March 13, 2015

The Kinderzeche - One of Germany's Oldest Festivals

Pageantry. Traditional dancing. Sword-fights. Partying.  How else should one commemorate a 17th century surrender?! 

Every July, the Bavarian town of Dinkelsbühl, located along the Romantic Road, throws a 10-day festival known as the Kinderzeche, or Children's Festival, to celebrate its salvation from the Swedish army in 1632.  It is one of the oldest festivals in Germany, and over the past 191 years since the Kinderzeche's beginnings, the celebration has grown larger and grander in size.  Over 300,000 people attend the festival each year; but to those of you who have never heard of it before, what exactly is the Kinderzeche?

1.  Reenactment of the Town's Salvation
Once upon a time, the Protestants and Catholics waged a Thirty Years' War against each other, devastating various parts of Europe in the process.  In the middle of this war, the Protestant Swedes invaded the largely Catholic Germany, and the town of Dinkelsbühl was besieged and threatened with destruction.  Lore, the daughter of a gatekeeper, gathered the town children together, and together they sang their way to the Swedish general, from whom they begged mercy.  He spared the town for their sake and charged the people of Dinkelsbühl to never forget the children who saved them.  From this legend, the tradition of the Kinderzeche finds its roots.

Several times throughout the Kinderzeche, the town reenacts this legend, and once the town has been saved (again!), the Swedes, Dinkelsbühlers, town soldiers, and a grand array of reenactors parade through the town.  Proud parents and spectators hand the children a tute, a paper cone full of candies and other treats, and give small bottles of alcohol to the adult participants.  (Sorry, kids, no booze for you!)

A giant Schneckennudel (similar to a
cinnamon roll)
2.  Grand Parade to Celebrate all that is Dinkelsbühl
While a large part of the parade is composed of the 17th century reenactors, it is not limited to celebrating just that part of Dinkelsbühl's history, but everything that makes this town and its region unique.  Farmers lead their prize livestock; the Biedemeyer, or little girls in white dresses, prance through town hand-in-hand before performing traditional folk dances later in the day.  A division of white-and-red uniformed little boys shoulder their faux muskets and lead the whole parade with rousing marches.  Even the more unsavory characters of the town make an appearance, including beggars who harass spectators for beer or money -- all while in "character" of course!

Oftentimes the roles are passed down from father to son or conferred only upon prominent members of the community, such as the portrayal of the town's Bürgermeister (mayor).  The selection of each year's Lore, known specifically as the Kinderlore, is decided by way of an audition among 16-year old girls.  For other roles, children are chosen from various grades in the local schools.  Regardless of how each character is cast or each role filled, the common requirement is residency: only someone from Dinkelsbühl can participate.

The "bloody" gentleman is the local car salesman and happens to have been a classmate of my mother-in-law. (2010)
The Burghermeister and town leaders. One of these gentlemen is a friend of the family. (2014)

3.  Pageantry - Folk Dances, Sword Fights, etc
In addition to the parade, several nights of the Kinderzeche are devoted to showcasing traditional folk dances, including the Schwertertanz, or the Sword Dance.

The carefully coordinated sword play is conducted between two young men balanced on a platform of swords held by their peers.  And, no, the swords are not capped or dulled.  Arguably, the Schwertertanz is the highlight of the traditional dances.

However, the other dances are not to be missed either!

4.  Beer, the Schießwasen, and more beer
Beer is a national pastime for Germans, and during the Kinderzeche, the taps flow freely.  Reenactors are treated to free refills at local restaurants, but spectators can enjoy their fair share, too, especially at the Schießwasen (pronounced "sheezs-vassen").  The Schießwasen is a carnival and features all the traditional carnie trappings: fried foods, peanuts, hot dog (or in this case, wurst) stands, game booths, and rides.  At the epicenter of a Bavarian Schießwasen, however, is the beer tent.  Under the blue and white stripes of the bierzelt, the beer never runs out, and the band never stops playing except to take a sip of said beer!  Everything from polka tunes to contemporary German pop to even a little Kid Rock will be played here while you enjoy a maßkrug of good Bavarian beer.

Many people mistakenly refer to this as a beer stein, but its real name is maßkrug ("mass-kroog") or maß for short. 
One maß can hold a liter of beer. 

5.  Celebrating the Ties That Bind
At the end of the day, however, the Kinderzeche is about community and about family.  Many residents take time off work for the entirety of the festival, and it's common for family and friends living outside Dinkelsbühl to visit specifically during Kinderzeche time.  Remembering what the town has overcome in its past encourages people to look ahead to its future and to celebrate closeness with loved ones.

Click here to learn more about the Kinderzeche to arrange your visit!  We're certainly planning to be there in 2024 for its 200 Year Celebration!

What local festivals have you visited on your travels?


Linking up with A Brit and a SouthernerA Southern GypsyCarmen's Luxury TravelJustin Plus Lauren, and Outbound Adventurer for the #WeekendWanderlust!

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  1. Wow that is so cool. I loved reading about that festival (not gonna try to spell it haha). So interesting and I love learning random history.

    1. Hands down, it's one of the best festivals I've ever been to, although the medieval festival in nearby Wassertrudingen came pretty close. It makes American Renaissance Fairs look like small fry. :P

  2. I live somewhat close to Dinkelsbuhl...I'll have to go next year...thanks for the heads up!

    1. It's sooo worth it! The town is absolutely buzzing for its size, but the only "crowds" are when the parade is marching through or when the official play/reenactment of the Swedes storming through the gates is going on.

  3. Sounds like my kind of party! I think everything needs more traditional dances, historic reenactments, and sword-fights.

    1. If only life were a perpetual renaissance faire, eh? ;)

  4. Wow, that sword dance is interesting. Thanks for sharing! I love learning about unique festivals around the world!

    1. It's fantastic. That video angle isn't even the best to see just exactly what they're doing, but I couldn't find a better one.

  5. I love festivals that the whole town get's involved in! I always want to live somewhere where there are costumes involved! haha

    1. Me too. I always wanted to work at Colonial Williamsburg for that reason. ;)

  6. Oh wow! This looks so cool! We have festivals that the whole town gets involved in back in my hometown... but they rarely include costumes and are so elaborate!! -Dorrie @ Bear Den Plantation

  7. I like it all, except the bloody gentleman. That's a little freaky to me. Thanks for linking up with us for SundayTraveler.

  8. This looks like so much fun and right up my alley. A little creepy with the bloody man, but still an interesting part of it all. Thanks for sharing!


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