Time Traveling: The Enchanting World Of Medieval Festivals In Germany

Medieval Festival Jousting Tournament

The show’s about to start, and your seat, my liege, awaits at one of many Medieval Festivals in Germany. Ah, the romance of distressed damsels and brave knights in shining armor. They cast a spell in modern times for chivalry and courage. Moreover, they evoke values of a mysterious era between the 5th and 15th centuries. It was a fascinating yet brutish time in our history. Yet the past also conjures up traditions, festivals, fairs, and reenactments. And these are regularly brought to life yearly in many towns across Germany.

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Medieval festivals take place all over Europe during the summer months.

Medieval Festivals in Germany
Festivals, fairs, and markets

Spectators flock to tournaments of courage. Meanwhile, medieval knights dress in vibrant colors, adorning themselves with images of fire-breathing dragons as they jostle against worthy opponents—always dressed in black. Explorers search the castle ruins for remnants of ancient folklore. Years of weather and use have made the old stone steps worn and shiny. Moreover, wildflowers dotted these steps, and faded echoes lingered in their cracks.

The annual festivals attempt to bridge the past and the present. Incidentally, these festivals initially revolved around feast days and pagan activities. They were based on ancient agricultural celebrations that marked when certain crops should be planted or harvested. Now, a staple of the German summer. They occur all along the Mosel, Neckar, and Rhine rivers. As well as in the heartland where every town and village. Most have a castle ruin or fortress.

Medieval Tournaments 

Tournaments The first highlight is the Medieval Procession: all the spectacle participants walk the festival grounds, displaying their colors and family crests. The procession usually takes less than half an hour and tastes what is yet to come.

The Kaltenberg Knights Tournament is a medieval festival held every year in July at the Kaltenberg Castle. The festival attracts 120,000 visitors for the ten days of the tournament and medieval market. The show at Kaltenberg Castle began in 1980 by Prince Luitpold of Bavaria and has grown over the years into a favorite summer event in Bavaria. As a result, Medieval Festivals in Germany are popular attractions.

Over 10,000 cheering fans watch the final battle between the villain, the Black Knight, and their hero, the Bavarian Knight. Who wins is subject to an up or down vote by the crowd, reminiscent of the Roman Coliseum. But you can pretty much guess who usually wins.

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Unique Hand-Crafted Souvenirs

Aside from battling knights in the stadium, the festivals usually have markets, fairs, and reenactments with costumed performers. And no medieval festival is complete without food, wine, and beer vendors. They present a re-creation of life in the Middle Ages without the stench and pestilence that prevailed.

And at one tent, a smith forges iron. The baker’s wife kneads the dough in another. At the same time, the baker bakes the bread in small outdoor ovens heated with coal. Firstly, jewelers make custom necklaces and charms. Secondly, florists create pretty headwear, table centerpieces, and door wreaths. Thirdly, the indescribable scent of leather tells you a tanner has animal hides and fur pelts for sale. You can find some seriously unique gifts at the Medieval Market. Maybe Aunt Sally might appreciate an “Elixir of Lasting Beauty” for her 45th birthday?

Niederburg and Oberburg Castles

Additionally, the merry activities below the Niederburg and Oberburg Castles in late August are not only exciting but highly picturesque—with not one but two castles in clear view. Furthermore, the Historisches Burgenfest Manderscheid’s two impressive castles face each other and fight for honor and glory every summer on the river Lieser, which separates the two once mighty fortresses. Consequently, the two castles were enemies for many centuries.

 On the last weekend in August, the Lion Knights transform the castles and the adjacent tourney field (Turnierwiese). Firstly, they hold jousting matches using lances, swords, and bows. Additionally, an example of medieval camp life, a colorful handicraft market, and a Tavern show, strolling minstrels, jesters, and stilt-walkers bring the Middle Ages front and center. Fireworks above the ruins of Niederburg Castle illuminate the sky and end the day’s activities with a thunderous exclamation mark.

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Hundreds of official costumed “performers” and spectators don Renaissance wear, wandering among the stands, tents, and castles as lords, ladies, and wizards. Don’t have a period costume? Don’t fret. You can wear that dirndl or lederhosen you bought for Oktoberfest or your family kilt or Japanese kimono; ancient cultures that are also well represented at most festivals.

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Festival Food

And the food, well let’s say festival food, is an excellent reason to attend one of the many seasonal celebrations. However, don’t expect to eat healthily. People considered fruits and vegetables as peasant food. Most 14th-century festivals don’t include them. The wafts of chicken roasting over open fires, suckling pig, steak mit brotchen, bratwurst, fried potatoes, honey mead, and eis wine dominate most food courts. Try the schweinshaxe (pork knuckles). I hear they are delicious. Sit on one of the long benches and take in the sights, flavors, and sounds around you.

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Storybook towns all over Germany make use of their medieval ruins. The ruins are backdrops for reenacting actual and romanticized events from their town archives.

The Kinderzeche is performed in July. It depicts the town’s children successfully pleading with an invading commander to spare their homes.

During the tourist season, performers actively reenact the Rothenburg Der Meistertrunk several times, vividly showcasing the mayor as he downs a gallon of wine in one draught. According to legend, he undertook this challenge on a wager. Astonishingly, the invading commander vowed not to sack the town if the mayor succeeded in his feat.

Meanwhile, Fürth im Wald proudly presents its spectacular “Dragon Spearing” festival in August. A very convincing-looking dragon bursts from the forest, prowling the streets. It belches real fire, roars rolls its eyes, and menacingly snaps its jaws. However, in the climax, the dragon spills convincing-looking blood as the brave knight, Udo, defeat it.

Furthermore, while the narrator delivers each performance solely in German, the action remains universally captivating. Many of Europe’s top stunt performers showcase astounding tricks, gallantly riding their armored stunt horses. It’s thrilling to witness the diverse ways one can maneuver on a horse: standing, kneeling, performing a handstand, riding below, beside, beneath, and so much more.

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Kid-Friendly Activities

These events certainly don’t overlook kids. My son eagerly held a massive falcon at the Bad Muenster festival. He then tried his hand at medieval “Wack-a-Mole” and skillfully aimed at targets using bows, arrows, crossbows, and hatchets. Yes, you heard right, hatchets. Other festivities include pony rides, puppet shows, and immersive medieval games. Jugglers deftly juggle while fire-eaters consume flames. Oh, and did I mention my 9-year-old confidently threw a hatchet? Surprisingly, he’s showing a lot of hidden talents!

Whether you’ve just arrived or have lived here for some time, you can dive into German culture by attending a medieval festival. It seems nothing has changed. Whether you’ve just arrived or have been here for some time, following a medieval festival lets you dive into German culture. It connects you with its rich past and the people who shaped it.

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This article was originally printed in the April 2012 Stars and Stripes Monthly Advertiser issue.

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