German Roses

Most people probably associate rose cultivation with England, but Germany also has a long history of rose-growing and a few interesting highlights that you can discover below.

European Rose Breeders Differentiate Between Garden and Cut-Flower Roses

Roses that are grown in the United States are primarily long-stem varieties used in bouquets.

Many European rose-breeding firms strictly separate their garden rose lines from their cut-flower varieties. Some of the leading European rose producers include Kordes and Söhne in Hamburg, Delbard in France and Peter Beale Roses in the UK. 

European rose growers tend not to use chemicals in the breeding process. Traditionally the US did use chemicals, but the use has declined in recent years. As chemical use declined, many US rose varieties began to flounder, developing blight and other illnesses. Roses came to be known as ‘fussy’ and US gardeners increasingly turned to traditional European varieties because they were said to be more disease resistant and easier to grow. Today one of the most popular rose brands in the US is David Austin roses. Austin Roses are said to have led to the rebirth of garden roses as flowering shrubs in the United States.

The Thousand-year Rose of Hildesheim

The oldest known rosebush in the world is located in Hildesheim, Germany. It has been estimated to be around 700 years old and grows up the wall of the Hildesheim Cathedral, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985. A wild dog rose (Rosa Carina), it is growing up the apse of the church and is about 10 meters (33 feet) high. Even though the church was destroyed by allied bombers in WWII, the roots of the rose survived. According to legend, as long as the rose bush flourishes, so will the town of Hildesheim. 

700 Year Old Rosa Canina Bush on the Hildesheim Cathedral (Wikipedia)

Wild dog roses have 20-30 species and subspecies which appear in a variety of shapes and colors. The Caninae variety has pale pink, fragrant flowers and five to seven petals. The thorny stem helps it climb to a height of one to three meters, or in the case of the Hildesheim rose much higher with additional support. In the fall, the dog rose produces ‘hips’, often used in teas and homeopathic treatments. 

Rose ‘Hips’ (Wikipedia)

One legend says the dog rose was once a symbol for the old Saxon goddess Hulda. Hulda is depicted as a maiden in snow-white clothes and is associated with winter. When the deciduous dog rose loses its pale petals in the fall, it is said to remind one of the goddess Hulda shaking our her feather pillow. The legend is the basis of a well-known children’s fairytale in Germany.

Rosa Canina Flower (Wikipedia)

Steinfurth: the German Roses Capitol

The Steinfurth area north of Frankfurt is famous for its half-timbered houses, monasteries, orchards…and roses! Steinfurth is the rose-growing capitol of Germany with thirty nurseries that produce about fourteen million roses a year. On a breezy summer day, they say you can smell the perfume from the flowers before you reach the town. The industry was founded in the late 1860’s by a young German who had done an apprenticeship in England. Steinfurth celebrates its most well-known industry with a festival every summer and a museum dedicated to the history of the roses. 

Have a wonderful summer!


German Philosopher Immanuel Kant and his Influence on Early America

April, 2024 marks the 300th birthday of German political and moral philosopher Immanuel Kant (22 April, 1724-12 February, 1804). He is considered one of the most influential thinkers and political philosophers of the Enlightenment era.  

Portrait of Kant from the Smithsonian Institute

Kant’s Life and Work

Immanuel Kant was born in Königsberg, Prussia, which since WWII has been renamed Kaliningrad and is part of Russia. Kant was the fourth of nine children and grew up in a household that stressed pietist religious values like devotion, humility and the literal interpretation of the Bible. As a young scholar, he wrote significant scientific works about natural history, astronomy and astrophysics. However, he wrote his greatest works in later life. These works centered on the philosophy of ethics and metaphysics. His best known and most influential work is titled the Critique of Pure Reason (1887). 

In this treatise, Kant explores how we combine sensory knowledge (what we see, hear, experience) with intellectual knowledge based on reasoning. Kant argued that reasoning could help to explain the reality of subjective perceptions like ideas (e.g., causality, morality and objects not evident in experience). His thinking was important in the Enlightenment movement which reoriented the individual at the center of moral reasoning and responsibility in the balance between the natural world and religion. 

