Prices drop for airfare and hotels by mid-September as the tourist season in Europe comes to an end. But lower costs, shorter lines and more personal space aren’t the only reasons to visit Germany in Herbst (autumn).
The Herbst Harvest: Food, Wine & Fests
Fall is synonymous with fests: beer fests, wine fests, harvest fests, pumpkin fests, apple fests, chestnut fests.
Oktoberfest is on most millenials’ radar as an excuse to down liter-sized hefeweizen and check out the opposite sex in flattering old-fashioned Bavarian attire. The Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest rivals the Munich Oktoberfest for the number of dirndls, lederhosen and liquid gold consumed. Hundreds of smaller beer tents pop up around the country, brimming with German folk music and American songs I’d like to forget (think Sweet Caroline and Achy, Breaky Heart), flowing drinks, yummy bratwurst, and red-faced, good-natured patrons taking life less seriously.
Germany claims the title for the world’s grandest wine fest, confusingly named the Wurstmarkt (sausage market), which occurs every September in Bad Dürkheim. Gourmet dishes are served if you need to fill your stomach before starting in on the 300 available wines, ordered by the half-liter glass.
The largest pumpkin festival in the world is held from September to early November in Ludwigsburg. Festivities include boat races in canoes made from hollowed pumpkins, a weigh-off to determine the year’s largest pumpkin, artistic carving displays, and pumpkin-flavored food and wine.
Walk from one station to the next, sampling local eats and drinks at culinary hikes and wine wanderings. Just go easy on the new wine (Neuerwein or Federweißer). This fermented grape drink tastes like non-alcoholic grape juice, but too much can cause an upset stomach and a killer hangover.
Another fall phenomenon revolving around the harvest is besens, makeshift restaurants in private homes, identified by a broom (besen in German) hanging above the door. Because restaurants and wineries must have licenses, these eateries are open limited hours to small groups. Practice your German vocabulary and meet people from the neighborhood over a humble meal and local wine.
Cattle Call: The Almabtrieb and Viehscheid
In Bavaria, herders lead cows down from the mountains where they have been all summer. The livestock is decorated with bells, flowers and crosses, and villagers have street parties to welcome their animals and the hard-working herders who looked after them. According to superstition, the bells scare away evil spirits lurking in the mountains. The adorned cattle are adorable, albeit a bit ridiculous; I wonder how they feel about the getup.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the tallest documented sunflower was grown in Germany in 2015, soaring 30 feet high. Fields of huge blossoms linger through September in warmer regions. Look for signs that say “Blumen, Selbst Schneiden,” which means that you can cut flowers and leave a few euros in the onsite cash box.
Scenic Fall Foliage
See walled cities, waterfalls, vineyards and castles against a backdrop of reds, golds, purples and greens as trees shed their leaves. Cycle under a canopy of color on the route of 100 castles in Münsterland and hike the dense woodlands of the Black Forest. Admire the hills of yellowing grape vines while sipping cheap award-winning wine in the Mosel and Rhine river valleys or the towns on the German Wine Road.
Big Bashes in Berlin
October 3 is a day of commemorating the reunification of Germany after the fall of the Berlin wall and signing of the Unification Treaty. Every year, a party is held at the Brandenberg Gate to remember the day that East and West were reunited. Berlin also hosts a light festival each October, illuminating dozens of buildings for a few million spectators.
Mega Vintage Car Market
One weekend each October is devoted to Veterama, the biggest market selling vintage cars and spare parts in Europe. It’s the place for motorheads to find parts for restoration projects and haggle over classic cars.
Chilling Halloween Happenings
The costume parades, haunted trails and trick-or-treating traditions of Halloween are catching on in Germany. Brave adults spend Halloween at Burg Frankenstein, a castle ruin that has a monster infestation during October. The ghouls at this castle are allowed to touch those who enter; they’ve been known to lock guests in the stocks — or worse, coffins. Burg Frankenstein is among the creepiest places I’ve celebrated Halloween, second only to Transylvania.
Goose for Dinner
Following St. Martin’s feast day on November 11, restaurants begin offering goose dinners. Stuffed with fruits and chestnuts, the goose is then roasted and served alongside boiled red cabbage, potato dumplings and gravy. Ever since I had goose, I haven’t craved Butterball turkey.
Home of Christmas Markets
As the days grow shorter, darker and colder, Christmas markets begin, usually three weeks before the winter solstice. Toast a mug of hot, mulled wine and find some holiday spirit as you bid farewell to autumn.