© erlebe.bayern - Peter von Felbert
Bavaria's folk festivals have historical roots and are shaped by regional traditions. The most popular among them attract hundreds of thousands of visitors year after year. Not only the world-famous Oktoberfest in Munich. 16 alltime favorites
Reading time: 15minutes
At a glance
- 1. Munich Oktoberfest
- 2. Rosenheimer Herbstfest
- 3. Dachauer Volksfest
- 4. Erdinger Herbstfest
- 5. Gäubodenfest Straubing
- 6. Passauer Dult
- 7. Fürther Kärwa
- 8. Bamberger Sandkerwa
- 9. Würzburger Kiliani-Volksfest
- 10. Allgäuer Viehscheid
- 11. Erlanger Bergkirchweih
- 12. Regensburger Dult
- 13. Gillamoos Abensberg
- 14. Augsburger Plärrer
- 15. Nördlinger Mess
- 16. Himmelfahrtsmarkt Kempten
Bavarians celebrate life and themselves at their folk festivals. Many festivals have historical roots and are shaped by regional traditions. The most popular ones attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, usually in spring or autumn. First and foremost is the world-famous Oktoberfest in Munich! Sixteen tips for celebrating
© München Tourismus, Tommy Lösch
The Mother of all Festivals: Munich's Oktoberfest
The "Wiesn" (local name for the Oktoberfest) is considered the world's largest folk festival and, with few exceptions so far, is celebrated annually on the Theresienwiese in Munich. The foundation stone for the frenetic hustle and bustle was laid in 1810. The occasion was the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria (King from 1825) and Therese of Saxony on 12 October. October. The event was celebrated, among other things, with a big horse race on 17 October on the festival meadow named after the bride. This developed into an annual folk festival. Its duration was extended to two weeks and the start was brought forward to September.
Today, the fourteen large and fifteen small festival tents as well as the approximately two hundred showmen and fairground rides attract millions of visitors every year (2019: 6.3 million). A highlight is the traditional costume parade with one hundred and fifty traditional costume groups on the first Sunday of the Wiesn. Since 2010, the nostalgic "Oide Wiesn" ("Old Wiesn") with historic rides has also been part of the festival. By the way: Dirndl and lederhosen only became a mass phenomenon at the Wiesn in the 21st century.
© erlebe.bayern - Peter von Felbert
The likable Oktoberfest: Rosenheimer Herbstfest
The Rosenheim Herbstfest (Autumn Festival) originated from an agricultural exhibition and has been held since 1861. It attracts more than a million visitors every year and is the largest folk festival in south-eastern Upper Bavaria. The festival is held on the Loreto meadow, which used to be outside the city. The festival begins on the last Saturday in August and lasts sixteen days. It starts with a large procession in traditional costume through the city centre, followed by three gunshots and the traditional tapping of the barrel. Visitors are catered for in two large festival halls, as well as at catering stands and in smaller tents. There are also numerous fairground rides. A highlight of the festival is a fireworks display that is set off on the evening of the second Thursday. The organisers say they keep prices moderate and offer family days with reduced prices. The autumn festival is advertised as "the likeable Oktoberfest".
herbstfest-rosenheim.de (only in German)
It starts with a large procession in traditional costume through the city centre, followed by three gunshots and the traditional tapping of the barrel. Visitors are catered for in two large festival halls, as well as at catering stands and in smaller tents. There are also numerous fairground rides. A highlight of the festival is a fireworks display that is set off on the evening of the second Thursday. The organisers say they keep prices moderate and offer family days with reduced prices. The autumn festival is advertised as "the likeable Oktoberfest".
© Stadt Dachau
Good for the Wallet: Dachau Volksfest
The Dachau Folk Festival looks back on a history of more than 350 years. It began with popular horse races, which were held from 1652, and was first held under its present name in 1897. Attractions included shooting, gymnastics shows, a trade exhibition, beer tasting and music.
