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GERMAN TRADITIONS

10 ways to enjoy autumn like a true German

From scavenging for mushrooms to drinking Apfelwein, autumn is a truly magical season in Germany. Here's how to make the most of the fall months just like the locals do.

Chestnuts lie on the ground in a park in Cologne
Chestnuts lie on the ground in a park in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

As summer transitions to autumn, it can be easy to remain nostalgic for the long, sunny days. But the months leading up to Christmas can also be an immensely vibrant time to be in Germany – if you know how.

So as you swap your summer t-shirts for woolly jumpers, why not participate in some quintessentially German customs, from whipping up pumpkin dishes to collecting chestnuts in the park? 

If you’re not sure where to start, here are 10 ways to make the most of autumn in true German style this year. 

1. Give thanks for the harvest

Since the third century, Christian countries have organised festivals to thank God for the gift of the autumn harvest – and in Germany, these religious celebrations continue to this day.

Traditionally, Erntedankfest (Harvest Thanksgiving) is celebrated on the first Sunday of October in rural communities with church services, a parade (complete with a harvest queen), music and a country fair. Food is also collected for those in need. In some regions, the celebrations coincide with the wine harvest, and vineyard owners set up stalls where locals can sample the season’s wines.

A church in Lower Saxony collect food donations at harvest time.

A church in Lower Saxony collect food donations at harvest time. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Friso Gentsch

2. Eat pumpkin with everything

Say goodbye to Spargelzeit, the time of year when white asparagus is served on special menus in just about every German restaurant – autumn marks the start of Kürbiszeit, when Germans get creative with the humble pumpkin. 

From spicy soups to creamy pumpkin risotto, you may be surprised at how versatile pumpkin can be. In fact, if you happen to visit a farmer’s market in the next month or two, you may discover that there are far more varieties of pumpkin than you ever imagined.

And if you do start to get bored of pumpkin dishes as the season wears on, there’s plenty more seasonal produce to experiment with, from Grünkohl (kale) to Pfefferlinge (chanterelle mushrooms). 

READ ALSO: German Word of the Day: Der Kürbis

3. Go foraging for mushrooms

As soon as the first touch of autumn frost is in the air, many Germans wrap up warm and head out to the forest for a popular national pastime: mushroom foraging. The idea is simply to head out into nature, basket in tow, and see what wild mushrooms you can find, from the beefy Steinpilz to the slippery Butterpilz

A word of warning, though. Legally speaking, the mushrooms should only be for personal use (i.e. not to sell), and some mushrooms may not be edible at all. If you’re a beginner forager, it’s a good idea to head out with some experienced mushroom gatherers to start with, or take your treasure to your local Pilzberater (mushroom consultant) who can let you know if your mushrooms are safe to eat. 

READ ALSO: What’s behind the German fascination with foraging for wild mushrooms?

Mushroom foraging in Brandenburg

A forager collects mushrooms in a basket in Brandenburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Patrick Pleul

4. Visit your local Herbstfest 

Though the days are getting shorter and colder, there’s no excuse to hibernate just yet. Whether you live in a small town or a big city, there’s bound to be at least one Herbstfest (or autumn festival) going on, which can be a great reason to get out of the house and spend time with friends.

The most famous autumn festival in Germany is obviously Oktoberfest – an enormous fairground and beer festival that runs in Munich from late September to early October. If you can’t make it to Bavaria, there are usually little copy-cat festivals dotted around Germany, as well as other local events where you can enjoy delicious seasonal favourites from Apfelwein (apple wine) to Flammkuchen and Käsespätzle

5. Celebrate the reunification of East and West Germany

October 3rd is a special day in the German calendar, marking the date on which East and West Germany were reunified after 41 years apart. Though reunification can bring up complex feelings for some Germans, Unity Day (Tag der Einheit) is a national bank holiday, which is reason to celebrate in itself.

This year, the date falls on a Monday, meaning people can look forward to a long weekend with fireworks and local celebrations. Why not get a group of friends together and check out what’s going on in your area? In Berlin, for instance, stages are set up all around Brandenburg Gate each year, with music performances, comedy and street theatre. 

6. Make paper lanterns on St. Martin’s Day 

Largely celebrated in Germany’s catholic states, Martinstag (St. Martin’s Day) on November 11th is a charming German custom that has a fair bit in common with Halloween. Traditionally, children dress up and head out onto the streets in a little procession with paper lanterns. In some regions, they also go door to door and sing for sweets, fruit or cookies. 

