Germans love to get together and celebrate! Most regions have their own customs (other than the Christian celebrations). These celebrations almost always come in the form of a Volksfest, a Dult, and a Kirmes. What’s the difference?
A Volksfest, a Dult, and a Kirmes: Find out how these 3 celebrations in Germany are different and what they have in common.
A Volksfest is a regionally typical festival that can look back on a long tradition. They are usually part of the customs of a region and often originally go back to church holidays.
Depending on the region, Volksfests are sometimes also referred to as Kirchweih, Kerbe, Jahrmarkt, Schützenfest or Kirmes. The seasons and church holidays such as Easter and Pentecost also play an important role in Volksfests in Germany.
► For example, in some areas traditional fairs that took place in the Middle Ages form the basis for today’s Volksfests. So-called Krämermärkte (grocers’ markets) are often still held on the fringes of many Volksfests.
► Just like in the Middle Ages, the purpose of Volksfest today is general amusement and entertainment for visitors.
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The Volksfest is defined as a very old type of event in the German trade regulations ( § 60b GewO ).
“A Volksfest occurs regularly, is a time-limited event at which a large number of providers carry out entertaining activities within the meaning of Section 55 Paragraph 1 No. 2 and offer goods for sale that are usually offered at events of this type.”
► If the entertainment factor is missing (e.g. Ferris wheel, roller coaster, bumper cars, throwing cans, etc.) and ultimately “only” goods are offered for sale, then there is no Volksfest, but possibly a Krämermärkte (grocers’ markets) (§§ 66-68 GewO).
Special features at Volksfests
The establishment of the Volksfest
If the organizer wants to have the Volksfest “fixed” (see § 69 of the trade regulations ), he achieves certain advantages, but also disadvantages. Normally, however, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages (otherwise nobody would do it).
However, the application for a fix is voluntary – the organizer must also consider whether the advantages of the fix outweigh the disadvantages.
A “disadvantage” of the determination is that in principle every suitable exhibitor has a claim against the organizer for admission to the event. Restrictions result from, among other things, Section 70 of the Industrial Code. There is a lot of controversy about admission or non-admission, because of course the non-authorized exhibitor always thinks that he would be disadvantaged.
Fun fair and amusement rides at the Volksfest
A Volksfest typically thrives on rides such as bumper cars or roller coasters as well as the Ferris wheels and beer tents. These are not permanent (as in amusement parks, for example), but are set up and dismantled in different places, one speaks of “flying rides”.
► At a “Volksfest” only flying rides can be erected: Because the Volksfest is defined as a “regularly recurring, time-limited event” (see above, and see § 60b GewO).
A Kirmes or Jahrmarkt is an event for pleasure that takes place in the open air, for example on a market square or a fairground. It almost always takes place everywhere in Germany in the Fall and lasts only a few days or a little longer.
Characteristics of a Kirmes or Jahrmarkt
- An amusement park, on the other hand, is always in the same place.
- There are many small stalls at a fair where visitors buy food and drink, sweets, toys, souvenirs, or other goods.
- You can also see rides at a fair, such as the ghost train or a carousel. Artists often perform street theater or show acrobatics or juggling.
How did the Kirmes come about?
The word Kirmes is an abbreviation. In the Middle Ages, there was the Kirchweih (church fair). This was a great festival when a new church was dedicated. At a dedication, the priest asks God to bless the building so that it can henceforth be used as a church. At a church fair (called Kirchweih in Germany) like this, a lot of people came to the village or the town. To commemorate this, celebrations were held every year.
► In Bavaria and Austria they say Kirtag, in Switzerland Chilbi: These dialect words are also derived from the Kirchweih.
Another word for Kirmes is Jahrmarkt. The word Jahrmarkt also dates back to the Middle Ages. If a place was big and important enough, you could hold a market there. Traders and farmers came to sell their livestock, fruit, vegetables, or other goods. Once a year there was a really big market.
Many visitors came to one place because of the market or the church fair (Kirchweih). That attracted other people who could make money. They offered visitors something fun to do. Jugglers and other showmen performed tricks or trained animals. Others showed plays.
A Kirmes was always associated with all sorts of traditions. People made parades or played certain pieces of music. Many of these customs have survived to this day and are part of a Kirmes.
