Father Mustermann likes Corpus Christi in particular, I have heard.

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RENTING

From nudity to BBQs: What you can (and can’t) do on your balcony in Germany

When the sun is shining, there's nothing better than spending quality time on your balcony in Germany. But you may run into some problems with the neighbours if you don't follow these rules...

From nudity to BBQs: What you can (and can't) do on your balcony in Germany

If you happen to live in any German city, you’re probably used to fitting most of your outdoor living onto your balcony.

They may be slightly smaller than your average garden, but it’s amazing how versatile they can be, from hosting friends for dinner and drinks to testing out your fledgling plant-growing skills.

Of course, this being Germany, there are a set of rules that you need to follow in order to stay on the best possible terms with your neighbours. 

Here’s how to make the most of your balcony this summer while avoiding awkward conversations or even visits from the police. 

Naked sunbathing

Legend has it that the English poet William Blake and his wife used enjoy sitting out in their garden stark naked pretending to be Adam and Eve. 

But while nude biblical scenes may be all well and good in a Lambeth garden, German law unfortunately calls for a slightly more conservative approach.

That doesn’t mean that stripping off on your balcony is necessarily forbidden. However, you do need to consider whether the neighbours might see more than they want to while you’re catching some rays. 

As is generally the case with rules for what you can and can’t do on your balcony, the law says that you’re more than entitled to take off your clothes in your own private space – but this shouldn’t impact your neighbours. 

To get around this, you may want to put up a screen between you and your neighbour’s balcony, or even go full Adam and Eve (William Blake style) with a strategically placed plant or two.

Another option is position your sun umbrella so it blocks your neighbour’s view – just watch out for any gusts of wind that may strike at an inopportune moment.

READ ALSO: What are the laws around nudity in Germany?

Sex

If al fresco sex is your thing, you’ll once again need to make sure that the neighbours don’t accidentally catch sight of what’s going on. Obviously, getting a report filed against you may dampen the mood somewhat.

The same applies to making loud noises or even having some “intimate” time in front of a window that people can see into. In the worst-case scenarios, both can be grounds for a police complaint. 

Barbecues 

Participating in Germany’s unofficial national sport – Grillen – is technically also allowed on the balcony, but there are some rules to know.

The first is that you should avoid open flames and any kind of BBQ that doesn’t come with an actual grill. 

If you can, you should also try not to send a billowing cloud of smoke over to your neighbours’ windows or balcony while you’re cooking up a storm. In the worse-case scenario, you could face a fine for excessive smoke under the Emissions Control Act. 

Barbecue on the balcony

A barbecue with burgers and vegetables. People who want to have a barbecue on their balcony should watch the smoke. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Beyond Meat | Beyond Meat

That means an electric grill might be preferable to an old-fashioned coal barbecue.

Certain states and districts also have rules about how often you’re allowed to barbecue outside. In Berlin for example, twice a month is considered reasonable. It’s also a good idea to alert the neighbours beforehand if you’re planning a grill-fest anytime soon, and some regions require this by law. 

The other thing to note is that some rental contracts have clauses that ban barbecues on the property or even just certain types of barbecue. So be sure to read the small-print in your Mietvertrag (rental contract) to ensure you don’t accidentally break the rules.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I have a barbecue on my balcony in Germany?

Parties 

There’s very little better than sitting out on a warm summer evening sharing a drink with friends – but you may wonder how much socialising is considered too much.

The good news is, you’re perfectly entitled to invite people over and have fun in your own home, and you certainly don’t need to whisper the second you go outside.

That said, German states do put in place a legal Nachtruhe (night-time quiet) period between 10pm and 7am, so you may want to turn the music down or take the party inside during these hours. 

Once again, it’s also considered polite to give neighbours a heads-up before inviting a big group of people round, especially if it’s going to be a big event like a birthday party: most of them won’t begrudge you a bit of extra noise on a special occasion, but it’s always nice if they know what’s going on beforehand. 

Smoking 

Surely no neighbour would begrudge you a quick ciggie on the balcony once in a while, right? Right.

In principle, you’re perfectly allowed to smoke on the balcony. Once again, just be mindful of the neighbours, who may not be that pleased if a cloud of smelly smoke blows over their way. 

CCTV

Depending on where you live, you may have considered installing a CCTV camera for a bit of extra security. But is this actually allowed under German privacy laws?

Yes and no. 

In Germany, everyone is entitled to protect their own residence and property with video surveillance, but this should exclusively record what happens on the property.

That means you can have a CCTV camera pointing at your balcony that can record any trespassers, but it shouldn’t record people and areas outside of this remit – so you certainly can’t use it to spy on your neighbours or record what’s going on in their private space. 

Decor and plants

When it comes to turning your balcony into your own personal oasis, you pretty much have free rein. Whether you want to try your hand at growing tomatoes or fancy hanging a banner for your favourite football team, it really is up to you.

The only thing to watch out for is that you don’t obstruct your neighbours’ view or install anything so elaborate that you end up damaging the brickwork or the integrity of the balcony. For this reason, snap hooks and dowels are a no-no. 

Fairy lights and other light features are absolutely fine as well, although your neighbour does have the right to demand they get turned off at 10pm if they’re disturbed by the light pollution at night.

A Ukrainian flag on a balcony in Wilmersdorf.

A Ukrainian flag hangs from a balcony in Berlin Wilmersdorf. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

It’s a similar state of affairs with wind chimes, which may constitute a noise disturbance if your neighbour happens to dislike them. Once again: communication is key. Check with them beforehand if you’re worried your musical decor may be considered a nuisance. 

On the plant front, pretty much anything goes, apart from ivy and other climbing plants. These tend to be a problem because their roots can damage the brickwork. 

You’ll also need to make sure your plant pots are relatively secure and won’t fall down onto the street in heavy winds. And, it should probably go without saying, but spraying your neighbours in the face with a hose every time you do some “watering” is not considered very neighbourly. 

As always, common sense should be the order of the day: a few drips of water or stray petals from your plants on your neighbour’s balcony can’t be helped, and as such, they shouldn’t be a problem. 

READ ALSO: ‘The pandemic made people want to grow stuff’: How a Berlin balcony project led to a chili revolution

Hanging out laundry

If your balcony is big enough, you may want to hang your clothes on a rack out to dry on your balcony.

Although it seems harmless enough, it can actually be forbidden if that is written into your rental contract. As with everything in Germany, check the fine print in your contract before you go hanging your underwear out to dry in the wind. 

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