Families marking St. Martin’s Day will generally eat a Martinsgans (Martin’s Goose) for dinner. This is in reference to a part of the legend of St. Martin in which Martin, believing himself unworthy of becoming a bishop, attempts to hide himself in a stable filled with geese. 

In protestant Berlin and other parts of northern Germany, the processions have been rebranded as the secular Laternenfest (Lantern Festival).

St. Martin's Day procession Thuringia

Thousands of people join a St. Martin’s Day procession in Erfurt, Thuringia. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Reichel

READ ALSO: Six signs autumn has arrived in Germany

7. Collect chestnuts in the park

As the leaves starts to fall, you may notice something else lying on the ground on your street or in your local park: chestnuts. Heading out on a walk to collect chestnuts can be a great way to while away a bright autumnal afternoon, not to mention a fun activity for children. 

If you do go chestnut collecting, however, make sure you follow the rules: only chestnuts that have fallen to the ground can be picked up. Also take note that horse chestnuts, which are the ones usually found in cities, are poisonous – so don’t eat them. 

8. Dress up for Halloween

Though celebrating Halloween is much more popular in the United States, some American traditions – from fancy dress to trick-or-treating – have slowly but surely taken hold in Germany over the past few decades. 

Instead of saying “trick or treat”, German children tend to say, “Süßes oder Saures” (sweet or sour?) as they blackmail their neighbours into emptying their sweet cupboards.

But even if you’re not keen on an American-style Halloween, there are ways to celebrate Halloween like a true German. Why not spend the day carving pumpkins and then head out for a spooky tour of a haunted castle in the evening? 

READ ALSO: What are Germany’s 8 spookiest places?

9. Fly a kite 

The hot, humid days are over and a chill wind is in the air, so what better time to indulge in another German obsession – flying kites? 

Adorably known as Drachen (dragons) in German, autumn is prime kite-flying season in Germany, so be sure to take your kite (and your family) out to your park on the next windy Sunday afternoon to see what all the fuss is about.  

Kite flying in Berlin

People fly dragon kites at the Drachenfest on Berlin Tempelhofer Feld. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

10. Remember lost loved ones 

In a more sombre autumnal tradition, All Saint’s Day on November 1st is a time to remember loved ones who are no longer with us.

Taking place on November 1st, the day after All Hallow’s Eve, many Germans will take the opportunity to place candles or wreaths on the graves of their relatives. Churches will generally hold sermons dedicated to the theme of remembrance and in the evening, religious families may gather together for dinner. The following morning, on All Soul’s Day, there are more religious services and prayers for the dead. 

Even for those who aren’t believers, November 1st can offer an opportunity for reflection, contemplation and most importantly, a chance to spend time with the people you love. 

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DISCOVER GERMANY

12 things you should do in Germany at least once

Germany is full of stunning natural landscapes, as well as cultural activities and culinary delights. Here are some of our favourites that you should try doing at least once.

12 things you should do in Germany at least once

1. Hike around Saxon Switzerland (Sächsische Schweiz)

Germany is a land of outdoor sports enthusiasts and there is no shortage of places to put your hiking boots to the test.

But Saxon Switzerland, south-east of Dresden, is possibly the most stunning of all of the country’s hiking destinations.

Various hiking trails lead through the stunning rock formations of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains and offer endless magnificent views.

2. See the original Disney castle

Perched on a cliffside in the Bavarian Alps is the magical Neuschwanstein castle – a must-see German tourist attraction.

The Neuschwanstein Castle in the Allgäu region in Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

Commissioned in the 19th century by the eccentric King Ludwig II, the castle became world famous when Walt Disney used it as the inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty castle, which eventually became part of the iconic Disney logo.

For a particularly spectacular view, walk across the nearby Marienbrücke (Queen Mary Bridge), suspended 114 metres above Pollät Gorge.

3. Sip an Apfelwein in Frankfurt

For over 250 years, apple wine has been Frankfurt’s signature drink.

The area around Frankfurt is one of the richest fruit-producing regions in Germany so it’s no surprise that some of that precious produce has found its way into an alcoholic concoction. 

Called Ebbelwoi by some locals, ordered as a Schobbe by others, Apfelwein usually has an alcohol content of between 4.8 and 7 percent and is traditionally served in a geripptes glass or a stoneware mug known as a Bembel.

