Halloween in Germany: the Scariest Time of the Year?

Halloween in Germany: the Scariest Time of the Year?

It’s on again on October 31st: It’s Halloween. But while Americans are becoming nervous about the upcoming celebrations, the pumpkin-carving and the quest for the perfect creepy, yet sexy costume for the party, Germans are uncertain what to think. Is Halloween in Germany just another holiday imported from the US to make a profit or is it something that was also celebrated way before the Teutons came out of the woods?

Do Germans Celebrate Halloween?

It is more or less clear that Halloween isn’t a German holiday. It is enough to look back to the past, let’s say, the 1970s. Halloween was not celebrated and mostly not even known. Not exactly on October 31st, but on November 1st, Germans are traditionally celebrating another holiday: Allerheiligen/All Saint’s Day.

All Saints Day is a Christian holiday that is not particularly nice to celebrate. Traditionally, you are thinking about your relatives and loved ones that have passed away by coming together at the graveyard. People sing sad songs and are freezing in the gray and unhappy November rain. This time is traditionally everything but happy or worth being celebrated with parties, as you can see.

In some Bundesländer, the day is also a “Stiller Feiertag” with Tanzverbot. That means, you are not allowed to dance that day – or to be more precise, clubs and bars are not allowed to play loud music and to make their guests dance. (Check out this article to learn more about German celebrations and holidays in November).

How is German Halloween Celebrated?

The last fact is also something that still influences the way Halloween is celebrated, especially in areas where this Tanzverbot is still in practice. In this mainly Catholic Bundesländer, Allerheiligen is an official holiday.

But what do you do when you have a spare day as a youngster but no opportunity to go out the night before because of official Tanzverbot? You have to start a private party – and celebrating Halloween is a fair reason to do so.

Halloween in Germany

© Pixabay

The Origins of Halloween in Germany

Halloween dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, a pagan tradition marking the onset of winter. Legend has it that on the night bridging October 31 and November 1, the boundary between the realms of the living and the departed was thinnest, allowing supernatural entities and spirits to cross into our world. The narrative of Halloween in Germany, however, takes a modern turn in 1991 when the German Government cancelled carnival festivities due to the First Gulf War outbreak.

Dieter Tschorn, self-proclaimed as the “Father of German Halloween” and a former public relations consultant for the German Toy Industry and Novelty Retailers Association, asserted that the cancellation left many retailers financially strained. To recover losses, particularly in the costume industry, they decided to bring Halloween to Germany.

Back then, Halloween was a relatively unfamiliar concept in the country, having little economic impact despite its popularity in the United States. Tschorn initiated the Halloween movement in Germany by issuing a press release on September 4, 1994. By the close of the 1990s, the holiday had gained significant traction.

Still, many Germans dismiss the holiday, just as Valentine’s Day, as a commercial celebration. This sentiment is further intensified by Halloween’s association with several other public holidays in Germany, contributing to the ongoing debate about the significance and celebration of the occasion in the country.

October 31st

Another reason Halloween in Germany has not been universally embraced, particularly since it coincides with Reformation Day on October 31. This date holds significance as it marks the Protestant Reformation brought forth by Martin Luther, a pivotal moment leading to the division of the Roman Catholic Church. In Protestant regions, October 31 is an official religious holiday, creating a clash between the Lutheran observance and Halloween, which some perceive as a pagan tradition.

St. Martinstag

These celebrations also overlap with St. Martin’s Day, a holiday that follows about two weeks after Halloween on November 11.  On St. Martin’s Day, children usually walk around their neighborhood with lanterns in their hands, singing songs and reciting poems in exchange for baked goods and sweets. So, some people think there is no need to have yet another holiday over this period. 

Who Celebrates Halloween?

Celebrating Halloween in Germany is thus more or less exclusively something young people do. These are usually people people between 18 to 29 years old.

“Süßes oder Saures”

In Germany, the traditional Halloween expression equivalent to “trick-or-treat” is “Süßes oder Saures” (Sweets or sours). However, some children go the extra mile by memorizing verses and “performing” them to earn candy.

An example is: “Spinnenfuß und Krötenbein, wir sind viele Geisterlein! Wir haben leere Taschen und wollen was zum Naschen!” (“Spider’s foot and toad’s leg, we are many little ghosts! Our pockets are empty, and we want something to nibble on!”) Also, Halloween house parties are very popular, but also clubs and bars are having decorations and Halloween-themed parties (sometimes without dancing, though).

