How Halloween is celebrated in Germany: traditions and national peculiarities of celebrating All Saints’ Day. We will talk about the history of the holiday, what Germans eat and decorate their homes, and tell you about mystical places in Berlin, and where you should go in costume!
Tradition has a way of wandering around the world and finding a place where it is welcome. This is the fate of the ancient Celtic holiday All Hallows’ Eve, better known as Halloween. Originating in Ireland, it is now celebrated in many countries around the world.
The history of Halloween
According to the ancient Celts the year had only two seasons: winter and summer. And the transition took place on the night of October 31 to November 1. The tribes that once inhabited England and Ireland, called this night Samhain (English Samhain, Gaelic Samhuinn, Irish Samhain). It was thought that the line between the worlds of men and ghosts was blurred at this time. To avoid falling prey to evil spirits or ghosts, the Celts had to leave their homes in complete darkness, dressed in animal skins, and prepare feasts for possible visitors on the doorstep.
In the streets, the Celts lit ritual fires and held sacrifices. Part of the fire, people could take with them, placing in pre-prepared pumpkins, it was assumed that such fires on the contrary will scare away unfriendly visitors.
The popular name of Halloween as “Day of All Saints” came much later and already thanks to Christianity. The holiday is associated with the consecration of a pagan temple by a pope back in the sixth century. However, the first date was set in May, and it was transferred to the familiar November 1 in the middle of the VIII century. A century later, the day was declared a general holiday of the Catholic Church. However, it is worth noting that Halloween is not All Saints’ Day, but another holiday on the eve of the church celebration.
How Halloween came to Germany
For centuries, Germany has had its own cause for celebration on the night of October 31 to November 1: It is the Day of the Church Reformation, which in 1517 was organized by Martin Luther, who wrote his famous 95 theses. To this day, it is still the state holiday in all states of the country.
Globalization, however, has not spared any developed society, sidelining many traditional and especially religious holidays, which have been replaced by pan-cultural celebrations such as Halloween. Few question whether it is a pagan holiday or a religious one.
Halloween as a phenomenon came to Germany in the 90s of the last century the well-trodden way: through movies and cartoons. Germans have gradually got used to the existence of such an unusual celebration, and then began to organize it in their country. Bright costumes, makeup, home decor, sweets, thousands of legends and mysteries – this holiday quickly became part of a progressive European society open to everything new.
Süsses oder Saures!
Due to the fact that Halloween is a holiday that is not tied to specific traditions and omens, in every country it varies slightly depending on the cultural characteristics.
Just as in most countries, it is the prerogative of the little ones to walk from house to house with this chant. They choose their favorite scary character costume: zombies, witches or Marvel warriors and collect sweets. Traditionally, children go out in search of candy after 7 pm, it must be dark enough to have a mysterious atmosphere around. Sometimes the kids recite poems and sing songs to get the coveted chocolates and cookies.
But not everyone is happy guests and some may simply not open the door, then witches and zombies can easily smear toothpaste on the front door or throw eggs on the threshold. In short, they do as promised: “Süsses oder Saures“!
How the Germans celebrate
As fun as the holiday is, the Germans still don’t consider it their own. There’s a lot of talk in the press about the commercial side of things, like there’s no reason to leave so much money at the makeup artist and tailor. But fortunately, everyone is different, so that in Germany there are craftsmen ready to brightly decorate their houses, mold huge spiders and monsters climbing out of the tombs.
For example, the Horn family, who live in Isernhagen near Hannover in Lower Saxony, became famous throughout Germany for their love of Halloween and their great talent for decorating their home walls with all kinds of devils.
Halloween in Germany has largely inherited American traditions: in food, costumes, and apartment decor. On the lawns of the most responsible holiday-makers, you’re bound to see Jack’o’Lanterns, spider webs, skeletons and spooky witches flying right at you.
At the theme party you can be treated to all sorts of “nightmare” snacks like “Abgehackte Finger im Blutbad” (“Severed fingers in a blood bath”) – just a sausage in tomato sauce, or “Würmer im Wackelpudding” (“Worm pudding”), which turns out to be a regular worm pudding from a bag of “Haribo”.
For German youth, Halloween is a great idea for a costume party. Some go with friends to a nightclub where they serve colored cocktails and have a costume contest at the time, but some go to a house party.
In Germany there is a great variety of places, such as Burg Frankenstein (Frankenstein Castle) in Darmstadt, where grand parties are held: they involve many people, some come especially from other countries to dress up in a vampire or fairy costume, to dance and have fun in the best traditions of European Gothic. In 2020 the party was cancelled, but this year the event will take place and those who still have a ticket from last year can use it to go to the event!
Unclassic Halloween in Berlin
In addition to house parties and collecting sweets, you can find other entertainment. For example, the capital’s zoo (Tierpark Berlin-Friedrichsfelde) hosts annual themed tours, complete with puzzles, scary legends and, of course, animals.
And if you’re a film buff, you can enjoy a real horror movie in the Filmpark Babelsberg in Potsdam: Zombies, witches, and Satan himself, with spooky music from the best horror movies. The organizers also offer themed workshops, quests and just a good time.
However, the Jungfernheide Park Run will help you celebrate Halloween in an unusual way. Participants are offered 500 meters, as well as 5 and 10 km distances. But it’s not just a run, of course, but a run in themed costumes!
The next station of the extraordinary Halloween in Berlin is one of the Berlin Dungeon productions. If you haven’t heard of this place before, Halloween is a great excuse to remedy that. Berlin Dungeon is a tourist attraction from a chain that includes London Dungeon and Hamburg Dungeon. The Berlin counterpart offers daredevils a journey through the city’s dark and secret history, the performance is led by professional actors who create the atmosphere and provide interaction with the audience.
If such a dungeon does not impress you, then try visiting the famous Berlin Story Bunker. This is a real bunker, above which is a museum of the history of the city. In the building there is a hotel room of fears, or rather an entire floor filled with horrors and scary legends.
All of these places are great for adults, but if you decide to celebrate Halloween with kids, you should take a closer look at the capital’s Monster Cabinet (Monsterkabinett). It is an attraction, with lots of mechanical monster puppets waiting for you at Haus Schwarzenberg. The tour of the cabinet, though short, is very entertaining and scarily kind in the Berlin way.
Halloween is a magical time for children and adults alike. First and foremost, it is a great opportunity to relax, because the Christmas vacations are still a long way off. So Germans eagerly follow the world’s fashions: buying paints, making up costumes and begging for candy. The main difference between American and German Halloween is that Germans are more reserved, don’t consider it an important or obligatory holiday, don’t buy kilos of candy, and don’t go crazy with the approaching night. But as you can see, even in Germany you can find a lot of entertainment, including unusual, in museums or movie parks, where Halloween will not turn into another masquerade, but into an amazing and special weekend.