READ ALSO: ‘A megacity on a smaller scale’: The inside guide to Frankfurt

4. Strip off on an FKK beach

Though Germany’s Frei Körper Kultur (free body culture), which celebrates the beauty of the naked body, may be a little disconcerting at first for non-Germans, getting naked on a German beach is something you have to try at least once. 

A sign indicates the area of the nudist beach in Schleswig-Holstein. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Carsten Rehder

And who knows, once you’ve done it once, you may find yourself never wearing a bathing suit again.

5. Watch a football match at the Olympiastadion

Berlin’s Olympiastadion, which was built in 1936 and hosted the infamous summer Olympics of the same year, is worth a visit for its historical and architectural significance of the place itself.

But it’s even better to grab a seat at the 74,000 capacity stadium to watch home team Hertha BSC play a match against another Bundesliga team. 

The Hertha supporters are well known for their raucous and entertaining support, and always put on a good show from their spot in the stadium’s Ostkurve (east curve).

Since Germany goes wild for football, we’d also recommend visiting other stadiums or even checking out a local team! 

6. Try to get into Berghain

Germany’s world-famous techno nightclub – Berghain – is one of the most difficult clubs to get into in the world. 

Based in Berlin, the club is open from Friday to Monday and operates an exclusive door policy which often sees would-be clubbers turned away for reasons that are often hard to decipher.

Several hundred people line up in front of Berghain nightclub in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

However, it’s something you’ve got to try at least once – because even if you don’t get in, queuing with the hardcore techno fans on a Sunday morning is an experience in itself.

If you don’t make it past the door, try one of the many other clubs in Berlin and laugh about it with friends. 

7. Drink a beer at Oktoberfest

Downing a gigantic pitcher of frothy golden beer in a tent in Munich during Oktoberfest is an experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list. 

Oktoberfest is the world’s biggest public festival and takes place every year in late September. It sees thousands of Germans and international tourists donning the traditional dress of Lederhosen and Dirndls to celebrate and relax. 

If you haven’t been there yet, it returns this year. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s Oktoberfest to return in 2022 after pandemic pause

8. Take a thermal bath in Baden-Baden

Thanks to its mild climate and hot springs, the town of Baden-Baden has been (literally) a hotspot for spa lovers since Roman times.

The thermal water in the Black Forest region bubbles out of 18 different springs and there are plenty of spas you can visit for a soothing dip.

9. Behold the home of Bauhaus

Bauhaus is an iconic art school that started in Weimar just after the first world war. Characterised by simple geometric shapes like rectangles and spheres and without elaborate decorations, the Bauhaus style flourished throughout the 1920s.

Replicas of the figures of the “Triadic Ballet” by Oskar Schlemmer are shown in the exhibition of the Bauhaus Museum in Dessau. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hendrik Schmidt

When political pressure led to the centre of Bauhaus art leaving Weimar, a new building designed by Walter Gropius, the institution’s founder, was built in Dessau to be the movement’s new home.

Nowadays, the Bauhaus Building in Dessau remains the spiritual home of the movement and is home to a museum that shows off some the era’s most stunning creations.

10. Dress up at Karneval

If you want to see what millions of Germans are like when they let their hair down – then go to the carnival in Cologne (or one of the other places it is celebrated).

Every year in February, millions of revellers take to the streets dressed in wacky attire to celebrate the ancient springtime festival.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about celebrating carnival in Germany

Cologne has the biggest carnival celebration in Germany, followed by Dusseldorf and Mainz. The celebrations in these big cities and all over the Rheinland are full of colourful costumes, a lot of alcohol, joyful songs, and crazy parties. 

11. Have a Glühwein at a Christmas market

Germany’s Christmas markets are known all over the world for their magical festive atmosphere and charming stalls selling handicrafts and tasty treats. 

One of the best of those treats is Glühwein, hot wine cooked with oranges, cinnamon, cloves and usually served in a decorative mug.

12. Order Königsberger Klopse

Forget Currywurst, Käsespätzle and Bretzels – Königsberge Klopse is the ultimate German dish that you have to eat at least once.

The more than 200-year-old recipe comes from Königsberg – the former capital of Prussia and today’s Kaliningrad – and consists of minced meat meatballs, bread, egg, mustard and anchovies (yes – that’s right). Then you let them steep in a meat broth with onions, allspice, bay leaf and pepper. You’ll find it in many traditional German restaurants – and there are even vegan versions. 

READ ALSO: The 10 heartiest German dishes to get you through winter

What else do you recommend trying in Germany? Let us know by emailing [email protected]

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