Halloween Costumes

Germans do dress up for Halloween, but in a different way than Americans would do. The creepy thing is way more important for them.

Ghosts, Zombies, Killers – you can see gruesome and bloody Halloween costumes in Germany but not many regular or sexy ones. The reason for that is simple: There is another opportunity in Germany to get dressed funny or sexy called Karneval (Carnival season) or the Fasching celebrations. Traditionally held in February, this is Germany’s biggest costumed celebration. 

Halloween Parties

While trick-or-treating isn’t widely practiced in Germany, Halloween-themed parties are quite popular. Indeed, flipping through any popular German family magazine is likely to reveal ideas for hosting fantastic children’s parties and for those in their teenage years, complete with a spooky Halloween buffet featuring themed snacks, cupcakes, and pizza.

Common Halloween drinks include hot apple punch (or Glühwein for the adults) and a cold “blood bunch” made from a mixture of grape juice, blackcurrant juice, and blood oranges. Germany also boasts its own array of popular Halloween snacks and dishes, such as spicy deviled eggs and, of course, pumpkin soup. Additionally, Halloween decorations such as fake spider webs and scary carved pumpkins are a must for a touch of spookiness at any Halloween party.

What do you have to be aware of?

Because of the many American TV series and movies, Halloween is an import to Germany. That’s why kids are more and more likely to do trick-or-treat. But unlike the kids in the movies, it doesn’t work well in Germany. Older people in particular are not used to trick-or-treating (or ”um die Häuser ziehen – Going around the houses). Their doors remain closed and only a few houses in most neighborhoods actively participate in the trick or treating.

Nevertheless, you can see kids in costumes walking around and begging for candy. Sometimes they will get some; mostly they don’t. But if you are old enough to drink, you can also have a fun day in Germany on October 31st.

Pumpkin Festivals

You can also often see pumpkin and jack-o’-lantern decorations in Austria and Germany, since there are regional “pumpkin festivals” (Kürbisfest) running for a few days from September to early November, although they rarely have a direct connection to Halloween. Ludwigsburg, near Stuttgart, hosts the renowned Kürbisausstellung (Pumpkin Exhibition) in November, claiming the title of the world’s largest exhibition of pumpkins and drawing approximately 200,000 visitors annually. Preceding this grand event is the Halloween-Kürbis-Schnitzen (pumpkin carving) contest for both children and adults, held in late October.

Haunted Castle

Haunted Castle is another popular celebration spot around Halloween, situated within the 1,000-year-old fortress ruins in Darmstadt. Renamed Burg Frankenstein in the 1970s, this historic site has become a favored haunt for enthusiasts of the macabre.

There are, of course, many other German holidays out there to celebrate. Check out our series on culture in Germany to learn about a few more of them!

FAQs about Halloween events in Germany

Here are some of the questions people ask about Halloween in Germany.

Do people dress up for Halloween in Berlin?

Yes, Halloween has gained popularity in Berlin, and many people participate in dressing up for the occasion. You can find Halloween parties, events, and often kids trick or treat in certain neighborhoods, playing pranks. Another popular activity is going to the Berlin Dungeon – a part of a tourist attraction chain that offers visitors a journey through the city’s mysterious and hidden history.

What is the German version of “trick or treating”?

The German version of the classic Halloween phrase “trick-or-treat” is “Süßes oder Saures” (Sweets or sours), or alternatively phrased as “Süßes sonst gibt’s Saures” (“Give me sweets, or there will be sour things”).

What is the biggest Halloween festival in Germany?

The biggest Halloween festival in Germany is the Halloween Horror Festival held at Movie Park Germany. The festival draws approximately 250,000 attendees annually. Movie Park Germany is an amusement park located in Bottrop-Kirchhellen in western Germany, approximately 50 km north of Düsseldorf.

Summing Up: Halloween in Germany: the Scariest Time of the Year?

Halloween in Germany intertwines ancient Celtic roots with a modern twist. Despite clashes with traditional holidays, Halloween has become a popular celebration, especially among young people.

While trick-or-treating is still not widely practiced, Halloween-themed events and a carved pumpkin can be fun for the whole family and have been embraced by German culture. If you’d like to learn more about German culture, come join us over on the SmarterGerman blog!