Portrait of Kant fromThe Collector

Kant and the ‘Categorial Imperative’ in Governance

Kant believed that the social contract between citizens and their governments must be based on a fixed set of laws, where every citizen has the right to pursue and maximize his happiness without violating the rights and freedoms of fellow citizens. Th

is is referred to as Kant’s ‘categorical imperative’ and stresses the moral responsibility of the individuals to ‘do unto others…’ in the sense expressed in the Bible. The citizen must respect the laws of the government, and the government must give the law-abiding citizen maximum liberty within that framework. Here liberty does not imply, however, libertarian or anarchical ideas. Rather it is the emphasis on free will and will under moral laws as being the same. 

Kant’s Enlightenment and its Influence on Early American Politics

Kant’s influence on American politics is prominently reflected by the freedoms expressed in the Constitution. His essay ‘An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?’ first appeared in 1784, only a few years before the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791. In this essay Kant states: ‘Have the courage to make use of your own understanding! Is…the motto of enlightenment!…For this enlightenment, however, nothing is required but freedom!’. Kant later stated that he was primarily referring to religion (

The First Amendment establishes Kant’s idea as the bedrock of the Constitution: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thererof.’ The First Amendment also guarantees freedom of speech. Here we can see Kant’s influence when he claims that one should have ‘freedom to make public use of one’s reason in all matters’.

Kant’ Relevance Today

According to Kant, our rights and happiness require the state to follow two fundamental rules. First, it must protect our rights and liberties, and secondly it must promote the indirect happiness we seek as long as the rights of fellow citizens are not discriminated against in the process. The categorial imperative of the single person becomes the political imperative of the whole state, based on logic and a sense of duty (ibid, above).

Today, some believe that the individuality of the person is incompatible with the majority rule of the state. In an increasingly multipolar and polarized world it might perhaps be good to refocus more on the Kantian values that make us human across all geopolitical, cultural and social spheres so we can reconnect to what protects and unites us as global citizens rather than focusing on differences and dominance. 


Sustainable Forestry in Germany

In an age where sustainable lifestyle is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, perhaps there are some useful ideas from Germany about how we view our forests and their role in contributing to keeping the world climate in balance.

How Important are Trees in Germany?

There are over 90 billion trees that cover one-third of the land area of Germany. Trees are very important here and are a big part of German culture, preserved and enjoyed in nature reserves where families can appreciate vegetation and animals in natural settings. 

But Germany also has a tree problem. The problem is that trees are dying. In 2020, more trees died in Germany than during any previous year (

Draught, bark beetles, storms and other factors have taken a great toll on German forests in recent years. Fast growing spruce conifers planted after WWII account for 25% of trees in German forests ( and have been worst hit by environmental change. These non-native trees were planted because they mature fast, usually after about thirty years. The wood industry boomed as a result.

But the root systems of the conifers are flat, making them vulnerable to draught and wind. The bark beetle invades when the trees are no longer able to produce the sap they need to protect the  the tree. Once a bark beetle has found a weak or sick tree, it tunnels into the bark and lays its eggs. When the larva hatch, they eat the phloem (inner tissue) of the tree. Fungi subsequently grow in the galleries the bark beetles create ( The fungi prevent the tree from taking up further water, and so it dies.

Leave Forests Alone

Peter Wohlleben, a German forest ranger and author of the international bestselling book ‘The Secret Lives of Trees’, says that the best ways to fight climate change is to leave the forests alone. Biodiversity is the key to reestablishing balanced ecosystems in our forests. He claims that ‘ecosystems when left on their own are much more resilient’ (New Yorker, June 20, 2021). German forests have been over-managed for timber extraction for too long. We have trained ourselves to believe that forests are for recreation, and that unsightly dead and fallen wood – essential to biodiversity – must be cleared. 

