Halloween In Germany

Halloween isn’t really a traditional German celebration, but it has become more popular in recent years, especially with children.  Most people seem to think this is partially from seeing it depicted in American television and movies, and I suspect that’s a big factor.  Here, costumes are more commonly seen around Fasching.

German youngsters only go trick-or-treating (“Süßes oder Saures!”) in certain areas.  Yesterday, I saw only three children running around with pillowcases, and that might not have been for candy-  they might have just been running around with pillowcases.

I did find that there are a few traditions that are similar to Halloween’s origins in Europe, without being exactly Halloween.

  • In the regions of Bavaria and Austria in Southern Germany, Catholics celebrate the entire period between October 30 and November 8 as Seleenwoche or All Souls’ Week.
  • November 1st is Allerheiligen, or All Saints’ Day. Catholics attend church services in honor of the saints, the martyrs and those who have died for the Catholic faith. People may also visit their family’s graves to beautify them with wreaths and small lanterns. Sometimes a mass is said at the gravesite and the grave sprinkled with holy water.
  • In some areas, November 2 is observed as All Souls’ Day. Catholics attend a special Requiem masses, where they remember those who may be close to them that have died. Prayers for the dead are said and votive candles are lit to honor their memory.
  • In Austria, there’s an entire pumpkin (Kürbis) festival in late October, Kürbisfest.
  • Jack O’Lantern decorations have become more common in Austria and Germany in late October.

Meanwhile, those of us who grew up with Halloween look for places to observe the holiday, and most of those places turn out to be bars and pubs.

Last night, I visited two in particular.  Murphy’s Law, the better of Regensburg’s two Irish pubs, was having a Halloween event.  The Piratenhöhle (Pirate’s Cave) was having a Zombie Halloween party.

In both locations, I saw lots of vampires, zombies, and pirates.  There were a few people dressed as Warcraft characters, one amazing Peter Jackson styled Orc, and more people with random fake bloodstains than I can shake a stick at.

My costume was not as well known as I expected-  roughly 90% of the Germans I ran into had no idea what I was dressed as.  Amusingly enough, only Americans and Canadians call him Waldo.  In the rest of the world, he’s Walter or Wally.  I also learned last night that I can walk around the Altstadt in powder blue pants, and nobody will bat an eye.  Oh, Germany, you make me laugh.

A few people I passed exclaimed “Hab dich gefunden!” (Found you!) as I walked past, so that was gratifying.  And kind of hilarious.

The Same Procedure As Every Year, James.

I am often amazed at the ways in which common pop culture differs between countries.  Before my arrival here, I had never heard of Winnetou.  I also learned recently of  “Dinner For One”, sometimes known in German as “Der 90. Geburtstag.”

The piece was written for the theatre in the 1920s, and was recorded by a German television station in a single take in 1963 with British comedians Freddie Frinton and May Warden in the starring roles.  The piece was recorded in English, with a short German introduction.

Here’s where it gets weird.

Since 1972, “Dinner For One” has been a regular part of the broadcast schedule of German, Danish, and Swedish television stations around Christmas and New Year’s Eve.  Some stations play it repeatedly, the same way that American stations play A Christmas Story over and over each year.    “Dinner For One” is well known in other countries as well, and has become a regular part of the pop culture of Europe.    The program’s catchphrase, “Same procedure as every year, James,” has become the in-joke of an entire nation.  It has even made it onto t-shirts, as seen to the right.

The skit has been repeated on air so often that it actually won the Guinness World Record for most repeated television program.

Except in North America, where it has never been aired.

We’ve never heard of it.

I aim to change that.  Here’s an English language recording of “Dinner For One.”  It’s not the full 18 minute original version, but you’ll get the idea.

Winnetou, Apache Knight

A while back, Jenny and I saw Winnetou on the train.

Jenny was fascinated and amused by this live-action version of Winnetou.

I, on the other hand, had no idea what she was talking about.

J: That man looks like Winnetou
S: Like who?
J: Winnetou
S: Spell it?
S: Spell it again?
J: W I N N E T O U!!!!
S: Never heard of him.

Winnetou is a fictional Native American hero who is well known in Germany.  He was created by Karl May, one of the bestselling German authors of all time.  Winnetou is the fictional chief of the Mescalero tribe of the Apache.    There have been books and children’s stories, all written between 1875 and 1910.  There was a series of eleven films between 1962 and 1968, filmed in what is now Croatia.  There are even two television miniseries, from 1980 and 1998 respectively.

I bought an English translation of the first novel and read it on my Kindle.  I am utterly fascinated by a Native American hero created by a German author.  I am even more fascinated by the fact that Karl May never actually visited the places he wrote about until late in his life, long after he wrote these stories of the old West.  The Winnetou stories are immensely popular here.

In subsequent conversations about Winnetou, I have come to realize that while most Americans have never heard of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand, most Germans have never heard of the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

That seems fair, I guess.