GAHM Travel Guide: 20 Must-See German Summer Festivals!
Written by Blythe Romano
Now that summer has begun, Germany’s festival season is in full swing. With live music, food, drinks, German history, and more, these events have it all! If you’re planning a trip to Germany this summer or at any point in the future, here’s our comprehensive list of festival recommendations.
For those interested in classical music, Bachfest is a must! Held from June 14th through the 23rd, Bachfest features dozens of concerts in various locations in and around Leipzig. Venues include the historic St. Thomas’ Church, the open air Bachstage in Market Square, the Leipzig zoo, and the promenade in Leipzig’s main train station. The festival commemorates the life and work of Johann Sebastian Bach, one of Leipzig’s most famous residents.
Another great spot for classical-lovers is Berlin’s open air concert series, taking place from July 4th to July 8th in Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt. The festival promises to take audience-members on a “journey through the history of music,” showcasing classical music as well as Italian Opera, a Capella (with an appearance from Die Prinzen!), and Jazz.
Beginning June 19th and lasting until July 31, the Bayerische Staatsoper has an extensive schedule of festival events. With a pop-up bar on the steps of the Nationaltheaters, a virtual reality opera experience, live performances, and more, the Munich Opera Festival seeks to get everyone involved, regardless of prior interest or knowledge about opera!
My personal favorite of the music festival recommendations has to be Melt Festival, a festival consisting mostly of indie rock and electronic music. The festival lasts through the weekend of July 19-21, and their line-up boasts A$AP Rocky, Bon Iver, and Jorja Smith. On their website, the festival outlines the ways in which they are dedicated to making their festival experience as sustainable and inclusive as possible! While Melt Festival is not yet as well known as Lollapalooza, Governors Ball, or Firefly, it is definitely a viable option for an unforgettable summer music festival experience.
The rock music festival Rock am Ring occurs annually at the Nürburgring race track. Although the 2019 festival has already occurred, it’s never too early to plan for next year! Rock am Ring will be held from June 5-7 in 2020. The 2019 lineup included popular bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, the 1975, and Cage the Elephant, along with iconic German bands like Die Ärzte.
Germany’s Africa Festival has occurred since 1989, and is the oldest and largest festival for African music and culture in all of Europe. The festival has been extremely successful in Germany, attracting more than two-million visitors and seven-thousand musicians from fifty-six African countries since it began in 1989. Again, 2019’s Africa Festival has already taken place on May 29th-June 1st, but if you’re planning ahead for a future trip to Germany, the Africa Festival should definitely be a consideration.
Food & Drink Festivals
The Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt (named ‘sausage market’ because the area used to host the town’s Wurst market) claims to be the largest wine festival in the world! While it isn’t held until later in September, the festival features amusement park rides, a variety of food tents, live music, fireworks displays, and, of course, wine tastings and wine tents.
Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt. Photo: https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/germany-wurstmarkt-wine-festival-oktoberfest/index.html, https://www.bad-duerkheim.com/
The Freiburg Wine Festival is a six-day festival that is mostly centered around the Freiburg Cathedral. This Wine Festival showcases regional wines, food, and live music performances with the backdrop of Freiburg’s medieval architecture. Located near the Black Forest, Freiburg is a historic and romantic city that is very popular for its wine tourism, as the mild temperatures and soil of the Breisgau region make it one of Europe’s best wine-growing areas.
Freiburg Wine Festival. Photo: https://traveltop6.com/germany/baden-wurttemberg/events/freiburg-wine-festival
During this folk festival, lasting for three days and nights, all types and brands of beer are served at stalls and bars throughout the Friedrichshain district of Berlin. Along Karl-Marx-Allee, about 350 breweries from almost 90 countries serve approximately 2,400 different beer specialities. The festival is divided based on the geographic origins of each beer. Stages litter the festival area, allowing for live music, shows, and other entertainment.
The Meistertrunk Show in Rothenburg is a “living history” festival that immerses attendees in the year 1631. Since 1881, the events of The Thirty Years’ War and daily tasks of camp life and market activity are reenacted in the well-preserved medieval town of Rothenburg. The play “The Master Draught” is performed by the citizens of Rothenburg in the town’s imperial hall, 800 festival players hold a parade and “save” the city from looting and pillaging, and craftsmen and traders from across the world sell their wares at the market. Perfect for anyone interested in war history, the Meistertrunk Show is an extremely entertaining and engaging event.
Another “living history” festival for history buffs is the “Luthers Hochzeit” festival in Wittenberg. Every June, the people of Wittenberg reenact Protestant-reformer Martin Luther’s wedding to Katharina von Bora, which took place 490 years ago. Katharina von Bora was a nun who escaped from a monastery, which led to Luther’s significant break with the Catholic church. Other events at the festival include markets, knight games, musicians, and parades.