A woodland left on its own looks untidy but teems with life

Source: Google

Wohlleben’s philosophy centers on the idea of slow growth. Trees exist in social symbiosis with other trees around them and nourish each other through complicated underground root networks as conditions allow. In this sense, he submits that trees ‘communicate’. The more slowly a tree grows, Wohlleben says, the tighter its grain and the greater its chances of surviving natural threats (ibid above). Wohlleben is also an opponent of tree plantations and wood pellet power plants, which he claims further destabilize the climate: ‘My own personal goal is that, in the future, we will protect the climate by using less while simultaneously allowing as many forests around the world as possible to revert to their natural state;’ he writes (ibid above).

Even trees that look dead are part of the forest’s ‘communication’ network

Source: Getty Images

What We Can Learn

Not everyone agrees with Wohlleben’s approach to humanizing trees. Some argue that he cherry-picks and exaggerates scientific findings and portrays forests as ‘cartoonishly cooperative’ (ibid above).

But Wohlleben’s ideas do make us empathize with our environment and appreciate trees as living objects. In this sense, tree hugging may not do much to save trees, but it might just help us be more open to their preservation in the fight to keep our climate balanced enough to survive in the long run. 


The History of German Trachten (Traditional Dress)

What is Trachten?

‘Trachten’ is a traditional fashion style, popularly known as ‘Dirndl’ (women’s dresses) and ‘Lederhosen’ (men’s leather pants). The best known Trachten comes from Bavaria and is associated with Oktoberfest. What most people don’t know, however, is that there are many forms of Trachten that historically vary by geographic region, social status and occasion.

Trachten began in the 15th Century

Traditional Trachten dress dates back to the 15th Century. It developed out of the clothing worn by farmers and their wives in rural agricultural areas and was a special form of fashion used to express regional, religious and social status. Different styles of Trachten were worn according to circumstances (mourning, festive, everyday), to express wealth, professional occupation or personal status. 

Trachten from Northern Hesse (Source: folk

Regional Trachten

Regional Trachten differed greatly. For instance, in Hessen (Hesse in English), women wore black Trachten with colorful appliqué. The Huguenots in the area wore Trachten that was even more colorful, based on their special trade privileges ( In Northern Germany, the women wore Trachten dominated by black and white contrasts, flowers and natural tones. In Bavaria, women wore Dirndl dresses, velour hats and fringed scarves. Men wore leather trousers, vests, ‘Janker’ jackets and stockings.  In Brandenburg, by contrast, women wore a simple red wool skirt with a white apron, black bodice and white ruffle collar. In some areas of Germany, Trachten was meant to express extreme magnificence: In the Schwälmer-Eder area, women wore up to fifteen petticoats on top of each other! (

Trachten also traditionally delineated class differences: civil servants wore ‘Amtstracht’; normal workers wore ‘Berufstracht’; guild-member craftsmen wore ‘Zunfttracht’.

Traditional Trachten Upper Bavaria (Source:

German Identity Through Trachten Dress

The idea of Trachten as form of national ‘Volkstracht’ (national dress) dates back to the end of the 18th and early 19th centuries. König Ludwig’s wedding ceremony to Princess Therese in 1810 included children in different Trachten outfits representing different parts of Bavaria. By the second half of the 19th century, Trachten enthusiast groups had formed around the country to preserve and maintain Trachten traditions in lieu of the increasing migration of countryside residents to the industrialized cities. Trachten became a symbol for the idealized romantic country lifestyle. The Dirndl, originally a simple Alpine dress style, was reconfigured as a practical clothing style for city women.

Lower Franconia Trachten (Source: folks

In the 1930’s, Hilter latched on to the idea of Trachten as a form of Arian identity and prohibited Jews from wearing the traditional dress. Through the National Socialists, Trachten became politically loaded as a symbol in propagating Arian identity. 

Trachten Today

The Sound of Music was helpful in reestablishing a positive connotation for Trachten around the world in the early 1960’s. The film elevated Trachten to its original positive reputation as a romantic form of traditional dress. 

A modern Interpretation of Trachten from the Black Forest (personal photo)

Mainly worn in Bavaria, Trachten is fashionable in other parts of the country only on special occasions or to celebrate Oktoberfest. However certain aspects of Trachten have become indispensable to the modern German ‘look,’ whether worn with jeans or as a substitute for a men’s suit. Almost every German city offers some form of Trachten shop, and the fashion is popular with Germans and tourists from around the world. 