Dult is another southern German word for a Jahrmarkt held at the various Dult grounds throughout southern Germany. A Dult can take place on the occasion of the name day of a saint or on a general church holiday, but is less associated with the religious background than a Kirchweih (church festival)
In the south-east of Germany, a Jahrmarkt with a Volksfest character is often referred to as a Dult.
There are a lot of speculations as to the origin of the term ‘Dult‘ – one that perhaps best describes the hustle and bustle is the related Gothic word ‘dulps‘ meaning ‘revelry’.
The word Dult has always referred to an annual festival with a church occasion (Old High German “tuld (day) celebration”, Middle High German “tult Jahrmarkt”). During the festival in honor of a saint, stalls were usually set up around the church dedicated to him to offer goods. As a result of this tradition, the church consecration festival arose on the name days of saints, and the meaning of Dult increasingly shifted to ‘Jahrmarkt’ with an emphasis on the Volksfest character.
The best-known Dult today is the Auer Dult, which takes place three times a year for nine days at Mariahilfplatz in Munich ‘s Au district .
- The first Dult, the so-called Maidult, begins on the Saturday before May 1st
- The second, the Jakobidult in July
- The third Dult, Herbstdult on the weekend before the Kirchweih (church fair)
There are also large annual markets called Dult in Augsburg (1 km long), Gern ( Eggenfelden ), Landshut , Passau , Altötting , Regensburg and Forsthart . On the days of Pentecost, so-called Pentecost Dults take place, for example in Simbach am Inn, Amberg, and in the city of Salzburg, where the first Dult from 1331 is documented.  In addition, the name Dult also referred to the Rupertikirtag, which now takes place every year in September.
BONUS: Top 8 of the largest Volksfests or Kirmessen in Germany
1. Munich Oktoberfest
• Tapping on Oktoberfest Saturday: 12 noon
• Mon – Fri: 10 a.m. – 11:30 p.m
• Sat, Sun & public holidays: 9 a.m. – 11:30 p.m
• 2022 : September 17 – October 03
Address: Theresienwiese, Munich
|The Munich Oktoberfest or simply the ” Wiesn ” is the largest Volksfest in the world. Since 1810, the festival on the Theresienwiese, named after Princess Therese, has been an integral part of the Bavarian state capital.|
Originating from celebrations of Therese’s wedding to Crown Prince Ludwig, there is a two-week state of emergency in Munich every year in September and the first week of October on the 31-hectare site. On the first Saturday at noon, the motto is: “O zapft is! ’, when the mayor traditionally taps the beer keg and the beer is served. Measure by measure wanders over the counters of the 38 marquees.
Every year (prior to the Corona pandemic), around 13,000 employees do their best to look after each of the approximately 6.3 million visitors.
2. Cannstatter Wasen Stuttgart
• Mon – Fri: from 2 p.m
• Sat, Sun & public holidays: from 12 p.m
• Frühlingsfest 2022: April 16 – May 8
• Wasen 2022: September 23 – October 09
Address: Mercedesstrasse 50, Stuttgart
|The Cannstatter Wasen, Europe’s largest showmen’s festival has been opening its doors to you every year in September and October since 1818. And here too, on the banks of the Neckar in Stuttgart, countless beer mugs are pushed over the bar in the beer tents.|
After the Oktoberfest in Munich, it is one of the largest folk festivals in the world and one of the most popular festivals in Germany. There are a total of 8 tents where you can celebrate. The three popular main tents with 30,000 seats on the 35-hectare festival site are Brandl’s Fürstenberg, the Grandls Hofbräu tent and the Schwabenwelt tent.
The landmark of the Cannstatter Wasen is the 26-meter high fruit column, a wooden column weighing 3.5 tons and decorated with fruit.
The festival has around four million visitors every year.
3. Bremer Freimarkt
• Opening day: from 4 p.m
• Sun – Thu: 1 p.m. – 11 p.m
• Fri & Sat: 1pm – midnight
• 2022: October 14 – October 30
Address: Theodor-Heuss-Allee, Bremen
|“Ischa Freimaak!” That’s what it sounds like when the fifth Bremen season begins and it feels like everyone in the state capital is on their feet to celebrate the largest Volksfest in northern Germany. The major event lasts 17 days and attracts millions of visitors from near and far every year.|
The Bremen Freimarkt has existed since 1035 – and at that time it was still purely a goods market with products from farmers, craftsmen, and traders. Since the beginning of the 19th century, however, it has been purely a celebration of fun.
