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The Cannstatter Volksfest is an annual three-week Volksfest (beer festival and travelling funfair) in Stuttgart, Germany. It is sometimes also referred to by foreign visitors as the Stuttgart Beer Festival, although it is actually more of an autumnal fair.
The festival takes place at the Cannstatter Wasen from late September to early October, spanning a period over three weekends, ending the second Sunday in October. The extensive Wasen area is in the Stuttgart city district of Bad Cannstatt, near the river Neckar. A smaller variant of the Stuttgart festival, the Stuttgart Spring Festival, is also held each year in Wasen.
Although the Volksfest is not strictly speaking a beer festival, it is considered by many to be the second largest beer celebration in the world after the Munich Oktoberfest. According to estimates about 4.2 million people visited the festival in 2006. The Volksfest begins one week later than the Oktoberfest.
Cannstatter Volksfest – Wasen
From an agricultural event to a famous festival
Colorful flashing lights, the squealing and rattling of unknown machines, the smell of burned almonds, “Göckele” (roasted chicken) and stockfish affects all your senses. Above the noise you can hear the bandmaster shouting out typical slogans like “die Krüge hoch”. No doubt, it’s “Volksfest” time in Bad Cannstatt. Annually around four million festival people gather at the biggest carnival festival in the world since 1818.
In 1815 a gigantic eruption of the Vulcano Tambora in Indonesia led to a climatic catastrophe even in Europe. The incredible explosion hurled around 100 cubic km of rocks, ashes and dust up to 70 km high and darkened the sky. The blast equalled to 170.000 Hiroshima bombs. The shockwave could be felt 1.500 km away. 10.000 people died due to the eruption. Another 100.000 died because of the aftermath. The dust particles were distributed by the jet stream around the world and caused crop failure and famine in Europe.
The winter of 1815/16 in Wurttemberg was the coldest since weather records were kept. Snow until May, no summer, alternating rain, whipping hail and thunderstorms continued into the growth season. This made bringing in a harvest in those years not possible. Throughout Germany, people were starving. The little existing flour was stretched with sawdust and the planted potatoes were dug up again. The need of the people was indescribable.
When Wilhelm I. became King of Wurttemberg in 1816, the crisis of the people couldn’t be any worse. His brother in law, Czar Nikolaus of Russia, helped him to relieve the biggest misery with deliveries of grain.
Then, in 1817, when the first harvest wagon was brought in, King Wilhelm and his Russian wife Katharina had the glorious idea to sponsor a harvest festival. This should take place annually on the King’s birthday on September, 28th in the area of the Cannstatter Wasen.
The first festival in 1818 lasted one day and had more than 30,000 visitors. At the time the village of Canstatt had a population of 3000. The Royal Couple donated cash prizes and honorary awards for outstanding agricultural accomplishment. The festival was designed to encourage the farmers.
At the same time the popular monarch couple established an agricultural school in Hohenheim Palace. This set the foundation for today’s agricultural university. Due to this and other outstanding efforts the young monarch was titled “King of the farmers” and “Farmer amongst kings”. In the German Agricultural Museum many of the developments, e.g. the double bladed plow, can still be seen.
From agricultural festival to people festival
The most important activities of the festival had been the award for breeding performance and the display of agricultural efficiency of the Wurttemberg farmers. The first food shops and carnies showed up with the first festival. The vendors attracted the people with sauerkraut, sausage and a lot of sweet fancy foods. A market completed the culinary choices. The carnies presented the strongest men, the fattest women and a lot of other curiosities. Through the years the festival grew larger and larger and transformed from the “Agricultural festival of Kannstadt” to the “Cannstatter Volksfest”.
During the 19th century the first festival lasted one day, by 1920 it was extended to five days and since 1972 the Volksfest has been celebrated for 16 days.
In the beginning, there had only been a few Volksfest-carnies and beer counters. They were moved to the edge of the festival in favour of the royal lounge and the stand for the dignitaries. In 1860 the layout of the festival was three main streets and numerous side streets to handle the yearly increasing crowds. Today with around 350 companies, the Cannstatter Volksfest is the biggest carnival-festival worldwide. 4 to 5 million visitors are attracted to it.
King Wilhelm assigned his royal builder Nikolaus Thouret to create an emblem next to the royal lounge in the middle of the festival areal. He created the fruit pillar as a symbol for thanksgiving which is still the emblem of the Volksfest. Placed on top of the 23 m high pillar sits a bowl with fruits. Only the highest mobile Ferris wheels of the world is towering above it.