Caspar David Friedrich: Germany’s Most Famous Romantic Painter

This year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Caspar David Friedrich (5 September, 1774 – 7 May, 1840), who is considered Germany’s most important painter during the Romantic Period. His work influenced other famous Romantic painters like J.M.W. Turner and John Constable of England. Later, Expressionist painter Edvard Munch of Norway and Max Ernst of Germany were influenced by his work. Friedrich’s work was also highly regarded by the 20th Century Surrealists, including Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico and American painter Mark Rothko.

Rocky Ravine in the Elbe Sandstone, Source: Wikipedia

What was the Romantic Period?

The Romantic Period was a period of great intellectual and cultural achievement that spanned the late 18th and early 19th centuries. German Romanticism was then a current of thought founded upon a refusal of modernity and material prosperity. In other words, German Romanticists were disenchanted with the development of society. They longed for an idyllic past, a life in the countryside, and a return to traditional and rural values. They were expressing their disillusionment with a society that they saw as over-materialistic. The Romantic movement was expressed in literature, music and the visual arts.

How Did Caspar David Friedrich’s Work Embody Romanticism?

Friedrich was a painter who used landscape painting to create an intense and emotional focus on nature. His paintings were often filled with religious allegory, but the focus of his work was on the spirituality of nature over religion. For this reason his work was often not well understood or well received while he was alive.  

One technique that Friedrich used was the depiction of a person from behind (Rückenfigur), seen to be contemplating a view. This technique was quite new at the time and encouraged the viewer to take in the sites and share the experience of the depicted figure. His style of depiction was Neo-classical, meaning realistic in its portrayal of subject. But his landscapes were also full of feeling and mood. Critics refer to his atmospheric landscape painting style as ‘romantische Stimmungslandschaft’, where geographical features such as rock coasts, forests and mountain scenes express religious themes as metaphors. As Friedrich wrote: ‘The artist should paint not only what he sees before him, but also what he sees within him.’

Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog, Source: Wikipedia

How Has Friedrich’s Legacy Survived?

As Friedrich aged, his painting became darker and reflected his own growing pessimism and fear of death. He fell out of popularity until the Nazis resurrected his reputation as a part of German Nationalism. It took until the 1970’s before Friedrich’s reputation could be relieved of the Nazi tarnish. Today his works are enjoying a Renaissance and sixty of his most famous paintings and sketches are on exhibition in Hamburg to commemorate the anniversary of his birth. has more information.

1822. Oil on canvas. 71 x 55 cm (28 x 21.7 in). Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany. (Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

The Solitary Tree, Source: Getty


Caspar David Friedrich and the 20th Century, Alicia Burden, Texas Women’s University

The History of the Soft Pretzel

Source: iStock

How it Started

The soft pretzel is not a German invention. No-one knows for sure, but most sources indicate that the pretzel was invented in 610 A.D. by an Italian monk who is said to have created the pretzel (‘pretiola’ in Italian) as a reward for children who learned their prayers. He is said to have made the treats formed into a ‘knot’, with little arms of dough folded over each other, to resemble the crossed arms of the children in prayer (

Other theories say that pretzels began in a monastery in Southern France, or in Germany, where bakers held hostage invented the ‘Bretzel’ for their captors out of desperation. 

The Catholic Church saw the shape of the pretzel as a symbol for the holy trinity. Since pretzels were made of only flour, water and salt, they were suitable nourishment during Lent, when the consumption of fats and proteins was banned. Before Easter Eggs became popular, it was also common for children to search for hidden pretzels on Easter morning.

The Pretzel in Germany

Pretzels were popular in Southern Germany and many variations, including sweet varieties, were invented. In German-speaking European countries, pretzels were considered a symbol for good luck. They were often given as gifts at weddings as a symbol for ‘tying the knot’. At the beginning of the year, people give each other a ‘Bretzel’ for good luck.