On an area of 100,000 square meters, the people of Bremen and all other Freimarkt friends will demonstrate what they can do when it comes to partying. The exact program for 2022 has not yet been set, but based on the past few years it can be said that you should not miss this spectacle.
4. Allerheiligenkirmes Soest
• Wed: 12 p.m. – midnight
• Thursday: 10 a.m. – midnight
• Fri: 12 p.m. – 2 a.m
• Sat: 10 a.m. – 2 a.m
• Sun: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m
• 2022: November 2nd – November 6th
Address: Teichsmühlengasse 3, Soest
|You’ve never heard of the Allerheiligenkirmes in Soest? The festival attracts over a million visitors every year for five days starting on the first Wednesday after All Saints’ Day and claims the title of the largest old town fair in Europe.|
It is also the oldest folk festival in North Rhine-Westphalia. Its origin goes back to the year 1337, when the annual church consecration fair – from which the word Kirmes originated – was celebrated. New churches were consecrated prior to the first service, creating an annual festival.
The festival has since developed into one of the most popular Volksfests in Germany. Around 400 showmen make the festival in the historic city center between half-timbered houses and churches something very special.
5. Schützenfest Hannover
• are yet to be announced
• 2022: July 1 – July 10
Address: Bruchmeisterallee, Hanover
|The largest Schützenfest (Fairgrounds festival) in the world is celebrated on a ten hectare fairgrounds in Hanover. |
Over the ten days, the festival counts over a million visitors and with the highlight of the ten-kilometer long fairgrounds march of around 10,000 stalls, the whole of Hanover is looking forward to the mayor tapping the barrel, which opens the rifle festival in the main festival hall in Marris.
In 1955 the city was officially given the title “Schützenstadt”. First mentioned in a document in 1468, the Schützenvereine (fair ground clubs) came into existence in 1837 when they merged into various associations.
6. Düsseldorfer Kirmes am Rhein
• are yet to be announced
• 2022: July 15 – July 24
Address: Kaiser-Wilhelm-Ring, Düsseldorf
|The fourth largest Volksfest in Germany takes place every year in the third week of July on the Rhine meadows in Düsseldorf between the Rheinknie Bridge and the Oberkasseler Bridge. For ten days, visitors from Germany and abroad are enthusiastic about the largest fair on the Rhine every year. |
After the mayor opens the fair, the folk festival organized by the rifle club attracts around four million visitors every year.
The traditional course of the festival includes, among other things, a large procession with more than 3,000 uniformed riflemen, large
festival services, several royal shootings and a festival ball.
7. Hafengeburtstag Hamburg
• will be announced
• 2022: September 16 – September 18
Address: HafenCity to Fischmarkt
|History: On May 7, 1189, the people of Hamburg were granted duty-free shipping on the Elbe from the city to the North Sea.|
Since 1977, the people of Hamburg have been celebrating the port’s birthday around May 7, usually for three days at the weekend. It is the world’s largest port festival (Hafengeburtstag) and one of the most popular festivals in Germany. In 2022, the Hafengeburtstag had to be postponed this year due to the Corona pandemic and will therefore take place in September.
The festival starts with a big entry parade, where you can marvel at some of the largest sailing ships in the world. More than a million visitors and around 300 ships from all over the world make the Volksfest in the port of Hamburg with art, culture, and live music one of the most popular Volksfest in Germany.
8. Cranger Kirmes Herne
• Opening day: 4 p.m. – midnight
• Mon – Thurs: 1 p.m. – midnight
• Fri – Sat: 11 a.m. – 2 a.m
• Sun: 11 a.m. – midnight
• 2022: August 4th – August 14th
Address: Dorstener Strasse, Herne
|With annual visitor numbers of more than four million party people and families, the Cranger Kirmes on the Rhine-Herne Canal is the perfect place to go for fun, party and culture.|
The festival can look back on a long tradition and has long been considered the largest Volksfest in North Rhine-Westphalia.
More than 500 artists of various genres present varied entertainment for all age groups in August. From merry-go-rounds to roller coasters, bumper cars to ghost trains, everything is represented to make the hearts of visitors beat faster.