Germany is intent on preserving its history through its festival traditions -- but that doesn't mean you can't have fun, too. In typical German fashion, several of the country's popular festivals, including Oktoberfest and Christmas Markets, offer alcoholic beverages, rich food and celebrations of centuries-old traditions. Fasching, or Carnival, and Kinderzeche, or the Children's Party, mark historical events with traditional costumes, revelry and parades. Whether you want to attend a masked ball or watch a sword dance, you'll find plenty of traditional German festivals that combine age-old customs with modern carousing.
Fasching serves as the Catholic carnival for German-speaking countries. Lasting a little over a month, Fasching historically involved the temporary subversion of traditional roles -- men handed over power to women, for example -- and also included masked balls, plays and wild behavior. Modern-day celebrations still are based on their historic incarnations, with the biggest modern celebrations happening in Bonn, Munich, Düsseldorf and Cologne. Fasching celebrations often include Weissen Feste, or white parties, parades and open-air dances. In Munich, which holds the country's largest celebration, there are more than 800 masked balls during the season.
Beginning as a celebration of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig's marriage to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, Munich's Oktoberfest now is the largest festival of its kind in the world. For a little more than two weeks, visitors can drink German beer, ride carnival rides, eat Bavarian specialties such as sausage and pretzels, and wear traditional costumes -- liederhosen for men and dirndls for women. In addition to drinking beer, visitors can watch the Oktoberfest Costume and Riflemen's Parade, which consists of a parade of beer sellers followed by a brass bands and horse-drawn carriages, on the first Sunday of the festival.
Germany's famous Weihnachtsmärkte, or Christmas Markets, take place throughout the country. Most of the Christmas Markets are made to look like Victorian towns, with Christmas-light-draped booths selling lebkucken, which are gingerbread cookies, and gluhwein, which is hot mulled wine. In addition to food, Christmas Markets often offer handmade children's toys, wreaths and miniature houses. Some of the larger Christmas Markets also include holiday themed festivities such as Ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds, ice skating rinks and other family friendly attractions. Most of the country's Christmas Markets also have special events throughout the season, including choral concerts, fireworks and live music.
Dinkelsbühl's Kinderzeche, or Children's Party, is based on a 17th-century legend. In the tale, Swedes took control of Dinkelsbühl in the Thirty Years' War with the intent to destroy it. Children in the town went to the Swedish colonel and begged him to spare their town; being moved by their bravery, he eventually did. Since then, the children in Dinkelsbühl have been given a yearly party, which still includes a reenactment of the Swedish surrender, a parade and sword dances. Additionally, all of the children of Dinkelsbühl are given kinderzechgucke, a cone filled with sweets, to honor their 17th-century predecessors' bravery.
*Culled from traveltips.usatoday.com