‘Bretzel’ became the emblem of bakers and their guilds in Southern Germany as early as the 12th century. A Pretzel sign above a bakery entrance is a common symbol throughout Germany still today.

Source: Alamy

‘Bretzel’ are eaten with white sausages in Bavaria. In other parts of Germany, they are sliced horizontally and served with sandwich fillings. Some varieties are sweet, like ‘Lebkuchen Bretzel’ (gingerbread pretzels) at Christmas, and different types of dough can be flaky, brittle, soft or crisp. ‘Bretzel’ are often sold at beer festivals and there are even public days devoted to ‘Bretzel’ culture in individual cities throughout the country.

Source: Getty

The Pretzel in America

Swiss German immigrants to Pennsylvania were the first to introduce the pretzel to people in the United States. Julius Sturgis is cited as the first American to open a commercial pretzel bakery in the Central Pennsylvania countryside in 1850.

With time the commercial production of pretzels increased and shifted to hard pretzels, because they could be packed in airtight containers to stay fresh longer than soft varieties. Today Pennsylvania remains the biggest producers of pretzels, with 80% of the 1.2 billion dollar industry in the USA (

Soft pretzels continue to be popular snacks sold by street vendors in major cities like, Philadelphia, Chicago and New York. And today, pretzels are present in dishes that American forefathers could never have imagined, from ice cream toppings to chocolate candies. Who knows what twists and turns the future holds for the humble pretzel!


Advent in Germany

Advent in Germany is considered by many as magical, wholesome and traditional. The four weeks leading up to Christmas include so much seasonal cheer; Christmas markets, Nikolaus festivals (December 6th), ‘Plätzchen backen’ (baking Christmas cookies), ‘Glühwein trinken’ (drinking mulled wine), and singing Christmas carols to name a few.

This month the Palatinate blog will look at two seasonal German traditions are very popular in the United States; the Advent calendar and the Advent wreath.

The Advent Calendar Today in the USA

Advent calendars have been a tradition in US households for decades. Traditionally, Americans celebrate the countdown to Christmas with calendars that open to reveal a small treat: a Bible verse, a small toy or a piece of chocolate. In recent years, US retailers have become creative…and more commercial, too. 

Today there are Advent calendars with personal care products, jewelry or food items and more. According to NPR, Saks Fifth Avenue sold 18 types of calendars with prices ranging from $65 to $3500 in 2022. Aldi puts its calendars on the market by November 1 in one shipment, meaning supplies are quickly grabbed up by the public. Advent calendars are big business…

But how did the Advent calendars get here? The answer is in their religious roots that date back to Germany in the fourth century.

The German History of the Advent Calendar

Advent is celebrated in most Christian churches and runs for four weeks beginning on the Sunday closest to the feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle (November 30). Scholars believe Advent, which means ‘arrival’ in Latin, became explicitly linked to Christmas in the Middle Ages. 

Advent calendars have their roots in the 19th century, when German Protestants starting taking creative steps to mark the days leading up to Christmas by making a chalk mark on walls or doors or by lighting candles. The first known handmade Advent calendar dates from 1851. German publisher Gerhard Lang is touted as the inventor of the printed Advent calendar in the early 1900s. He created the first calendar with doors in the 1920s.

By the 1930s Advent calendars were in high demand in Germany. This practice stopped during WWII, when the Nazis banned the printing of illustrated calendars. After the war, chocolate-filled calendars appeared in the ‘50s and were commercially produced by the early 1970s.

Today, similar to in the United States, there are Advent calendars on the German market that offer a wide array of products and prices. Most families have, however, a traditional printed calendar somewhere at home to keep the old tradition of the Advent calendar alive. 

As NPR quotes Marcia Mogelonsky, Director at the marketing research firm Mintel, ‘We all need the gift of time. And this is a way of slowing us down.’

The Advent Wreath and its Symbolism

Advent wreathes are perhaps less well-known than Advent calendars in the United States, but are an important tradition in Germany.

An Advent wreath is an evergreen wreath with four candles. One candle is lit on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Advent wreathes have a Christian heritage and originated among German Lutherans in the 16th century. 