Today, the parade on the first festival Sunday is one of the most popular events of the Canstatter Volksfest. Nearly one hundred historical groups of town militia, Shepard-dancing-groups, festival wagons representing different crafts, groups dressed in traditional clothing and groups of musicians, create this colorful “Lindworm”. There are still groups in traditional clothes and professional period groups, which have taken part in the festival since 1841.
Based on the German article: "Fruchtsäule, Festzelt, Ferkel" by Wulf Wagner.
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The festival offers a variety of attractions including numerous amusement rides, 73 stands ranging from shooting galleries to raffles, 95 food stands, and Chandler's market with 60 market stalls and a boxing show.
Symbolic of the Cannstatter Wasen is its "fruit column", a wooden pillar decorated with fruit, 26 metres high and weighing 3.5 tons. After World War I, with the beginning of the Weimar Republic, the fruit column was removed from the Cannstatter Wasen as it was considered a relic of the monarchy. Since 1935, the 100th anniversary, it has been back in its traditional place. Until recently the fruit column, the design of which has changed over the years, was dismantled after each Volksfest. Every few years it is redesigned. Since 1995 it has been left in place throughout the year and is thus also on display at the Stuttgart spring festival. In recent years only the tip has been dismantled leaving the lower portion in place housing information stands and the Cannstatter "city can".
Typical rides include:
- 60 meter Ferris wheel
- 47 metre Ferris wheel
- Alpina roller coaster
- Free fall Powertower, height 66 meters
- Imperator (weight: 350t)
- Wild water coaster
- Wild mouse
- Airwulf carousel
- Transformer carousel
- Turboforce carousel
- Black Hole indoor roller coaster
- Boosters revolution
Today, there are seven large beer tents on the Cannstatter Wasen for people to celebrate in. They either have their own name or carry the name of the brewery supplying the beer.
- Schwaben Bräu tent of Alexander Laub, remodeled in 2006 and now offering room for about 5,200 people
- Stuttgarter Hofbräu tent of Hans-Peter Grandl, room for 5,000
- Dinkelacker tent of Dieter and Werner Klauss seating 4,500 visitors
- Fürstenberg tent - from 2000 to 2004, Walter Weitmann organized a tent with about 5,000 seats for the Fürstenberg Brewery, which courted the other breweries' resentment by both its size and the origin (Fürstenberg is from Baden). In 2005, a smaller tent (room for 2,800) run by Peter Brandl replaced Weitmann's
- Festzelt Göckelesmaier - established in 1938 as Maiers Karle, renamed because of the roasted chicken (Swabian: Göckele) served there, seats 2,500, also serves Stuttgarter Hofbräu beer
- Festzelt Wasenwirt - room for 2200, Stuttgarter Hofbräu
- Arcadia Erlebniszelt - established in 2005, 1,800 seats, an artificial waterfall and Dinkelacker brew
Since 1982 the tents of Laub, Grandl and Klauss have been located by the fruit column. Each tent takes it in turn to host the opening ceremony. The price for a Maß is usually the same in all tents.
French Village and Alpine Village
For years the French village was an integral part of the Cannstatter Volksfest. By 2004, there were 33 food stands offering French meals and beverages along with traditional French music. The village was relaunched as an Alpine village in October 2008.
Traditionally a parade also takes place at the Wasen, usually on the first Sunday. In 1954 a record number of spectators attended the parade along the route from Stuttgart's central square to the Wasen site: 300,000.
German Reunification is marked every year on the 3rd of October by a firework display.
Every three years an agricultural exhibition (Landwirtschaftliches Hauptfest) is included in the main celebration. This was the original Cannstatter Wasen Volksfest. Unlike the Volksfest, there is an entrance fee to visit the exhibition. The last exhibition of this kind was in 2006.
The festival is opened by a ceremony in which the incumbent Lord Mayor of Stuttgart tries to tap the first barrel of beer with as few hits as possible. This takes place on a Friday in late September, so that the duration of the festival is actually 17 days.
- 2009: 25 September – 11 October
- 2010: 24 September – 10 October
- 2011: 23 September – 9 October
- 2012: 28 September – 14 October
- 2013: 27 September – 13 October
The food stands and attractions are open between Monday and Friday from noon (beer tents from 11 am). Saturdays, Sundays, and Bank Holidays everything opens at 11am. Closing hours are 11pm Sunday through Thursday; 11.30pm Friday, Saturday, and the day before Bank Holidays (although music is stopped at 11pm).