Luther’s Wedding Festival Parade. Photo: https://news.cision.com/luthercountry/r/experience-life-in-the-middle-ages-in-martin-luther-s-back-yard,c2473338
The Kaltenberg Knights’ Tournament is essentially Germany’s version of a “Medieval Times” show. The festival takes place during three consecutive weekends in July. The show portion of the festival includes knights, jesters, musicians, acrobats and performance theatre groups, giving attendees a historically immersive experience in the Middle Ages. The Knights’ Tournament, a jousting show, takes place on the stage of the Kaltenberg Arena, while the rest of the festival occurs on the grounds of Kaltenberg Castle. Visitors can also participate in several live workshops and purchase food and crafts from market stalls.
Honorable Mentions + More!
By far one of the most raved-about German festivals is Berlin’s four-day Carnival of Cultures, where the city celebrates cultural diversity ending with a street parade on Pentecost Sunday. Thousands of dancers, musicians, and artists descend on Berlin to perform in the festival before over one million attendees. The festival organizes performances on several open-air stages around Berlin, while other performers like acrobats and stilt-walkers roam about the streets, alongside market stalls with food and crafts. The festival truly represents the lively, international spirit of Germany’s capital city.
Carnival of Cultures Parade. Photo: https://www.thelocal.de/20150522/carnival-of-culture-6-things-not-to-miss, Karneval der Kulturen
Kieler Woche (Kiel Week) sells itself as the largest sailing event in the world, attracting 5,000 sailors, 2,000 ships, and more than three million visitors every year! Kiel Week consists of regattas, historic ship parades, and a slew of festival events that transform Kiel into one of the largest Volksfeste in Northern Europe.
In August, Frankfurt will hold its annual three-day cultural festival, Museumsuferfest. Visitors descend upon local museums which offer discounted entry, tours, and workshops. Additionally, the city hosts music and dance performances, stalls selling art, jewelry, and clothing, and open-air art exhibitions. Every year, the Museumsuferfest has a unique theme. While 2019’s theme has yet to be announced, previous years have had interesting themes like ‘Modern Art’ or ‘Children.’ With a beautiful setting on the River Main, the festival seems like an amazing and enriching experience- and who can pass up discounted museum entry?
One of Germany’s more romantic summer festivals is Rhein in Flammen (Rhine in Flames), taking place in five different locations along the Rhine river over the course of the summer months. Deemed a must-see event by Romantic Germany, Rhine in Flames is perfect if you’re traveling Germany with your significant other. The Rhine being “in flames” refers to the series of fireworks displays that take place near the river in Bonn, Rüdesheim-Bingen, Koblenz, Oberwesel, and St. Goar-St. Goarshausen. The fireworks displays are accompanied by a parade of brightly-lit ships, as well as on-land festivities.
Hamburg’s DOM, the biggest festival in Northern Germany, is held three times a year. Named after the cathedral that the fair took place in back during the 11th century, the fair combines nostalgia with the thrills of a modern amusement park. The festival consists of classic attractions like roller coasters, haunted houses, fortune tellers, boardwalk-style games, and of course, tons of fried food (Schmalzkuchen, anyone?).
One of Germany’s most diverse and inclusive events is Berlin’s annual LGBTQ Pride event, Christopher Street Day. The event has taken place at the end of July since 1979 to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots in Greenwich VIllage, NY. Each year, CSD updates their mission statement and creates a list of central demands, maintaining the political nature of the Stonewall Riots and asserting the need for self-determination and equality in the LGBTQ community. At the same time, CSD is a largely celebratory day, with a huge parade through the center of Berlin, a closing rally at the Brandenburg Gate with live music, and parties all throughout the evening in Berlin.
Würzburg’s Kiliani Volksfest has a quaint county-fair aesthetic, with many attendees showcasing traditional, local outfits in a parade that kicks off the event, following the tapping of the first keg by the Würzburg mayor. The fair, which originated from an eight-day celebration of Irish missionary St. Kilian, continues for two weeks with tons of rides, markets, music, food, and several beer gardens.
Berlin’s 19th annual International Literature Festival will take place this September. The festival serves as a site of discourse in the world of literature and academia. The festival holds poetry and book readings, discussion panels, workshops, film screenings, and events for children and schoolteachers. Presenters, authors, and academics come from all over the world to partake in the festival. Most notably, the festival powerfully labels itself as “committed to human rights, a cosmopolitan outlook, multiple perspectives, dialogue, and hospitality.”