According to Wikipedia, the first Advent wreath is accredited to a German Luther Seminary pastor from Hamburg who, in 1839, built a wooden ring with 24 small red candles and four large white candles to help the children in his mission school remember when Christmas was coming. The custom was adopted by Protestant churches and eventually the Roman Catholic Church as well. By the 1930s, Advent wreathes had also spread to America. Eventually even the Eastern Orthodox Church adapted the Advent wreath to have six candles in accordance with their Christmas traditions. 

In Christian religion, Advent wreathes are round to symbolize God’s infinite love. The evergreen represents the hope of eternal life. The candles stand for the light of God coming through the birth of Jesus. In a more secular sense, the four candles are also said to stand for hope, peace, joy and love. The liturgical colors of vestments during the Christmas season are violet (or blue) and rose. Hence the candles on Advent wreathes are often in these colors. Sometimes Advent wreathes have four red candles. In the UK, red candles are linked to special readings that are based on Bible stories.

Eine Schöne Adventszeit!

Unlike Anglophones, Germans don’t wish people merry Christmas before Christmas Eve. Instead they wish each other ‘Happy Advent’ (Schöne oder Frohe Adventszeit!), because the entire time of Advent is cherished for its specialness, joy and thoughtfulness toward others.  

The Palatinate DAR wishes you a wonderful Advent!

Sources: Advent Calendars Explained, November 6, 2023 History of the Advent Wreath

www.the Advent Customs

Photos: Advent calendars from Alpen Schatz, wreath photo from iStock, Advent greeting from Annelis Art

German Halloween and Thanksgiving

Although Germany does not celebrate either of these American fall holidays, there are traditions here that partially share their background.

The German fall holiday that is often compared to Halloween is called St. Martin’s Day. St. Martin’s Day, which was historically called Old Hallowmass Eve, is the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours. In the church calendar, the holiday of St. Martin is celebrated on November 11th. It coincides with the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter. Part of the tradition includes eating a ‘Martinmas goose’ and drinking the first wine from the season (called ‘mumming’). Children participate in twilight parades, carrying self-made lanterns and singing traditional songs. Their parade is usually led by a group of musicians and a man on a horse who is dressed as a soldier. 

Source: www.german.way

After parading through the neighborhood (usually with their school mates), the children gather and watch how the soldier (Martin of Tours) tears his coat in half with his sword to help a freezing beggar dressed in rags. This act is celebrated as an act of Christian charity. Martin later became a Christian monk and was named the Bishop of Tours.

Source: adobe

Following the sharing of the coat, the children receive a ‘Weck’, or loaf of bread, and are allowed to proceed from house to house with their lanterns, singing traditional songs and receiving sweets as payment. This aspect of the celebration is somewhat similar to American ‘trick or treating’.  The gift of the ‘Weck’  bread has more traditional European roots, however, since a ‘Weck’ loaf was usually given to farmers as payment when they delivered their crops to the church at the end of the harvest season.

Coincidentally, November 11th is also the beginning of ‘Fasching’, or ‘Karneval’. The festivities begin at 11:11 that morning. 

The other fall holiday that is similar to Thanksgiving is called Erntedankfest (harvest celebration).

The celebration of Erntedankfest goes back as far as pagan times. Farmers celebrated and gave thanks for their good fortune and a successful harvest. They would fill a goat’s horn with fruit and grain. The symbol was called a ‘cornucopia’, or horn of plenty, and is today part of our American Thanksgiving tradition. Erntedankfest is usually celebrated around the end of September, following ‘Michaelstag’, or St. Michael’s Day, on the 29th.

Source: edreams

Erntedankfest is largely a religious festival and tends to be a rural event. There are fairs and gatherings featuring lots of food, drink and conviviality. The Catholic and Protestant churches both actively celebrate Erntedankfest, which traditionally starts with a church service.  In many places there is later a parade where a ‘harvest crown’ is awarded to the ‘harvest queen’. Then the parties begin with lots of music, dancing and food. There are also parades for the children, and sometimes there are games.