A permanent feature since 1894 has been the "Glückshafen", a raffle, today for the benefit of the Bürgerspitalstiftung. The festival in Dachau lasts ten days around the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on 15. August. The festival is held on the central square at the foot of the old town. It attracts over 300,000 visitors every year. In addition to marquees, fairground rides and showmen, the festival also includes a large fireworks display. Last but not least, the Dachau Folk Festival is known for its low beer price ...
volksfestdachau.de (only in German)
Wheat Beer and Pale Beer: Herbstfest Erding
The first autumn festival in Erding was held in 1816 as an "agricultural district festival". After that, the festival was held at irregular intervals, and from 1949 it became an annual event. It lasts ten days and begins on the last Friday in August. Every year, about 400,000 people visit the festival site in the old Bavarian ducal town northeast of Munich. They can expect two large marquees and various rides, stalls with games of skill and shooting galleries. The marquees each focus on one of the two local breweries, one specialises in pale beer, the other in wheat beer, of which a special festival beer variant is offered. The Erding Autumn Festival is the third largest folk festival in Upper Bavaria after Munich and Rosenheim.
herbstfest-erding.de (only in German)
© Tourismusverband Ostbayern_Herbert Stolz
Party in the granary: Gäubodenfest in Straubing
With around 1.5 million visitors, the Gäubodenfest in Straubing is one of the largest folk festivals in Bavaria. The Gaeuboden is a 15-kilometre-wide strip of land south of the Danube, stretching east from Regensburg to Osterhofen. With its fertile soils, it is considered the granary of Bavaria. Straubing is the largest town there.
King Maximilian I founded the folk festival in 1812 as an agricultural festival. Since 1949 it has been called the "Gäubodenvolksfest" and has been held every year since 1962. It consists of a funfair with seven marquees and many rides as well as an agricultural show, the Ostbayernschau.
Since 2012, there has also been a nostalgic area with historical rides and attractions. The eleven-day festival begins on the Friday before the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, 15 August.
© Stadt Passau
Pemperlprater and Kocherlball: Passau Dult
The Passau Dult, with beer tents, fairground rides and stalls, lasts ten days. It is celebrated in the fairground in the Kohlbruck district. In spring it begins on the Friday of the last week in April, in autumn on the Friday of the second week in September. Both festivals date back to earlier fairs. The Maidult also includes a large traditional costume and marksmen's parade on the first Sunday of the festival. It leads through the old town of the city on three rivers.
Since 2017, there has also been a five-day "Oide Dult" (Old Dult) with a large beer tent and garden. It is held in June in the Klostergarten, a park in Passau's Neue Mitte district. It celebrates nostalgic cosiness with brass band music "unplugged", a dance floor, classic delicacies such as Steckerlfisch and sausages as well as old rides such as the Pemperlprater, a wooden carousel from 1830. Most recently, the "Kocherlball", a traditional folk dance event, was also included in the Oide Dult
passauer dulten.de (only in German)
© Tourist-Information Fürth, Margit Hofmann
Queen of the Church Fairs: Fürth Kärwa
The St. Michael's Church Fair in Fürth, or "Fädder Kärwa" for short, or "Kärwa" for even shorter, is one of the oldest public festivals in Franconia. It has probably been celebrated since the dedication of St. Michael's Church around 1100. The Kärwa begins on the name day of the archangel Michael on 29 September or the following Saturday and lasts twelve days. A highlight is the Harvest Festival procession on the second Sunday of the Kärwa. It was first held in 1817, after years of poor harvests.
The Kärwa is held in the streets of Fürth's city centre, hence the name "Straßenkirchweih" (street fair). Unusual: there are no tents! In addition to small amusement rides, bar and snack stands, traders and market criers also offer their wares. The Kärwa is recognised on the Bavarian Cultural Heritage List and in the Federal Register of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
michaelis-kirchweih.de (only in German)
Sandkerwa in Bamberg
The Obere and Untere Sandstraße in Bamberg run along the Regnitz River at the foot of the Domberg and Michelberg hills. Together with the side streets, they form the "Sand", the core of Bamberg's old town. The Sandkerwa takes place here at the end of August. It originated from the church consecration of St. Elisabeth in the Sand, a church that is more than 600 years old. The festival lasts five days, from Thursday to Monday.
