Halloween, as we celebrate it commonly today, is not originally German. Yet many Germans embrace it. Others, especially those of the older generation, believe that Halloween is just American hype. Though the commercialism of Halloween does indeed stem from North America, the tradition and celebration itself had its origins in Europe.
Halloween has gained much popularity over the past few decades. In fact, this celebration now brings in an astounding 200 million euros a year, according to the Stuttgarter Zeitung, and it is the third most commercialized tradition after Christmas and Easter.
The evidence is all there. Walk in some of the larger German department stores and easily find Halloween themed decorations to match your gruesome tastes. Or go to a costumed Halloween party offered by many nightclubs. Have children? Then read through some popular German family magazine on how to throw a terrific, ghoulish party for your kids, complete with bat and ghost treats.
Why Germans Celebrate Halloween
So how did Germans get so excited about Halloween? Naturally, the influence of American commercialism and media is key. Furthermore, the presence of American soldiers in the post-war WWII era helped bring about a familiarity of this tradition.
Also, because of the cancellation of Fasching in Germany during the Gulf War, the push for Halloween and its associated commercial potential was an attempt to make up for Fasching's financial loss, according to Fachgruppe Karneval im Deutschen Verband der Spielwarenindustrie.
How You Trick-or-Treat in Germany
Trick-or-treating is the aspect of Halloween that is the least observed in Germany and Austria. Only in large, metropolitan cities of Germany will you see groups of children actually go door-to-door. They say, either "Süßes oder Saures" or "Süßes, sonst gibt's Saure" as they collect treats from their neighbors.
This is partly because just eleven days later, children traditionally to go door-to-door on St. Martinstag with their lanterns. They sing a song and then they are rewarded with baked goods and sweets.
What Costumes Germans Wear on Halloween
Halloween specialty stores are increasingly popular in Germany. One interesting difference between Germany and North America with regard to costumes is that the Germans tend to indulge in more scary outfits than Americans do. Even kids. Perhaps this is due to the many other opportunities throughout the year that children and adults get to dress up for different celebrations, such as Fasching and St. Martinstag that is just around the corner.
Other Spooky Traditions in Germany
October is also the time for other spooky happenings in Germany.
- Haunted Castle: One of the largest and most popular Halloween venues in Germany is the 1,000-year-old fortress ruins in Darmstadt. Since the 1970s, it has been known as Burg Frankenstein and is a popular destination for gore aficionados.
- Pumpkin Festival: By mid-October, you'll see some carved out pumpkins on people's doorsteps in the streets of Germany and Austria, though not as much as in North America. But what you will see and hear about is the famous pumpkin festival in Retz, Austria, near Vienna. It's an entire weekend of fun, family-friendly entertainment, complete with an elaborate Halloween parade that includes floats.
- Reformationstag: Germany and Austria have another tradition on Oct. 31 that is actually centuries-long: Reformationstag. This a special day for Protestants to commemorate Martin Luther's launch of the Reformation when he nailed those ninety-five theses to the Catholic castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. In celebration of Reformationstag and so that it's not completely overshadowed by Halloween, Luther-Bonbons (candies) were created.