Source: pitopia

Germans don’t eat turkey for Erntedankfest, and it is not a day for family get-togethers. But it shares the concept of thankfulness for bounty and good fortune. Church-goers donate canned goods to the poor, and left over food from local celebrations is distributed to the needy in the community. 

Source: alamy


German Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest in Munich is the world’s largest folk festival and attracts millions of visitors every year.

What makes the Oktoberfest so special? The answer lies in tradition, greatly aided by the consumption of significant alcohol (beer), very loud ‘oom-pah’ music and colorful Bavarian costumes.

The festivities begin at noon on a Saturday in the second half of September (this year on the 16th) and continue for more than two weeks.

Tradition and Oktoberfest

The Oktoberfest rituals are the same every year. The kick-off takes place in the oldest beer tent when the Mayor taps the first keg and exclaims ‘O’zapft!’ (keg tapped!). A gun salute is fired in the air to the Bavaria statue, and the sale of beer in the tents begins.

Fourteen temporary structures of various sizes and seating up to 2,900 people provide space for food and music. They are packed with picnic tables and benches. Comfort is not especially important because the individual sessions are limited to a couple of hours before the old customers are escorted out and the new visitors flood into the tent.

Prior to the ‘O’zapft,’ the festival tent keepers and breweries have a ceremony for taking over the Theresienwiese grounds, where the festival is held. A colorful procession of horse carriages, wagons decorated with flowers and waitresses holding beer mugs make their way through the streets of Munich to the festival meadow.

The beer served at Oktoberfest comes from one of only six official breweries: Augustiner, Paulaner, Spaten-Franziskaner, Löwenbrau, Hacker-Pschorr and Hofbräu. All are traditional breweries that have been in the same families for generations. 

On the first Sunday of the festival there is another parade through Munich where around 9,000 people dressed in costumes march accompanied by brass orchestras and bands to the festival grounds.

And on the last day of Oktoberfest there is a closing ceremony that includes another gun salute to the Bavaria statue at noon.

How Oktoberfest Got Started

At the beginning of the 19th Century, Andreas Michael Dall’Armi, a member of the Bavarian National Guard, had the idea of creating a unique wedding celebration for the Prince Regent Ludwig of Bavaria (later King Ludwig I) and the princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. Dall’Armi organized a horse race as part of the wedding festivities.

The race took place after the couple was married on October 12, 1810 on the grounds of what became known as the Theresienwiese, later named for the bride. This marked the beginning of the Oktoberfest. 

Though wars and scourges delayed the establishment of an annual celebration, the placement of a statue of Bavaria, guardian of the Oktoberfest and symbol of the Bavarian state, was unveiled in 1850. Oktoberfest became a regular institution in Munich from then on.

The Mayor tapped the opening barrel for the first time in 1950, adding yet another layer of tradition to the annual proceedings. Today there is an accompanying fun fair for visitors (‘Budenstrasse,’ or strip of booths) plus a ferris wheel and roller coasters for family entertainment. 

How to Have Fun at Oktoberfest

Wearing the costumes are an important part of the fun. Men wear ‘Lederhosen’ (leather shorts) with suspenders and Trachten hats (felt hats with an ornamental tuft of goat hair). Women wear ‘Dirndl’ dresses that are tightly fit above the waist with a flowing skirt bottom and an apron. If a woman ties the bow to her apron on the right, this signifies that she is taken. On the left means she is available. 

When you drink beer at your table, make sure you use the traditional greeting ‘Prost!’ To toast with a neighbor. Always make eye contact with your drinking compatriot!

Food is also a big part of the fun. Eat ‘Hendl’ (spit-roasted chicken), ‘Haxn’ (pork knuckles), ‘Bretzel’ (soft pretzel), ‘Knödel’ (dumplings), ’Würstl’ (sausages) or ‘Brotzeit’ (platters with bread, meats and cheeses).

Before you leave, make sure you buy a souvenir! Buy a ‘Lebkuchen’ (gingerbread) heart, a beer stein, some ‘gebrannte’ Mandeln (sugar-coated roasted almonds) or a felt hat with a tuft.

