Bavaria's rich heritage lives on through timeless customs.

From Munich to Regensburg to Vilshofen to Passau, it’s more than just the beer steins of Germany’s Bavarian towns that overflow. Rich cultural traditions pour from the cobblestone lanes of these villages seemingly unchanged through time. And on our Danube River cruises, you won’t just stroll along storybook lanes taking photos – you’ll experience these traditions, immersing yourself in the cherished heritage of the region.

Oktoberfest History

Dirndls, lederhosen and tall glasses or steins of beer are all a part of the fun of Oktoberfest. Its beginnings are attributed to the wedding celebration of Prince Regent Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on October 17, 1810. All the local residents were invited to enjoy a horse race honoring the newlyweds.

What does this have to do with the beer and brass bands of today’s Oktoberfest? Apparently, the locals were so enamored with the joyful celebration that had taken place and the spectacle surrounding it, they practically demanded it become a yearly festival. Each year, new festivities were added until Oktoberfest became the worldwide cultural sensation it is today.

Modern Oktoberfest Traditions

The original and most famous Oktoberfest festival kicks off each year in Munich, Germany with a gusto of brass band “oompah” and an enormous parade that typically boasts more than 7,000 costumed participants. The main attraction: the city’s free-to-enter beer tents, where picnic tables full of revelers in traditional attire enjoy Bavarian dishes like Hendel (spit-roasted chicken), Haxn (pork knuckles) and other local fare while clinking steins of beer with a jolly Prost (cheers)!

Traditions such as yodeling are a part of the fun, and many attendees can be found wearing Lebkuchen (gingerbread) hearts as necklaces while munching on fresh-baked Brezn (pretzels). Drawing approximately six million visitors annually, Oktoberfest is considered the world’s largest folk festival.

Vilshofen Oktoberfest: An Exclusive AmaWaterways Experience

If you’re not visiting Munich as part of our optional Romantic Danube pre-river cruise land program during late September or October, never fear. You can experience an intimate version of Oktoberfest year-round in Vilshofen, Germany – only with AmaWaterways.

Included as part of many of our Danube River cruises, this exclusive celebration is often attended by a local Beer Queen and is every bit as authentic as its much larger predecessor. During the event, you’ll be treated to Bavarian beer or non-alcoholic drinks and pretzels, as well as live music performed by entertainers in traditional attire who may just invite you “center stage” to learn a few steps of the local folk dance. If you imbibe more than planned at this joyous occasion, rest assured that the celebration is just steps from the comfort of your ship and your AmaWaterways family.

 

Raising of the Maypole

With the melting snow and budding blossoms of spring comes Bavaria’s 800-year-old tradition of the maypole. Although its name suggests a May celebration – and the maypole is, in fact, raised on May 1st – the preparations for this festive holiday begin weeks or even months before the main event. Village men’s clubs known as Burschenverein will venture into the woods to select a tall sturdy pine tree as their perfect specimen. The tree is cut down, carried back to town and prepared, often by stripping the bark and painting the exposed wood blue and white, the primary colors of Bavaria’s coat of arms.  

On May 1st, the Burschenverein, donning their lederhosen and Alpine hats, parade the maypole through town, slowly hoisting it and anchoring it into place for all to see. One special member of the club called the Maibaumkraxler then carefully scales the pole, attaching a special wreath. Maypoles may also be decorated with ribbons and signs from local craftsmen clubs. As part of the celebration, the locals often dance through the night beneath the maypole’s watchful eye.

Town Rivalries

The maypole is a great source of pride for each Bavarian village. But a whimsical tradition threatens their pride as “rival” villages will often steal the maypoles of their neighbors and demand a hefty ransom for their return – usually copious amounts of food and beer. These pranks have evolved impressively throughout the years. In 2004, one group stole another’s maypole by helicopter! It is, however, all in good fun, and a cherished piece of Bavarian heritage.

Guests visiting Bavarian ports on May 1st may have the great honor of witnessing these traditions on May Day. And, as part of a new tradition, our guests visiting Vilshofen, Germany may even see a special maypole raised and decorated exclusively for AmaWaterways!

Traditional Bavarian Arts

Of course, no Bavarian celebration would be complete without some traditional folk dancing. One of the most popular styles of dance, particularly for tourists to watch, is the Schuhplattler. This “courtship” dance features performers slapping their thighs, knees and the soles of their shoes while stomping in rhythm to the music.

Another movement that delights spectators is the art of Goasslschnalzen, or rhythmic whip-cracking. Performed between Christmas and Lent, this custom is said to drive away evil spirits that bring with them the bitter cold of winter. Sometimes the whip-cracking is set to music for an audience. The tradition is so popular that approximately 1,700 performers from Salzburg and Bavaria take their skills to a competition each year, keeping Bavarian history very much alive.

Experience Oktoberfest and other Bavarian customs and traditions while sailing with us on our Danube River cruises!

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