A citizens' association has been organising it since 1951 as a "need-promoting and traditional festival". Beer from Bamberg and the surrounding area is served at many stalls in the alleys. The highlight of the Sandkerwa is the fisherman's tournament against the backdrop of "Little Venice". This is the name given to the former fishermen's quarter on the Regnitz. The festival ends with a big fireworks display. In recent years, however, the large number of visitors in the narrow streets has also led to negative side effects and criticism.
sandkerwa.de (only in German)
© Congress-Tourismus-Würzburg, Andreas Bestle
Mission possible: Würzburg Kiliani Folk Festival
According to tradition, Saint Kilian was an Irish bishop who lived in the 7th century. He is said to have missioned in the area of today's Würzburg and is the patron saint of the city. His name day on July 8th is celebrated with the Kiliani folk festival. The festival originated from a medieval sales fair (Messe in German) and is therefore also called "Mess". The Mess lasts two weeks, from the beginning to the middle of July, and takes place on Talavera Square. It is the largest folk festival in Lower Franconia.
On the first Saturday, a procession in traditional costume parades through the city centre to the festival square. People celebrate in a large marquee and with many food stalls and fairground rides. At the same time, the Kiliani sales fair, called the "Häfelesmess", is held on the market square. On offer are things for everyday use. Up to one million visitors are counted at the Kiliani Folk Festival every year.
wuerzburg.de//kilianivolksfest (only in German)
© Bad Hindelang Tourismus / Wolfgang B. Kleiner
Going Home ... Viehscheid in the Allgäu
In the Alps, the end of summer is celebrated when the cattle return from the alpine meadows to the villages. In the Allgäu, this event is called the "Viehscheid". Around thirty villages celebrate this tradition between September 8th and October 3rd. each on a different day. If herd and man have survived the season unscathed, selected animals, the "Kranzrinder" (wreathed cattle), are decorated with flowers and ribbons, wreaths and huge bells on the alpine pastures. A cross and a mirror are also incorporated into the ornaments, they are supposed to scare off evil spirits!
On the day of the festival, the herd moves down into the valley with the shepherds. There, a marquee usually awaits them, along with stalls and fairground stalls. At the so-called Scheidplatz, the animals are "separated" from the herd and returned to their owners. Afterwards, shepherds, farmers and visitors celebrate the day or a whole weekend ...
allgaeu.de/viehscheid (only in German)
© Florian Trykowski
The Berch Is Calling: Erlanger Bergkirchweih
The Erlanger Bergkirchweih (Church Fair), or "the Berch" in Franconian, has a cult following and is one of the most popular folk festivals in Bavaria with more than one million visitors every year. It has been held since 1755. The occasion is the consecration of the Old Town Church of the Holy Trinity. The Berch lasts twelve days and keeps the city in suspense from the Thursday before Whitsun to the Monday after Trinity (Sunday after Whitsun).
The Kirchweih area stretches along the slope of the Burgberg on the edge of the city centre. It becomes a huge beer garden under old chestnut, oak and lime trees. Typical are the many old beer cellars where the beer used to be stored for maturing. Fifteen cellars are now used for serving beer, as well as a marquee and the "Altstädter Schießhaus" restaurant. Other attractions include a large Ferris wheel and fairground rides. The Berch traditionally ends with the "barrel funeral", the last barrel is symbolically carried to its grave to the tune of "Lili Marleen" ...
erlangen.info (only in German)
© Hans Bauer
Cooking Pot and Ferris Wheel: Regensburg Dult
The folk festival in the Upper Palatinate capital takes place twice a year, at the end of May and the beginning of September, and lasts a good two weeks. It originated from medieval fairs. The venue is always the Stadtamhof district on the Danube. There is a colourful mix of fairground rides and stalls for young and old.