And enjoy the music! Oom-pah music encourages swaying. If you are really feeling good, join in the iconic ‘Ententanz’ (Chicken Dance), which goes like this:

-Hold your hands next to your ears with the palms facing forward and open and close them four times,

-Tuck your hands under your armpits and flap your elbows four times,

-Straighten your arms and wiggle four times to the music,

-Stand up and clap four times. 



All photos sourced from Google

German Urban Planning and Climate Change

These days most everyone accepts the premise that global warming is real and poses a threat to the future of the planet. Reports of tragic fires, raging floods and record snowfalls are regular features in newspapers every day.

In an attempt to meet the challenges of our changing world climate, Germany has developed some interesting urban planning methods to help in the off-take of water during flash flooding and to reduce heat in urban areas of intense exposure during periods of extreme dryness.

Here are several highlights.

Sponge Cities

A Sponge City (Schwammstadt) is an urban planning concept that attempts to save as much rain and surface water as possible where it falls instead of channeling it into the canalization system in order to direct it away from source to a centralized collection site. This concept is important during flash flooding, when the the traditional redirection of water to central collection sites results in an overtaxation of the canalization, causing damage. The idea of keeping and using precipitation where it falls has many advantages: It is more efficient; it creates a water resource for urban trees and plantings at source; its evaporation helps to reduce temperatures and thus cool infrastructure, from streets and sidewalks to buildings and public spaces.

Example of porous asphalt

Example of absorbent paving stones

Source: iStock Photos

The sponge system relies on several environmental and agricultural technical features like porous pavements that allow water to seep away, underground or above ground troughs that can retain water, and trenches that can lead water to local collection points or areas of high heat exposure (building surfaces, open paved areas) for cooling. Underground water retention ponds are an additional resource for collecting urban water for use in local hot spots.

Berlin and Hamburg are both innovators in the execution of Sponge City concepts. These cities lend themselves to the development of techniques to retain water locally since Hamburg is located at the ocean and Berlin is surrounded by many lakes and swampy land. Other German cities are also expanding the use of absorbent pavement materials, particularly in areas where flooding occurs regularly (ie., along the Rhine and other rivers, especially those located in steep valleys).

Green Cities

Another contemporary planning concept for fighting global warming in urban environments is to ‘green them up’. This means the planting of trees in open areas along streets, planting rooftops and building facades with bushes and trees, and the creation of constructed wetlands, ponds and open water surfaces throughout the city landscape.

These efforts not only improve the optical quality of life in cities, but also contribute, through evaporation, to cooling during heat phases and the absorption of CO2 to improve air quality for residents. 

Example of ‘greened’ building

Example of ‘greened’ house roof

Source: iStock Photos

Multiple Use Spaces

Air quality is also a very important component of city-living. A key pro-active concept for reducing CO2 in the inner cities (and thus improving air quality) involves an increased availability of affordable local public transport, footpaths, cycle ways and something called ‘Multiple Use’ spaces. The focus here is on so-called “grey infrastructure”; streets, squares, parking spaces and buildings that could be made more green and where cars, pedestrians, bike riders and children can all co-exist in pedestrian zones with limited traffic. Digital Mobility Stations on site encourage shared use of infrastructure by providing information about the availability of local car sharing and bicycle/moped/cargo bike pick up sites in the vicinity. A secondary benefit of well-planned multiple use spaces is that they create homogeneity among local residents, because they can fulfill most of their shopping and service requirements by foot or nearby. Less driving and traffic congestion thus contribute to a higher quality of life and a harmonious local environment.

Example of a digital Mobility Station

Source: iStock Photos


As the challenges of global warming continue to affect our environment and how we live, top-of mind awareness and adaptation of new measures to confront change will be increasingly important to maintaining quality of life, in urban areas and non-urban areas alike. 


‘How Smart Mixed-Use Environments Can Refine Urban Spaces’, Christian Lehmkuhl, April 11, 2023,

Wikipedia, ‘Schwammstadt’,

‘Das Konzept der Schwammstadt’,