Culinary delights are offered by fish fryers, snack stands and live music in the beer tents. The fun event is accompanied by a merchandise fair. Traders offer their wares here, from spices and cooking pots to shirts and trousers. The Regensburg Dult attracts up to one million visitors.
regensburg-bayern.de/dult (only in German)
Praise Be to Ägidius! Gillamoos in Abensberg
The Gillamoos in Abensberg in the Hallertau region is one of the oldest fairs in Bavaria. It has its roots in an Ägidius pilgrimage and was first mentioned in a document in 1313. Ägidius, one of the fourteen emergency helpers, was a popular saint in the Middle Ages. He gives his name to the fair, which originated from "St. Gilg am Moos" (a chapel on the banks of the Abens), "Gilg" being a Bavarian form of "Ägidius". The Gillamoos is celebrated Thursday to Monday around the first Sunday in September in festival tents and with fairground rides.
There is also a nostalgic "Oidn Gillamoos" (Old Gillamoos). True to the pilgrimage tradition, a church service is celebrated in the beer tent on Sunday, and a farmers' market with livestock trading takes place on Monday. The Gillamoos is known for its political morning pint on Monday, when politicians from the most important parties give speeches simultaneously in various festival tents. The crowning event is the election of the Gillamoos Dirndl Queen in the evening.
abensberg.de/gillamoos (only in German)
© erlebe.bayern - Frank Heuer
Well Roared: Augsburg Plärrer
With more than one million visitors, the Augsburg Plärrer is the largest folk festival in Bavarian Swabia. Originally, folk festival-like amusements were part of various markets held in Augsburg's city centre. After the noise around the boat swing and shooting gallery increasingly disturbed the citizens, the city decided in the 19th century to stop the "bawling" (Geplärre in German). In the 19th century, the city decided to keep the "bawling" away from the market stalls.
In 1878, therefore, a folk festival was held for the first time on the Kleiner Exerzierplatz. Today there is the "Plärrer" in spring (from Easter Sunday) and late summer (from the end of August). It lasts two weeks in each case. The two large beer tents "Binswanger" and "Schaller" are a permanent feature, along with many modern rides and nostalgic carousels and stalls. Bertolt Brecht dedicated a poem to the festival, the "Plärrerlied".
augsburger-plaerrer.de (only in German)
© erlebe.bayern - Peter von Felbert
Blue Monday: Nördlinger Mess
The Nördlingen Whitsun Fair was first mentioned in a document in 1219. In the Middle Ages, it was a nationally important fair thanks to Nördlingen's favourable location on trade routes. These led to Ulm, Augsburg, Nuremberg, Würzburg and Strasbourg, among others. In the course of time, Nördlingen lost its importance as a trading centre and the fair (Messe in German) became a folk festival.
Today it is the largest in northern Swabia. The fairground is the Kaiserwiese with marquees, beer gardens, fairground rides and fairground stalls. Market stalls are a reminder of the former trading character of the folk festival. The Nördlinger Mess begins on the second Saturday after Whitsun and lasts for ten days. It does not end on a Sunday, but on what is known as Herrenmontag. In the past, the councillors used to treat themselves to a visit to the fair at the end of the day. Today, Herrenmontag is a traditional public holiday in Nördlingen.
Market and Fair: Ascension Day Market in Kempten
Kempten is considered the metropolis of the Allgäu, and the Ascension Day Market (Himmelfahrtsmarkt) there is one of the most popular folk festivals in the region. According to the church calendar, Ascension Day is celebrated 39 days after Easter and always falls on a Thursday. Around this holiday, Kempten's city centre attracts visitors every year with a fair and an amusement park.
While the traders offer everyday necessities, oddities and more at their stalls, showmen provide fun with rides on Königsplatz: bumper cars, merry-go-rounds, loops and more, as well as shooting and lottery booths and many culinary offers.
allgaeu-tipp.de (only in German)
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